If you spend any amount of time in Asia then you may have to do a visa run. Visa runs are done to either renew a visa or possibly to get a new one. If you get a job in say Korea or in Japan from your own country then you may never have to do a visa run. They are not too expensive, however they are an added expense that isn't usually included in an ESL teachers salary.
After looking at my passports I realized I did a lot of visa runs to and from Taiwan, Korea and China. I also ended up spending quite a bit of money in the long run as you can see below. Most of you will probably never have to do this many or stay in Asia for this long.
I found that I did a total of 5 or 6 visa runs (one may not have been required) for Taiwan between 2004-2006. The first three of those were flights to Hong Kong (HK) when I first moved to Taiwan. I never actually set foot in HK or got off the plane. Those were done just so I could reenter Taiwan with my current visa. My 30 day visa had expired, so I had to leave the country to get a little "departure" stamp on my passport. After turning around I would come back to Taiwan and get another "admitted or entry" stamp. That would give me another 30 days.
In Taiwan, Hong Kong is the place most people go to for visa runs. I also did a total of three more trips out of Taiwan. Two more to Hong Kong and those times I actually did set foot in Hong Kong. I stayed with friends a couple of times and then at hostels in Mirador Mansions and Chung King Mansions. The later has a great Indian restaurant on the second floor. Those places are also the cheapest to stay at in HK.
The other place that I went to one time for about a month at the end of my first year was to Thailand. Trips to Thailand from Taiwan can be pretty cheap as well, although they are not as cheap as HK. So in a period of about 2 years I did 6 trips in and out of Taiwan. Sometimes that was just to renew a visa or other times it was to get new one in HK.
At the end of 2007 I flew to Busan, Korea to find work on a tourist visa. After a month I found a job and I had to take a visa run to Fukuoka, Japan. This time I didn't take a plane, but a hydrofoil. It took about two+ hours to get to Fukuoka. I took with me some paperwork from my school to get an E-2 visa from the consulate. I spent a night there in a hostel and the next day I went to the Korean consulate to pick up my visa. I hopped back on the boat and went back to Busan.
In Korea your school will usually pay for most of these expenses. I was set for about year on that visa. When that visa ended I stayed in Korea for around another year occasionally working part time on a tourist visa. Americans get 90 days in Korea. In that period I also did some traveling to Taiwan, China and I took 4 visa runs to Japan. I usually took the hydrofoil from Busan and spent a few days in Fukuoka (it's nice), but there is also a ferry that is overnight that is a bit cheaper and much slower. When I worked in the public school I also had to take another trip to Japan to apply for the E-2 visa.
If you enter China on an L visa (tourist visa) you will have to take at least one visa run to get a Z visa for teaching English. L visas are only good for 30 days. Most teachers go to HK for this. Some schools will offer some assistance with this, but most will not and the expense will be on you. While in China I had a total of 6 L visas. You can get a double entry one. That will enable you to get another 30 days after exiting and reentering.
I only went to HK one time to get a new L visa. So actually I think I had 2 double entry L visas and four L visa extensions that I got in Shanghai where I was living. The expense of getting to HK was quite similar to the expense of getting an extension minus the hassle. Actually I think China is more of hassle visa wise than are Taiwan, Korea and Japan. That was my experience anyways. Americans also have to pay big bucks for visas. They pay around $140 USD for any visa. I payed a grand total of about $840 for all of my visas for that period while I was in Shanghai.
So that in a snapshot is my experience with visa runs while teaching in Asia. If you plan well they don't have to be a hassle and they can be a good opportunity to have some fun in another country for a few days or so.
Just for fun here are some of the expenses that I accrued over my time in Asia (about 6 years). These were not all for visa runs. My visa run and traveling expenses (rough estimates):
- Flight RT Taipei to Hong Kong (China Airlines)=$200 x 5=$1000
- Flight RT Taipei to Bangkok=$350 x 1=$350
- Hydrofoil RT Busan to Fukuoka=$220 x 5=$1100
- Ferry RT Busan to Fukuoka=$120 x 1=$120
- Flight RT Busan to Shanghai=$300 x 2=$600
- Flight RT Busan to Tokyo=$300 x 1=$300
- Flight RT Busan to Taipei=$400 x 1=$400
- Flight Shanghai to HK=$250 x 1=$250
Visas to China (L visas)
- L visa=$140 X 7=$980
Total of these expenses accrued between 2004-2006 and 2007-2011=$5100 - $440 (paid by employer) =$4660
Most, but not all of these trips were mandatory. These prices do not include ground transportation or flights to and from Asia. They also do not include visas to Taiwan. If I recall correctly those can cost less than $100. Americans also get a free landing visa that is good for 30 days. In Korea and Japan Americans get 90 days free on a tourist visa.