Thailand Visas, Work Permits and Migration
Thailand, as well as having a wonderful heritage, sun, sea, and beautiful beaches, is also a perfect location for foreign investment. Many visitors dream of returning as residents, find a job or start their own business in the welcoming Thai environment. However, there are numerous routes into Thailand and getting though the red tape needs time and research if you want to avoid fines, sanctions, or imprisonment. Thailand is strict with its rules and regulations, and they can change from month to month … the Land of Smiles and paperwork!
At least 64 counties have agreements regarding entering Thailand for short periods (30 days) for tourism and cultural purposes and are visa exempt. These travellers may be able to extend ‘once’ during their stay for another 30 days but must check with the local embassy as procedures are tightened regularly, especially during COVID times.
Other nationals can apply for a ‘Visa on Arrival’ (15 days but those wanting to work cannot do so on this visa and must apply for a Non-Immigrant Visa category ”B”, at a local embassy/consulate before leaving their home country. All other foreigners apply for one of the nine visa types. Those wanting to work and live in Thailand require paperwork – the appropriate Work Visa, Work Permit … and a Thailand Pass as of 2021
What Types of Work Visas, and Permits for Thailand are there?
To travel from one country to another, most nationalities require paperwork to enter, live and work in Thailand.
- Entry Visa depends on nationality, purpose, and duration of travel. This is a stamp or sticker in the passport and is applied for at an embassy or consulate before leaving the home country. Although some nations are visa-exempt up to 30 days, if foreigners know they will be staying or working for longer, they should apply for the appropriate visa before travelling
- Work Permit to legally work in Thailand. When a prospective employee receives an Entry Visa (Non-immigrant B Visa) to enter Thailand, they can apply for a Work Permit alongside an employer who provides certain documentation for the application. This should be made in Thailand to the One-Stop Service Center (OSSC)* or the Department of Employment under the Ministry of Labor. The employer can start the process, but it cannot be issued until the employee arrives in Thailand
- ‘An Extension of Stay’ application to stay longer (one year) in Thailand. Applications are made to the Department of Immigration for an extension of the ‘Non-immigrant B Visa’ which is initially 90 days. The extension can be applied for on receiving the Work Permit
- A Thailand Pass as of 2021. This replaced the Certificate of Entry. All travelers to Thailand should apply for this online, apart from children under 12 years. It takes three to seven days to process. Monitors movement and health of travelers
- Re-Entry Permit. Required for employees who only have a Single-Entry Visa, allowing them to exit and re-enter Thailand without the visa becoming void
Thailand introduced a One-Stop Service Center to streamline and shorten the times foreigners had to wait for Work Permits, renewals, and Pre-Work Permit Approval (PWPA). This is required by foreign employees to apply for their Non-Immigrant B Visa in their home country. However, employers and employees must qualify to use this ‘fast track’ service. Otherwise, this service comes under the Minster of Labor and is administered at the Foreign Workers Administration in the Department of Employment.
Types of Visas
(D) for Diplomats; (F) for Official Visits; (TR) for Tourist Visa; (S) for Sports Personnel; (B) for Business, Investment or Employment; (B-A) Foreigners wanting to start a Business; (IM) for Investment through Ministry; (IB) for Investment through BOI-Board of Investment; (TS) for Transit and short stays passing through; (C) for Captain or Crew; (ED) for Education e.g. students; (M) for Mass Media of communication personnel; (R) Religion; (RS) for Research and Science; (EX) for Expert and (O) Others e.g. Volunteer; (O-X) Long term stay (1 year) for over 50s.
