Thai ED Visa Run Travel Report

Koh Samui to Penang ED visa run

For those studying Thai, English, or another language at the Koh Samui Language and Vocational School, you will inevitably have to leave Thailand to obtain the education visa. This usually entails heading to the border with Malaysia to Khota Bharu or Penang where the two closest Thai consulates are located. While this may sound an arduous process, it really isn’t! Typically you will head to Malaysia the day before you wish to hand your visa application in, hand in the application in the morning on the next day, return to the consulate the next day in the afternoon, and from there head back to Koh Samui. This post is about my experience heading to the consulate in Penang, what to expect at the Thai consulate, what to do in Penang, and my return to Koh Samui.

Getting to Penang

The main routes to Penang are via flights from Surat Thani (stopping in Kuala Lumpur as there currently are no direct flights), taking a long bus from the bus station in Surat, taking a potentially dangerous van from the same bus station, or a late night train from Surat. I ended up deciding on taking the train because I thought it would be a more pleasant experience than being stuffed into a small space for hours on end hoping you make it there alive.

As I knew I wouldn’t be staying long in Malaysia, ideally only 3 nights, I packed a light backpack. You should only really need to bring a few changes of clothes, your passport, education visa documents, a tablet, water, some snacks, and a good book. Aside from that, I thoroughly recommend you taking the time to go the bank before leaving and converting at least a couple thousand baht into Malaysian ringgits (RM) as this will save you a hassle once in Malaysia.

Ferry from Nathon to Donsak

Leaving Nathon pier

From my home in Maenam I had arranged for a van to pick me up and take me to the Nathon ferry pier, this should have only cost 50 baht. Instead, being Thailand, the van never showed up and when I called the van company number I was barraged by a torrent of rapid Thai and being hung up on. All the more reason to learn Thai! With no van coming I hailed a cab and paid 400 baht from Maenam to Nathon pier.

At the pier I paid 220 baht which included the ferry to Donsak and a bus transfer to the center of Surat Thani. With one and a half hours on the ferry to kill, I found a quiet spot to relax and cracked open my book. On board the ferry, in case you didn’t bring snacks or a drink, there should be a small, overpriced, shop.

Transfer from Donsak to Surat Thani train station

Once off the ferry I followed the deluge of passengers to the parking lot where people filtered into various buses. After asking around I found my bus and specifically asked if they went to the train station to which they replied ‘yeah, sure, sure’. So, on I got. The bus to the center of Surat Thani from Donsak takes about an hour so I just closed my eyes in a vain attempt to get some rest. 45 minutes into the bus ride I was awoken and told to get off to take a songthaew to the train station for 200 baht. I knew that the bus was going to the bus station and that it was possible to get to the train station (which is actually located just outside of Surat Thani) via another bus, taxi, songthaew, or moto taxi, but I just wanted to get to the train station as quick as possible and was unsure as to how much more I might pay from the bus station.

At Surat Thani train station

I had done my research for the train and found that from Surat Thani the train terminated at Pedang Besar which is on the border with Malaysia.  This train runs only once a day and leaves Surat Thani at 1:50am and arrives in Pedang Besar at 8:50am. From Pedang Besar you transfer to a second train to Butterworth, just outside of Penang. Tickets cost 632 baht for an upper berth and 732 baht for the lower berth which makes the train not only more comfortable but inexpensive also, even 1st class tickets were only around 1,200 baht or so. The second train ticket you buy at Pedang Besar and is very cheap. If you choose to take the train, I recommend train36.com which was invaluable in helping me find the cost, train times, and other useful information.

Across the street from Surat Thani train station

At the train station I bought my ticket without any problems and ventured out to find someplace to eat; it was only 8pm and I had hours and hours to wait until the train. It is important to tell the ticket seller that you want to go to the Malaysian Pedang Besar it seems there are two stations under the same name. Outside the front of the train station are a few small roadside restaurants which sell Thai food catering to the tastes of tourists; expect pad Thai, curries, and other Thai dishes for reasonable prices. Having eaten and still hours to wait, I looked for a bar to have a few drinks at before the train but didn’t feel like walking too far away so I just ended up having a few beers near at the place I ate dinner.

On the train

When it was closer to the time to leave I headed back towards the train station and waited inside. 1:50am was the official departure time but naturally the train came an hour later and I was just happy to get on and go to sleep. On the ticket is the car number and seat number so I had no difficulty finding where to go. By that time, just about every berth had the curtains drawn and lights out. In no time I found my berth, climbed up, and fell fast asleep.  I found the berth to be comfortable enough and came with a blanket but was disappointed to find there were no power outlets. Although I was fine, if you’re someone who experiences motion sickness or feels uncomfortable on long journeys such as this, it is not a bad idea to visit a pharmacy on Samui before leaving to pick something up.

Arrival in Pedang Besar and clearing Thai-Malay customs

In the morning I woke up and we were practically at the border already. I packed up my bag, visited the bathroom to freshen up, and awaited arrival at Pedang Besar train station. On the platform the Malaysian officials directed myself and other farangs to the Thai immigration section inside the station. There I was stamped out of Thailand and followed the signs over to the Malaysian immigration officials. Depending on your nationality you can simply get the 30 day visa on arrival with no difficulties, just check beforehand. My passport was stamped again, this time with the Malaysian visa, and then I put my bag through a scanner and that was it.

Pedang Besar train station

At this time the KTM express train to Butterworth arrived and I had to frantically run upstairs to find the ticket kiosk and purchase my ticket. Thankfully they accepted Thai baht because I couldn’t find somewhere to change my money at the station. I ran back downstairs hoping to catch the train but to no avail; I was stuck there for another couple hours until the next train.

If you’re unfortunate to have to wait for the KTM, then there isn’t much to do but wait. There was a small store selling snacks and maybe there was a food court upstairs but I can’t confirm did not as I did not venture that far. I don’t think there were even any air-conditioned waiting rooms, so expect to sweat it out in the intense Malaysian heat.

On the KMT

When the train finally arrived, I got on at the back of the train hoping that it would be less busy. As Pedang Besar is the first station on the line, it was completely empty and I made a beeline for a corner seat at the back of the train. While the train arrives empty, by the time it gets to Butterworth it will be quite crowded. That is why it is important to find a comfortable seat because the journey from Pedang Besar to Butterworth is 2hrs and stops quite frequently at various stations along the way.  I will also say that the KMT carriages feel more like a subway than a traditional train.

Ferry from Butterworth to Penang

At the end of the line in Butterworth, I got off and looked around for somewhere to change my money into RM. This was annoying as by that point I just wanted to get to my hotel in Penang and sleep. Eventually a seller exchanged some money for me and I followed the signs to the ferry from the train station. It is possible to take a bus to Penang from Butterworth train station but the ferry really is the way to go. The ferry takes 15mins and costs a dollar or two. What makes the ferry even more attractive are the city-scape views of Penang from Butterworth.

Transferring to hotel and street  food market at night

At the ferry terminal in Penang is also the bus station and a taxi stand. Without my phone, dead by that point and no opportunity to charge it, I took a taxi to my hotel located in the ‘downtown’ area of Penang not far from the Thai consulate. I paid 600 or 700 baht to stay at the Ink Hotel, which is a new and stylish boutique hotel I’d recommend for those not looking to spend much for the short stay. There were cheaper hotels when I booked mine online but I specifically wanted somewhere near the more historic center of Penang with more to see and do while waiting for the education visa.

New Lane Foodstall night market

Having slept from mid afternoon to early evening, I was ready to venture out and find something to eat. A quick Google search led me to a street food market outside the Sunway Hotel. There I found a pork dumpling noodle soup that became my go-to meal for dinner over the next few nights. After dinner I made my way over to a bar with an outdoor patio for a beer before turning in back to the hotel for an early night; had to get to the Thai consulate bright and early the next day!

Prior consulate visit advice and what to do in your free time

Some advice about the Thai consulate in Penang; treat the opening days and times with suspicion. Upon arrival at the consulate the next morning I was told it was closed for a public holiday and to come back the next day…a public holiday listed on the Thai consulate website for being next week….It turned out the information on the website was from last year and so months into 2017 they still hadn’t updated it. Thanks Thailand!

Penang Times Square

Road leading to Penang Times Square

If you have the time and resources, I’d recommend getting to Penang on a Thursday and dropping off your passport on the Friday morning and taking a ferry to Langkawi which is the Malaysian answer to Koh Samui. There you can have a weekend to relax before returning Sunday evening to Penang and heading to the Thai consulate the next day. As for what to do in the day time in Penang while waiting, you’re spoiled for options. You can take a walk or bus tour around the city to gaze at the colonial architecture, explore Little India, go to Batu Ferringhi beach, or if you’re looking for a spot of retail therapy, Penang has several large Western style shopping malls to satisfy your needs. Personally, I took it easy. I did some sight seeing, ate some quality Indian food, drank some local beers, and watched a couple movies at a cinema.

