THAILAND IMMIGRATION, WORK PERMIT, RESIDENCY & SPONSORSHIP
Before we delve any deeper, there are several key points to constantly keep in mind regarding immigration and work permits in Thailand.
First, the right to live and the right to work in Thailand are two separate rights governed by separate laws and two separate government agencies: the Thai Immigration Office and the Thai Labor Department respectively. This is unlike say in the US where the right to live and right to work are merged into one document called a Permanent Resident Card or “Green Card” and is issued by one agency. Thai law requires an expat wishing to work in Thailand to secure both an immigration visa and work permit before starting to work in Thailand.
Second, the Thai authorities define work very broadly. Even part-time workers and unpaid volunteers involved in charitable services are regarded as engaging in work and must typically obtain a visa and work permit. An exception for a work permit is possible if a person has been invited to work by the Thai Government. Business travelers visiting Thailand to perform urgent business and needing to stay for a short period of time (i.e., less than 2 weeks) must technically obtain a temporary work permit (see the second Q&A below).
Third, immigration visas are valid only for 1 (one) year, and must be extended or renewed on an annual basis. Work permits are normally valid for 1 (one) year as well, but the Labor Department can issue 2 (two) year work permits as well.
Fourth, even with a valid immigration visa and work permit, an expat must report to the appropriate immigration office or police station with jurisdiction over his or her residence every 90 (ninety) days, and may be required to exit and reenter the country as well.
Fifth, when leaving Thailand after having received a valid immigration visa, an expat must purchase a single or multiple re-entry permits in order to preserve their right to remain in Thailand. Failure to so will mean the expat’s immigration visa will automatically be cancelled. The expat would then have to obtain a new immigration visa.
Sixth, work is authorized only for the company and location stated on the work permit. While this is not always strictly enforced for example with temporary meetings outside one’s office, there have been cases in the past where expats were fined or even imprisoned on a short basis for working in jobs or in areas not authorized by their work permits.
With the above framework in mind, let us consider the following questions and answers:
What kinds of visas are available in Thailand?
The most common types of visas include:
For holiday visitors to Thailand. Visitors with Australian, Singaporean, New Zealand, UK and US citizenship among a few others may enter Thailand without a visa for a period of between 30 and 90 days depending on their nationality. Other visitors may obtain a tourist visa from the Thai Embassy or Consulate in their home country. These are typically valid for 30 days. Visitors from some other countries including China and India can obtain visas on arrival, which are valid for 15 days.
Visitors entering Thailand without a visa or with a granted tourist visa can obtain normally a 30-day extension. Those holding visas on arrival can usually get a 7 – 10 day extension.
For those simply passing through the country.
For those wishing to work in Thailand including volunteer work.
Issued to spouses, parents and children under 20 years of age of employed expats.
Issued to qualified students enrolled in a course of study at an accredited Thai educational institution such as at a recognized Thai university. Holders of Category ED Visas may not engage in work.
For those 50 and older, and who have a minimum monthly pension of THB 65,000, or have deposited a minimum of THB 800,000 into a Thai bank account for three months prior to application. Those holding retirement visas are eligible to work only for their own companies for which they are also directors.
What kind of work permits are there in Thailand? What are the requirements for a temporary work permit?
Thailand recognizes both temporary and regular work permits.
Fifteen (15) day temporary work permits are available only to foreigners urgently needing to travel to Thailand to engage in business or provide services for a limited period of 2 weeks or less. The list of work considered urgent is extensive and includes attending conferences and seminars, conducting negotiations and inspections, to engage in demonstrations, testing or training, to recruit or to purchase or even non-profit activities.
The application for a temporary work permit should be submitted to the Labor Department and should include the applicant’s passport, 2 passport-quality photographs, and the necessary application. Most temporary work permits are issued within 1 (one) business day. Applicants are not allowed to work during the waiting period. While obtaining a temporary work permit is a hassle, it is a legal requirement and a relatively quick and painless one at that. Arrest of foreigners failing to obtain a temporary work permit is possible though in practice we suspect most business travelers take their chances entering Thailand as tourists and don’t bother getting temporary work permits.
How can I get a regular work permit?
You must have a visa first before obtaining a work permit.
