So you’ve decided you want to move to Thailand, but you’re not sure what your visa and work permit options are. There are a great many paths open to you and each is not for everyone.

That’s why we put together a comprehensive list of visa options for expats in Thailand, and the pros and cons of each.

  1. Education Visa
  2. Start a business
  3. Teach English
  4. Get married
  5. Retire
  6. Invest
  7. Permanent Residency
  8. Elite Card
  9. SMART Visa
  10. Work through Shelter


1. Education Visa

The Education Visa is available for foreigners who stay in Thailand for the purpose of attending a full-time education course at a Thai university or smaller school. “Full time” means that you must attend at least 100 hours in classes for every 90 days of your stay.

There are a number of schools that will sponsor a visa for muay thai boxing, Thai culture, or even Thai cooking, but more and more of these schools are losing their certification with the Ministry of Education (“MoE” certification). You want to ensure that the school you choose is legitimate and certified by the Ministry of Education in Thailand. There has been a trend in recent years of schools that set up basically in order to issue Education Visassometimes without offering real courses or enforcing the minimum study hoursand Thai Immigration is catching on.

While the public or private university route is safer and offers more fields of study, the process is much easier to get underway at smaller schools that offer Thai language courses. Not only are they less expensive, but many of them are high-quality learning institutions who have stood the test of time in the Kingdom.

We do not recommend getting an education visa if you intend to work in Thailand. However, many foreigners do choose this path as a way to prolong their stay in Thailand past the 30-60 days allowed by a Tourist Visa. It is by no means a long-term solution, but it may be an option if you do not plan to stay longer than 1 to 3 years.


2. Start a Business

There is a lot of potential for starting up successful businesses in Thailand, if you have a strong plan and sufficient funding. A good working knowledge of the Thai language will also take you a long way. Since Thailand is a consumerist society following the lead of China’s growth, there is a growing middle class of Thais with money to spend and, as a result, many opportunities for expat entrepreneurs.

The Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) provides details in English as to how to set up a company. This will include reserving a company name, filing a Memorandum of Association, convening a statutory meeting, registering the company within three months of this statutory meeting, and finally registering for tax documents and an employer account under the Social Security Act. Be aware that several administrative procedures leading to the creation of your company come with fees.

Thailand also has strict labour regulations that you must adhere to once your business has been established, and the majority of your workforce must be Thai. Importantly, you also need to take into consideration the Business Act, which stipulates that Thai companies must have a majority Thai ownership (51% or more). 

Any kind of nominee shareholder arrangement is illegal in Thailand. Still, there is a way to retain 100% control of your company by having shares with different voting powers.

If you receive a BOI special permit, there are some exceptions to the requirements outlined above. The BOI or Board of Investment is a Thai government agency that grants special rights to individuals and companies who choose to invest in Thailand. For example, BOI investors are able to own 100% of a Thai LLC as a foreign national and are not limited by the requirement to have four Thai employees for every foreigner.

Getting certified by the BOI is quite difficult and expensive and also requires a certain level of turnover or profit.


3. Teach English

One of the most popular employment options for foreigners in Thailand is to teach English at a Thai school or language center.

As with other countries in Asia, the requirements to teach English vary depending on who you ask. Let’s start with the requirements set forth by the government to teach English in Thailand:

That said, there is a high demand for English teachers in Thailand and not all of them will be as strict with the requirements, especially outside the larger cities.

Technically speaking, a TEFL or CELTA certification is not required. On the other hand, nearly every school in Thailand requires this kind of certification if you do not have a degree in education or experience teaching English as a foreign language. 

While teaching is not the most lucrative employment for foreigners in Thailand, it does provide a decent standard of living especially when coupled with the low cost of living. The average salary for a native English speaker with little to no experience is around 35,000 Thai baht (TBH) per month anddepending on who you askthis is enough to live comfortably and save, especially if you reside outside Bangkok. 

If you want to earn more as a teacher in Thailand, you will either need to find a second job, teach private lessons at a smaller language school, or land an international or corporate training position.

The best source of information for teaching in Thailand, as well as the best place to browse jobs, is


4. Get Married

If you marry a Thai national, you are eligible to receive the Thai Marriage Visa. 

Other than a Thai spouse, the main requirement for this type of visa is sufficient funds in your bank account (THB 400,000) or monthly income (THB 40,000) to prove that you can support yourself and your family in Thailand.

You might be able to get the first year visa without proof of income, but after that you will need to prove each year that you have the moneywithout needing to work in Thailandto support your family and live in the kingdom. The visa is renewable every year and the renewal process can be done without leaving Thailand.

