The border between Thailand and Cambodia at Poipet has a terrible reputation, but it’s not quite as bad as you may have been led to believe. It’s true that if you’re coming from Thailand towards Cambodia you have more chance of being scammed than if you’re going in the other direction, but knowing in advance what to expect will make the border crossing relatively painless.
The process of crossing the Poipet border has a few steps:
- Get stamped out of Thailand
- Apply for a Cambodia visa
- Get stamped in to Cambodia
In between most of those steps are several common scams that I’ll also go over.
Aranyaprathet – The visa assistance scam
If you’re taking a direct bus or mini-bus service from Bangkok to Siem Reap, chances are you’ll stop at Aranyanprathet, the Thai town closest to the border. Your bus company may hand out Cambodia visa application forms and suggest that you’ll need to use their service to get your visa. You don’t. This is a scam. Wait until you get to the border and they will give you an official form. You will not save time by using the visa “service” because half of the people on your bus are going to apply themselves, and you’ll have to wait for them anyway. The price for the service is about 50% higher than just getting the visa on your own.
Crossing the Poipet border
After arriving on the Aranyaprathet side of the border, you’ll cross on foot. If you have excessive or heavy baggage, you can hire men with carts who will take it across with you. You can get their phone numbers if you’re nervous, but I have used them several times and know others who have, too, and no one has had anything stolen. Your first stop will be to the Thai immigration building to exit Thailand.
Have your passport and departure card ready (this is the piece of paper you were given when you entered Thailand) and head towards the Thai immigration building for foreigners. There is now an escalator for one part of the building, otherwise take the stairs. The Thai immigration control area helpfully has signs telling you how long it will take based on where you are in line. They only had 30 and 40 minute signs available, so I guess that means the line in this direction doesn’t often get more than an hour long. However, on my most recent visit when I arrived around 1 p.m., I was through in less than 10 minutes. This is a no-stress immigration experience. If you’ve lost your departure card, they’ll (usually) even let you fill out a new one without yelling at you!
Getting a Cambodia visa
Once you’ve been stamped out of Thailand, it is time to get a Cambodia visa and get stamped to Cambodia. Once you leave the Thailand immigration office, in about 50 meters you’ll see signs directing you to turn right and cross the street. There’s a white building with blue signs that say “Visa-On Arrival Service.” Go inside and you’ll be given a visa application form to fill out. There are several visa types you can apply for, see our page about Cambodia visas for more information. In this post I’ll focus on the T Tourist visa, but you can get the E visa or K visa here, too.
The T Tourist visa costs $30. They will ask for $30 and a 100 or 200 baht processing fee. There is no processing fee, this is a bribe. You do not have to pay this. If they insist, just smile and politely say “cannot.” They may make you wait a few minutes longer, but they will let you get your visa for $30.
If you did not bring a passport photo with you, they will ask for an additional $5 or 200 baht. This is ostensibly to cover the cost of them scanning your passport photo for you. Note that they have recently removed the photo requirement for Cambodia tourist visas, but they will still ask for money for the photo at Poipet. It is unlikely the Poipet team will give up this revenue stream so easily, and are likely to come up with another phony charge in the near future (leave a comment if you find out!)
The best way to negotiate a price is to come prepared with the amount you would like to pay in exact change, in US dollars, which the official currency for Cambodia visas. If you pay in baht, they will charge you more.
If you do not have USD, do not change money at the border, as the rates you get will be extortionate. The casinos before the Cambodia immigration office have ATMs that dispense dollars, and you can go inside before getting your visa.
Once you have your visa, your final step is to get stamped in to Cambodia. Walk another 180 meters, past the Holiday Palace Casino, and towards a green-and-gold sign that says ‘Arrival.’ You should not have any problems at this stage, but if you do get any offers of assistance, politely refuse them. You may have to wait another 10 minutes, but usually it only takes a minute or two to get stamped into Cambodia. Once you’re stamped in, it’s time to find you bus or taxi and get on the road to Siem Reap.
Cambodia border scams
The Poipet border is known for scams, but be assured that it’s entirely possible to cross the border without getting scammed!
Here are some of the most common Cambodia border scams:
Visa processing or assistance. You do not need to get a visa in advance. Do not pay your bus company to get your visa for you. Do not go to the “Cambodian Embassy” in Aranyaprathet for a visa. You can get your Cambodia visa yourself after getting stamped out of Thailand.
“Processing fees” for your visa. In the visa processing office, Cambodian officials will tell you there’s a 100 or 200 baht fee for processing your visa. There is no processing fee, and there should be no fee for a photo. Do not pay any processing fees. Be polite and they will give you the visa for $30, the actual cost.
Currency exchange. Don’t exchange money at the border. You do not need to change your Thai baht, and you do not need Cambodian riel. Anyone who says that you do is trying to rip you off.
International bus terminal. If anyone tries to offer you a free shuttle to the bus terminal, politely decline. They will take you to the ‘international tourist terminal’ outside of town that only sells overpriced buses and taxis that you’ll end up waiting at least an hour for.
For more about Cambodia-Thailand border scams and how to avoid them, see our blog post about scams at the Poipet border.