Chiang Mai Locator, Chiang Mai Thailand
CHIANG MAI LOCATOR - Leading you inside Chiang Mai

All you need to know about how foreigners can legally work in Thailand


Last edited: March 08, 2017 at 13:38:47

The debate on what work foreigners are allowed to do in Thailand repeats itself regularly on the internet and there is a lot of confusion about this topic, partly due to lack of clarity from the Thai authorities and partly due to misinformation amongst foreigners.

Here's a practical summary of what you need to know about working in Thailand (based on first hand sources).

 

FOREIGNERS NEED A WORK PERMIT TO WORK

Sounds logical and simple, and this is as much as you would learn from surfing superficial social media: you cannot work in Thailand without a work permit. Sure, agreed.

The legislation concerned here is the Foreign Workers Act1 (B.E. 2551 or A.D. 2008) which says that foreigners need to obtain a work permit from the Department of Employment (Ministry of Labor) to be allowed to work in Thailand, and the Foreign Business Act2 (B.E. 2542 or A.D. 1999), which sets out how foreigners can do business in Thailand.

There really isn't any dispute about this, the real issue is about the interpretation of what constitutes work by different authorities within Thailand.

 


MOST OF THE DEBATE ON FOREIGNERS WORKING IN THAILAND
IS ABOUT HOW DIFFERENT AUTHORITIES INTERPRET "WORK"


 

INTERPRETING "WORK" BY VARIOUS THAI AUTHORITIES

If you think that by applying the two relevant sections of Thai law the discussion about work by foreigners should have ended, you're wrong, that's perhaps how it would work in your home country but not in Thailand.
 
First of all, it's probably fair to say that Thai law isn't as accurate and developed as in some other countries. Most of Thai law was more or less imported or copied from amongst others European law just about a century ago and even according to Thai lawyers, it isn't exactly the most coherent or best organised system of law in the world.
 
The current definition of work is described in section 4 of the Foreign Workers Act as: "engaging in work by exerting energy or using knowledge whether or not in consideration of wages or other benefits".
 
Now, when dealing with foreigners, various departments of the Thai government are left to judge by themselves when a foreigner is working or not. So, it's very well possible that different departments judge a situation differently: some might say a foreigner is working, others say he's not.
 
A broad interpretation of section 4 by some authorities could be that even signing a document in Thailand by a foreigner constitutes an act of work, and therefore the foreigner would need a work permit!
 
A more narrow interpretation of section 4 was made by the Council of State (the Thai government's official legal advisory body) in 2015 at the request of the Office of the Board of Investment to give a legal opinion on the matter.
This interpretation is mostly based on economical factors, it states that the spirit of the Act is to protect Thai workers and occupation opportunity for Thais and to protect the national security, while considering the demand for foreign labour as necessary for the development of the country.
To put it simply, the Council of State advised that an activity could be considered "work" if it has an impact on the local labour market.
 
Following this more narrow interpretation, the Department of Employment in 2015 decided that a number of activities previously considered "work" would now be allowed in Thailand without a work permit: attending a seminar, having a business meeting, doing a training, negotiating a deal and so on.
You might think that some of these activities are natural to doing business internationally and should be allowed without a work permit, but this has not been so obvious in Thailand.
 
This new, more narrow definition of "work" explicitly allows foreigners to do more activities without a work permit and will also help to somewhat reduce the differences in interpretation of what is "work" between different departments.
Still, you have to realize that every department of the Thai government has its own responsibility and will judge a case based on its own interpretation of what a foreigner can and cannot do. Some activities carried out by a foreigner might be of concern to one department, and not to other departments. After all, Thailand wouldn't be Thailand if huge differences in interpretation wouldn't persist not only between different departments but also between regions4.
 

THE GREY ZONE AND THE POSSIBILITY OF ABUSE

Besides for persisting differences in interpretation of what is "work", Thailand wouldn't be Thailand if there wasn't a GREY ZONE where things are allowed to be as they are, unlike in some Western countries where things are more simply black-and-white.
Even knowing that certain activities are not really white, authorities often take a practical stance in dealing with them, taking into consideration the scale and seriousness of the activities, the particular situation, the unclarity of their own internal regulations, a sense of realism of what should be allowed and not and their willingness and capacity to enforce on rules.
 
The still persisting unclarity of rules and the lack of enforcement give space to abuse on both sides: on the one hand, some foreigners can carry out non-100% legal activities knowing that no one is going to check on them anyway, on the other hand it opens the door for corruption where Thai officials see it as a way to earn black money or even business partners can report foreigners to authorities for not acting 100% according to the rules when a relationship turns sour.
 