There is actually no direct application for the Thailand marriage visa. Rather, you should obtain a 1-Year Non-Immigrant O visa from your home country or country of residence. Once your visa is activated by entering Thailand, you must prepare the required documentation to convert your non-immigrant O visa into a marriage visa. It can take up to a month of processing before the Thai marriage visa is actually issued.

If you happen to find a job, it is possible to have a work permit while on this visa type.


5. Retire

To retire in Thailand, you must be at least 50 years old and have enough money in the bank (THB 800,000) or a monthly pension coming in from your country of citizenship (THB 65,000) to show that you can support yourself in Thailand without having to work.

This is a long-term Thai visa that allows the holder to stay in Thailand for 1 year. The visa is renewable each year and can be done inside Thailand. The application and renewal process follows the same general guidelines as the marriage visa.

You can apply for a Thai retirement visa either inside Thailand or your current country of residence. It is important that you provide the required documentation in full when putting together your application. Also importantly, please note that not all Thai Embassies and Consulates are able to supply Thai retirement visas, so you should double check before submitting your application.


6. Invest

If you have capital to invest, the Non-Immigrant Type I or B Visa visa can open many doors for you. It goes without saying that all investments come with a significant risk, but if you do your research and due diligence, you may end up getting a return on your investment in addition to getting a visa to stay in Thailand in the long term.

The first visa option for investors in Thailand is the Type I. This is the official investor path which is somewhat limited as it requires you to invest in government-approved projects, which limits the options available to you. Additionally this path requires a significant amount of capital, usually from 5-10 million THB.

In addition to the official Type I path, there is an alternative, lesser known path. Essentially you act as an angel investor for a Thai company of your choosing, and in return the company can sponsor your business visa and, in certain cases, get you a work permit. In this scenario, you would be acting not only as an investor but also potentially as an advisor providing know-how in your given area of expertise.

This latter path can require a significant amount of time and research to get started, but it does provide greater freedom of choice when choosing investment opportunities.


7. Permanent Residency

While very difficult to obtain, having permanent residency in Thailand comes with many advantages. You are able to live permanently in Thailand without having to apply for extensions of stay and purchase property without having to jump through so many hoops. It is also much easier to get a work permit and you are eligible to become a director of a Thai public company.

The reason permanent residency is so difficult to obtain is not the requirements (three consecutive years on a Non-Immigrant visa) but rather the limited number of visas given out. Only 100 individuals per country are granted permanent residency each year.

Here are the general requirements for becoming a Thai Permanent Resident:

Once obtained, Permanent Residency never expires (unless revoked). After holding PR status in Thailand for ten consecutive years, you can apply to become a Thai naturalized citizen.


8. Get the Elite Card

An increasingly popular option for long-term stay in Thailand is to purchase the Thai Elite Card. It is quite expensive (THB 500,000+) but it does allow you to stay for 5 to 20 years in Thailand without having to deal with its bureaucratic visa system.

Originally, the idea of the Elite Visa was raised by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to bring high-end visitors to Thailand. Accordingly it also includes a wide range of “elite” privileges, including access to airport pick-up services, privilege passport lanes, airport lounges, visa assistance, golf club memberships, and discounts on various services in Thailand. By showing your Thailand Elite Card, you immediately get discounts for you, your family, and your guests. 

Despite misconceptions, the Thai Elite Card does not confer the right to work. Legally speaking, without a work permit, you can’t do any activity that generates income in Thailand on the Elite Visa.


9. SMART Visa

The SMART Visa is designed specially to attract highly-skilled experts, investors, executives, and entrepreneurs who wish to work or invest in certain specific industries in the Kingdom of Thailand.

There are 5 types of SMART Visa, and each comes with a wide range of perks including one-year check-ins at immigration (instead of ninety days), work eligibility for spouses and children without the need of work permits, and no need to apply for re-entry permits.

Here are the four types of SMART Visa (the fifth being the Non-Immigrant O for family):

The application process for the SMART Visa is quite cumbersome, leading many to consider other options. First you must apply for a “qualification endorsement” and have the relevant government agency assess your skills and provide an endorsement if the criteria are met.

After an endorsement is issued, other requirements will be screened. If all qualifications are fulfilled, the applicant will be given a letter of endorsement which they can use for their SMART Visa application.


10. Work through Shelter

Finally, if you work remotely in a tech- or digital-related field, you can do your business through Shelter as your employer of record. We take care of all documentation, immigration, invoicing, payroll, and health insurance for you, leaving you to focus on your work.

The general requirements are as follows:

The application and approval process takes around 8-10 days, and we ship your paperwork to you. Once your Business Visa is obtained and activated by entering Thailand, you can get your digital work permit which is stored on your smartphone in the new D-WP app recently released by Thai Immigration.

Contact Shelter for more information.

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