If you’re planning an extended stay in Malaysia, then its likely that at some point you’ll have to renew the limited tourist visa you are given on first arrival. This procedure is often referred to as making a ‘visa run’, and will vary according to your nationality and location in Malaysia. In our case, we needed to make a visa run from Langkawi – an island off the Malaysian peninsula – to Songkhla in south Thailand.
Why would you want to extend your stay in Langkawi Malaysia for 90 days? Check out our ‘13 Weeks in Langkawi’ special articles.
Most Europeans and North Americans are given a free 90-day social visit pass (passport stamp) when they first arrive in Malaysia. Many other nationalities are limited to just 30 days or less – Check here to see how (or even if… ) you qualify.
In both cases, if you want to extend your stay in Malaysia you need to first exit the country and then make your way to the nearest Malaysian embassy outside Malaysia.
The Malaysian embassy can give you a new visa for a stay of up to 3 months, thereby extending your total stay by up to 6 months. However, you’ll need to spend at least 3 days (possibly 5 days) outside Malaysia before you will be allowed to return on the new visa.
Visa Runner – Langkawi Malaysia to Songkhla Thailand
So, we found ourselves in Langkawi with a 90-day agenda and just a 30-day entry visa. We checked with the local Immigration department and also with a local solicitor. Their advice was unanimous: Take a trip to Songkhla in southern Thailand before the visas expire.
We were directed to Songkhla simply because it’s the closest foreign city (relative to Langkawi) that has a Malaysian embassy. Singapore is also a possibility, but it is further away and we heard that some people had problems renewing their Malaysian visas there.
There is no direct way to get to Songkhla from Langkawi. The journey involves a boat trip to the mainland followed by a combination of overland travel options through Malaysia & Thailand. Since we were also required to stay out of Malaysia for a minimum of 3 days, we decided to use our visa run as a short vacation in Thailand.
We made our move on the same day that our initial entry visas expired.
Ferry Boat from Langkawi to Kuala Perlis
To counter any delays in the journey, we took the earliest ferry from Langkawi, departing at 7:30 am. Our first destination was Kuala Perlis – the nearest point on the Malaysian mainland.
Ferries run regularly throughout the day between Langkawi and Kuala Perlis – every hour or so. The journey takes 1 hour 15 mins and costs RM 18 (€4) per person one way.
We bought our ferry tickets online 2 days earlier at Langkawi Ferry Services. You need to print the PDF tickets yourself before departure. There are a couple of shops in Kuah where you can print files from a memory stick.
If you’re taking the ferry early morning or early evening, don’t forget the mosquito repellent!
Our trip from the Kuah Ferry Terminal to Kuala Perlis passed without incident. The following week we read that a ferry on the same route went up in smoke during the evening run.
Grab from Kuala Perlis to Pandang Besar (Thai Border)
To keep things simple, our plan was to take a Grab (online taxi) from Kuala Perlis to the Thai border at Padang Besar. Once there, we would have a few hours to kill before passing through immigration and taking a train onward to Hat Yai.
On arrival in Kuala Perlis we had a Grab sorted within 5 minutes. The price was RM 55 (€12) for the 56 km ride to Padang Besar.
If you’ve got more time than money, you can take buses to Padang Besar for a fraction of the cost. To do this, you need to find the bus station in Kuala Perlis, wait for a bus (every 1½ hours), and change buses at Kangar (another 1½ hour wait).
The taxi journey to Padang Besar took just over 30 minutes and we were dropped off at the train station on the Thai border.
Before we could purchase a train ticket into Thailand we needed to pass through immigration. The staff here were really helpful and whisked us through the process in no time.
You first have to get stamped out of Malaysia, then stamped in to Thailand.
Train from Padang Besar to Hat Yai
From the information we’d been able to find online, we understood we’d probably have to wait until 2:30 pm for the afternoon train to Hat Yai.
In fact we were early enough to board the morning train almost immediately at around 09:55 am Malaysian time (08:55 am Thai time).
There are only these 2 trains per day.
Our one-way train tickets cost RM 18 (€4) per person for the 1-hour journey.
When we arrived at Hat Yai, as anticipated we found our Malaysian SIM cards didn’t work in Thailand. So our first job was to find a phone shop just outside the station where we purchased a local Thai SIM card (valid for 1 month) for 200 Baht (€5.50).
The girl in the phone shop spoke no English (which is the norm in this area of Thailand) but we muddled through with the aid of another customer in the shop.
Grab from Hat Yai to Songkhla
So with just a 30-minute delay we were able to book our next Grab from Hat Yai Junction to out hotel in Songkhla.
This was a bit pricier at 600 Baht (€16.50) for the 40-minute 29 km journey. We finally settled into our hotel around 12 noon local time.
Our total journey since boarding the boat at Langkawi jetty had taken 5.5 hours and cost €44 for the two of us.
We could have done it cheaper by taking buses instead of Grabs, but didn’t consider the extra time and hassle would have been worth it.
The Malaysia Embassy in Songkhla
The Malaysian embassy in Songkhla opens between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm Monday to Friday. A visa application takes at least 2 days.
On the first day you make your application and they take your passport. You have to return (usually the following working day) to pick up your passport – ideally with your visa stamp 🙄
Bear in mind that in addition to your passport you need to submit a photograph, a completed application form, your address in Malaysia, a copy of your passport and a copy of your return flight ticket.
If you don’t have all these items in order, you will have a problem making your submission. The staff are not particularly helpful and (like everywhere else in Songkhla) they don’t speak English.
When planning your visa run, it’s therefore wise to give yourself sufficient time to complete the process. In any event, you need to spend at least 3 days outside Malaysia before returning on your new visa.
We submitted our application on a Friday morning. They took our passport and told us to return on the following Monday afternoon. At least, there were no queues, and no waiting time.
When we returned to pick up the passport we were charged 200 Baht (€5.50) and given a 3-month Malaysian visa.
Return Journey – Songkhla to Langkawi
We returned to Malaysia using the same transport options. There’s not a lot of choice here.
For example, instead of taking a Grab from our hotel in Songkhla (to Hat Yai) we could have taken a minibus. It’s a lot cheaper – 60 Baht (€1.60) each.
However we would have had to hike 25 minutes to the minibus park, wait until they’re ready to go, and then get dropped off who knows where in Hat Yai.
Our Grab dropped us off directly at Hat Yai Junction (train station), where we bought 2 tickets to Padang Besar for 50 Baht (€1.40) each.
There are only 3 trains per day travelling from Hat Yai to Pedang Besar. Two of them very early in the morning and just one later in the day at 2 pm (our only realistic option).
From Padang Besar we took another Grab to the ferry at Kuala Perlis for RM 55 (€12). The Thai phone card was still working just over the border so we didn’t need to change SIM cards to get Internet access.
However, we did forget about the 1 hour time difference (!) so we arrived at the ferry with just 30 minutes to spare.
Fortunately for us our visa run went smoothly enough, without any hitches. This was down to planning more than anything else, plus a certain amount of luck.
After all, everything ran on time (and our ferry didn’t sink).
If you enjoyed Visa Runner, check out our 13-week Langkawi itinerary. You may also like: