Thailand is a global hotspot for expats looking to escape the cold weather and start a new life abroad. This beautiful country is home to some of the most diverse landscapes, from white-sand beaches to dense mountain forests. And in recent years, it has also become an economic powerhouse thanks to its large market size and rapidly expanding middle class. Pre-pandemic, Thailand was ranked 12th on Forbes’ list of best countries for business and 9th on their list of top ten destinations for entrepreneurs.

With the end of the pandemic in sight, many are considering Thailand for their post-covid plans. Which is why we at Shelter, as Thailand relocation specialists, often receive the question:

What is the best way to live and work in Thailand, as a digital professional, in 2021?

While there is currently a 14-day quarantine requirement (to be reduced to 7 days in April), the good news is that the restrictions are about to seriously ease up.

It is expected that the borders may fully open to vaccinated foreigners – no quarantine required – as early as July. Even the Prime Minister has expressed a desire to open Thailand’s borders soon, and a petition was recently launched by 15 major companies in Thailand’s tourism sector to #OpenThailandSafely by July 1st, when it is expected that most frontline workers in the tourist industry will be vaccinated.

In light of these developments, let’s look at the three best ways to live and work in Thailand in 2021.

Option 1: Get a Tourist Visa

Recommended for Short-term travelers (less than 1 year)

The first and most straightforward option is to get a Tourist (TR) Visa. If arranged in advance at a Thai embassy or consulate-general, it is possible to get a 60 day or even 6 month TR Visa, depending on your nationality and where you apply. Most types of TR visas can be extended two times, for the length of the original visa.

The only problem for those looking to live and work in Thailand on a Tourist Visa, is that it is not a long-term or even legal solution. Since they are tax residents “nowhere”, they are most likely actually tax residents in their former home. This can cause serious issues in the event that they are audited by their country of citizenship and compelled to justify their tax residency in Thailand. It also means they won’t be paying into the Thai social security system, which is the safety net which they could rely on should they ever find themselves in need of medical services.

Sadly, the days of living as a tourist in Thailand are coming to an end. It is more complicated, and expensive, to circumvent laws and string together tourist visas to work as a digital professional. You’ll struggle to open a Thai bank account, will have to pay for visas and visa runs, and pay international withdrawal fees at ATMs. 

That said, it is possible to convert a Tourist Visa into other visa types, including a business visa through Shelter. However, there will be a hefty “fee” at Immigration (25,000 THB and up) if you want to do so inside Thailand, without making a border run. Therefore we do not recommend this path if you intend to live and work in Thailand – better to arrange a long-term visa in advance in your current country of residence.

Option 2: Get an Elite Visa

Recommended for High-earning individuals with an established tax home outside Thailand

While the Elite Visa is an increasingly popular option for those wishing to stay long-term in Thailand, it is quite expensive (16,000–65,000 USD) and, like the TR Visa, prohibits employment. On the other hand, it does allow you to stay from 5 to 20 years in Thailand without having to deal with immigration – a big perk.

The Elite Visa is marketed as a high-end “VIP” visa with special privileges

The idea of the Elite Visa was originally raised by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) as a “pay-to-stay” alternative to help bring high-end visitors to Thailand. Accordingly it includes a long list of so-called “elite” privileges such as access to airport pick-up services, privilege passport lanes, airport lounges, visa assistance, golf club memberships, and discounts on various services in Thailand – all catering, it seems, towards a particular type of traveler (usually with a gold handkerchief in their breast pocket).

Sadly, the gold kerchief is not included among the complimentary items in the Elite Visa package.

Importantly, though, the Thai Elite Visa does not confer the right to work. And legally speaking, without a work permit, you are not supposed to do any activity that generates income in Thailand. As made clear even on their website

“Elite Visa is categorized under Tourist Visa, which does not allow the holder to legally apply for a work permit to work in Thailand.” 

This is not to say that if you do any work at all, you will be busted by the immigration police. But as with a Tourist Visa (the Elite Visa is a Tourist Visa after all), it can create tax problems down the road with respect to your home country.

