Breakthrough for Digital Nomads in Thailand

Working as a Digital Nomad in Thailand has long been in a grey legal area. Most of the remote workers have been using Tourist Visas, without (any real possibility to obtain) a Work Permit. While, in reality, such activity was de facto allowed: any such individuals were left alone or were immediately released after explaining the situation. Rumours existed that a police regulation instructed officers to allow the nomads to carry on and supposedly Police information sessions confirmed this, but no documentation ever surfaced. Recently, the Thai Council of State straightened this out. Excellent news! All details are available if you continue reading.

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The change originated from Memo 152/2556 by the Council of State, analysed by M. Narit Direkwattanacachai from Narit & Associates, whose paper was the source for this article. Therefore, all credit goes to M. Direkwattanacachai.

In Thailand, activity (“work”) by foreign workers has been regulated for decades by the Foreign Workers Act, issued in 2008. The Act states that no foreigner shall engage in any work unless the foreigner obtains a work permit from the Department of Employment of the Ministry of Labor. Section 4 of the Act defines “work” as engaging in work by exerting energy or using knowledge whether or not in consideration of wages or other benefits.

This definition resulted in growing practical problems and limitations for the development of activities and economic benefits in Thailand. A foreigner engaging in professional discussion, signing a document, attending a seminar or even answering a professional email was considered as “working” in Thailand and had to obtain a work permit. The broad definition of “work” meant that almost anything a foreigner did in Thailand could be considered as “work”.

The Board of Investment recognized the limiting nature of this situation and sought the legal opinion of the Council of State, the Thai government’s official legal advisor. Citing an economical justification, the Council of State issued a narrow interpretation of “work”. It clarifies that the spirit of the Foreign Workers Act is to protect the employment and economical activity of Thai nationals.

Note 152/2556 of the Council of State lays down a new criterion for any activities to be considered “work” under the Foreign Workers Act: the activities must affect the local labour market. This implies that any activities that do not affect the local labour market are not considered as “work” under the Act and are not subject to the work permit requirement. While the legal opinion in Note 152/2556 is only applicable to the activities raised by the Department of Employment and the Board of Investment, the requirement to affect the local labor market should be applied to other activities as well.

This means a definition of work under the Act can no longer be construed broadly to catch all activities that a foreigner does in Thailand.

Conclusion: as long as none of your activities affect the local labour market, you should not need a Work Permit.

 

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