As we have covered in our article on the prevalence of English in Thailand, it is not wise for longer term visitors to the Kingdom to rely solely on English to get by. Proficiency rates overall in Thailand are quite low, although there are more English speakers in the built up areas like Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Once you are in Thailand, it is strongly recommended for longer term stayers to learn the Thai language to integrate more easily into daily life there, and a great way to do this is by enrolling on a Thai language course in the city you are staying. This has the double benefit of allowing you to learn the local language, but also of allowing you to get a visa to remain in the country without any of the back and forward trips that are often required to renew other types of visa.
In this way you can solve two problems at once – that of getting the correct documentation to remain in Thailand, which can be tricky and cumbersome on other types of visa – and also learning the local language which in Thailand is far more important for work, shopping and general integration than in other countries where English is more prevalent.
For sure it can also be helpful to learn some basic Thai through the more traditional methods – see this well reviewed introductory Thai language audiobook course, available for free on Amazon with a free trial of the Audible service. This will give you a solid grounding in basic Thai to help with your first month or two there, or for shorter stays. See also our Phrasebook page for a Thai pocket phrasebook to take with you for general shopping and other day to day activities.
However, if you are planning to stay there longer term, then enrolling on an official language course is a great idea. They are available in all major towns and cities, and whilst they do cost some money, also provide the learner with a visa which has definite advantages over other types of visa. Let’s look at the issue in more detail below.
The Thai Language Visa in More Detail
Tourists just visiting for a short stay can probably get by with the basic phrases you can get from an introductory audiobook course or a phrasebook. However for people visiting for longer periods of time – for an extended stay, to work or for retirement – it makes sense to learn the Thai language in more detail, since you cannot rely on English being widely spoken.
It is sometimes spoken in higher level Thai business, but elsewhere longer term visitors will definitely integrate more smoothly by learning the Thai language.
Thankfully the government has a program to facilitate this for foreigners, whereby you can gain a 1 year Thai visa under the condition you attend classes for the duration of your stay to learn Thai.
Thai language visa – Quick Summary:
- Costs approx 22-25,000 baht, plus quarterly renewals at 2000 baht each – total cost around 30,000 baht (approx $1000/£750)
- Apply at local accreditated language school, pay fee, fill out paperwork.
- Visa issued within a few months – needs activating at an embassy out the country – Laos and Cambodia are common destinations for this.
- Turn up at lessons and continue to check in at local immigration every 90 days. Language skills will be tested. Renewal fee every 3 months around 2000 baht (~£50/$65)
- Visa good for a year as long as you keep turning up and pass tests.
- Can be renewed and extended afterwards as well – onto Intermediate and Advanced Thai for years 2 and 3.
Brett Dev covers this form of visa in the video above. There are several different courses you can enrol on to gain a 1 year visa, including military training visas but also language visas. It currently costs around 22-25,000 baht, which is around £600 and around $750-800 at current exchange rates.
See this page for more details on how the visa works. You need to enrol at a local school reigstered to the Thai Ministry of Education, select the program you want to study (language, hand to hand combat are two common ones), fill in the paperwork, pay the fees and wait for the visa to come through.
Attendance at these classes is also carefully monitored so it is important to make sure you are attending and taking the courses seriously. You also have to visit your local immigration center every 90 days to have it renewed and they will test you to make sure you are learning the language and progressing with your understanding, so it is important to make a geniune effort to learn Thai if you are going down this route.
However, it can be an excellent way to learn the Thai language whilst also making sure you have the correct documentation in place to stay in the country. People who rely on shorter term 3 month visas to stay in Thailand often have to keep hopping over borders every 60-90 days to get their visas renewed, in a process which has been made deliberately difficult to stop people from continually renewing short term visas.
Getting the education language visa avoids all this hassle, and despite the unfront cost of around £/$1000 it probably works out cheaper and certainly easier than renewing short term visas, since you don’t have to pay for flights/coaches/accommodation several times a year to hop over the border and get short term visas renewed at an embassy in a nearby country like Laos or Cambodia.
With the language visa you simply enrol at a local language center, wait for the documentation to come through (can take a few months so make sure you have at least a 3 month visa to begin with to tie you over), and then regularly attend the classes once or twice a week at the school you enrolled at.
You also need to renew your visa every 90 days at the local immigration center like we said. As long as you are turning up, learning the language and your skills are progessing the entire process is a tick box exercise and is a great way to get a longer term visa to stay in the kingdom.