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Benjamin Gamble

What is a visa run?


The term visa run, also called a border run, is common among the perpetual traveler and expat communities. It is the state of being a perpetual tourist in the eyes of the host country, allowing someone to spend extended periods in a country legally without becoming an official resident. Visa runs allow one to skip lengthy residence procedures, gaining the freedom and flexibility to spend as long as they wish in the host country. 

How does a visa run work?

Visa runs work by being legally in the country on a tourist visa and then officially leaving the country, having your passport stamped at immigration, then usually re-entering the country again to get a new entry visa in a few days or even a matter of hours later.

This allows the clock to reset to 0 when you re-enter the country again, meaning that you can stay there for another 30,60,90,180, or, in some cases, 365 days. 

The visa-run method allows you to have increased freedom and flexibility but at the downside of always being classed as a perpetual tourist in the host country. In most cases, you are not eligible to work toward permanent residency and citizenship. 

Popular examples of visa runs 

The simplest type of visa run would be to cross a land border and re-enter the country later. This is because land borders usually require minimal planning when compared with other types of travel.

Latin America and Southeast Asia are two of the most common places for visa runs, as many of the countries located there allow you to leave the country and re-enter with the clock starting again at 0. 

Argentina is home to some of the most relaxed visa policies on earth. Argentina allows a long list of nationalities 90 days visa-free on arrival. It’s typical for expats living in Buenos Aires to take the ferry over to Uruguay for a day trip, which restarts their clock, giving them another 90 days in the country. In this case, it’s common to leave the country for only a few hours and re-enter again. 

In Southeast Asia, Thailand is a popular country with digital nomads and expats. The country has a relaxed visa policy that makes it easy for individuals to execute a visa run. It’s most common in this case to take a flight from Bangkok to Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, or the Philippines for a few days and then reenter Thailand for another 30 days visa-free. 

Georgia has one of the best visa policies, with tourists being granted 365 days visa-free on arrival. Georgia wants to make it easy for foreigners to live and do business in the country without being tied down by residency status aimed at attracting talented individuals.

Another popular visa-run route is from Singapore to Malaysia, as the two countries are connected by land, making it easy for people to book a plane or bus ticket to travel to Malaysia and then re-enter Singapore.

How to do a visa run 

Firstly, you should always leave before your visa-free stay in the country expires, as not leaving on time can have serious consequences, such as fines, deportation, and a ban from re-entering the country. 

It’s a straightforward process; always be sure to check the immigration policies of the countries you are visiting.

All you have to do is organize the logistics of taking a short trip to a foreign country by land, sea, or air and then re-enter again later that day or in a few days to get a new visa-free or visa-on-arrival stamp in your passport. Visa runs are a great way to explore neighboring countries in the region and provide an efficient and affordable solution compared to being a resident. 

Visa run Complications 

Some countries have made it impossible for individuals to do a visa run; for example, Europe’s Schengen area has a 90-day out of 180-day period visa policy. This means that every time you leave and re-enter the Schengen area, the clock will not reset to 0. The only way to spend extended time in the Schengen area is to be an EU, EEA, or Swiss citizen or be a legal resident in one of the Schengen countries. Ireland and Cyprus are not members of the Schengen area, meaning time spent in these countries does not count toward your 90 days in the Schengen area.

Even countries with a visa regime that makes visa runs possible can start to ask questions and become unhappy with individuals executing a substantial number of visa runs, meaning it's not a great long-term solution for living in a country. 

Another complication that can arise if you are spending substantial time in a host country, usually more than 183 days per year, is that you can unknowingly become a tax resident. If this happens you will be liable to pay taxes in that country, even if you are just a tourist. 

Alternatives to visa runs

One alternative to perpetual visa runs which some countries prefer, is to apply for a visa extension and pay a visa fee to the immigration department to extend your stay there. This method is fully legal and removes the need to constantly leave and re-enter the country, filling your passport with entry and exit stamps.

However, the easiest way is to get settlement rights in the country with citizenship. This could be with a citizenship of the country you want to live in, or with any other passport that gives settlement rights. For example, with a Maltese passport you can live in any country in the EU, and with a Caribbean passport you have settlement rights in all CARICOM.

Get started on Baseflow to find the right option for obtaining a residency or citizenship for investment, so that you can legally live where you've always wanted.

Benjamin Gamble
Investment Migration Expert

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