EOR vs Elite: What’s the Best Option for Remote Professionals?
What is the best Thai visa option for digital nomads, remote workers, digital professionals, location-independent entrepreneurs (whatever your preferred nomenclature)?
One popular option, the Elite Visa, allows you to stay in Thailand for 5 years or more without having to leave the country.
A lesser known option, though increasingly popular in recent years, is to get a sponsored business visa and work permit through one of several Thai companies that provide Employer of Record (EOR) services, such as Shelter.
In this article, we take a closer look at these two long-term residency options, comparing the pros and cons of each.
Since it first debuted in 2003, the Thai Elite Visa has become a popular option for those wishing to stay long-term in Thailand without having to deal with its bureaucratic immigration system.
The membership itself is quite pricey, although it does allow you to stay from 5 to 20 years in Thailand depending on the program you choose.
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.
- No history of overstaying in Thailand
- No history of bankruptcy
- No criminal history or record of having been declared incompetent or a person of unsound mind
The most affordable membership option, called “Elite Easy Access”, costs 600,000 THB and comes with a 5-year renewable multiple-entry visa. While it technically falls under the “special tourist visa” category, the Elite Visa does allow you to stay in Thailand long-term without needing to leave the country.
90 Day Reporting
Another perk of the Elite Visa is that you are not required to report at Immigration every 90 days as with other visa types. The Elite staff does it for you.
Tax and Social Security
Since the Elite Visa is a tourist visa, you do not need to pay income taxes especially if the income was earned abroad. While it is possible to voluntarily pay income tax, you do not receive commensurate social security benefits like government health insurance. It is therefore recommended that Elite Visa holders obtain their own private health coverage if they wish to be insured (in any case, this will be a Thailand entry requirement for the remainder of the Covid-19).
Pros and Cons
While the pros of the Elite Visa are obvious, it is essential to remember that the Thai Elite Visa is a tourist visa and therefore cannot be held at the same time as a work permit.
Therefore, legally speaking, you are not supposed to perform any activity that generates income during your stay in Thailand. Additionally it can create tax problems down the road if you are audited by your home country and compelled to justify 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.
Moreover, unlike with a Non-Immigrant Business Visa for example, your 5 or more years spent in Thailand are not invested into longer-term residency options such as Permanent Residency (PR). After the Elite Visa expires, you are back where you started.
One final “con” of the Elite Visa set up (that I’ve personally heard several elites bemoan) derives from one of its “pros”. Yes, you get 5 years – but you are locked into those 5 years, if you want your money’s worth. Say that you find a good job with a company in Thailand – a great path to PR. In this scenario, you would need to forfeit your Elite Visa.
In conclusion: 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.
EOR (Employer of Record)
Compared to the Elite Visa and other visa types, working with an Employer of Record is an entirely different beast.
With an EOR, you still work on your own behalf; the EOR simply handles the back-office administrative and compliance responsibilities, allowing you to live long-term in Thailand hassle-free.
To appreciate the unique value of this setup, it should be noted how different it is from the Elite Visa scheme — a program created mainly to stimulate the Thai tourism sector, without providing much in terms of actual government benefits to the visa holder.
In contrast, the EOR model is designed specifically for the end user – in this case, the working remote professional who wants to establish a tax home in Thailand. Accordingly the benefits are tailor-fit for long-term security, including easy annual renewals, government health insurance, and the ability to apply for Permanent Residency.
- Are at least 22 years old
- Have either of the following:
- An IT-related university degree, plus at least 2 years of relevant work experience
- Any type of university/college/school diploma or certificate, plus at least 5 years of relevant work experience (backed by recommendation letters)
- Work in one of the following fields:
- Software development
- Business development
- Other tech/digital-related activity
- Have an existing business or client base
- Bill a minimum of $1,500 USD per month
- Commit to a one- or two-year contract
Depending on the provider you choose, EORs typically charge a flat monthly fee between 400 and 750 USD, which covers everything needed to establish a reliable tax home in Thailand. In return, you receive a Non-Immigrant Business Visa, Work Permit, and Thailand Social Security card.
90 Day Reporting
As with the Elite Visa, EOR clients are typically not required to report in-person for their 90-day notifications, as the company can do this for them.
Tax and Social Security
Another big benefit is the government health insurance you receive by paying into Social Security. Not only does an EOR provide you with a Business Visa and Work Permit to live and work in Thailand legally – you will also receive a Thailand Social Security card which gives you thorough coverage for illnesses, regular doctor visits, and preventative treatments, among other things.
Pros and Cons
The EOR monthly fee might seem to belong on the “cons” list, but when you consider the issue of tax residency for your business—how working with Shelter can exempt you from owing income tax in your home country—and the value of the back-office services provided, EOR clients actually save considerably more after tax than the monthly fee they pay.
And that’s in pure dollar terms—not to mention the peace of mind of having a longer term solution for staying legally, and being able to apply for PR in the future.
Thailand has a favorable taxation policy on money earned outside the country, so if you are a startup owner, entrepreneur or freelancer looking to bootstrap or extend your runway, relocating your operations to Thailand through an EOR can be a big money saver for those with an online income if structured properly.
As one of our clients at Shelter put it to us:
Finally, an EOR will be there to assist you in almost every aspect of your life in Thailand, from getting a Thai driver’s license and activating your Social Security card to obtaining Tax Residence Certificates and applying for Permanent Residency.
Indeed, this is perhaps the greatest benefit of working with an EOR – 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.
While the Elite Visa is a “one size fits all” solution that allows anyone to live long-term in Thailand, it leaves much to be desired for remote workers seeking tax residency. On the other hand, the EOR solution is tailored specifically for digital professionals working in the digital or tech space, but there is a higher bar of entry.
The answer to the question “Which is the better option?” is the same as it always is in such cases: What makes the most sense for you will be determined by your current professional and financial situation.
For those who do not meet the EOR requirements and have 600,000 THB in the bank, the Elite Visa is a great option for setting yourself up for 5 years in Thailand. You will want to get private health insurance as well.
On the EOR side, if you meet the requirements, earn a decent income, and have long-term aspirations in Thailand, then there is every reason to take advantage of the best current option for obtaining PR – with social security to boot.
For more articles like this one, check out the Shelter blog: