Thailand is a popular destination and every year millions of people visit. Not surprisingly, many people don’t want to leave this tropical paradise once they have experienced it.
Unfortunately what they quickly discover is that Thailand is one of the most difficult and restrictive places for foreigners to get permission to work, or even to visit for an extended amount of time.
Of course it is possible to work in Thailand without official permission, but depending on the nature of what you are doing and who pays you, this has a good chance of being illegal.
1. Find an employer
You should not apply for a Non-Immigrant visa before you have met with the prospective employer in person and reached a firm agreement with them. If you are from a country that does not require a visa for entry to Thailand, then a 30 day stamp (which can be extended for a further 30 days if necessary) is probably your best option, initially.
If you are in Thailand on a tourist visa you will need to leave Thailand at least every 90 days, which is expensive and time-consuming. You can typically only do this four times. Once you have accumulated three tourist visas in your passport (which do not have to be consecutive), the fourth one will often be stamped with a message saying that you have applied for too many tourist visas and future visa applications may be rejected.
After reaching an agreement with an employer, request a letter from them formally offering employment.
2. Apply for a visa
If you have a tourist visa (not an entry stamp, but an actual visa pasted into your passport) then you do not need to leave the country. You can visit an immigration office in Thailand and have your visa converted to a Non-Immigrant B visa. You will need that letter of offer that was mentioned at the end of the previous step. Bring your passport, at least 2x passport sized photos, a photocopy of the photo page of your passport, a photocopy of your tourist visa, a photocopy of your departure card, and a pen.
A tourist visa is generally the only type of visa that can be converted to another type of visa inside the country.
If you only have a stamp in your passport then you’ll have to leave Thailand and apply from an embassy. There are some services offering to do this for you while you remain in Thailand, but you should not hire them because technically it is illegal for your passport to cross the border without you.
It is best to apply for this category of visa at an embassy rather than a consulate, as smaller consulates may not issue the visa category you are applying for and they will deny the visa and keep your application fee. At the embassy, fill in the visa application form, attach your 2 passport photos, and hand in the form with your passport and application fee.
Remember you are applying for the Non-Immigrant B visa (you could also apply for an O visa if you qualify, which is not likely for most people coming to Thailand to work).
You’re almost done, except that the embassy worker processing your form will probably interview you. For this you may need the letter of your employment offer and proof that you have funds of at least THB 20,000 to support yourself for the first month that you will be in Thailand. It is unlikely that you will be asked for these things, but having them to hand will help if you do get asked.
The "B" in "Non-Immigrant B" stands for "business". Therefore you should not turn up to your visa application dressed like you are off for a day at the beach, or the chances of being given an extensive grilling and being treated with suspicion will increase dramatically.
3. Make sure your job is legal
There is a very long list of jobs that are illegal for foreigners to do without special permission, and a very short list of jobs that foreigners are allowed to do. In general, if the work you wish to do does not normally require at least a Bachelor degree, and it is something an average Thai person can easily do, then there is little chance of you being able to get approval to work in that job (exception: citizens of neighboring countries brought in to fill a temporary shortage approved by the Ministry of Labor).
Where a degree is required, you must be able to show an original copy of the degree (transcript also, sometimes). Where experience is required, you must be able to prove you have the experience, usually by providing all contact details of places where you worked.
Even if you start a business, which is certainly an option, and you are either self-employed or working for your own company, there are still many occupations that are illegal for you to work in without special permission from the Board of Investment (BOI).
The jobs that are usually available to foreigners (legally) include:
- teaching (must have Bachelor Degree plus usually a TEFL certificate or foreign Teaching License)
- senior IT jobs (with degree min experience of 2 years, without degree min experience of 5 years)
- hotel management (must have experience, preferable to have qualification)
- high-level executive positions (usually requires MBA and at least 2 years of experience)
- performance art (for example, musicians, singers, actors, dancers), employment only, no busking!
- diving instructors (must have diving instructor license, courses available in Thailand)
- importers and exporters (no qualifications required if you are genuinely facilitating trade)
- ministers of approved religions (the list of approved religions is a short one!)
Jobs that are available to foreigners under a special category if they have a Thai sponsor include:
- professional Muay Thai fighter (courses available in Thailand under ED visa)
- professional soccer player (must already have played in a FIFA recognized club)
- journalist (Press Card required, and freelancers are not welcome)
- Buddhist monk (should be able to show invitation from a monastery)
Jobs that are normally illegal for foreigners without special permission include:
- anything in the agricultural industry
- anything in the mining industry (exception for Australians under special circumstances)
- anything in the forestry industry
- anything in the printing and publishing industry
- sculpting, carving, etc.
- retailing (despite an apparent exception, it does not exist in practice outside of trade fairs)
- tourist guides and travel agents
- health care professionals (advisory roles possible if you pass the Thai Medical Exam in Thai)
- massage therapists
It is technically illegal for anyone to work as a prostitute, whether Thai or foreign.
4. Collect Work Permit
If you are applying for work as a teacher (or if you are lucky) then your employer will probably handle your Work Permit application for you, and then all you will need to do is pick it up.
Few smaller employers outside of the education sector will be willing to apply for a Work Permit for you because it is very complicated, potentially expensive, and has tough qualifying conditions (minimum paid up capital, minimum ratio of Thai to foreign employees, taxes all paid up, demonstrated need for foreign expert). If you are working for one of these, or you are applying on behalf of your own company, then you must go in person to the Ministry of Labor to apply.
Fortunately this is not a particularly difficult task. You simply need to show up at the Ministry office and fill in the form (which is in English) and provide all of the following documents:
- Valid Non-Immigrant B or Non-Immigrant O visa
- Departure card
- Photocopy of every page of your passport
- Photocopy of your departure card
- Photocopy of your degree and transcript, and/or licenses, certificates, etc.
- Letter of employment offer from the employer
- Copy of employers Incorporation papers
- Copy of official Shareholders List for the employing company
- Copies of all relevant company tax documents
- Copy of financial statements of company
- Copy of the employer’s ID card (if Thai) or Work Permit (if Foreign)
- Map showing location of the place you will be working
- Photographs of the workplace (at least 6) showing the exterior and interior
- 3 passport-style photos of you (must measure 5cm x 6cm)
- Copies of any required professional licenses for work in your occupation
- Copy of your CV showing your education and previous work history
In some cases you may be required to show additional documentation. For example if you are applying as a holder of a Non-Immigrant O visa, you may need to show a copy of your marriage certificate.
After completing all these steps, if the Ministry of Labor has not found any reason to deny your application, you will be issued with a Work Permit. This is actually a blue book with details of your employment printed in it.
You can only work for the employers listed in your Work Permit at the specific locations listed and in the specific occupations listed.
Why do people put themselves through all this?
Getting permission to work in Thailand is not easy for any foreigner. Only jobs in the teaching industry are straight-forward, and the process for teachers is now mature enough that most people who meet the minimum requirements should be able to get a job.
Foreigners wanting to work in Thailand will need to adjust to a more discriminating work environment and tolerate injustices that they wouldn’t stand for at home. If you have a conscience, you may find working in Thailand to be stressful.
You will need to be willing to accept lower pay for the same work compared to most other Asian destinations. Some people defend this on the basis that the salary is higher than a Thai person would be paid, however your expenses as a foreigner are likely to be higher than they are for a local person.
Anyone coming to work in an occupation other than teaching will face an uphill task. With appropriate support from your employer, the process will be smoother, but few employers are willing to provide that support.
Working in Thailand is not for everyone. There are plenty of countries where it is easier to qualify, where you will be paid a better salary, and where there is less blatant discrimination. But Thailand has a unique charm that causes many people to overlook these things.
If you have fallen under the spell of this exotic country then your dream of living and working in Thailand can become a reality if you choose your employer carefully, comply with all the rules, and make sure you have all your documents in order.
See also: How to Land a Job in Bangkok, Thailand
Many employers also do not really understand the laws, but fortunately neither do the immigration officers, although this can sometimes work against you as much as it can work for you. The answer to whether or not you will be successful is the same for all rules in Thailand: "It depends!"