What Jobs Can Expats Do in Thailand?
Thailand has the second largest economy in Southeast Asia, making its job market one of the most developed in the region. There are many highly sought-after opportunities available to foreigners – especially in the tech and tourism space. According to a 2019 study, the most in-demand jobs were in the following fields:
For these and most other positions open to foreigners, however, you will typically need a unique skill, degree, or level of experience not easily found among Thai applicants.
In this article, we take a closer look at the range of jobs available to expats in Thailand, as well as the jobs from which they are strictly barred. But first, a quick word on the issue of work permits
The Issue of Work Permits
Because Thailand is such a popular expat haven, many people try to relocate here long-term by finding a local job. However, foreigners cannot do just any kind of work in Thailand.
In order to work in Thailand legally, foreign nationals must obtain the appropriate visa and work permit associated with their line of work.
It’s true that some expats work under the table, but there is a considerable risk of being caught, deported, and even blacklisted from revisiting Thailand. Immigration officials, as well as the civilian informants they are known to utilize, are always looking out to catch foreigners working illegally – or else shake you down for an expensive bribe.
Especially if you are involved in a public-facing business, one that caters to tourists for example, you are at an especially high risk of being reported if even one person – a disgruntled local, your competition, a jilted lover – catches wind and makes a quick phone call.
With this in mind, we highly recommend you go through the proper procedures if you wish to do any kind of work in Thailand.
While Thailand does welcome foreign workers, the job market is not completely open to them. There are some jobs you just can’t do.
Here is a list of restricted jobs which are reserved for Thais only:
- Wood carving
- Driving motor vehicles, driving a non-mechanically propelled carrier or driving a domestic mechanically propelled carrier, except for piloting international aircraft or forklift driving
- Cutting or polishing diamond or precious stones
- Haircutting, hairdressing or beauty treatment
- Cloth weaving by hand
- Mat weaving or utensil making from reeds, rattan, hemp, straw, bamboo, bamboo pellicle, grass, chicken feather, coconut leaf stick, fibre, wire or other materials
- Mulberry paper making by hand
- Lacquerware making
- Making Thai musical instruments
- Nielloware making
- Gold ornaments, silverware or pink gold making
- Bronze ware making
- Thai dolls making
- Alms bowl making
- Silk products making by hand
- Buddha images making
- Paper or cloth umbrella making
- Brokerage or agency work, except brokerage or agency working in international trade or investment
- Thai massage
- Cigarette rolling by hand
- Tour guide or sightseeing tour operation
- Manual typesetting of Thai characters
- Silk reeling and twisting by hand
- Clerical or secretarial work
- Legal services or services in legal proceedings, except for the following occupations:
- Performing duties of arbitration
- Providing assistance or representation in the arbitral proceedings in the event that the law applicable to the dispute being considered by the arbitrators is not the Thai law
Aside from these strictly prohibited jobs, there are 3 additional lists that provide for exceptions in the case of international agreements, treaties, and certain skilled labor.
Prohibited with exceptions
- Controlling, auditing, performing or providing accounting services, except:
- Occasional internal audit work
- Work under international agreements or obligations to which Thailand is bound, which the Professional Association provides a certificate
- Civil engineering concerning counselling, project planning, design and calculation, construction supervision or manufacturing, inspection, administration work to organise the system, research and test, except those who are registered under the ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) and other international agreements
- Professional architectural work concerning project study, design, construction management and supervision, inspection or consulting, except for professional architects under the ASEAN MRA for architectural services and other international agreements
Exceptions for skilled or semi-skilled workers
- Agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry or fishery
- Bricklaying, carpentry or construction works
- Mattress or quilt blanket making
- Hat making
- Dress making
- Pottery or ceramic ware making
Exceptions under treaties
- Labour (manual work and simple work which requires physical strength)
- Shop front sellers (selling goods at a wholesale or retail establishment as well as selling goods at stalls or shops located in markets or roadsides)
Jobs Expats Can Do in Thailand
Despite the long list of restricted jobs above, there are still a wide range of jobs available to foreigners who wish to work in Thailand. Let’s look at each of them in more detail.
Work for an IT Company
As mentioned above, many of the opportunities available in the Thai job market are in the IT/tech field (software development, programming, sales, marketing, design, etc). The vast majority of such IT companies are based in Bangkok, but it’s usually possible to work remotely from elsewhere in the country, for example Chiang Mai or Phuket.
To qualify for IT/tech positions, the general requirements are a relevant technical degree and two years experience, or 5 year experience with no degree.
While the pay for such positions is minimal compared to similar positions in developed Western countries (100,000 THB at the highest), it can still provide quite a high quality of life due to the low cost of living in Thailand. Moreover, since you are a tax-paying resident of the country, you can avoid paying high income tax in your home country.
Overall, the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to working in IT/tech. You get a business visa and work permit which give you stability in Thailand, and since you pay into the security system you also receive free government healthcare.