All to say – no work, no pay, no tax, no benefits. When you stop to think about it, one basic “privilege” curiously missing from the Thailand Elite scheme is Thai government healthcare. Also: the ability to invest your time spent in Thailand into future residency possibilities such as Permanent Residency and Citizenship.

Option 3: Get a Sponsored Business Visa and Work Permit

Recommended for Digital business owners, entrepreneurs, and remote employees with 2+ years experience

Whereas the TR and Elite Visas are not appropriate long-term solutions for digital professionals who wish to make Thailand their tax home, our third option – getting a Business Visa and Work Permit sponsored by a Thai company like Shelter – is a solution tailored specifically to entrepreneurs, digital business owners, freelancers, and remote employees.

Shelter is a licensed Employer of Record (EoR) in Thailand, which means we can employ you or your team according to local labor laws, help you obtain a Non-Immigrant Business Visa (Non-B Visa), Digital Work Permit (D-WP), and Thai Social Security Card, and take care of the same kind of payroll, tax, social security, and immigration processes that a normal employer would. You still work on your behalf; we just handle the administrative and compliance responsibilities for you, allowing you to do your work and live hassle-free in Thailand .

While this solution is by no means for everyone, it can be especially appealing for remote professionals and entrepreneurs who meet the experience, education, and income requirements:

Whether you are a freelancer or entrepreneur looking for a favorable tax haven, or are trying to get legal after years on inappropriate visas, the nice thing about working with an EoR is that it makes relocating your business overseas simple. In Shelter you have a dedicated business partner—a team of local experts to handle the set up (title approval, visa application) and ongoing administrative processes (immigration, payroll, tax, social security). We have broad knowledge and expertise in Thailand employment law, finance, and administrative support and can act as a single point of contact for your back-office needs. We offer a full service experience so that you can focus on your life and your work. 

Check out what our clients have said about our service:

How does the process work?

After verifying your qualifications, we will prepare an official Letter of Employment along with a visa application packet, and ship it directly to you overseas. With this packet, you will be ready to apply for a Non-Immigrant Business Visa for Employment (or Non-Immigrant O Visa for spouse and children) at a Thai Embassy or Consulate in your home country.

After arriving in Thailand, we will schedule and accompany you to your appointment at Immigration to obtain your work permit. Your Thai social security card comes later, after monthly payroll has begun and your first tax and social payments are processed.

What’s included?

Shelter services include paperwork preparation for visa application, work permit for the duration of employment, drafting of employment agreements, corporate structuring consultation if needed, opening a Thai or overseas bank account, and obtaining a Thai social security card. We accompany our clients to Immigration when necessary, such as to obtain their work permit or renew their visa, and guide them through each step of the process. For 90 day check-ins, we collect our clients’ passports and complete the process for them, both in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Finally, the bulk of our service consists in providing ongoing back-office services such as invoicing, tax and social security payments, and payroll processing.

What’s not included?

What’s not included are incidental one-time costs such as visa/work permit application fees and multiple- or re-entry permits. If there are travel expenses incurred on a visa run, or if you need help transferring your visa without leaving the country, that’s a one-time fee as well. Our experience is that reimbursement for such minor costs is a payroll nightmare, and we try to offset that cost in the form of a reduced flat monthly fee.

What documents do I need to apply?

If you are applying from outside Thailand, initially all we need is your CV and a scan of your passport. After you’ve entered Thailand, we will need a scan of your diploma and reference letters to complete the work permit application.

If you are applying from inside Thailand, we need all four documents upfront.

How do I get started?

The first step is to submit an application form on our website (it only takes 1-2 minutes). We will then review it and get back to you to set up a consultation or answer any questions you might have before proceeding with the next steps in the process. After signing with us, we can typically ship your paperwork to you within 2-3 weeks – although depending on what positions we currently have open, often we are able to ship within days.

It’s time to make Thailand your business home. Schedule a consultation today.


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