If you want to work in Thailand - and who wouldn't? - you will need a permit to do so legally. This is a document issued by the Ministry of Labour's Department of Employment. It is about the size of a passport, with a royal blue cover. With it, you are entitled to live and work in the Land of Smiles, with the country's ample labour laws to protect you. Without it, you are likely to be escorted to the nearest airport and invited to leave, potentially for good.

Fortunately, actually getting hold of a work permit is not that difficult. There are certain limitations on what jobs you can hold and there is a lot of forms to fill in and documents to produce, but paperwork is an inevitable product of any dealings with the Thai government - you will get used to that. The following is a simple guide to getting your work permit in Thailand.

What kind of visa do I need to get a work permit in Thailand?

When it comes to working in Thailand, a work permit is certainly essential, but the higher priority is to have the appropriate visa. The permit is effectively just a document detailing the specifics of your visa, allowing officials to check that you are doing the job your visa permits you to do without having to confer with the Ministry of Labour. There is also a legal aspect to each requirement as they are covered by separate laws. However, you will need the visa in order to get the permit.

It's worth noting that the Thai government's definition of "work" is quite broad. For example, you don't have to be getting paid for it to qualify as employment. You may recall that there was some controversy about work permits around the time of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami when foreign volunteers arriving in Phuket were turned away because even emergency volunteer work counts as 'work'. While the Thai authorities learnt valuable lessons from this disaster and did not make such outrageous demands when foreign volunteers arrived to assist with the Tham Luang cave rescue in 2018, those arriving to volunteer for anything less urgent are not likely to be extended the same courtesy.

To work in Thailand, you must have a non-immigrant B visa. Employment is not permitted if you are in Thailand with a tourist or education visa. You will need to obtain the relevant stamp in your passport through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Fair warning: the relevant stamp will take up half a page of your passport and must be renewed annually. A re-entry permit, which allows you to leave Thailand without having your work visa cancelled in the process, will take up the other half of the page. If you mean to live and work in Thailand for some time, it is in your best interest (and is more cost-effective, in the long run) to have as many pages in your passport as your issuing authority will allow.

What is the process for getting a Thai work visa?

The first thing you need to consider when it comes to starting to work in Thailand is whether or not you are allowed to do the job you want. In order to protect the local workforce, foreigners are prohibited from holding certain roles.

As a general (if incomplete) rule, no foreigner can hold a position that a Thai would be capable of doing. You can cross manual labour jobs of your list for a start. Management roles and those requiring specific skills not widely taught in Thailand are better bets. It's worth noting that US citizens have a broader choice than other foreign nationals, thanks to the US-Thailand Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations of 1966.

The next step of the process of getting a Thai work visa is a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. In order to work in Thailand, you must have a work visa. However, in order to get a work visa, you must have a job. This means that you must either seek a job from overseas, which is challenging, or arrive in Thailand on a tourist or education visa, find a job, and then convert it to a non-immigrant B visa before you start work.

The reason why you need a job to get the correct visa is that your employer will pay an important part in the process. They must provide documentation proving the nature of their business and its financial standing. Submitting this information to the Ministry of Labour along with Form WP3 will give them a Letter of Approval, which you will need to submit along with an array of other documents.

After this, you must prove your own financial standing. You need to show that you have at least 20,000 baht if you are entering the Kingdom of Thailand on your own and at least 40,000 baht if you are arriving with family.

Now that you have proved that your finances are healthy, you will need to prove that your body is, too. This will involve a trip to a clinic or hospital for a medical certificate. You will need to be tested for serious infectious diseases like syphilis and HIV/AIDS. If you come from a country where Yellow Fever is endemic, you will also need to be tested for this. Exactly how much money and how long the tests will take depends on where you go. Prestigious hospitals will cost more money and time while small clinics can give you the certificate for a few hundred baht.

Finally, you will need to have the funds ready to pay the visa fee. Fortunately, this is only 2,000 baht for a single-entry visa with 90 days of validity or 5,000 baht for a multiple-entry one-year visa.

It is worth noting that there are plenty of agencies which can help with the process of getting your work visa. This can be a bonus since they will have Thai-speakers on their staff with good working relationships with the relevant officials. However, their services come at a considerable cost.

What documents do I need to get a work visa in Thailand?

The full list of documents you will require for a work visa is listed on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. The highlights include:

•       The aforementioned Letter of Approval from the Ministry of Labour, along with relevant supporting documents from your employer,

•       The aforementioned medical certificate,

•       A completed visa application form,

•       Your passport, which must be valid for at least six months from the date of submission (though at least a year is recommended because moving your visa to a new passport is an arduous process),

•       Proof of your financial standing,

•       A passport-sized photograph taken within the last six months.

You may need these documents to be translated into Thai and notarised, especially those from your employer. If you have at least a Bachelor's degree, you will find getting a job in Thailand a lot easier, but you will also need to provide the original certificate during this application process. If you are applying to work as a teacher, still further documents may be required, potentially including a criminal background check.

Can I get a Thai work visa if I am not a full-time employee?

Fortunately, the process of obtaining a Thai work visa is a path that is well-trodden and, if the paperwork is all filled in correctly and the required documents are in proper order, there is no reason why your application should not be successful. Applying for a permit when you only mean to be a part-time or fixed-term employee requires no special additional process. Even volunteers follow the process listed above.

What if you don't want to work for someone else and are instead arriving in Thailand as an entrepreneur? The process is broadly the same, with the exception of the fact that you should apply for a non-immigrant IB visa, not a standard B visa. You will need to prove that your intention is to contribute to the Thai economy. Your plan will need to meet a small selection of requirements, including:

•       Promoting exports,

•       Employing Thais,

•       Using local raw materials,

•       Work in provinces outside of Bangkok,

•       Not hindering local businesses.

The Thai authorities are not so hard-hearted as to require that your whole family must be employed for you all to live and work in the country together. While applying for a non-immigrant B visa, you can also obtain visas for your spouse and children under the age of 20. The only additional requirement is that you will need to prove that you can financially support them.

How do I get a Thai work permit?

You've got your work visa sorted? Great! The paperwork is almost done. Your next step is to go to the Office of Foreign Work Administration closest to your office. This will generally be found at the regional office of the Ministry of Labour.

If you are working in Bangkok, you will probably be able to use the One-Stop Service Centre (OSSC) in Chamchuri Square Shopping Mall. The advantage of this is that you can process the visa and work permit in the same location, usually during the same day. However, if your office is further afield, you may have to commit a couple of days to the task.

Aside from the obvious legal necessity of having a work permit, it’s worth mentioning that you will need the little blue booklet to open a bank account in Thailand. While the book itself states that you are legally obliged to carry your work permit with you at all times, it is comparatively rare for you to be required to produce it. It is similarly said that you should always carry your passport with you in Thailand but, for the sake of keeping such important documents safe, keeping your passport and home and your work permit in your office and carrying photocopies of both with you is highly recommended.

What is the punishment for working without a permit in Thailand?

There are penalties both for working and employing a foreigner without the proper paperwork. For the employee, it's a comparatively light punishment - a fine of between 5,000 and 50,000 baht. The fine for employers is a little harsher, being between 10,000 and 100,000 baht. Given that the previous wording of the Alien Working Act used to allow for offenders to spend up to five years in a Thai prison, a fine is a comparatively mild punishment.

The reality is that you probably won't have to pay a fine. Instead, the Thai authorities will settle with just sending you back to your home country. Additionally, your name will likely be added to the Immigration Department's blacklist, ensuring that you will not be allowed back into the country.

The moral of the story is simple: If you want to live in Thailand, don't work without a permit.

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