Work Permit in Thailand
To work in Thailand legally, you must have a work permit.
According to Thai labor law, the definition of work is "exerting effort" and "employing knowledge", "whether or not for wages or other benefits", and is based on the individual, not employment as in some other countries. This is typical of Thai law -- remaining vague, and leaving flexible judgement to officials, thereby eliminating legal loopholes and haggling.
In practice, it tends to get enforced only about foreigners working for Thai companies in Thailand, or doing other business in Thailand with Thai entities, i.e., dual entity relationships, when both are in Thailand, both employment and consulting. For example, if a company in Thailand employs you in Thailand without a work permit, then it is enforced. Secondly, it is also enforced against single entities who compete with Thais such as foreigners in the travel business serving other foreigners, or in import-export without proper registration. This is not all-inclusive, but it gives you an idea.
It is extremely rare for anyone doing work like stock trading in the US or web design for a UK company from their home alone to be hassled, unless the officials have reason to believe these are covers for actual work in Thailand, or have any indication that any entity involved has anything significant to do with Thailand. After all, if a businessman travels to Thailand for a holiday, but he logs into his European company server to read email and direct his European employees in Europe, he's "working in Thailand". Do you really think the immigration police would arrest him? What a precedent that would be! I've never heard of anybody being hassled by any Thai authority for any of these kinds of work (as long as it has nothing to do with Thailand).
Technically, charity work requires a work permit, but it is extremely rare that this is enforced.
There are few exceptions, such as "urgent and essential" (again, not clearly defined) work for up to 15 days on any kind of visa. It includes meetings, research, and some other things, which can be extended another 15 days if you exit and re-enter Thailand in-between. It requires your foreign employer to fill out a form which is quickly approved (or rejected), even if its for a local branch office in Thailand. It's beyond the scope of this introductory page to get into details at this point.
Generally, Thai officials are not into hassling foreigners nor random interrogations, i.e., they're not "out to get you". However, if you are working for a Thai company or Thai people or doing business with any Thai entities then you must follow the proper ways. (The Thai officials have been known to be tolerant of newcomers coming to Thailand to have meetings to explore the possibility of doing business, for a short time, but you should fill out the abovementioned form and get the quick 15-day permit.)
This section of Thailand Guru is written mainly for people who wish to do business themselves in Thailand and/or start their own company in Thailand, for a longterm presence.
Someone coming to Thailand under sponsorship of a company should be properly guided by that company, and so Thailand Guru puts more emphasis on helping entrepreneurial people who don't have a sponsoring company, as well as those whose sponsoring company may seem lacking in their diligence or their explanations or communications to you. Nonetheless, the basics are covered here and if your company isn't doing things right, it should be readily apparent from reading this section.
If you are coming to Thailand for the purpose of working, then your employer should apply for a work permit for you, and you should come on a nonimmigrant visa, normally a nonimmigrant B for business employment. Your employer would send a letter for you to present to the Thai embassy or consulate in your own country when you apply for your nonimmigrant B visa. Your employer should take care of most everything and instruct you.
If you wish to start your own business, then you can obtain a work permit for yourself by setting up a company, employing Thais (normally 4 per work permit), paying yourself sufficiently (minimum of 50,000 baht per month for foreigners), and paying all taxes. Minimum registered capital for a company must be 2,000,000 baht per work permit, or 1,000,000 baht if the work permit applicant is legally married to a Thai, but all this money does not need to be in the company bank account at the beginning, and usually doesn't need to be all paid up at the beginning. Some areas of work are prohibited to foreigners (most but not all are common sense, e.g., low skilled jobs like you can't drive a taxi), but most kinds of work are allowed. Details are in the section on Setting Up a Company.
You can enter Thailand on any kind of visa such as a tourist visa, and after you set up your company, your company can create the letter on its letterhead using its official address, you exit Thailand and apply for a nonimmigrant B visa based on this letter plus a copy of your company's official paperwork, and then you enter Thailand again on this nonimmigrant B visa and apply for the work permit. However:
Actually, it is fairly easy to get a non-immigrant B (business) visa from a Thai consulate or embassy in your home country by just an invitation letter from an established company in Thailand, or even by alternative documentation accepted by your consulate in your home country. However, applications by westerners for a non-immigrant B visa from a Thai consulate or embassy in an Asian country (except Australia or New Zealand) are generally refused unless you have all the proper company documentation in perfect order, because these embassies and consulates are routinely abused by extended tourists just trying to stay longer in Thailand with shell companies that don't really do anything except sponsor their visa or work permit.