WHAT KIND OF WORK IS ALLOWED? WHAT NOT?

Now that we understand some of the background of the debate on "work" in Thailand, let's go more practical and have a look at some typical cases of activities that foreigners in Thailand engage in. Do they need a work permit or not?

To examine how the authorities deal with this in Chiang Mai, CM Locator interviewed officials of the Work Permit Office in Chiang Mai, with a special focus on relatively new activities such as carried out by Digital Nomads in Chiang Mai.
 
From this interview, it emerged that while probably most Digital Nomads in Chiang Mai are effectively working and therefore officially need a work permit, they are not a main concern to the Work Permit office (yet) and therefore are allowed to 'do their thing'. However, the red flag goes out when:
  • Thai security is affected
  • foreigners take jobs that Thai nationals could have carried out, such as: web designer, musician in a bar, importer, exporter and so on.
  • jobs that are specifically reserved for Thai nationals only, such as: tour guide, lawyer, real estate agent and a range of agricultural and craftsmanship jobs.
  • activities that explicitly take resources from Thailand
  • jobs that are done like a business.
The Work Permit office may go to check when there is a problem or when somebody is reported.
 
Exemption: If you enter Thailand on a non-immigrant visa to carry out urgent and necessary work within a period of 15 days, you don't need a work permit but officially you still need to notify the Department of Employment in advance.
 
Note how there can be subtle but essential differences in activities that can lead the authorities to judge that this is "work", for example if a foreigner is an employee of an organisation that organizes a meeting or seminar and the foreigner co-organizes the seminar or meeting this is considered "work", but if a foreigner only attends the meeting or seminar it is not.
 
Full interview with the interesting perspective of the Chiang Mai Work Permit Office, soon to be published here.
 

PAYMENT

If and how a foreigner receives payment for "work" in Thailand is in the law not the main criteria to judge whether a foreigner works in Thailand.
In a way surprising, because a foreigner could say that he's just helping out and is not getting paid to argue that he doesn't work. Also, logically, a case where a foreigner is "helping out" without getting paid should perhaps be considered less serious than a case where a foreigner is clearly receiving payment.
 
It also means that foreigners cannot simply hide behind the argument of 'volunteering'.

However, the authorities can consider payment and the payment channel as one of the factors to judge a case and besides that clear payment trails are of course like smoke: it's hard to deny there's a fire.
 
Some lawyers do warn that receiving payment in Thailand for an activity can be a criteria to judge it as "work" and surely it can be a trigger to lead authorities to investigate a case.
 

STAYING OUT OF TROUBLE

Because Thai authorities don't give 100% clear guidelines as to what is allowed and what is not allowed, it's better to stay out of trouble and avoid any suspicions by either one of the relevant authorities. Bases on the information we collected, your chances to stay out of trouble are best when:
  • you don't compete with local Thai jobs
  • you obviously don't do anything that violates Thai law or jeopardizes Thai security
  • you work alone rather than in a group in a company-like structure
  • you keep a low profile and you don't make enemies
  • your payment channels are international rather than local
  • you make sure all of your paperwork is done properly.

This is not to encourage foreigners or Digital Nomads to work illegally in Thailand, but acknowledging how the Thai authorities work and think, what can become a concern to them, realistically this is how you can stay best out of trouble.

 

Can Digital Nomads work legally in Thailand?
Just because you're working in a co-working space you're not being targeted for "working" in Thailand

 

FURTHER GUIDELINES ABOUT WORKING IN THAILAND

If you fall into one of the categories judged by the authorities to be real "work" in Thailand, you need to:

  1. be on the proper visa
  2. get a work permit and
  3. pay taxes

This means in sequence that the main authorities you have to deal with are: the Immigration Department, the Labour Office and the Tax Department.

ad 1. The type of visa required depends on the type of work: English teachers need a teacher visa, volunteers need a volunteer visa and others need a business visa. You are not allowed to work with a tourist visa or retirement visa, usually there is a clear stamp in the visa stating "employment prohibited".

ad 2. To get a work permit, you have to be employed by a Thai company and that company needs to employ at least 4 Thai workers for every foreigner with a work permit.

ad 3. If you stay in Thailand for a period of longer than 6 months, you have to pay taxes.
 

PAYING TAXES IN THAILAND

The main criteria that the Tax authorities use to determine whether or not you have to pay tax as a foreigner is how long you stay in Thailand. If you stay longer than 6 months, you are supposed to pay personal income tax.

