EOR vs Smart Visa
When the Smart Visa was announced in early 2018, it was rumored to be a “digital nomad visa” that would allow location-independent workers in Thailand to live and work here legally. While this turned out not to be the case, the Smart Visa is still promoted by visa agents around the country and widely suggested as an option for digital nomads.
So for whom is the Smart Visa actually intended, and what are the requirements? Importantly, how does it stack up against another popular option in recent years, the EOR (Employer of Record) solution?
To read the companion piece to this article, “EOR vs Elite Visa”, check out this blog article.
The Smart Visa was introduced in February 2018 to attract highly-skilled experts, investors, executives, startups, and entrepreneurs to work or invest in the following ten “S-Curve” industries in Thailand:
There are four types of Smart Visa (five counting dependents), and each comes with a range of perks including work eligibility for spouses and children without the need of work permits and no need to apply for re-entry permits.
While the Smart Visa does not actually come with an associated work permit, the right to work is inherent in the visa itself.
In total, there are four types of Smart Visa (in addition to the Non-Immigrant O Visa for family members):
- Smart T (Talent): For science and technology experts who earn at least 200,000 baht per month
- Smart I (Investor): For investors who make an investment of at least 20 million baht
- Smart E (Executive): For executives with at least a Bachelor’s degree, ten years work experience, and a minimum monthly salary of THB 200,000
- Smart S (Startup): For entrepreneurs who have health insurance, can deposit 600,000 baht in Thailand, and set up a company in one of the targeted “S-curve” industries
While initially the Smart Visa was rumored to be a “digital nomad visa”, this has turned out not to be the case. 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.
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.
As you can see in this workflow, the process is quite involved:
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.
Smart T Requirements
- Qualified and experienced science/technology experts
- Minimum monthly salary of 200,000 THB (6,091 USD)
- Employment contract from an S-Curve company with a minimum of one-year remaining
- Company’s annual report
Smart S Requirements
- Fixed deposit of 600,000 THB (18,274 USD – 7/29/21) with a maturity term of one-year and upwards (dependent family members are an additional 180,000 THB per person)
- Health insurance policy covering duration of stay in Thailand
- Proof of participation in an endorsed incubation, accelerator, or similar program
- Proof of joint-venture status, or endorsement by a relevant government industry
- Within 1 year, you must set up a company in Thailand in one of the targeted industries above with minimum 25% ownership, or become a board member of such a company
- Proof of a clean criminal record issued by the police authorities in your country of nationality
- Police Certificate issued by the police authorities in Thailand (only if you are already in Thailand)
- Health Certificate issued and notary certified in the past three months
- Proof of previous employment, such as a letter from your previous employer
- An overview of your business plan or pitch deck
- The company’s list of shareholders and/or a transfer slip
- The company’s annual report, brochures, catalogs, etc.
- Proof of participation in startup promotion activities
The processing fee for a Thai SMART Visa application is 10,000 Thai Baht per year. For the Smart S, you must also deposit 600,000 THB in Thailand.
Private health insurance is an additional cost to bear in mind.
90 Day Reporting
After Smart Visa holders have been granted permission to stay in Thailand, they only need to check in once per year at the One-Stop Center for Visas and Work Permits.
Tax and Social Security
While the Smart Visa holder does have the “right to work” in Thailand, they do not receive a work permit and as such do not pay income tax or receive social security benefits.
Pros and Cons
The “pros” of the Smart Visa are obvious – a one- to four-year visa, you don’t need a work permit to work (including dependents), 1 year notifications rather than 90 days, and re-entry permits not required.
The big “con” is that while the Smart Visa at first looks like a scheme intended for digital nomads, on closer analysis that is definitively not the case.
The Smart S (Startup) can 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. According to Khaosok English, around one-third of the applicants in the first eight months of the program’s history (9 out of 37) were not approved for their visa. Anecdotally, I know someone who was denied twice before recently being approved for the Smart S.
What’s more, while the “no work permit required” rule may seem like a “pro”, it very thinly veils that Smart Visa holders are barred from actually participating in the system during their stay. Without a work permit, they do not pay social security or qualify for government health insurance (hence the private coverage requirement) and other benefits.
Finally – and crucially for some – without a work permit connected to your visa, you are not able to apply for Permanent Residency in the future.
In conclusion, while the Smart Visa does offer great benefits for eligible professionals, the strict requirements and screening procedure rule out the vast majority of digital professionals from seriously considering this option.
EOR (Employer of Record)
While the visa provided by an EOR is issued by the same governing body as the Smart Visa (BOI), the two setups are quite different in structure.
For the Smart Visa, applicants must have their qualifications endorsed by various government agencies so they can live in Thailand while working, but in a very real sense they are not actually working in Thailand as they exist outside the system.
With an EOR, such as Shelter, you are actually employed in Thailand by the company doing the endorsing or sponsoring, and as such you pay tax and participate in the system under their umbrella.
Hence why EORs are sometimes called “umbrella” or “shelter” companies.
You still work on your own behalf as a freelancer, remote employee, etc.; the EOR simply provides your visa and work permit as well as handles the back-office administrative and compliance responsibilities, allowing you to live and work in Thailand hassle-free.
While the requirements do exclude some, far more digital professionals are eligible to work with an EOR than to get a Smart Visa, including digital freelancers, online business owners, startup teams and founders, and remote employees of overseas companies that earn less than 200,000 THB per month.
- 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 diploma (university, college, or high school) or professional certificate, plus at least 5 years of relevant work experience
- Work in one of the following fields:
- Software development
- Business development
- Other tech/digital-related activity
- Have an existing business or client base
- Can bill a minimum of $1,500 USD per month
- Can commit to a one- or two-year contract
- Passport scan
- Diploma scan
- Reference letters
Pricing depends on the provider you choose, but typically EORs will collect a percentage (up to 30%) of the earnings you bring into Thailand (minimum between 1,500-2,000 USD depending on provider). The remainder is paid as your net salary in Thai baht.
90 Day Reporting
EOR clients are only required to report once per year to renew their visas and work permits. They are not required to report in-person every 90 days.
Tax and Social Security
Since EOR clients are employed by a Thai company, they pay tax and social security payments in Thailand and receive free government health insurance.
Pros and Cons
Compared to the Smart Visa, 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.
Since an EOR is your employer as well as business partner, they do most of the heavy lifting during onboarding. After you provide the required documents, the company prepares the paperwork for you to submit with your visa application at a Thai embassy in your home country. The turnaround time is 2 to 3 weeks.
If you are already in Thailand, the EOR will arrange an appointment at Immigration to convert your current visa into a Non-Immigrant “B” and obtain your work permit. The turnaround time in this case is around 15 days.
Read more about the EOR onboarding process in this article.
Another benefit of working with an EOR is the government health insurance you receive by paying into Thailand Social Security. 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.
Read more about Thailand Social Security benefits in this article.
As a result, by paying into Social Security and being able to renew your visa indefinitely, you set yourself up to be eligible for Permanent Residency in 3 years provided you meet the income requirement (80,000 THB).
Read more about Permanent Residency in Thailand in this article.
For more articles like this one, check out the Shelter Blog: