It should come as no surprise that more and more remote workers are looking for ways to escape the monotonous humdrum of working from home in order to relocate to Thailand, renowned for its picture-perfect beaches, exotic architecture, ancient ruins, and shining golden temples.

Especially if you own a digital company, or can secure a remote position with an overseas company, where wages are significantly higher than in Thailand, it is possible to save thousands each year (or even each month) by leveraging the lower cost of living – a strategy known as geoarbitrage.

However, it can be challenging to obtain a valid visa in Thailand that supports the “digital nomad” way of life. There are strict rules set by Thai immigration to which you must adhere if you wish to live and work lawfully in Thailand.

Is There a Digital Nomad Visa for Thailand?

Thailand does not offer a “digital nomad visa” as such, but there are four visa types that are appropriate for some digital professionals. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Determining which visa type is right for you will depend on a number of factors, including your income, education, experience, and ultimately your long-term aspirations in Thailand.

Whatever the case, one thing is clear in Thai law: any work carried out on Thai soil needs to be authorized by a valid visa and/or work permit, sponsored by a Thai company or government agency. 

A quick web search will turn up stories about foreigners who have lived in Thailand and worked remotely freelancers or independent contractors for multiple years. However, conducting such activity as a foreigner in Thailand is against the law. You may not get “busted” or blacklisted, but your future prospects in Thailand are certainly sullied.

If you want to live and work in Thailand in the long term, you need a long-term solution. You want to avoid inappropriate visa types like education or volunteer visas, which do not confer the right to work and can tarnish your passport and record in the eyes of Thai immigration.

 

Thai Visa Options for Digital Nomads

If you are determined to live and work legally as a digital nomad in Thailand, you will want to consider the following visa categories. They are presented in no particular order.


SMART Visa

The SMART visa is a new type of visa introduced in 2018 that aims to attract highly skilled manpower, investors, executives, and startup entrepreneurs to work or invest in Thailand’s targeted industries.

SMART visa holders are given a maximum stay of four years, work permit exemption, and additional privileges. While the Smart Visa does not actually come with an associated work permit, the right to work is inherent in the visa itself.

The application process for the Smart Visa is known to be long and 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 by other bodies. In all, you need to be approved by at least five different government departments.

If and when all qualifications are fulfilled, the applicant will be given a letter of endorsement which they can use to apply for their Smart Visa in Bangkok or abroad.

Of the four visa types, only the Smart “T” and Smart “S” are worth considering for some digital professionals – namely, salaried technology experts and tech entrepreneurs looking to start up in Thailand.

Requirements

SMART “T” (Talent)

General:

Experts working in government agencies/higher education institutions/specialized training institutions/Alternative Dispute Resolution:

SMART “S” (Startup)

Two-year visa:

One-year visa:

Six-month visa:

Pros and Cons

The pros of the Smart Visa are obvious: a 1- to 4-year visa, you don’t need a work permit (including dependents), no more 90 day notifications, and re-entry permits are not required for international travel.

The big con is that while the Smart Visa at first looks like a scheme intended for digital nomads, or at least the majority of them, on closer analysis that is not in fact the case.

The Smart S Visa may be an option for some if you are willing to undergo the lengthy screening procedure, but there is still a chance that you will not be approved by one or more government agencies. (Anecdotally, I know someone who was denied twice before recently being approved for the Smart S.)

Further, while “no work permit required” might seem like a pro, it thinly veils that Smart Visa holders are excluded from participating in the Thai social system during their stay. Without a work permit, they do not pay social security or qualify for government health insurance (hence the private health coverage requirement), dental, or other benefits.

Finally – and crucially for some – without a work permit connected to your visa, the years you spend in Thailand are not invested in future residency possibilities such as Permanent Residency. When your visa expires, you are back where you started.

In conclusion, while the Smart Visa does offer great benefits for those who are eligible, the strict requirements and screening procedure rule out the vast majority of digital professionals from seriously considering this option.

 


Business Visa + Digital Work Permit (EOR)

Over the past decade, more and more digital freelancers and online business owners are choosing to partner with employers of record (EOR) to handle their visa, work permit, and general employment during their stay in Thailand.

For a fixed monthly fee, the EOR sponsors your non-immigrant business visa and digital work permit, pays your taxes in Thailand, and processes your monthly payroll as your local employer. On the backend, they handle all the administrative and HR services required to maintain your legal employment in Thailand.

With an EOR, you are actually employed in Thailand, and as such you pay tax and participate in the system under their umbrella. Hence why EORs are sometimes called “umbrella companies”.

You still work on your own behalf as a freelancer or digital business owner; the EOR simply handles your your payroll, visa, work permit, tax and social security, allowing you to live and work in Thailand hassle-free.