The Tax authorities in Chiang Mai take a pragmatic stance towards the nature of your work and whether or not you have an official entity (company) in Thailand. You can register with your address and start paying taxes rightaway.
 
No one likes paying taxes, but realize that the benefit of registering and paying your income tax here is that you can later prove in your home country that you did pay taxes somewhere else. Besides that, it is a nice way to give back to Thailand for the facilities that you used.
 
If you stay in Thailand long-term, there is now no excuse anymore to say you can't pay taxes!

 


Sources

1. Translation of Working of Alien Act B.E. 2551: http://www.mol.go.th/sites/default/files/downloads/pdf/WORKING_OF_ALIEN_ACT_2551_DOE.pdf

2. Translation of The Foreign Business Act B.E. 2542:
http://www.boi.go.th/index.php?page=legal_issues_for_investors_01_foreign_business_act
 
3. Legal article by Narit & Associates:
http://www.naritlaw.com/Resources/New%20Foreign%20Workers%20Act%20Interpretation_NARITLAW.pdf
 
4. Examples of different interpretations between regions:

The Chief of the Phuket Provincial Employment Office clearly states that activating certain business functions for your online business while in Thailand constitute work, but if you activated them before entering the Kingdom, it's not work.

This suggests that pressing a certain button on Youtube while you're in Thailand can be a breach of law.

 


Share your experience here as a comment.

Leave a comment

Your Name or Pseudo
Your Email (not displayed)

Bethany Posted on March 03, 2017 at 04:35:17
My question is then...if a person is employed by an online company (not a Thai company) and is payed through their home country bank account...and lives in thailand, how do these laws apply?
LivinLOS Posted on July 23, 2016 at 10:56:16
An article justifying law breaking and tax avoiding in a poor country simply because its too poor and weak to fully enforce its laws. There's a clear employment prohibited on the tourist visa, another declaration you must sign on the app not to work, and every labor dept official has been crystal clear. Its against the law unless you pay your taxes and have a work permit.

http://www.phuketgazette.net/issuesanswers/Do-need-0145business-visa-work-online/1175

http://www.phuketgazette.net/issuesanswers/Is-uploading-videos-YouTube-considered-work/1532

No one likes taxes, but making up lies to pretend its not clearly against the law, by miss quoting immigration who are not bothered or involved in labor law, or simply saying 'its ok we dont get caught' misses the big picture. Countries live, thrive, educate their young, and grow, based on taxes being remitted. Simply abusing the hospitality of poor countries because they are weak, is hardly a high moral ground.


Arnold Posted on November 22, 2015 at 11:57:24
Still, I would keep a low profile as maybe one day Immigration is targeting online workers
Mark B Posted on September 04, 2015 at 06:46:21
This is about the first overview I read about this topic that really gives me some answers. Thaivisa and some other sites are simply unreadable and give me more questions than answers



