What you need to know before you decide whether to do a visa run or apply for a visa extension.
Many people arrive in Malaysia and fall in love with the food, the people, the weather and the landscape and want to stay longer than their first visa allows. They then turn to trying to find ways to get that to happen. Unfortunately Malaysia doesn’t have particular guidelines about their visa return requirements like for example in the Schengen Region for the EU where it’s 90 days in 180 days. This leads to all sorts of rumours and stress, and sometimes people being left stranded with no quick fix.
So here’s what we know…
There are two ways to stay in Malaysia on a Short Term Social Visit Pass longer than 90 days. You either have to leave the country for a period of time, or you have to get an official extension. You could overstay but that may result in fines, imprisonment and never being allowed back into Malaysia (which would be awful!) so we won’t consider that as a reasonable option.
In years gone past it was apparently very common for visitors to spend 90 days in Malaysia and then do a day trip into Thailand or Singapore and then come back and be reissued with another 90 day Short Term Social Visit Pass. They could often do this for years at a time with no questions being asked at the border. This then progressed to leaving Malaysia for maybe a week or even two weeks at a stretch, again with no questions being asked.
In recent years Malaysia has questioned more and more the intentions of travellers who enter and leave regularly and whether they may actually be setting up home in Malaysia without the correct visas. This has led to travellers try to work out the system so they can stay for significant periods of time without getting themselves into trouble.
As far as we can ascertain the government themselves have not released any guidelines about what are the dos and don’ts. Some of the rumours and suggestions we have come across include:
- You can probably only do 2-3 ‘visa runs’ before you will be denied entry to Malaysia for a period of (undefined) time
- You can no longer just go to Thailand or Singapore for just a day or two more than once
- If you leave between day 80 and 90 of your social visa pass you should leave the country for a minimum of 7 days if not 14 days
- You should have your next exit flight/trip booked in case you are asked to provide evidence of forward travel
- That if you leave through particular immigration controls you are more or less likely to be questioned eg. KL when it is really busy
Some stories we have read and heard about include:
- A mother being denied re-entry after a land crossing to Thailand but her husband and children were accepted. She was given 7 days to plead her case, ultimately she was successful
- A woman being denied re-entry at the airport after being in Vietnam for 3 weeks.
- Several people being given a 7 day entry visa to conclude their personal business and collect their things
We are unable to validate most of the claims, so we are unable to provide advice about what you do and whether you will be able to easily re-enter Malaysia.
Another way that we had heard of but not really considered initially was going to the immigration department for an extension. Apparently you can request an extension once and it is meant to be for special circumstances. You need to attend an immigration office, take evidence of your onward travel and the reason you are requesting an extension.
Problems we’ve read about this:
- Some immigration offices process visa extensions and some don’t
- There is a cost involved
- There are stories of it taking people 1-2 days to get it processed all the while having to sit in the waiting area to be called
- Travellers may have to come up with a story about why they want to stay longer
- Having to get involved with the bureaucracy of the Malaysian Government
- It seems like it might be a very complicated process
Hint: We’ve done both!
On our first trip here we spent 77 days in Kuala Lumpur and Penang on our 90 day Short Term Social Visit Visa before heading to Thailand for 11 days. On our exit Chris was questioned about the length of his stay so far in Malaysia, but we were not questioned on our return. We exited and re-entered through Penang International, and flew to Bangkok where we did some house sitting. We had forward travel planned for a bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore (that we didn’t end up taking) only a few days later that we could show if we were asked.
For our second stay here we were really undecided about what our plans going forward would be, we love Malaysia but I started to get more and more stressed about the thought of being denied re-entry after a trip out. We started looking at going to Vietnam or Thailand for a longer trip of about 30 days so hopefully it would be less of an issue and we could come back and perhaps spend 90 days in Langkawi.
We took our time deciding what to do, and ended up deciding to take a 3 month house sitting assignment in the UK but it didn’t start until almost a month after our visa expired. Due to circumstances we had very special visitors (my kids!!) arriving the day our visa expired, leaving 2 weeks later. We were in a real conundrum on what visa option to take.