Requirements

Pros & Cons

The “pros” of the EOR solution have mainly to do with convenience and benefits – easy onboarding, participation in Thailand Social Security, indefinite visa renewability, and future residency possibilities such as Permanent Residency.

Most importantly, you get a renewable 1 year Non-Immigrant “B” (Business) Visa, Digital Work Permit (D-WP), and Thailand Social Security Card, all of which set you up for long-term tax residency in Thailand.

Another benefit of working with an EOR is that you receive free government healthcare through the Thai social security system. Not only does an EOR provide you with a Business Visa and Work Permit to live and work in Thailand legally – you also receive a Thailand Social Security card which gives you coverage for illnesses, regular doctor visits, and preventative treatments, among other things.

Since you become a legal tax resident in Thailand, the time you spend in the Kingdom is invested into longer-term residency options such as Permanent Residency or Thai Citizenship.

Finally, you get a dedicated business partner, a team of local experts with broad knowledge and expertise in Thailand employment law, finance, and administrative support to act as a single point of contact for your needs as a working expat.

 


Long-Term Residents Visa

The long-term residence visa (LTR) is targeted at wealthy foreigners and pensioners, highly-skilled professionals, and work-from-Thailand individuals (and their spouses and children). It provides a number of tax and non-tax benefits, including fast-track service at all international airports in Thailand, multiple re-entry permits, 17% personal income tax for highly skilled professionals, and more.

To apply for the visa, you need to submit your applications and documents online with the Thailand Board of Investment (BOI), who will consider and approve your application. Once approved by BOI, you can then apply for the long-term visa with your nearest Thai embassy. Documents needed will depend on the particular category.

Permission will be granted to stay in Thailand for five years, which can be extended for an additional 5 years if the qualifications are met.

Digital nomads might be categorized as “Work-From-Thailand Professionals” or “Highly-Skilled Professionals”, and each of these categories must fulfill several conditions in order to qualify for the LTR visa.

Requirements

Work-From-Thailand Professionals

Highly-Skilled Professionals

Pros and Cons

The possibility of a 10-year residency in Thailand and a lower tax rate are the key advantages of obtaining the new digital nomad visa. Digital nomads will only pay 17% in taxes instead of a potential 35% tax rate.

However, many digital nomads may be disappointed with the requirements needed to be eligible for this visa. Thailand is being very selective about who can receive the visa in hopes of boosting the local economy with new business from publicly traded companies and innovative startups. But unfortunately the LTR visa is not a solution for the vast majority of digital professionals.

 


Thailand Elite Visa

True to its name, the Thai Elite visa is considered a long-stay visa option for those who can pay a 600,000 Thai Baht fee. Since it first debuted in 2003, it has become a popular option for those wishing to stay long-term in Thailand without having to deal with its bureaucratic immigration system.

The Elite Visa was originally proposed as a “pay-to-stay” alternative by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) in a bid to bring high-end visitors to Thailand. Thus it includes a long list of “elite” privileges such as access to airport lounges and airport pick-up services, golf club memberships, and discounts on various high-end, tourist-oriented services in Thailand.

The Elite Visa technically falls under the “special tourist visa” category, so you are technically prohibited from conducting work, business, or any form of employment while in Thailand. To legally work in Thailand, you must obtain a work permit.

One exception is if you qualify for the Flexible Plus program, which allows certain Thailand Elite members to convert their visa to a Non-immigrant visa and obtain a work permit.

Requirements

Pros & Cons

The pros of the Elite Visa are obvious, including its scan requirements. But it is essential to remember that the Thai Elite Visa is a special tourist visa and therefore cannot be held at the same time as a work permit. Thus, legally speaking, you are not supposed to perform any activity that generates income during your stay in Thailand.

In other words, the Elite Visa does not give you tax residency for your business or work. It is easy to see why this pay-to-stay approach makes sense for Thailand, but it can ultimately be damaging for the working visa-holder, who remains in a kind of tax residency limbo.

Moreover, as with the SMART Visa, your 5 or more years spent in Thailand are not invested into longer-term residency options such as Permanent Residency or Thai Citizenship. After the Elite Visa expires, you are back where you started.

One final con of the Elite Visa derives from one of its pros. You get 5 or more years – but you are locked into those years, if you want your money’s worth. Say that you find a work or business opportunity in Thailand, or your situation changes. In such unexpected scenarios, you would need to forfeit your Elite Visa.

If your goal is to work legally in Thailand, pay into the system, receive benefits like government healthcare, and invest your time into longer-term residency options such as PR, then the Elite Visa is probably not for you.

 

 

Relocate to Thailand Through Shelter

Shelter makes it easy to relocate your team or yourself to work remotely in Thailand – the most popular destination in the world for remote workers and digital nomads.

Contact us to learn more about our Thailand EOR service.