Nomad Guides Chiang Mai
Get a 1-year Thai visa from overseas
Tulou Chinese Restaurant
Save up to 89% on banking fees wiring money internationally
Rent an apartment in Chiang Mai
Latest members (All our Members)
Chiang Mai Communities
Mama Shamie
Lost love spells caster / psychic healer +27737053600
World’s no.1 female lost love spells caster Mama Shamie +2…
Mama Shamie
African traditional healer with black magic +27737053600 lost love spells caster
Lost Love Spells Caster /Spells Caster In Johannesburg,Canad…
Admin Locator
Chiang Mai Toastmasters Club
Speak English, Build confidence, Conquer your fear, Master t…
James Graneria
Chiang Mai Social Group Of Friends
Do you want to meet up with fellow peers in Chiang Mai? Are …
Peter Cook
Mahasiddha
Mahasiddha Yoga (tantrayogathailand.com) - Just north of the…
Simon Laroche
Language Exchange
Free of costs language exchange between farang and Thai…
Admin Locator
Couchsurfing Chiang Mai
Weekly meet up with local Thai and Couchsurfers, long stayer…
Steve Kramer
Chiang Mai Fencing Club
Dedicated to the sport of Fencing, playing Foil, Epee, and S…
Admin Locator
Latin Tunes @Meridien
Salsa lovers gather at the Meridien, salsa in style, every l…
Admin Locator
Salsa @Sahara
Salsa dance lovers swing it out on Thursday at Sahara, Nimma…
Admin Locator
Bird Watchers
Regular outings for bird lovers…
Admin Locator
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transsexual group (LGBT)
Our LGBT group aims to allow friendships between both Thai a…
Admin Locator
Monday Jam night @ Boy Blues Bar
Every Monday night is Jam night at Boy Blues Bar Bar. Many f…
Admin Locator
First Northern Thailand Toastmasters Club The Confidence Builders
Meets the 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month at 6pm. 053-21…
Admin Locator
MahJong group
Saturday mornings 10 am. Contact Ruth at 085-615-1413…
Admin Locator
Hash House Harriers: CSH3 (Saturday mixed Hash)
Mixed family hash runs every Saturday. Pick up point is The …
Admin Locator
Al-anon
Support group open to those affected by alcoholism in a rela…
Admin Locator
OA (Overeaters Anonymous)
Every Saturday from 4-5 p.m. Please ask the guards or nurses…
Admin Locator
Film Space
Every Saturday night screening at 07.00 pm (Free Admission!)…
Admin Locator
Expat Club
General Meetings on the 4th Saturday of the month, except De…
Admin Locator
Open night @ Sangdee
All are welcome to perform. Sirimangkalajarn Soi 5 from 8 PM…
Admin Locator
Meditate with the Green Papaya Sangha
In the tradition of Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. T…
Admin Locator
Pool League
Every Friday at 9pm at participating bars in a home and away…
Admin Locator
Chiang Mai Expats Club Coffee Morning
Coffee meetings are on 1st and 3rd Friday of each month Frid…
Admin Locator
Alliance Francaise Films
Alliance Francaise Films: Every Friday at 8 PM…
Admin Locator
Trinity Baptist Church
Meeting for old-time worship and fellowship with Dr. Jack L.…
Admin Locator
Traditional 2nd hand market
A Traditional 2nd hand market - Every Saturday morning from …
Admin Locator
Big Day Out
1st Sunday of every month. Live music and BBQ, 080 1222561…
Admin Locator
New Beginnings group of Alcoholics Anonymous
Open meetings at 10:00am on Sundays.…
Admin Locator
International Group of Alcoholics Anonymous
Chiang Mai International Group of AA meets every morning at …
Admin Locator
Classic Cars of Lanna
Meets the last Sunday of every month…
Admin Locator
Softball
Every Sunday 1:30 pm - 4:00 pm We have bats and gloves… ju…
Admin Locator
Alcoholics Anonymous
Every Tuesday and Thursday at 6 p.m. Info: 084-485-0100, chi…
Admin Locator
Salsa dancers
Salsa dance lovers swing it out on Tuesday at Coffee Monster…
Admin Locator
“Informal” Expats Ladies Lunch
“Informal” Expats Ladies Lunch: The lunch buffet at the …
Admin Locator
“Formal” Expats Ladies Lunch
“Formal” Expats Ladies Lunch: First Thursday of every mo…
Admin Locator
Nicotine Anonymous
Nicotine Anonymous: Wednesdays and Saturdays, 1 p.m., 086-19…
Admin Locator
Quiz Night @ Garden Bar Lotus Hotel
Quiz Night at the Garden Bar Lotus Hotel Chang Puak. Teams o…
Admin Locator
Chiang Mai Photographic Group
Chiang Mai Photographic Group: meets every other Wednesday a…
Admin Locator
Open Microphone Night
Open Mike Night at the UN Irish Pub every Wednesday, from 8.…
Admin Locator
Co-dependants Anonymous
Co-dependants Anonymous: Support group for those having prob…
Admin Locator
Friends of Bill
Friends of Bill meeting (General 12 Step meeting, all addict…
Admin Locator
Swiss Lanna Society
Swiss Lanna Society weekly informal gatherings, 6:30 p.m. ev…
Admin Locator
Royal British Legion
Royal British Legion meeting has moved to Basic Line Hotel S…
Admin Locator
Badminton
Badminton group meets every Tuesday from 2-4 PM at the Munic…
Admin Locator
Judo
Judo group meets at the MMA club near the Railways station o…
Admin Locator
Money Club
CM Money Club meets last Thursday of every month. Info: Don …
Admin Locator
CM Geeks
The Chiang Mai Computer Club meets every Tuesday. It is open…
Admin Locator
Chiang Mai International Rotary Club
The Chiang Mai International Rotary Club meets on Tuesdays a…
Admin Locator
On-location Sketching Group
On-location sketching group: Monday mornings from 8:00-10:30…
Admin Locator
Karate Practise
Karatedo Federation Wado-kaj organises free Karate practise …
Admin Locator
Tai Chi - Chi Kung
Every Monday and Wednesday 8am at Suan Buak Hat Public Park …
Admin Locator
Women's Book Club
CM's International Women's Book Club meets every last Monday…
Admin Locator
Gentleman's Club
The Gentleman's Club for real gentlemen and males approachin…
Admin Locator
Back to Basics Group of AA
Back to Basics Group of Alcoholics Anonymous meets Monday to…
Admin Locator
Hash House Harriers CH3 (male only)
Male runs every alternate week on Mon/Tue. Pick up from The …
Admin Locator
Jam night @ Boy Blues Bar
Swinging music with live jam, every Monday from 9pm…
Admin Locator
Ball hockey by CM Highlanders
CM Highlanders plays ball hockey every Monday.…
Admin Locator
CM Travel Club
Chiang Mai Travel Club gathers at Sangdee every 2nd Monday o…
Admin Locator
Upstairs at Sangdee
Performing artists every Monday at Sangdee. For those intere…
Admin Locator
Hash House Harriers CSH3
Mixed family hash runs every Saturday. Pick up point is the …
Admin Locator
Sri Sathya Sai Baba Group
Study and discussion group for CM devotees of spiritual mast…
Admin Locator
Gay and Lesbian Club
Regular meetings…
Admin Locator
Readers & Book discussion group
Monthly over lunch to discuss a previously agreed book, cmre…
Admin Locator
Dining Out Group
Once a fortnight, alternating between Asian and Western food…
Warren Lee
Racquet Ball
Though there isn't a proper racquet ball court in Chiang Mai…
Alan and Melanie Kornfield
Circle of Light
The Circle of Light Group is a reading & discussion group fo…
Roland Mogg
Chiang Mai Beach Volleyball Club
Welcome to CMBVC! We are one of Chiang Mai's most active spo…
Amy Dapice
Urban Sketchers Chiang Mai
Urban Sketchers is a nonprofit organization dedicated to rai…
Jenny Jung
Maum meditation
Maum meditation is throwing away the false mind,and is Chan…
Skylar Santian
New Life Foundation Thailand
New Life Thai Foundation is a unique international, mindfuln…
Cinlada Srisuparat
WED ZOUK BAREFOOT at Birds Nest Cafe
We would like to invite you all for our regular zouk meet up…
Ken Lang
Tons of Time!
Weight being a problem for us all these days, but truly bein…
Rod Savvides
Tai Chi Chuan
Tai Chi Chuan step by step.. Daily weekday classes every …
Claudio Caselli
Yin Yoga with Claudio
Price: 200B - Contact Claudio: 0847 744705…
The Yoga Tree Chiang Mai
DANCEmandala
This movement meditation practice is for anyone that is insp…
Natha Yoga
Esoteric Integral Yoga
The Esoteric Integral Yoga course is an in-depth course prov…
Soragarn Sangsai
Football Club
Football Chiang Mai - Football fan in Chiang Mai…
Ratthawisutth Klomchitt
Chiangmai AutoCAD Training
AutoCAD for Engineering and Architecture drawing training…
Documentary Arts Asia
Documentary Arts Asia Monday & Thursday Showings
The Documentary Arts Asia Theater has regular screenings of …
JAY LEE
Income Tax discussion
How to legally claim tax rebate as a foreigner working in Th…
Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai Backgammon
Anyone interested in forming a group?…
Elf B
Tantra Yoga Community
A unique course about the extraordinary spiritual adventure …
Chiang Mai Improv Theatre
We are all about PLAY! Come and regress to being 5 years old…
Laughter Yoga
A laughter yoga class and circle at the Yoga Tree Chiang Mai…
TEFL 360
TEFL
TEFL Courses…
Bambi Rabid
Comedy Workshop
Think you're funny? We're looking for people who'd like to…
Jessie Q
Chiang Mai Jugglers and Prop Enthusiasts
Wanna meet and play with other Prop Manipulation geeks? Lear…
John Bales
Chiang Mai Chess Club
Welcome to Chiang Mai Chess Club…
Warren Lee
Squash Players Chiang Mai
There are 2 main groups of squash players in Chiang Mai. …
Warren Lee
Salsa
There are a few groups in Chiang Mai that gather for salsa, …
Writers without Borders
If you're an expat in Chiang Mai, Thailand, or, more specifi…
The Yoga Tree Chiang Mai
livingBIODANZA
An exploration of dance and movment, the BIODANZA way, of ho…
Steve XiengMieng
Green Papaya Sangha
Meditation in the tradition of Vietnamese Zen Monk Thich Nha…
Simon Laroche
Bridge Chiang Mai
Welcome to Bridge Club of Chiang Mai…