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

Can Digital Nomads legally work in Thailand? How?


Last edited: February 06, 2017 at 11:37:04

The debate about whether or not Digital Nomads can work safely and legally in Thailand repeats itself regularly on social media such as Facebook and on certain websites. Often there is a lot of confusion about this topic and people comment randomly with inaccurate and second-hand information. To get things right, CM Locator did some first-hand research and went to the relevant departments of the Thai authorities to get this topic clarified.
 


MUCH DEBATE STILL EXISTS ABOUT THIS ONE QUESTION:
IS IT LEGAL FOR DIGITAL NOMADS TO WORK (ONLINE) IN THAILAND? HOW?



The infamous raids of Punspace1 in Nimman by Immigration Police back in 2014 and the raid of an office for online teachers in Riverside Condo in 2015 much added to the confusion and fear amongst digital nomads in Thailand that there was something wrong or illegal with working online in Thailand. In the case of the Punspace raid, everyone was released without any charges, by the way.

 

GENERAL RULES ABOUT WORKING IN THAILAND

Stated in general terms, in order to work in Thailand a foreigner needs to:

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

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".

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.
And, if you stay in Thailand longer than 6 months, you have to pay taxes.

The main authorities you have to deal with are: the Immigration Department, the Labour Office and the Tax Department. This article is based on first-hand information from our interviews with the Labour Office and the Tax Department.

 

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT OF THE CONTROVERSY ABOUT THE ISSUE OF WORKING IN THAILAND

To understand why there is controversy about the legality of certain types of 'work' in Thailand, there are a few factors to take into account.
 
To determine what is work and how to deal with it, various departments of the Thai government have to judge a situation based on the relevant sections of Thai law. Thai law was more or less imported or copied from amongst others European law just about a century ago and according to Thai lawyers, it isn't exactly the most coherent or best organised system of law in the world.
Besides that, Thai law has not been updated to deal with rapid and modern developments such as online work and Digital Nomads.
 
Every department of the Thai government has its own responsibility and will view a case based on its interpretation of what a foreigner can and cannot do. It could be possible that one department is concerned about a foreigner conducting certain activities while another isn't.
Thailand wouldn't be Thailand if there wouldn't be huge differences in interpretation not only between different departments but also between regions2.
 
And Thailand wouldn't be Thailand if there weren't a GREY or ALLOWANCE ZONE where things are allowed to be as they are, unlike in some Western countries where things simply black-and-white.
 
Finally, there is the issue of enforcement: even if things happen that are officially not 100% legal, the authorities don't always take action, even simply ignore it or it becomes an opportunity for local officials to become corrupted.
 
To make things worse, there is the issue of communication: most Thai authorities do not make the rules very clear to foreigners or even internally amongst officials. A new regulation could be introduced but officials don't know how to apply it, let alone foreigners.

 

WHAT IS WORK?

A lot of the confusion amongst foreigners about working in Thailand stems from the way the authorities in Thailand define work. According to the Chiang Mai Work Permit office, a foreigner needs a work permit when:
  1. either he takes resources from Thailand, or
  2. he competes with Thai jobs.

Following these criteria, most Digital Nomads do not need a work permit, they either work completely legal or they are in the GREY ZONE. Exceptions of activities for which a work permit is clearly required are: selling goods or services in Thailand, doing something that takes resources from Thailand, or working in a company style manner.

Read more about how the Chiang Mai Work Permit office evaluates work

 

MORE ABOUT THE GREY ZONE

Taken to the letter of the law, even a travel blogger residing in Thailand and writing about the beauty of this country is carrying out work, and therefore in theory needs a work permit. This, of course, sounds utterly ridiculous and doesn't really make sense besides that it's not enforcable.

Acknowledging that, Thai authorities usually take a more pragmatic (and passive) approach towards the issue of foreigners working in Thailand. Factors such as volume or scale, seriousness of a work activity, existence and source of income in Thailand, enforcability and other circumstances are then taken into account.

 

DO YOU NEED TO PAY TAXES?

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!
 
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. 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.

 

Can Digital Nomads work legally in Thailand?
Are Digital Nomads workin in a co-working space on the target list of Immigration?

Working in a co-working space

A lot of Digital Nomads enjoy the atmosphere of working in a co-working space or coffeeshop more than staying at home all day. Is it safe? If you may believe some myths on forums you should shun these places, because Immigration is going to get you. Bullshit! If co-working spaces would really be on the target lists of Immigration, they would raid it all the time and no co-working space would still exist in Thailand.

Illegal / risky?
Just because you're behind a computer in a co-working space or coffeeshop you're not breaching Thai law!
You can safely work online in any co-working space, internet cafe or coffeeshop.

Immigration raided Punspace last year most likely because there was a rumour about illegal activities being conducted there. Immigration raided a so-called 'Erotic Garden' in Chiang Mai area a few months ago, because there was a rumour or someone reported that prostitution was being conducted there, only to find out that it was only a tea garden with sensual sculptures.

You sitting in a co-working space on a tourist visa trying to grow your online business are perfectly okay.

The criteria again, is in the first place about money income: are you getting your money in Thailand? Then you better get the right papers or keep a low profile.
 

Teaching Chinese students online

This is another field of attention by foreigners recently: giving Skype lessons to Chinese students in China from Thailand.

Illegal / risky?
It depends.
Are you sitting in the comfort of your own apartment and getting paid through Paypal? No big deal.

But are you paid by a company to do this and are you sitting in an office in Riverside Condo together with your 'colleagues'? Then you need a work permit and the company needs the proper papers to conduct this business.


Hopefully, this practical summary of cases demystified a lot of non-sense you can read in forums, and you have some idea about how you can work safely in Thailand.

Thailand is a laissez-faire society, so even if you err in some grey areas it's not immediately a problem.

Mind you, Thai regulations are changing all the time, so what was okay until now may suddenly become an area of attention by the Thai authorities.

By Steven G.
 


1.  Google 'Punspace' and Google already suggests is 'Punspace raid' !

2. Examples of different interpretations between regions:

However, in order to get a work permit, you have to employ 4 local Thai for every foreign work permit (exception for BOI approved businesses), so that won't work for most foreigners who start to work online in Thailand.

  • 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)

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. Theres 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
Absolute Care Clinic
Save up to 89% on banking fees wiring money internationally
Rent an apartment in Chiang Mai
Latest members (All our Members)
Chiang Mai Communities
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…