The Thai government has announced plans for a Thailand Digital Nomad Visa to be created. Here we will describe in detail how the new legislation unfolds and what alternative options there are for digital nomads in Thailand.
Thailand has been a long time favourite with digital nomads flocking to Bangkok or the smaller Northern city of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai has for a long time been known as the Digital Nomad capital of the world. Digital nomads were attracted by the low cost of living, fast internet, the old town, a great food scene, a nearby airport with great connections and plenty of cafes and coworking spaces. Areas like Nimman road is where the digital nomad community was mainly centred around. YouTube is full of videos explaining the cost of living in Chiang Mai for the would-be digital nomad and how you can live on less than $1,000 per month.
Almost all digital nomads would use the 60-day tourist visa and extend it for another 30 days to stay the full 90 days in Thailand. This could be repeated by doing what is called a visa run, where you take a flight to let’s say Malaysia and apply for another tourist visa and stay another 90-days.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put a halt to this type of digital nomads, as doing Thai visa runs to other countries was almost impossible. Initially, Thailand extended the visas for tourists and digital nomads that were stuck. For those that wanted to enter Thailand, this was initially impossible at the start of 2020 and later became only possible via expensive hotel quarantine schemes.
As a result of Thailands though entry rules the tourism industry suffered big time. Before the Covid-19 pandemic Thailand had about 40 million visitors a year which would spend about $57bn, this number was reduced to only 400,000 for 2021 a staggering 99% drop compared to 2019. TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn is optimistic and expects the number of visitors for 2022 to be 18 million.
Changing Digital Nomad Trends
The Digital Nomad community in Thailand has been decimated, and the very strict Covid entry rules and delayed reopening programs saw Thailand not benefit from the emergence of the wealthier Digital Nomad. These are people forced to work from home and in well-paid company jobs or owning profitable businesses. Small Caribbean islands were quick to tap into this newly emerging class of digital nomads by creating digital nomad visas.
As for the budget digital nomad for which Thailand, Bali, Vietnam and the Philippines were major destinations, they all suffered big time and countries like Portugal, Georgia and Mexico were the main beneficiaries with easier entry restrictions and low cost of living.
Thailand seems to have the reopening process to tourists more under control and is also looking at what type of tourists it wants to attract. Surprise surprise like almost every other tourism authority there is a shift to less low-cost mass tourism and more quality and higher spending tourists.
As someone that has stayed, worked and travelled in Thailand more than a dozen times, I had plans to be a digital nomad in Thailand in 2020 and 2021, but these plans came to a halt due to the closing of the Thai borders for tourists. Having now set my digital nomad ambitions in and around Europe, I am not sure if and when I will return to Thailand. But for those wanting to return lets look at the current options available and what the proposed new digital nomad visa is going to look like.
Current Thailand Visa Options For Digital Nomads
30-Day Tourist Visa Exemption Scheme
There is a list of citizens from 56 countries that do not have to apply for a visa when entering Thailand for tourism purposes.
- Costs: Free
- Maximum duration: 30 days
- Can be used 3 times in a 6-month period by flight and 2 times a year for overland or sea crossing.
- You will need an outbound confirmed flight
- You are not allowed to work, however remote work is difficult to check.
Thai Tourist Visa (single entry and multiple entries)
- Costs: 2,000 Baht
- Validity: 3 months for a single entry visa, 6-months for multiple entry visa
- Maximum stay: 60 days
- Extension: 30 days at the discretion of the immigration officer for 30 days with a total stay of no longer than 90 days. The fee for the extension is 1,900 Baht. For more info check: www.immigration.go.th
- You will need an outbound confirmed flight
- Once your 60 or 90 days (with extension) have been used, you can reapply by doing a visa run
- You are not allowed to work, however remote work is difficult to check
Since 27 September 2021, the Royal Thai Embassy has implemented an E-visa service where there is no need for a sticker in your passport anymore. You can apply through this official website: www.thaievisa.go.th. You also do not have to submit your passport and original documents via mail anymore to the embassy, it can all be done online.
Once your e-visa application has been approved, you will get a confirmation email that you have to print out to present to the airline and Thai immigration officials.
Special Tourist Visa (single entry only)
The Special Tourist Visa was introduced on 1 October 2020 to enable longer stays to offset the decline in tourism due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This visa program was to run till 30 September 2021 but now has been extended to 30 September 2022. The duration of the visa is for 90 days and can be extended twice to 270 days in total, but not going past 30 September 2022.
The Special Tourist Visa is quite difficult to get as there are a lot of requirements, but if you meet these you can stay up to 270 days without having to do any visa runs.
- Cost: 70 euros
- Validity: 90 days
- Extension: 90 days can be done twice to give a total stay of 270 days including the quarantine period.
- You are prohibited from engaging in any gainful employment in Thailand – however remote work is difficult to check or enforce
- You must have health insurance covering medical expenses in Thailand with a minimum coverage of 100,000 USD for COVID-19.
- You must have Thai health insurance covering the length of stay in Thailand with no less than 40,000 THB coverage for outpatient treatment and no less than 400,000 THB for inpatient treatment.
- Confirmed roundtrip flight reservation.