Find an Employer of Record (EOR)
For those who already work in IT/tech for an overseas company, or run their own digital business, it is still possible to obtain a visa and work permit in Thailand without actually finding a job with a Thai IT company.
An EOR is a type of company that hires you as a real employee, allowing you to pay tax in Thailand and receive social security benefits.
You still work on your own behalf as an independent contractor, 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.
The price for EOR service depends on the provider you choose, but typically they will collect a percentage (up to 30%) of the earnings you bring into Thailand (minimum between 1,500-2,500 USD depending on provider) and the remainder is paid as your net salary in Thai baht.
For more info about working with an EOR, contact Shelter Global here.
Work in the Tourism Industry
The tourism industry is a large part of Thailand’s economy. Some jobs in tourism, such as tour guides, are restricted to Thai citizens. There are many positions in top-end hotels, however, that are open to foreigners.
In particular, there is a demand for people with good experience and qualifications in Hotel Management and those with Chef experience. Some of these positions can be found listed on ThaiHotelJob.com.
If you have a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certification, there are many opportunities to work in Thailand as a diving instructor. The minimum level of certification that you would need to work as a scuba diving instructor would be the PADI IDC (Instructor Development Course).
The amount of money you can make as a diving instructor depends on location and is also seasonal. The pay will be higher on Koh Phi Phi than Phuket, but the cost of living is also more expensive there. There is a low season from May to October in which there will be less customers and opportunities. Instructors with good sales skills will be able to earn more on commissions. So depending on location, skill, and season, an instructor could earn anywhere from 30-80K baht a month.
There is also a demand for diving instructors with multiple language skills. Those who can speak fluent German, French, Russian, or Mandarin may be able to find work easier and command higher wages.
Many diving instructors take the risk of working illegally on a tourist visa, without a work permit. Some dive shops will sponsor a work permit and visa for experienced instructors, but due to the seasonal nature of the job, many do not.
If you have the necessary educational background and several years of hotel management under your belt, you might be able to find a job working for one of the big hotels in Bangkok. 5-star resorts on Phuket, Samui, and other beach locations may also be of interest.
These jobs usually pay around 35,000 – 70,000 baht depending on your experience level and your role in the company. If you speak multiple languages, then you will have more opportunities. The more experience you have in these industries the easier it will be to get a job.
The hotel industry is a great way for foreigners to live and work in Bangkok. There are many chefs, musicians and guest relations staff from all over the world, living and working in the Thai capital. On top of that, many hotel managers come from overseas to take up positions within the hospitality sector.
Working in a hotel is quite demanding and the hours can be long, but the potential rewards are excellent, with an interesting job doing something you’re passionate about as well as the possibility of career development. Just like teaching, salaries vary dramatically depending on your position, education and experience. The ability to speak multiple languages is especially valued in the hospitality sector so if you know your “Spasiba” from your “Konichi wa” then this could be the first area to start looking for employment.
Head Chef is another position that foreigners often fill at Bangkok’s finest hotels and restaurants. You will probably need about 5 years of experience to be seriously considered for one of these positions.
Thailand has rapidly become an international hub for fitness fanatics. There are fitness gyms popping up everywhere that offer Strength and Conditioning, CrossFit, and Yoga. If you have a background in the fitness industry then there are jobs available.
If you take a trip to Phuket on Tiger road you will see dozens of international trainers, coaches, and yoga teachers who are all working full time. The pay can vary widely, but busy trainers can make some decent money when they have a list of clients.
There are a lot of independent trainers that aren’t associated with particular gyms who advertise their services. So if you have a fitness background and are confident in your abilities you can find clients if you are willing to put in the work.
The biggest hurdle with these jobs is that there is a lot of competition. You are going to be up against other expats who’ve been doing the same thing for years though and already have a list of clients. That means you are going to have to steal those clients or find new ones. And new ones are either going to be other expats, who usually already have another trainer or a tourist who’s down for a few months. If you find them later, you won’t have much luck in the low season. And of course, this depends on where you live. Phuket will be slow. Bangkok might have more options. The small islands will be tough.
Because the salaries are pretty decent (much better than teaching), trainers can charge 1000-1500 baht (USD$28-45) per hour for private lessons. With wages like that, a lot of people want to work in this industry.
Modeling is one of the more glamorous positions available to expats in Bangkok, but there are a few minor drawbacks.
First, it’s not for everyone, particularly those of us stuck with what one might describe as a “face for blogging.” Second, the pay can be sporadic at times. You might clear anything from 3,500 baht to 100,000 baht in a single session. But those sessions can be infrequent, and there’s also the murky side of the business with greedy, unscrupulous agencies.
At the lower end of the scale, a movie extra can make about the same as an expat teacher (state school), and at the higher end of cameo appearances and modeling, earnings can soar past 100k a month. Extra work starts at approximately 1,500 Baht per day. Cameo appearances range from 5-20k, and modeling work can fetch anything from 5-150k per job.
