Interested in moving to Thailand? This is our simple Thailand Immigration Guide, containing all the info you need to get started. From getting a visa to finding work and (eventual) citizenship – it’s all here. Read on!
Thailand: Quick Facts
- The Kingdom of Thailand, formerly Siam, is located on the Gulf of Thailand in Southeast Asia.
- The 20th most populous country in the world, it has a population of 69 million people; the life expectancy is 74 years.
- Tourism and service industries are both important parts of the country’s economy, and many expatriates have made Thailand their home.
- Thailand is known for its friendly and welcoming people. The Thai smile is world-famous and has given Thailand a well-deserved nickname: LOS (“Land of Smiles”).
- Currency: Thai Baht (THB).
- Spoken languages: Primarily Thai. It is worth noting that many Thais, particularly those working in the tourism industry, speak English.
- Major religions: Buddhist (94.6%), Muslim (4.6%), Christian (0.7%).
- Major races: predominantly Asian, including Thai (75%), Chinese (14%), and other ethnic groups (11%).
- Largest cities: Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Why move to Thailand
- Despite its homogenous culture, there is still an interesting variety of communities and lifestyles within the country. Central Thailand includes Bangkok, its capital and largest city; but the other areas of the country including the North, the Northeast (called Isaan), and the South (near the Malaysian border), are quite different from central Thailand, and indeed from each other.
- There are large expat communities in various parts of the country, and these communities help support each other and newcomers through newsletters, meetings, forums, etc.
- Thailand is a beautiful country with 102 national parks, including 21 marine parks, and some of the most spectacular beaches and reefs in the world.
- Although prices continue to rise, Thailand is still a very affordable place to live, especially if the expatriate chooses to live a Thai life style. Thai food is inexpensive, delicious and world-famous; housing remains affordable; local transportation is good and cheap; and local products are reasonably priced and this makes shoppers quite happy.
- Thai people are hospitable, and are known to go out of their way to help visitors.
- Thailand is known for its world-class international hospitals. This can be a very important consideration, especially for retirees. People come to Thailand just for the excellent and affordable health care.
Reasons Not to move to Thailand
Note: these are common expat complaints, and may not apply to you.
- Although it is still an affordable place to stay, it is a case of “When in Thailand, do as the Thais.” Local food and products are affordable, but expatriates who prefer to eat Western food in a non-Thai restaurant will need to be prepared for sticker shock. Everything that is imported is subject to Thailand’s stiff tariff system. If expatriates are accustomed to Western food served with imported wine, they’ll need to be prepared to pay for it.
- Expatriates are often expected to pay more than Thais for certain things. These include things like entrance fees at many locations (parks, etc.).
- Many expatriates are not prepared for certain aspects of cultural differences between Thais and foreigners. These include things like Thais’ laissez-faire attitude towards life, and their laid back work ethic.
- Thai bureaucracy can be draconian, and even basic tasks (e.g. getting work permits and retirement visas) can seem daunting to some expatriates.
- The weather in Thailand is extremely hot and humid. This is a blessing to some, and a curse to others. Although it certainly does not rain every day, the official rainy season lasts from mid-April to mid-November, and April and May are the two hottest months of the year.
- Thais can be outwardly friendly, but still quite insular. Expatriates sometimes find it difficult to really get to know Thai people and their families.
- The country is prone to political instability and rapidly changing laws/policies. This can affect the duration (and ease) of an immigrant’s stay in Thailand.
Getting a Visa and Finding Work
Thailand offers a variety of visas including the Transit Visa, the 30 day Tourist Visa, Non-Immigrant Visa, Diplomatic Visa, Official Visa, and Courtesy Visa.
Common visas issued to people relocating to Thailand:
- Non-Immigrant Visa “O-A” (Long stay): the most popular visa for retirees, this is for expatriates over the age of 50 who plan to stay for up to one year, and who do not intend to work in Thailand. This type of visa is renewable each year on the anniversary of its expiration. Eligibility requirements include not having a criminal record, and no prohibitive diseases (e.g., leprosy, tuberculosis, etc.). In addition to the usual paperwork (copies of passport, etc.), applicants are required to provide proof of income. This can either be a bank statement showing 800,000 baht, or a monthly income of at least 65,000 baht.
- Non-Immigrant Visa “B” (Business and Work): this is the visa for expatriates who plan to work in Thailand. There are several sub-categories of this kind of visa: Business visa Category “B”; Business-Approved Category “B-A”; the Investment and Business visa Category “IB”; and Teaching Category “B.”
