Studying in Thailand can be challenging and richly rewarding for students coming from other cultures. Students can choose courses at schools and universities or less academic options like Thai language, massage, muay Thai, diving and more. Studying can also be a great way to meet people, gain new skills, and most of all extend your stay in the country. But to do this, you'll need to acquire a visa, which isn't actually as complicated as you may think.
To extend your stay past the few months that a tourist visa can give you (normally 60 days with 30 days extension - 1 for 1 entry), you'might need to acquire a special beast call a Non-Immigrant "ED" visa. ED stands for education – there is only an education visa and no ‘student visa’ available. If you’re still at home or in another country where there is a Royal Thai Consulate, you can assemble your paperwork and make your application before you come to Thailand. If you’re already here on a tourist visa and looking to extend your stay, you’ll need to head out of the country to get your visa done, since you can’t get a NEW visa within Thailand because it could be difficult within Thailand to change a tourist visa to another visa. However, if you have entered Thailand on a Non-Immigrant visa of another type (O, B, etc.), you can change your visa type at the central immigration office in Bangkok only. Also, nationals of some countries, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Iran, India, China, Pakistan among others, must return to their home countries to apply for Non-Immigrant visas, rather than in bordering countries.
The first thing you will need to do to work towards obtaining this visa is to find a course that you want to study and apply to it. A university course is obviously a huge commitment, and one that will use up a lot of your time. Instead, many educational facilities around Thailand that are registered with the Ministry of Education can also produce admission letters for you for study of less rigorous courses which will allow you to enjoy more free time in Thailand. You can choose to study massage, meditation, Thai language, scuba diving, Thai boxing (muay thai), and most popularly Thai language. Many of these courses require you to study only part-time, even less than 15 hours/week.
Here are some example schools offering courses and visa assistance:
http://www.thaiwalen.com/ (1-year course; 24,960 THB; 4 lessons/week, full visa assistance and 1-year extensions possible)
http://www.thaisolutions1502.com (short courses available; visa support with 6-month and 12-month programs; 13,500 – 25,500 THB)
http://www.phuket-boxing.com/ (visa assistance for courses 3 months or longer; 24,000THB for 90 days)
http://www.tmcschool.com (30 hour – 150 hour courses available; 7,500-39,859 THB, visa assistance)
http://www.sunshine-massage-school.com (30 hour courses; 7,500 THB; visa assistance with commitments to multiple courses / long-term studies)
To support your visa application you will need a letter of admission from a school as proof that you are enrolled there and will be studying. This letter must be written on school letterhead, signed by the appropriate representative, and must contain the details of the course(s) you’ll study and the dates you are registered for. You’ll probably need to contact the school directly to request this letter especially if they don’t necessarily advertise helping you with your visa. Other schools quite obviously promote the ED visa as the main reason for applying with them, putting their courses into the background. Many schools will also ask for a deposit on the course before giving you a letter of admission, so do check closely to make sure they are registered with the ministry and can therefore actually support your visa application. Ask the right questions and be sure to double check what are the requirements of you local Thai consulate or embassy. Be aware that rules can change and vary from a country to another.
If you are already in Thailand, the school where you enrol will apply for a letter from the Ministry of Education on your behalf. It will take 3-5 weeks to obtain this letter, so your current visa should have that much time left on it, or else you’ll have to do a border run before that time. Once you have this letter, you will have to leave the country to apply for the ED visa.
Once you have received your admission letter, you’re set to make your application to any Royal Thai Consulate, in person or by post. Remember that the post will take extra time, and it’s probably best to pay for a courier service both ways to ensure that your important passport will come back to you in a timely manner.
If you’re in Thailand already, you’ll have to travel to Vientiane or Savannakhet (Laos), Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), or Yangoon (Myanmar). You’ll have to pay transportation fees, the visa fee for the country to which you go for the visa, and accommodation for 1-2 nights while you wait for processing. Remember that consulates typically only accept visa applications in the mornings, Monday-Friday and not on Thai or local holidays.
To support your application, present the following documents:
1. your passport, with at least 6 months validity remaining
2. a photocopy of the information page (the one with your photo) of your passport, signed
3. the admission letter from your school in Thailand OR letter from the Ministry of Education
4. a completed application form (download from the immigration website) www.immigration.go.th
5. 4 passport-sized photos
6. the visa fee of 2000THB or local equivalent (check embassy website for your country)
NOTE! All visas expire within 90 days of issuance. Like a best before date, you have to use the visa (by entering Thailand) within 90 days of having the thing stuck in your passport. This is separate from the length of stay that you are granted upon entry, which coincidentally is also 90 days.
Once your visa is soundly in your passport, find your way to the Kingdom. Upon entry, an immigration officer will stamp you into the country for 90 days, and it’s always good to check your passport right away to make sure the date is correct and that you remember that important date.
Why only 90 days? According to Thai immigration law, foreigners are only allowed to stay in Thailand for 90 days unless by special permission. So here’s the rub: if you are registered with one of the many small schools doing Thai language, massage, etc. They can support your visas for several years, but you have to pay for visa extensions every 90 days which cost 1,900 Baht each time. Many schools will assist you in the extension process and some can do it for you without you even going along.
For academic institutions and a few private language schools, things are a lot easier. You’ll receive your first 90 days, then a month before that expires you can apply for an extension up to a full year, also 1,900 Baht. For this extension you’ll need supporting paperwork from your school proving that you’re still registered and attending classes, and also a receipt for your tuition. This extension can then be done annually.
Above all, to keep in good standing with this visa, you need to register with your school, pay your fees, and attend your classes. Failure to comply will cause most schools to report on you to immigration, whereupon your visa can be cancelled. Schools will do this to keep their reputations clean – they don’t want to be seen as simply visa producing machines.
Remember that student visas are for people who actually do want to study, at least part-time so if you’re looking to work or to live a life of leisure, you should consider another type of visa more in line with your lifestyle, like a business (Non-Immigrant B) or tourist visa.