- Certified Medical certificate needed showing no prohibitive diseases
- Certified Certificate of Good Conduct
- Certified English extract from the register of population
- Proof of payment for accommodation for the whole intended stay
- Proof of payment of AQ / SHA+ hotel
Thai Retirement Visa for those 50 years or older
For those that are aged over 50, there are some interesting options. There is a 1 year Non-Immigrant O-A visa that can be extended every year.
There is also the 5-year Non-Immigrant O-X visa that can be extended every 5 years. This one is only available to passport holders from Japan, Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States of America. Spouse and child under 20 years old can join on this visa.
Both the 1-year and 5-year visas come with income and or deposit requirements and health insurance requirements. You can see the full requirements here: www.thaievisa.go.th/long-stay-visa.
Not necessary an option for digital nomads, but Thailand has a SMART-Visa that allows you to get a visa and work permit in 13 key sector industries. You can apply as:
- Smart T (Talent) – Science and technology experts with salaries higher than 100k baht per month
- Smart I (Investor) – Investment of 20 million baht
- Smart E (Executive) – Bachelor degree or higher plus 10 years work experience, salaries higher than 200k baht per month
- Smart S (Startup) – Technology-based startup entrepreneurs, Deposit of 600K baht held for 3 months minimum. Setup company within 1 year with at least 25% ownership
- Smart O (Others) – Spouse and children of smart visa holders
You can read more about the program and how to apply here: smart-visa.boi.go.th/smart/index.html
Business Visa through Employer of Record Schemes
There are companies like Shelter that can offer digital nomads an Employer of Record service. Basically, you will work for them and they charge a flat monthly fee that ensures you have everything you need from a legal perspective to have tax residence in Thailand. They will sort out business visas, healthcare, work permits and payroll to ensure you pay the local taxes and social security.
The benefits are no more paperwork, immigration reports or visa runs and you can stay and work in Thailand for a long period. These are the requirements:
- Are at least 22 years old
- Have either one of the following:
- An IT-related university degree, plus 2 years of relevant work experience
- Any type of university/college/school diploma or certificate, plus 5 years of relevant work experience
- Work in software development, blockchain, design, marketing, business development, eCommerce, or other online, tech/digital-related activity
- Have an existing business or client base
- Can bill a minimum of $1,500 USD per month
- Can commit to a 1-3 year contract
Thai Elite Visa
The Thailand Elite Visa is what is known as a Privilege Entry Visa and comes that gives tourists multiple entry access to Thailand for periods of 5, 10 and 20 years. It comes also with plenty of additional perks, like lounge access at airports and a VIP immigration and luggage collecting process. The costs are as follows:
- 5-year visa is 600,000 Baht including annual fees
- 10-year visa is 1,000,000 Baht including annual fees
- 20-year visa is 2,400,000 Baht including annual fees
Like with many other Thai visas you will still have to report every 90 days to immigration, but with this visa for Bangkok residents, you will have a VIP guided process.
You can find more information about the plethora of Thai Elite Visa durations and options at www.thailandelite.com.
New Thailand Digital Nomad Visa in the Making
The Thai government has just approved the draft legislation for the creation of a 10-year visa for wealthy expats and digital nomads. It is believed that luring these high-quality long term tourists will help drive the Thai economy. The 10-year visa is intended to attract wealthy long term travellers from 4 categories:
- Digital Nomads – currently most digital nomads use tourism visas, having a more legal way of working would be beneficial
- Highly skilled professionals that can advance Thailand with skills and their spending of salaries. – This competes with the current SMART Visa
- Wealthy Global Citizens – There is already the Thailand Elite Visa to cater for them.
- Wealthy Pensioners – Thailand is a retirement heaven and it has already Non-Immigrant O-A and O-X visas for less wealthy pensioners over 50 years old.
What is currently known is:
- Duration is 5 years and it can be extended for another 5 years.
- The cost is 10,000 baht a year which is significantly cheaper than the Thail Elite Visa program but without the VIP airport treatment.
- Includes a work permit, if this is for remote work only or includes specific work categories in Thailand like the SMART visa is not known.
What is not known are the income or deposit requirements to qualify for this visa.
Thailand has already got a range of visas that can help digital nomads, retirees, investors and wealthy expats (through Thailand Elite Visa). What has never been clear is the tax and work status for remote workers. The concept of non-tax-paying digital nomads was something that was well known, but there was never any action being taken except for one raid in 2014 at a coworking centre in Chiang Mai. Hopefully, the Digital Nomad Visa will clear this up once and for all.
Getting rid of time and money consuming visa borders runs or 90-day reporting to immigration would be amazing. Please make this a feature of the renewed Thailand visa policy!
Is this another remarketing exercise by the Thai Government and the Tourism Authority of Thailand to open up to tourism and not much will change to the current visas in place? Or is it a general shift in the type of tourists, expats and pensioners that Thailand wants to attract with a focus on the WEALTHY? Time will tell and here at Nomad Girl, we want to keep you updated.
What is known is that Thailand had the largest Digital Nomad community before the pandemic and that the infrastructure to support this is still there. Don’t screw up this leading position.