- Non-Immigrant Visa Category “B” (Business): in addition to the usual paperwork (copies of passport, photos, application forms, etc.), applicants for the Business “B” visa need a letter of approval from the Ministry of Labour. The employer usually assists with this process by submitting the appropriate forms and copies of corporate documents. This visa entitles the applicant to stay in Thailand for 90 days. It can then be renewed for an extension of one year from the date of first entry into the country.
- Non-Immigrant Visa Category “B-A” (Business Approved): applicants for the Business Approved “B-A” visa will need to rely on the associated company to apply for this type of visa. This visa allows the holder to stay for a period of one year.
- Non-Immigrant Visa Category “IB” (Investment and Business Visa): this visa is issued to foreigners who plan to work on investment projects under the auspices of the Board of Investment of Thailand (BOI). These include projects that involve promoting exports of Thai goods, increasing employment of Thai people, and encouraging technology.
- Non-Immigrant Visa Category “B” (Teaching): this is a visa for expatriates who wish to teach at schools below university level in Thailand. In addition to supplying evidence of educational qualifications (e.g., diplomas and/or teaching certificates), applicants need to submit a letter of acceptance from the employing school in Thailand, as well as letters of acceptance from government agencies like the Office of the Private Education Commission and the Office of the Basic Education Commission.
- Work Permits: in addition to obtaining the correct visa, expatriates who wish to work in Thailand must also obtain a work permit from the Office of Foreign Workers Administration, Department of Employment, Ministry of Labour. Anyone who works in Thailand will be required to pay income tax to the government.
- Family Members: family members of foreigners working in Thailand are able to apply for a Non-Immigrant Visa Category “O” which allows them to stay no longer than one year.
A note on changing visa types: foreigners who hold a Transit Visa or a Tourist Visa and decide they want to work in Thailand are able to apply for a change of type of visa at the Office of the Immigration Bureau Office. This change of visa and extension of stay is at the discretion of the immigration officer.
Permanent Residency and Citizenship
- Permanent residency: Thailand grants permanent residency to only 100 people per year. This small number makes it quite difficult to get permanent residency.
- Applicants must be able to fulfill the following requirements: hold a non-immigrant visa for at least three years; and fall under one of these categories: Investment Category (having a minimum of three to ten million Thai Baht invested in Thailand); Working/Business Category; Support a Family or Humanity Reasons Category (be related to a Thai citizen or foreigner who already holds a residence permit; or be a guardian of a Thai child under 20 years of age); or Expert/Academic Category.
- Citizenship (naturalization): Thai citizenship is obtainable if the applicant has been living and working in Thailand for at least three years; can speak and understand basic Thai language; have been paying taxes in Thailand for at least three years; have no criminal record; and have proof of a minimum income of 80,000 Thai Baht per month. An interview and written test are often required.
Starting a Business in Thailand
- Reserving a company name on the Department of Business Development’s website is the first step in starting a business in Thailand. After the company is approved, a statutory meeting is held. The directors of the newly-formed company ask their promoters and subscribers to supply 25% of the registered capital, which is deposited in a bank account. Although not mandatory, most Thai companies have a corporate seal.
- Next it is necessary to get approval for the memorandum of association and to register the new company as a legal entity.
- If employees are hired, the employer must establish written rules and regulations in Thai that comply with the Labour Protection Act amendments. The employer must also register employees for social security and workers’ compensation insurance at the Social Security Office, Ministry of Labour.
- Registration of the new company must occur within three months of the day of the statutory meeting. There are actually two registrations required: the memorandum registration and the company registration. These can both be done on the same day.
- In addition to the application form, the following forms are required: Articles of Association; List of Shareholders, Declaration of Business Operation Form; List of Company Registration; certified copy of the Notice and Minutes of the Statutory Meeting; Confirmation of Payment of Share Capital (at least 25%) by all subscribers; Company Name Reservation Form; Certification of Registration of Limited Company; and maps showing the locations of the head office and any branch offices of the company.
- Some of the documents, such as the applications for registration of memorandum or association and for the registration of incorporation, must be signed before a Private Limited Companies Registrar, an attorney, or an auditor registered with the Private Limited Companies Registrar.
Recommended Reading & Resources
- Becoming an Expat Thailand: your guide to moving abroad
- Immigration Bureau – official government website
- Find a Serviced Apartment in Thailand: Chiang Mai | Bangkok