You can get a multiple entry visa from your home country, as discussed in the visa section. This is good enough to get by for a year, though you must exit Thailand and re-enter every 3 months if you don't get your work permit quickly and thereby extend your visa within Thailand.
The processes of setting up a company and getting a work permit are discussed on our partner website, www.ThailandCompany.com whereby we set up companies and processed work permits for foreigners before, and can still help with that or else recommend a particular other entity to help you.
It's strongly advised that you use a good lawyer or else a company setup operation with experience rather than try to fill in all the forms yourself, but it is possible to do it all yourself. The signatory authority of the company can submit the application themselves. The forms are in Thai, so a translation is the first thing you will need. Some parts are particularly a bit strange, especially the company objectives.
After completing the company setup and VAT tax registration to the right specifications to quality the company to apply for a work permit, then you can apply for the work permit.
The work permit application is in English, and it is not difficult to do yourself. The Thai government branch responsible for work permits is the Ministry of Labor, and they have an English language website at eng.mol.go.th but it is not very helpful. They even have a page for downloading forms but it is a blank page, i.e., no work permit application forms or anything else, still as of November 2008. You must pick up a form at their office, and apply in the province where your company's office is officially located. Where are the branches of the Ministry of Labor offices? Their website lists the branches around Thailand and their phone numbers, but no addresses nor maps, so I hope you get an answer on the particular phone number for your branch.
Once you get a work permit, then you can extend your stay in Thailand without needing to do visa runs if you meet the minimum salary requirements (in addition to other requirements) and pay your taxes. These minimum salary requirements were updated on October 1, 2006 and are:
Notably, USA, Japan, and Canada salary requirements were previously set to 60,000 baht/month in 2004 but were reduced in 2006. There was previously an exemption for foreigners working for Thai newspapers, but I don't see that mentioned anymore.
Between Thailand and your home country (or possibly the multinational company's), there is the issue of double taxation. You should also see the section on Income Tax and resolve legal matters with your employer or your overseas associates so that you are not heavily double-taxed, i.e., so that you don't pay full income tax in both Thailand and your home country, or to your employer's home country.
Those who are coming to work for someone else should have a contract with their employer prior to arriving, and it should spell out your employer's support for your presence in Thailand as well as tax matters. Foreigners have arrived here and experienced disappointments and difficulties with both employers and officialdom, as well as achieving clarification on details later rather than sooner.
As is commonly discussed in social circles, many people have worked illegally in Thailand for trusted employers, usually for a short time, and have no complaints. On the other hand, there are countless reports by people who come here and do work for people they don't know, who in turn refuse to pay them in full or part. Without a work permit or a company (plus written communications or witnesses or other proof of the work), these people have no legal leg to stand on, and in fact can get into some trouble by telling the authorities that they worked illegally (it depends on the situation and the particular authorities). This is not uncommon.
The usual penalty for working in Thailand in a blatantly illegal way is summary deportation. Immigration officials may bring you to your hotel or apartment to collect whatever things you wish to bring with you, and then bring you to the airport. You can also be detained by immigration until you make some of your own arrangements. All of this depends on the overall situation.
The best known cases of this happening were "guided". (There are various ways to find out information in Thailand such as who did what to whom. At a certain level, "There are no secrets, just illusions [of secrets].")
It is always best to do things the right way and know the right people.
Also, don't make enemies, do bad things, or associate with the wrong kinds of people. There are at least 2 sides to every story.
There is a lot of discussion on working in Thailand in the aforementioned section on Setting Up a Company. Though it is mainly applicable to entrepreneurs, it has some useful information for people who come to Thailand as employees.
If you are an employee, then you should expect your employer to be up to date on all pertinent matters and to keep you abreast, and you should double-check them.
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