Expats wishing to work in Thailand will typically begin by obtaining a Non-Immigrant Category “B” (Business) Visa. The expat’s would-be employer should prepare a letter of support confirming the expat’s job offer and other supporting documents including an updated financial statement, the most recent company affidavit, and the most recent taxpayer forms. The expat may obtain the Category B Visa at a Thai Embassy or Consulate abroad and will need to submit the letter of support along with the other supporting documents.
An expat may also obtain a Category B Visa while in Thailand and will typically have entered into the country as a tourist (e.g., with no visa in the case of the UK, US and a few other countries, with a tourist visa or with a visa on arrival), Transit Visa, any one of the other Non-Immigrant Visas, or even a Retirement Visa. While it is possible to change these other visas into a Category B Visa, we advise against this because it typically costs much more than applying for a Category B Visa from abroad.
The application for a work permit is filed with the Labor Department, and requires the same documents needed for a Category B Visa. Furthermore, the would-be employer will need to issue a letter explaining why an expat is needed for a particular position instead of a Thai.
Can I apply for a work permit on my own?
Yes, but the would-be employer will still need to issue the letter of support and other supporting documents.
Who can I hire to assist me in processing my papers?
While there are countless business consulting and human resources (HR) companies as well as agencies and law firms offering immigration services, including Ployprathip International Law Office (PILO), the expat would still need to appear in person before the Immigration Office in order to receive their visa or their annual visa extension. First-time applicants for work permits will also need to appear in person before the Labor Department. Unlike with the Immigration Office, however, the expat need not visit the Labor Department in person for a renewal of his or her work permit.
What documents do I need to submit?
An expat’s application for a work permit must include the following documents:
His or her foreign passport;
Two (2) passport-quality photographs measuring 4x5 cm;
A letter identifying the objective of the stay in Thailand;
Company documents as supplied by the employer;
Most recent Financial Statement of the employer;
A recent medical certificate;
Evidence of tax payment by the employer;
Social Security information of the employer;
Other documents requested by the Labor Department such as the appropriate license(s) – for example a hotel wishing to employ an expat manager will need to produce its hotel operator license.
How long do I have to wait for my papers to be processed?
The amount of time varies but typically it takes 2 (two) weeks to 1 (one) month before a visa is issued. The time frame for a work permit is about the same.
Where can I check on the status of my application?
You or your employer can check with the relevant Immigration Office and Labor Department Office with which they submitted their applications.
What will my proof of immigration visa and work permit be?
The Thai Immigration Office will issue the visa in your passport. The Thai Labor Department will issue a separate work permit booklet. Expats should carry the originals or signed photocopies of these documents at all times.
What are the government fees for a Category B Visa, re-entry permit, and work permit?
An expat or employer must pay THB 1,800 for a Category B Visa. If the expat or employer changes another visa into a Category B Visa, this will entail extra costs. For a re-entry permit, an expat must pay THB 1,000 for a single entry and THB 3,800 for multiple entries. An expat or employer should expect to pay between THB 750 – 3,000 for a work permit or renewal depending on the months of approval. The application fee for a Category B Visa and for a work permit is THB 100 for each.
How long is the validity of the immigration visa and work permit before it expires?
Category B Visas are valid for 1 (one) year. The Labor Department can issue 1 (one) and even 2 (two) year work permits. In the case of a 2-year work permit, once a Category B Visa expires, then the expat would have to renew just the visa.
If my passport expires before my visa and work permit expires, what should I do?
You should contact your local Embassy to renew or issue a new passport. Once furnished, you could then request your Thai Immigration Office to move the visa to the new passport.
When my visa and work permit expires, how can I re-enter Thailand and accept a new job?
You would have to apply for both a new Non Immigrant Category B visa and a new work permit. Your new employer would have to supply all the necessary documents to support your applications.
Is there a grace period to renew my work permit?
Can I come to Thailand on a tourist visa to search and apply for jobs?
Yes, you can find work during the valid period of your tourist visa. (Most tourist visas are valid for 60 (sixty) days though there are also 15-day, 30-day and even 90-day tourist visas depending on your home country. Extensions are also possible ranging from 7-days to 30-days). However, if you are hired by an employer, you would have to acquire a Category B Visa and a work permit before starting to work in Thailand.
What happens when an employer asks me to work immediately without a work permit?