I unfortunately injured myself which would have made a trip earlier a hassle so we were left less than two weeks to make a decision. We posted on a local expats Facebook group to get advice but while everyone had some great advice and were open with their experiences it just seemed too questionable to head over the border via land for 1-3 days. I was petrified that we wouldn’t be allowed back into the country and that we would have several thousand dollars in wasted airfares and we wouldn’t be able to collect our belongings.
With that in mind we decided to try the visa extension route at the immigration office and it ended up being the best choice we could have made. The staff were helpful, polite and efficient and the staff we spoke to spoke English very well so communication was easy. It was also just as cost effective to go there as it would have been to catch a bus from Penang to Thailand for a day trip, and much cheaper than spending several days out of the country.
However part of why it was so easy for us is that members of the Facebook group previously mentioned were helpful in providing details, and we did some googling beforehand. We only had one thing that we could have had better which was to photocopy particular pages of our passport, which meant we had to leave the office and go to a shop next door, get that done and then come back and get into line.
We did get there a little later than we had hoped, 8 am instead of 7:30 am when it opens, due to traffic. So bare that in mind when you plan your trip.
In all the process for us took about 2 hours and 15 minutes from start to finish, much better than the all day minimum we were expecting.
To help make it easier for those who want to do the same as us at the Penang (Butterworth) Immigration Office in future we have put together a brief list of things you can do to make the process smooth for you.
Of course processes may change, and you may be asked for other documents depending on your particular circumstances. For instance we took copies of my kids flight details as evidence of why we were requesting an extension, but they weren’t asked for this time.
Here’s what you need to know…
- Download this form and fill it in to the best of your ability for each person applying for the visa extension
- There is no place for it, but put your local phone number on the page somewhere
- Print out copies of your onward travel documents. Screenshots or documents on your phone will not be enough. To make it easier, highlight or underline the exit dates, where you will be heading and your name/s.
- Photocopy the page of your passport where your photo and details are for each person applying
- Photocopy the page of your passport where your most recent Malaysia stamp is (make sure it can be read easily) for each person applying
- The office opens at 7:30 am, get there by 7:30 if you can, but definitely before 8:30am when we noticed it started to get really busy and the line was really long
- Go to the second floor in the building and head to the visas waiting room, it is the room on the left as you face the front wall/road
- Go to the first window and tell them you want to apply for a visa extension.
Here’s what happened next…
- Showed the officer all our documents and she asked a few questions like why we wanted to extend. We did have some issues with the leaving date and our names a couple of times, so we would definitely highlight/underline those details if we have to do it again.
- We were missing the photocopies of the passport pages so we had to leave and find a shop to do that for us. Thankfully we found a helpful officer outside who directed us to a shop nearby.
- We headed back to the office and handed our documents over again. We were seen by a second officer who asked similar questions as the first including the confusion over leaving dates, where we were going and our names. We were given a number and asked to sit, by this stage there was about 6 groups of people in front of us.
- Not long after our number was called and we handed in our forms to another officer who asked a couple of questions including getting us to put our contact details on the form. Again we were asked to sit. Now the room was completely full.
- After another hour or so our names got called to the cashier and we got excited thinking that it was over pretty quickly and painlessly. We paid but didn’t get our passports back, or even told whether we had been approved!
- After about another 30 minute wait one of the officers came out with a huge stack of passports and started calling peoples names, and yay we were called.
Total time invested was 2 hours 15 minutes.
Total cost for two visa extensions was 200 MYR, so 100 MYR each.
Even though we only asked for 17 days our visa was extended for a full 90 days, and is more than just a stamp. It notes that it is a visa extension, so you probably can’t do that too often.
Remember this is just what worked for us and what we learnt from doing both avenues. We are not suggesting that this information is set in stone or that if you apply you will be granted an extension or you would be denied at the border for entry. Every person has different circumstances. We would love to hear your experiences of how you extended your time in Malaysia using the Short Term Social Visa Pass.