Thailand’s Board of Investment (BOI) is finally tackling an anomaly in the visa system: self-proclaimed digital nomads or remote workers using modern technology to work in cafes, hotels, coworking spaces or libraries with a laptop or smartphone Wifi connected from anywhere in the world. Until now, such work, if done in Thailand, has been illegal without a work permit, the regulations of which were not suitable for freelancers or temporary visitors.
The BOI now says a four-year smart visa is being introduced for some digital nomads, subject to Cabinet approval, which is virtually certain as an agreement has already been reached with the top government committee. , the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration. It is hoped that the income from the new business will offset the decline in tourism income during the global pandemic.
Thailand launched the Smart Visa in 2018 and aims to develop the country’s targeted industries by attracting highly skilled foreign workers or investors. The Smart visa is unique because it does not additionally require a work permit issued by the Ministry of Labor. But, until now, the rules have been very restrictive and required applicants to earn huge salaries or invest millions of baht in tech companies. To date, only 530 such visas have been issued to foreign hi-flyers.
One of the goals of the new initiative is to allow digital freelancers currently in Thailand to exchange their tourist visas for smart visas, provided they have an employment contract with a foreign company for the duration of at least six months and can prove their qualifications and professional experience. The minimum wage with an employer is now 50,000 baht per month. But after receiving the Smart visa, the expertise of freelancers could be harnessed by universities, the National Agency for Scientific and Technological Development and other bodies. The BOI intends to broaden the scope of science and technology to include innovation and entrepreneurship. Universities will be encouraged to employ nomads to give lectures or act as consultants.
The Smart Visa is Thailand’s response to the internationally recognized need for a remote or independent visa, specifically to encourage foreigners to come and contribute to their economy. The BOI promises to help digital nomads with bureaucratic application procedures, but adds that those who do not have a formal contract with one or more employers cannot be included in the program. This leaves in an ambiguous situation foreigners who earn money in Thailand in a less formal or even illegal way in a high-tech context which could put them in breach of the legislation on the employment of foreigners.
The Smart Visa, once obtained, lasts for four years with an annual report. There is no requirement to complete the 90 day unpopular report, while the visa is multiple entry with expedited processing at Bangkok airports. Wives and children of Smart Visa holders do not need separate documents to live in Thailand and can also study and work in the country without separate permission or documents. In Chonburi province, the only Smart visa holders known today are attached to the high-tech centers of the Eastern Economic Corridor which straddles three central provinces.