Any foreign worker who works in Thailand without a valid work permit may be subject to punishment as follows:
Up to 5 (five) years of imprisonment, or up to a THB 100,000 fine, or both imprisonment and a fine;
Deportation or Voluntary Departure; and
Denial of Permanent Residency or Citizenship should the expat pursue these options after several years in Thailand.
How do I make sure I don’t get banned from re-entry?
Expats should comply with all the requirements of their visas and work permits (i.e., work at the relevant location and in the relevant field as specified in the work permit). Expats wishing to leave Thailand on a temporary basis must acquire a re-entry permit before leaving the country. Failure to do so will mean that their visas will automatically be cancelled.
How can I transfer my visa and work permit from one employer to the next?
As soon as you resign from your employer, the visa and work permit will automatically be cancelled. You and your Employer have the duty to report to both the Immigration Office and the Labour Department.
Aside from obtaining a Category B Visa, how else can I reside in Thailand?
As mentioned in the answer to the first question above, in addition to the Non-Immigrant Category “B” (Business) Visa for those wishing to work in Thailand including volunteer work, other visas granting the right to stay in Thailand include the Non-Immigrant Category “O” (Other) Visa issued to spouses, parents and children under 20 years of age of employed expats; the Non-Immigrant Category “ED” (Education) Visa issued to qualified students enrolled in a course of study at an accredited Thai educational institution such as at a recognized Thai university; and the Retirement Visa issued to qualified retirees.
How can my partner / spouse or children who work and live in Thailand sponsor my residency?
Expats working in Thailand may obtain a Non-Immigrant “O” (Other) Visa for their spouse, children or even parent. In the case of spouses, however, the couple would have to produce a marriage certificate. Thai law does not afford any legal status to “partners” and so an expat cannot sponsor their straight or gay partner or even fiancé.
Can I get a job after my family sponsors my residency?
An expat obtaining residency under the Category O Visa (assuming he or she is married to a Thai spouse) can apply for a job, and obtain a work permit per the process outlined above.
How can I apply for permanent residency and acquire citizenship when I get my visa and work permit?
An expat would have to live and work continuously in Thailand for at least 3 (three) years with the proper visa and work permit before being eligible to establish permanent residency by obtaining a Certificate of Residence. In order to obtain this Certificate the expat would have to satisfy several requirements including a background check and a Thai language test. The benefit of acquiring permanent residency status is that the expat would no longer need to visit their immigration office every 90 (ninety) days though he or she would still need to purchase a re-entry permit before leaving Thailand otherwise upon return, the Certificate of Residence would be cancelled. After holding permanent residency status for 5 years, an expat could apply for Thai citizenship thereby receiving all the benefits of a Thai citizen (e.g., eligible to enter and leave the country at will, eligible to own land in Thailand, able to vote in Thai elections and hold Thai office).
Does Thailand have single and multiple entry visas?
Thailand does have single and multiple re-entry permits for those people who already have Non-Immigrant Visas.
Will an expat’s child born in the Thailand acquire citizenship?
No. Thai law no longer recognizes the concept of jus soli (i.e., citizenship by birth on soil) to establish Thai citizenship unlike say in the US.
Thai law, however, will automatically recognize a child as a Thai citizen if the mother is Thai per the doctrine of jus sanguineous (i.e., citizenship by right of blood). Unfairly perhaps, if the father is a Thai citizen and the mother is foreign, additional proof of paternity will need to be provided as such citizenship would not be automatic. As the vast majority of half-Thai children are born to Thai mothers, there are few obstacles in most cases.
We highly recommend that children born abroad to a Thai parent be registered with the local Thai Embassy or Consulate. This will entail getting a Thai birth certificate and will entitle the child to all the benefits and obligations of Thai citizenship, the latter including compulsory military draft registration, and possible military training and service in the case of male children.
I am Thai currently living overseas with a foreign nationality. What are the requirements for my partner to be able to reside with me in Thailand?
The Thai spouse can sponsor the foreign national spouse to obtain a Non-Immigrant “O” (Other) Visa. Once in Thailand, the foreign national spouse can find work and obtain a work permit per the process outlined above without obtaining a Category B Visa.
Where can I find more official information on residency and citizenship?
Expats should begin by accessing the Immigration Bureau website at: www.immigration.go.th, and the Labor Office website at: www.mol.go.th . Because these websites are mostly in Thai, expats can also contact the Thai Embassy or Consulate in the country of their citizenship for more information.