Immigrant Visas and Non-Immigrant Visas
- Immigrant Visas are for foreigners living permanently in Thailand and can take three years of living and working in Thailand to qualify e.g., three consecutive one-year non-immigrant visas. Plus, have had a three-year work permit and income over THB 80,000 (€2,140; US$2,446) per month
- Non-Immigrant Visas issued to foreigners travelling to Thailand for purposes other than for Tourism or Transit. For example, to study, invest, work. The letter is then recorded on the stamp in the passport at the embassy or consulate as a reference for the Immigration Officer at Border Control
The main Work Visa for employment is the B (Business) – Non-immigrant Visa. This is the only visa allowing employment. However, this alone is not sufficient for work, prospective employees also require a Work Permit and Extension of Stay on arrival. After this, they may require a Re-Entry Permit if employees have only a Single-Entry Visa. This allows them to exit and re-enter Thailand without the B Visa becoming void
Points to consider regarding visas
- Generally, these are applied for outside Thailand, at a local embassy or consulate, but in certain countries applications are accepted by post or through agencies or travel companies. Applicants must check what is acceptable through the embassies
- For the foreigner to apply for the Non-immigrant B Visa, the employer needs to submit the form WP3, which is a Pre-Work Permit Approval (PWPA) from Thailand’s One-Stop-Service-Center (OSSC) which is sent to the employee as part of his required documentation. Employee and employer must qualify to use this ‘fast track’ service. Otherwise, the Department of Employment under the Ministry of Labor is responsible
- Different visas confer different rights to the holders. They vary in duration and purpose as well as the fees. So, applicants need to be sure which one applies to them
- Validity. A visa may be valid for three months or six months typically, up to three years, but this is only when the visa can be used (including up until the last day). The date is on the sticker in the passport and is issued at a Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate
- Period of stay. Tourist Visa (60 days), Transit (30 days), Non-Immigrant Visa (90 days) from the day foreigners arrive and is decided by the Immigration Officer at Border Control and stamped in the passport
- The B (Business) – Non-immigrant Visa is for 90 days and after that an Extension of Stay needs to be applied for
- SMART Visa designed to attract the highly qualified, executives, start-ups, entrepreneurs, and investors in certain industries and can be used to apply for a work permit
- ELITE VISA gives individuals a privileged entry, which is a fast-track system, with many benefits for long term stays and little paperwork. However, this does NOT allow for a work permit
This usually comes in the form of a booklet to be always carried, especially in the workplace. It is a legal document and acts as a license to perform work, also detailing the occupation and job description as well as the employer (Thai company).
Employees must have the correct visa e.g., B Non-Immigrant Visa for the work permit. Both the employee and employer must submit various documentation and the process takes around seven workdays. The employee is restricted to the work/job stipulated on the work permit for the specific employer.
- Non-immigrant visa B – Employment
- Non-immigrant visa IB – Investment (through BOI, Board of Investment)
- Non-immigrant visa B-A – Self-employment
- Non-immigrant visa O – Voluntary workers
- Non-immigrant visa M – Media communications
There are some exemptions regarding diplomats, investors and those urgently needed skills for short-term employment (15 days or less).
Minimum income / salaries regarding foreigners’ work permits that employer must meet as of June 2021:
- Western Europe, Australia, USA, Canada, and Japan – THB 50,000 pm (€1,336; US$1,528)
- S. Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan – THB 45,000 pm (€1,203; US$1,376)
- Eastern Europe, Asian, S. America, Cen. American Countries, Mexico, S. Africa, Russia, and Turkey -THB 35,000pm (€936; US$1,070)
- Asian nations, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar – THB 25,000pm (€669; US$764)
Industries where foreigners are not permitted to work:
To protect their local workforce, there are certain jobs/industries where foreigners are not allowed to work. This includes areas of the service, industrial, agricultural, and commercial sectors. So, when applying for the work permit, check it is not for a prohibited occupation.
Companies employing foreigners
Here is another issue which prospective employers need to be aware of. There are limits to the number of foreigners companies can employ. For example, a company can hire one foreigner for every THB 3 million (€80,788; US$91,670) of capital and for every four Thai workers working full-time. A company cannot exceed 10 foreigners unless they have a Foreign Business License (FBL) or approval from the Board of Investment (BOI). There are exceptions and this doesn’t apply to non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Important: Regarding the work permit, if there are revisions e.g., change of address, or it is lost or damaged, this must be reported as soon as possible to the Ministry of Labor and a new one should be applied for. Most importantly, if the employee no longer works for the employer the work permit must be returned. The authorities are strict if these rules are not observed which can result in fines, arrest, and imprisonment.
This was instigated in 2018 and is designed to attract highly qualified people, executives, start-ups, entrepreneurs, and investors in certain industries.
- T Visa for Foreign Talented individuals
- I Visa for Foreign Investors
- E Visa for Foreign Executives
- S Visa for Entrepreneurs in tech-based startups
- O Visa for family of above visa holders
Points to consider
- Work permits are attached to this visa for the holder and family
- Issued for length of the employment or service contract – up to four years
- No need for re-entry permits
- Report to immigration annually rather than every 90 days
- Applicants need to qualify for relevant visa
- Processing Smart Visa costs THB 10,000 (€267; US$305) a year