Thai consulate: what to expect

The next day I got up early again and arrived at the Thai consulate before the hordes of other visa runners showed up. Pro tip: get there about a half hour before the consulate opens, that way you will be near the front of the line and not stuck behind potentially dozens or hundreds of other people. The Thai consulate itself is a big house with surrounding grounds and an empty pool out front. You will speak to a guard at the gate, write your purpose for visiting the consulate, and line up. On top of the completed visa forms given to you by the Koh Samui Language and Vocational School, you will be asked to complete a standard visa form asking for things like your last visa, occupation, where you will stay in Thailand, etc. Just be sure to state that you will not be working in Thailand. If you’re unsure how to fill this form in, there are usually locals waiting out front who will fill in the form for a small price. When paying for your visa, bring baht and RM just in case. I paid in baht but others paid in RM. At the visa window I handed over my paperwork, he stamped a few things, made a few notes, and told me to come back in the afternoon the next day.

The following afternoon I was back at the consulate and outside the gate I was given an ad targeting people on their return to Thailand from visa runs. The destinations included Koh Samui and so I was set! I had planned on taking a bus to Hat Yai and sorting the rest out from there but this option took care of everything and was priced under 1000 baht, I believe. The agent even took Thai baht! Picking up my visa was painless, I gave them the receipt, the official went and came back within 5mins, and handed pack my passport with the all important education visa! For more information about what to expect at the Penang Thai consulate, check out our post.

The journey back to Koh Samui

Out front of the embassy I purchased the ticket back to Koh Samui from the agent and waited until he was ready to leave. During this time I got talking to a Russian girl going with the same company on her way to Hat Yai. When the agent was ready myself and the Russian girl got into his car and stopped at a food and coffee gift shop. The Russian girl was interested in buying some white Penang coffee, famous to the island city. We tried a sample and bought a bag of individual servings of the coffee each. From there we went back to the car and the agent transferred us to a van. We then proceeded to drive around the city until the van was full and finally set off for Hat Yai on the first leg of my trip back to Koh Samui.

We reached the Pedang Besar border with Thailand after crossing the bridge from Penang to Butterville in just over 2 hours, including a stop for gas. At the checkpoint we got out of the van and walked a short distance to the Malaysian immigration officials. There we hand over our passports, were stamped out, and walked on up ahead to the waiting van. After everyone was back in the van we proceeded to drive another couple hundred meters before getting out again, this time to clear Thai immigration. Again, this was very easy and involved nothing more than handing your passport over to the official at the window for inspection, being stamped in, and walking over to the other side to await the other people on the van.

Thai immigration checkpoint

New Thai immigration checkpoint due to be opened sometime soon?

From the crossing in Pedang Besar, we drove about an hour to the agency office in Hat Yai where everybody climbed out. For the passengers going to Koh Taio, Phangan, and Samui, we had to wait a couple hours for the next van. Feeling hungry I went and found a small local restaurant for dinner, chatting with other passengers on the trip. Unfortunately the delay in rounding everyone up in Penang for the van and the hours of waiting in Hat Yai meant the chance to catch the last ferry back was long gone. It was going to be a long night.

The van ride to Donsak pier was uneventful and I managed to get some sleep on the bumpy ride over. I was given the impression by the agent that we would be sleeping in the van until the first ferry came at 5am but that turned out to be false. We were practically dumped out of the van and told to wait until the morning. We arrived at 2am or so, that meant 3hours outside in the dark with none of the buildings open. Sleep was futile and I ended up chatting to a fellow Canadian who lives on Koh Phangan. When it was finally time to get on the boat I found a quiet spot and just slept.

Make sure you get on the right boat and not accidentally end up in Koh Phangan or Koh Tao!

Arriving in Lipa Noi at about 6:30am and still aching from a day of van rides and lack of sleep, I got a moto taxi back to Maenam. Safely home after traveling hundreds of miles involving a journey entailing cars, vans, ferries, and motorbikes, I was happy to crawl into bed and collapse, safe in the knowledge that I had obtained the education visa. Read more

Interview with the school director

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MOE at KSTVS

An interview with Koh Samui Language School

Founder and Director, Dave Belcher, talks about Koh Samui, schools, and ED visas

 

“When did you first open the school?”

 

We opened the school in 2003 in Chaweng, Koh Samui. We were working in Samui’s first international school. We opened a Saturday school for children and ran summer camps for 2 years. We ran children’s classes on Saturdays and on week days. At that time there was no other international school or foreign language programmes in Samui. These classes were very popular. Particularly with children studying at the government schools in Samui, for example St Joseph’s and Tipparat.

 

“Where did you run these classes?”

 

Originally we used the classrooms and campus at Bencaja school in Chaweng. We used the classrooms on Saturdays and after school on week days. We built up a base of children and return students during this time.

 

“What was your next step?”

 

In 2005 we rented a building in Maenam and opened the school where it still is today.  We applied for and received Ministry of Education licenses to teach both Thai and English language curriculums.

 

“What is the most important demand, ED visas or education?”

 

Well, there is a demand in Samui for language lessons. Especially for foreigners, for example Italians, German, and French people. But the most popular thing is to get an education visa and study at the same time. So I would say that most people who come to the school are looking for an education visa and then they choose to learn Thai or English. Of these, English is probably the most popular especially with the Russian community. The majority of our students are Russian, as Russian people seem to want to learn English more than other nationalities and are most interested in an education visa.

 

“How important is the quality of education on Samui?”

 

Education visas are a great way to stay in Thailand over the long term, up to one year and then longer than one year. An Education visa is easier, less hassle, and better than tourist visas over the long term. The quality of language lessons to support education visas is important. Of course when people spend their money to come and learn they are looking for the best quality classes and teachers they can find. Since there are a number of language schools in Samui which offer classes and education visas, it is important to provide the highest standards, the best course, the best teachers, and the best facilities.

 

“How do you find teachers? How often do they change? How do you assess their suitability for the job?”

 

Firstly, we advertise for positions on websites for example ajarn.com. We find teachers who want to come to Thailand or that are already in Thailand, for example in Bangkok, and would be interested in coming to Samui. Secondly, by word of mouth; a lot of people write us emails or call us or come into the school because they heard from other people that we hire teachers. We have a good reputation and people know that we are a good school to work for.

 

Teachers do change quite a lot, it is the nature of the island that most people do not live here for a long time or permanently. Most people will stay here 6 months to one year, possibly a little longer. The nature of teachers who come to Thailand is that they want to move around and travel and see the world and different places. So it is a challenge to get teachers to stay. We have been fortunate and had a few teachers who have stayed long term, for example 2 to 3 years is not uncommon. But it is a challenge and we have to address it by trying to make a good team and a good working environment and paying a competitive salary. For example our Headteacher for corporate lessons has already been with us 3 years. In the past we were lucky to have a teacher called Rose who also stayed with us 2 or 3 years, and several teachers before that also stayed more than 3 years.

 

We always hire native speakers, even though they are more expensive, so most of our teachers come from the UK, USA, South Africa, and Canada. We look for people with degrees and qualifications in education; the best is a degree in linguistics or a diploma in teaching English as a second language, or another kind of degree in education. But other than that we also always look for a recognized TEFL certificate, for example Cambridge Certificate of English Language teaching to adults is the best in the world, or something of similar quality. At the moment we are lucky enough to have a Headteacher who has a degree in education.

 

“Who are your students? Why does someone want to come to learn English in Thailand?”

 

As mentioned most of our students are Europeans and Russians. I think that most people want to study English in Thailand because they want to live in a beautiful tropical island with a great lifestyle and beautiful place to live. And after that it’s a good opportunity to learn English or Thai. The prices here are very competitive and much cheaper than back home in Europe or Russia. And obtaining an education visa and studying is a very convenient way to stay in Thailand.

 

“There are 8 language schools on Samui, why someone should come to KSTVS? What are you doing to improve your school and ensure you are the best school available?”

 

We were the first school here, of course, but that does not mean that we don’t try to keep ahead of the competition and continually improve. We have the most experience and the best reputation. We’ve been here the longest and the reason for that is we’ve always been successful in supplying high quality language courses that customers are interested in. We are always looking to reinvest our profit in hiring better teachers and staff to improve the quality of our classes. We invest in our classrooms and resources, for example this year we have invested in projectors and tablets for providing eteaching material in the classroom, using a DVD version of our textbooks. We are now delivering lessons using an interactive format. In addition we are embracing technology by buying Active Teach student packages from the publisher Longmans, so that our students can complete workbook assignments online in their own time. We also invest a lot in our textbooks and research them carefully to ensure we get the best available. Our Thai text books come from England and are probably the best Thai text books you can find anywhere in the world. Our English textbooks are either Cutting Edge or New English File by Oxford University Press and Speak Out which we use for our conversation classes. In addition, we try to keep prices low and competitive as we believe it is better to have a wide range of students and a large body of students who are happy with the service and the value they receive than to charge people a lot of money and have unhappy customers.

 

“Do you have any plans for the future?”

 

Yes, we want to make online classes that would use the Longmans Active Teach online material and Microsoft learning tools like OneNote class notebooks. This would allow students to have an online tutor, use the same material, but study remotely from home and still have their work graded and reviewed by a teacher.

We would also like to arrange live internet sessions with the teacher using Skype and stream our classes live on the net for people to watch remotely.

We are planning to open a school in Krabi and Phuket, and possibly another branch here on Samui, perhaps in the south of the island in Lamai.

In the corporate world of teaching, we are working on our hospitality and hotels programs, which we are currently turning into e-learning material; both blended solutions for the classroom and apps that students can use by themselves if they are working in hotels.

Finally, we want to start Chinese classes in the school with ED visas.

 

Do you want to know more? Send us an email, phone us, or visit us in our office. We are always happy to answer your questions.

Chinese Teacher needed!

Chinese Teacher needed!

Chinese

We are urgently looking for a Chinese Language Teacher.  
As a Chinese Language Teacher you will be teaching hotel staff on the island of Koh Samui.  
We are looking for a passionate teacher who is available part time throughout the week. 
Salary is negotiable. 
Please send your resume to jobs@kstvs.com and we hope to see you soon! 
 
Kind regards, 
 
KSTVS

Latest Visa News

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Latest visa news!

We would like to inform you about the new requirement for the ED visa. The Thai ministry of education is requesting a criminal background check for new students and students getting a second year ED visa. So if you are a new student or applying for a new year this only applies to you. The good news is that KSTVS can help you with this application and can get it for you in Koh Samui at the same time as applying for your other documents. If you already have this check, then we can translate it into Thai for you for free.

Changes at Immigration

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Over the past couple weeks I’m sure most of our students, in fact most of the students on Koh Samui have noticed a sudden change in the way the Royal Thai Immigration Department works. The management of Koh Samui’s immigration department has been changed, and so rules new to Koh Samui are now being enforced, rules which were recently were put into effect in Bangkok and Phuket.

This change has brought about many things, panic in both the students and the schools, un-certainty with regards to extension of many visas, a large question mark on the future of the Education Visa, and confusion on how the system is now actually working. I write this now to clear up the facts, put down miss-information and hope to reinsure many unsure minds.

Extensions

Contrary to general opinion, people are still allowed to extend their visa up to a maximum of 1 year. No official rule has changed in this regard. However, a couple changes have been implemented;

Extend in Person: Before, you used to be able to let your school go to immigration for you, now this has changed. You must go to the immigration department in person to extend your visa.

Cost: The cost of extending visas is 2,000 THB. You can no longer pay ‘extra’ to have to done right away, no questions asked. The cost is now transparent so people know exactly what is being paid for.

Interview: When extending your visa most students will be asked to interview. In these interviews the student will be asked a series of questions about the following;

  1.  Their stay in Thailand.
  2.  Their stay on Koh Samui.
  3.  Their reason for studying.
  4.  Their reason for being on an Education Visa.
  5.  About their financial situation.
  6.  And other general questions about their life.

 

Test: Students are now subject to be tested on their language of studying.

  1. English Students: Students studying English will have to write a short essay, A page of A4 paper at most, to demonstrate their English skills. The topic is your choice, but something about your stay in Thailand is always better to show immigration. Immigration’s ability to check the test is limited due to non-native speakers working at the immigration department.
  2. Thai Students: Students studying Thai will be expected to know some level of spoken Thai and be able to write all 44 consonants and 6 commonly used vowels. Their ability to check this test is far better when compared to the English test. As the staff can actually speak Thai they can assess fairly accurately the level of ones Thai.

Attendance: It is now required by law for students to attend school 4 days per week, 2 hours each day. Immigration will ask to see this when extending your visa, and expect to see your attendance above 75%. This is law and so the school can do nothing regarding changing it. However please ask in school for more details about the change in study hours.

Denial: While many students are worrying about being denied and told to leave the country, this has not happened yet. All students who have been to extend their visas have done so successfully. The few students who have been ‘denied’ at immigration have been so because of other issues, mainly behavior and attitude when at immigration.

How to act

When attending immigration please remember this simple rule.

  • Behave yourself – Do not become aggressive or rude with the staff. You are asking them to extend your visa, key word being ‘ASKING’. They DO NOT have to extend it, so if you are rude to them, they can simply say no. Almost 95% of all students denied by immigration have been so because they have been rude to the wrong person.

Be patient, they have a lot of work.

Be understanding, they are only doing their job.

Be calm, getting angry solves nothing.

Be respectful, they are an official government body.