The downside is that the work is inconsistent. You’ll need to go to lots of castings that will often lead to nothing, and there can be lots of waiting around on set.
Work for an NGO
There are many NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) active in Thailand. Most are based out of the capital Bangkok or the northern city of Chiang Mai.
These positions are often temporary, running for a set number of years in which they have been funded for. They are also usually somewhat specific in their experience requirements, with several years of prior Development Aid work a common minimum requirement. Fluency in Thai language can be a huge asset if applying for an NGO position.
For US citizens looking for a way to break into this line of work, a good place to start out would be USAid. Once you are experienced in Developmental Aid work, you will have much stronger credentials to land a specific position for an NGO in Thailand or any other country.
A good resource for current Development Aid positions available in Thailand is Devex.com.
Work in Customer Service
If you speak the right language, you may be able to find a job in customer service or marketing, either working at a call-center or on a freelance basis.
Native speakers of many European languages are in demand for these positions. The list includes German, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian, Greek, Belgian, and Polish. Native speakers of Asian languages such as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean can also find this type of work.
The pay for call-center staff is not going to be very high, and you may be asked to work in the middle of the night because that’s when it’s daytime in the country the customers are located in.
Depending on the exact nature of the work, it can also be quite demoralizing to deal with upset customers over the phone on a regular basis. Quite a few of these jobs do offer a valid work permit and visa to stay in Thailand, though, so if you have the right temperament and language skills it could be worth looking into.
Teach English as a Second Language
Next, let’s start with the most obvious and largest job market in Thailand for expats from western countries—English teaching.
Elementary schools, high schools, vocational colleges, and universities all across the country need native-speaking English teachers to fill positions in their classrooms. In addition to English Language classes, international schools and other private schools with English immersion programs require native English speaking teachers for other subjects, such as Math and Science, taught in English.
That said, you probably won’t get rich as an English teacher in Thailand. Starting salaries can range from 25-50K baht per month for full-time work. However, international school teachers with a B.Ed. and several years experience teaching in their chosen subject could make significantly more.
Many teachers make extra money by privately tutoring students on the side. Some schools even encourage their teachers to be available for after-school tutoring at a per-hour rate. Unless you work for an international school, you will probably have to take on some amount of private tutoring in order to supplement your income.
Your “teaching hours” might only be 20-25 hours per week, but most schools will require their teachers to be at the school for a full 40 hours per week, with the extra time going towards prep work and other activities such as showing up to join the morning assembly.
Work for a Multinational Company
If you currently work for a large multinational corporation, there is a chance that they have a division located in Bangkok. If this is the case, you may be able to request a transfer to come work in Thailand.
This can be a great situation to be in because the pay is usually on the same scale as the salary you earn in your home country. However, the cost of living in Thailand is much lower, so you will ultimately be able to do more with your money—and enjoy living in Thailand at the same time.
If you don’t currently work for such a company, you can try hunting down a job based out of Thailand with one anyways depending on your education and experience.
One position often available at big companies in Bangkok is Finance and Accounting Manager. You will need to have strong accounting skills and experience to take a shot at one of these jobs. If successful, you will be rewarded with a salary that makes it very comfortable to live in Thailand.
Large companies based in Thailand will sometimes have openings for Electrical Engineers or Mechanical Engineers. These are typically not going to be entry level jobs. It’s not worthwhile for a company in Thailand to invest in hiring a foreign engineer unless that foreigner is bringing a wealth of experience with them. Still, if you happen to be a seasoned engineer looking for a new opportunity and new direction in life, then it would be worthwhile searching out engineering jobs in Thailand that you may be qualified for.
Another job possibility is as a Translator or Interpreter. For example, there are many Japanese firms that have manufacturing plants located in Thailand who need interpreters fluent in both Thai and Japanese. The majority of these jobs go to Thais who have intensively studied a foreign language, but if you happen to be multilingual with Thai and another useful language, then it would be worthwhile seeking out an interpreter job.
Become an Entrepreneur
If you have lived in Thailand very long at all, you know that many a man has lost a small fortune by purchasing a beer bar or restaurant in Thailand after falling in love with the country and thinking this would be an easy way to stay long-term.
If a small business was making money for the owner, you have to ask yourself why they’d want to sell it to you. So, in general, it is not a good idea to rush into buying a business (or even starting a new one) in Thailand unless you have some prior experience running that type of business and know what you’re getting into.
That being said, owning a Thai company can be a relatively easy way for a foreigner with some extra funds saved up to acquire a work permit and long-term visa. The main stipulation is that the company needs to have at least four Thai employees for the foreign owner to get a work permit. Another key point to consider is that the foreigner—in most cases—can only own up to 49% of the company. So they will need to work out some arrangement with Thai shareholders.
If you are determined to take over an existing small business in Thailand, then you may be able to find a diamond in the rough if you are careful and look long enough.
Thailand Job Boards
Here is a list of good places on the web to look for expat jobs in Thailand no matter what field you are interested in: