Thailand: What are the visa options for digital nomads?

Published on 2019-06-12 at 12:25 by Mikki Beru
The place-to-be for digital nomads? You will find that most people will answer Thailand. Yet there is still a lot of debate around the legal aspects of working remotely from Thailand. Is there a visa regulating the presence of digital nomads in Thailand?

Thailand: The place-to-be for digital nomads

If one can be a digital nomad everywhere, some destinations are naturally more attractive than others. Because, "digital nomad" also means the holiday spirit and a rather lush environment. Rather than suffer the stress of a big city, digital nomads travel, seek serenity, nature...

And Thailand has a lot to offer: pleasant climate, rich vegetation, beaches, affordable cost of living (housing, food, healthcare...) The perfect combination for nomadic workers and most probably the reason why Thailand is so popular amongst digital nomads.

The country has made investments to attract more and more digital nomads too: high-speed Internet and co-working spaces for example.

But despite this, this question arises: Are there any visas especially for the digital nomads? The majority, indeed, enter the territory on a tourist visa valid for 3 months, agreeing to leave and re-enter the territory several times. A practice which remains controversial, and which does not fail to spring debates about the legal implications of being a digital nomad in Thailand.

Can digital nomads get a work visa in Thailand?

Until February 2018, to work in Thailand in the long term, one had to apply for a non-immigrant visa B. These would apply to the following cases:

  • Working on the territory, subject to applying for a work permit after obtaining the visa from the Department of Employment.
  • A paid internship in a company based in Thailand.
  • Being sent by an overseas company on a mission in Thailand.

A legal framework that is both rigid and vague but digital nomads do not fall into any of these categories.

How about the smart visa?

February 1, 2018: The Thai government launches the "smart visa". The new residence permit is as attractive as it gets: more flexible than a traditional visa, the application process is a lot less of an administrative hassle.

With the smart visa, the Thai government intended to give a legal framework, to allow digital nomads to settle for a longer or shorter period in the territory. It is, at least, how the visa was marketed.

The smart visa also allows longer stays: up to 4 years. Is the smart visa perfect for digital nomads, then? Not so sure.

If the Thai government wants to attract more foreigners, it clearly targets specific profiles: those working in highly specialized industries (robotics, aviation, chemical and biofuels etc.), biotechnology, medical innovations, new technologies...

Thailand's strategy fits perfectly with the concept of digital nomadism: a qualified and experienced individual, working in advanced sectors (able to provide his expertise), able to support himself (financial autonomy). More than "arms", the government intends to bring "brains".

If the smart visa seems to make Thailand even more "digital nomad friendly", it is reserved for a very specific category of people. The selection is made at the visa application, Thailand has identified the profiles it deems the most attractive. The smart visa is not just a way to get a work visa more simply and quickly.

What are the options, then?

The digital nomads have, however, found ways to circumvent its administrative pitfalls. For example, besides the tourist visa trick, one can also get educational visas - either to learn the language, local cuisine or Thai massage. However, it will be necessary to be registered in a school and to be present in class although it is possible to choose the duration of the courses to fit your online obligations.

Digital nomadism: What is it about?

The example of Thailand reminds us that far from being a professional activity, "digital nomad" is a way of life. Thus, the smart visa is not created to allow individuals to find work on site, but rather to give experts and creators (who are already working, therefore) a framework conducive to the development of their business.

Thus, the digital nomad is a person who works via the Internet, while traveling: ultra-mobile, they only need a computer and an Internet connection. A desire to go beyond the classic system, to manage one's schedule, to be free to combine leisure and professional activity, find new inspirations, via travel, meet other people.

In the country of digital nomads, we therefore find mainly freelancers, business creators in the digital industry, advanced technologies, people telecommuting.