Foreigners who wish to work in Thailand, whether paid or voluntary, must have a work permit.
Foreigners are restricted from taking up certain occupations that are reserved for Thai nationals. Those include farm worker, hairdresser, pottery maker, shoe maker and over 39 other professions. While a new positive list is on its way, this negative list applies. But the foreigner may work in a company engaged in these sectors, for instance as export manager.
The official definition of “work” by the Ministry of Labour is “exerting energy or using knowledge whether or not in consideration of wages or other benefits”. Organisations representing foreigners working in Thailand have tried for years to request a more clear definition, but so far no Thai government has been willing to change the current regulations that could be abused by corrupt state officials when for instance retired persons are seen engaging in useful charity activities in their local environment.
A regulation to govern working as a digital nomad is way overdue, leaving technically thousands of digital nomads technically illegal – and not paying taxes. The income of revenue department would benefit the nation more than the fines collected by the immigration police when arresting and deporting them.
GETTING A WORK PERMIT
A work permit is issued by the Department of Employment, Ministry of Labour. In applying for a work permit in Thailand, you need the assistance of your potential employer. The procedure is complex and involves the collection of a large amount of documentation.
In general, there are two criteria, that must be met. The employing company must employ at least four Thais for every foreigner whose work permit it sponsors, and the company must have a paid up share capital of no less than 2 mill. THB. per foreigner it wishes to employ.
The normal procedure to gain a work permit after arriving in Thailand is first to travel abroad e.g. to Singapore with the papers prepared by your new employer in order to apply at a Thai embassy for a Non-Immigrant B Visa. Recently, this embassy has introduced online application procedures, so check that out first.
When you arrive back in Thailand with your Non-Im B visa, your employer can start applying for a work permit. It will usually be granted for either six months or one year regardless of your contract. Once issued, a Work Permit must be kept at the place of employment ready for inspection.
The Work Permit expires when the Non-Immigrant B Visa expires. Check the date of expiry of the visa and make sure it’s renewed before the expiration date to avoid going through the entire application process again. DO NOT leave the country without a re-entry permit in your passport – if you don’t have it, your visa will be cancelled automatically and you will only be able to return on a tourist visa. That means on your return to Thailand you will first have to obtain a new business visa, and then you will have to obtain a new work permit since the old one was linked to the now cancelled visa.
A work permit is only valid for the specific job in the specific company for which it is issued, and at a specific location. Any change in duties or transfer to another employer must be applied for and approved in advance for a transfer or application of new work permit.
Employment without permit
Penalties applicable to foreigners working without work permits can be quite harsh ranging from a fine from THB 2,000 to THB 100,000 and/or imprisonment and/or deportation. In addition to that, working without permit may result in other penalties being imposed under the Immigration Act prohibiting re-entrance to the country (blacklisted). In practice, however, the authorities usually settle the case and deport the person from Thailand. It is highly recommended that foreigners who wish to work in Thailand make an effort to apply for a proper work permit.
Looking for a job in Thailand may not be as difficult as you think. The newspapers carry job advertisements and there are several online job advertisement portals.
From there on, it is the same process as you would go through in any other country. It depends on the employers’ needs and the job seeker’s skills. The more specialised the skills, especially in the fields that are in higher demand, the better your chances.
Location is an important factor to consider. Tourist areas such as Bangkok, Pattaya, Hua Hin or Phuket pose stronger competition in the job market. Teaching is a primary job choice for many, but there are also opportunities in sectors such as banking and finance, computer and IT, sales, entertainment, tourism, writing, administration and in areas using specialised skills.
Don’t bother applying for jobs where the company has specified it as “Thai National Only”. They cannot give you a work permit.
START UP A BUSINESS
While foreigners may set up a company in Thailand, it is not a straightforward process and all company documents filed have to be in the Thai language. The help of a professional with experience in the field is highly recommended; there are restrictions on the type and activity of businesses that foreigners can be involved with under the Foreign Business Act and other legislation.
A breakdown of the procedures to starting your own business can be summarised with:
a) Apply for permission to use company name
b) Deposit paid-in capital in a bank
c) Obtain a corporate seal
d) Get approval for memorandum of association and apply to register the company as a legal entity (final registration) at the Private Limited Companies Registrar.
e) Submit company work regulations to the Office of Labour Protection and Welfare of the Ministry of Labour at the district where the head office of the company is located.
Each of the above procedures may take a few days to process and some may require a fee to complete.
Using a business law firms
Lawyers are quite useful for most transactions or signing of important documents as they are written in Thai. There are also certain regulations and procedures that an experienced lawyer would understand more than foreigners so they do not get stuck in any sticky situations.
Services which fall into this category include the drafting of public instruments, private contracts or agreements, registration and licensing requirements, notary services, personal legal documentation, and many others. It is best to get recommendations from people who have previously used lawyers. Some lawyers have a particular good reputation in the Scandinavian communities around the country. Ask your local Nordic club.
CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE
To get a network of business friends, it is recommended that you join the Chamber of Commerce covering your home country. There are four Nordic chambers of commerce in Thailand. Their full names are Danish-Thai Chamber of Commerce, Thai-Swedish Chamber of Commerce, Thai-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce and Thai-Finnish Chamber of Commerce.
Dancham, Swecham, Norcham and Thai-Finnish Chamber of Commerce, are organizations that offer news and information deemed useful for you. Members are informed of events, parties, latest news and much more of what is going on in the community.
Denmark – www.dancham.or.th/
Norway – www.norcham.com/
Sweden – www.swecham.com/
Finland – www.thaifin.or.th/
Business and social networking used to be events that everyone looked forward to. Recently, however, some Chambers start charging hefty tickets to events even though they are sponsored by a company.
However, if you don’t mind paying to meet your friends, it is a good opportunity to mingle with other people of the same nationality as you.
Around four to six times a year, all the chambers in Thailand jointly come together for an all chamber networking event. At these networking events, you are chanced to meet some of the big guns in top organizations in Thailand. Following up on all contacts you gain through these events will also improve the chances of securing a job locally.