Customs regulations are similar across the region. The usual sorts of limits on tobacco and alcohol apply, and drugs are strictly prohibited – the standard penalty for drug traffickers is death or life imprisonment. Pornography is also a no-no.
To enter most countries your passport must be valid for at least six months from your date of entry, even if you’re only staying for a few days. It’s probably best to have at least a year left on your passport if heading off on a big trip around Southeast Asia.
Border guards may refuse entry if your passport doesn’t have enough blank pages available. If you are reaching the end of your passport pages, get more pages added before you travel (if this is a service offered by your home country), or apply for a new passport. Once on the road, you can apply for a new passport in most Southeast Asian capitals at your home embassy or consulate.
Most nationalities can visit Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand without a visa; for other nations, you'll need a visa, which may be available on arrival.
While some countries in Southeast Asia allow citizens of specific nations to enter without a visa, and others offer visas on arrival, it is important to check the rules before you travel, particularly if entering via land borders, where visas may not be available on arrival.
Visas for neighbouring countries are readily available in capital cities across the region. Travel with a ready supply of passport photos for visa applications. Contact the relevant embassy for the latest information as visa rules may change.
- No visa is required for most nationalities in Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. A visa may be required for longer stays.
- Vietnam has 15-day visa-free entry for some nationalities, plus e-visas and embassy-issued visas for longer stays.
- Visas on arrival are available for most nationalities in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and Timor-Leste. Most arrival visas are valid for about a month; embassies may issue visas for longer stays.
- Advance visas are required for all nationalities travelling to Myanmar.
- Plan your trip around the length of stay mandated by your visa.
- If you plan to stay longer, apply for a longer visa from the embassy in your home country or from an embassy in a neighbouring country. Alternatively, investigate the ease of extending a visa within the country.
- Stock up on passport photos; you’ll probably need at least two pictures each time you apply for a visa.
- Have the correct amount of local currency (or US dollars) to pay the on-arrival visa fee.
- Dress smartly when you’re visiting embassies, consulates and borders; you may be judged on your appearance.
- If entering by land or sea, check if the border post offers visas on arrival; some do not.
- Be aware that travellers are often targeted by transport and foreign exchange scams at land border crossings.