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Thailand is an Onion – Visa to live in Thailand, Work Permit and Set up a company

America was the place to be in the 20th century.

If you were smart in 1912, you migrated to America.

Asia will be the continent of the 21st century.

If you are intelligent in 2012, you move to Asia. (hat tip to Jim Rogers)

This article has been updated in 2015.


You go to Thailand, and you want to start a business.

Assuming you can find a business opportunity in Thailand, you are going to have to deal with work permits, issues of land, forming a legal entity, paying taxes, all while staying in the country legally on a visa. So where is best in the country to begin this adventure?

That answer is best answered by where you DON’T go…. Don’t go to places where everything is developed. Journey off the beaten path. I’m going to lay out how you could easily miss investment opportunities if you go where people have been, instead of running ahead and setting up shop where people are going.

So lets assume you get to an inner layer that you like, which is ripe for investment. Here’s how you navigate the Thailand Visa Rules:


visa to live in thailand

Visa to live in Thailand

The most efficient method for staying more than 30 days in the Kingdom is a Double or Triple entry tourist visa, which grants a stay of either 180, or 270 days, respectively. This is assuming the tourist properly extends their visit by visiting a local immigration office (back in your home country; this visa cannot be received in Asia) and paying 1900 baht. Then, after the 30-day extension is up, the tourist will leave the country, or make a run to the border and use an ‘entry’ on their visa which will grant them an additional 60 days, which could be again extended another 30.

Thai Visa Rules


60+ 30 day extension {border run for new} 60 days + 30 day extensions {Border} + 60 days plus another 30 day extension = 270 days in the kingdom for 2 trips across the border and 3 trips to immigration for 30 day extensions.


60+ 30 day extension {border run for new} 60 days + 30 day extension {must leave} =180 days


60 days + 30 day extension by visiting immigration


Thailand will grant you a 30 day stay in the Kingdom if you are from a country with a Visa on Arrival Agreement. You also get a 90 day stay if you hold a Brazilian Passport.


If you enter Thailand through the ground (and you DON’T have a tourist visa or other types of prearranged visa) you will be granted a 15 day stay in the Kingdom. Curiously enough I know several scuba guys in Krabi who make border runs every 2 weeks.

The TRIPLE ENTRY visa can only be obtained from your home country of the UK, or USA for instance – and this “triple entry tourist” visa cannot be had by visiting a local consulate. However, you can easily grab a “single entry tourist” visa by visiting the consulate in Penang, for instance.

Thailand is also unique from other places in South East Asia in that you can’t just ‘pay the visa away’.

There are certain Thai embassies which are much friendlier and will issue Visas more readily. Manila is the most difficult consulate in Asia to get a Thai tourist Visa – whereas Penang, is regarded as much friendlier and accessible.

The Thai visa game is necessary for someone who wants to live long-term in Thailand, even if they have a job and work in the country – which is highly restrictive for foreigners.

You could be married, have a full-time job, and be an important, taxpaying member of Thai society, achieve permanent residency (very difficult) and you will STILL only be granted a Visa for a maximum of one year.

Do I need a Thailand Visa?

Check with your embassy or consulate to see your specific requirements for Visa requirements. Americans are privy to a standard 30 day Tourist visa granted they fly into the country and have a departure flight booked within 30 days of arrival. This “30 day tourist” Visa is granted at entry (Usually at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok). A 60 Day Visa can be obtained by applying at the Thai Consulate in your home country.

If the tourist comes to Thailand via ground transportation, only a 15 day Visa is granted. This rule was established to prevent abuse of the “Visa Runs” discussed in the next paragraph.

Visa Run

Visa Runs are a very confusing topic, and as such, many companies have sprung up that will handle the entire process for a fee. In short, by making a trip across the border by plane or ground transportation, a new Visa can be obtained. Many other Visas require a “Visa Run” as well, even permanent residency requires routine check-ins.

Thailand Visa Options

The other options of visa to live in Thailand longer are:

thailand visaTOURIST VISAS

30 Day Visa On Arrival

A 30 day tourist Visa is the most common type of Thai Visa. This is obtained at the border when you arrive and most people never think twice about it. Make sure that you keep the white card that they present to you with your passport, you will need this to leave and it is a huge hassle to lose it.

You can get this Visa again 2 times by leaving the country and coming back in. You will get an extension of up to 30 days if you leave by air, and 15 days if you drive out. You need to have enough room for stamps if you come back in, and one stamp can take up a whole page. Also, the Thai Immigration Police may deny you if you have too many stamps within a year. Some places are much more strict about this policy than others. In 2014 the Thai immigration issued new statements that utilizing multiple visa on arrival back to back (visa runs as they are commonly referred) are no longer allowed.

60 Day Visa Tourist Visa

A 60 day tourist Visa can be obtained that can be extended for 30 days giving you a total of 90 days. THEN you can fly out and immediately come back which gives you another 60 days which can be extended by 30 days at one time.

You can obtain a double entry tourist visa by applying to the Thai Consulate in your home country. You will have to fill out an application as well as a check for the proper amount and your passport. Yes, you must send your passport through the mail if you don’t want to show up in person.

If your visa is still valid, check ENTER BEFORE or UTILIZE BY date on the visa, and you will get 60 days.

Please make sure that you include the visa number on the Thai arrival form and show the Immigration Official the Visa in Passport, otherwise, they may overlook the visa. You can receive a triple entry visa from your home country.

Example how to get 6 months stay (180 days)

thailand visaIf your Visa is issued to you on January 1st:

1. Enter Thailand on that same day and you’ll get 60 days stay to approx. march 1st.,

2. After the 60 initial days are up, you may extend an extra 30 days (90 days stay on first entry).

3. If you happen to have a double entry visa; the second entry requires you to physically leave the country (even if only for a minutes) and re-enter to repeat the above procedure making a total of 180 days.

A tourist visa is almost always only valid for 3 months from issue (and will be dated as such) so when you leave and re-enter Thailand for the second time this must be done before that date, some people make a mistake and exit Thailand when the extension date runs out which maybe after the visa has expired, and they haven’t checked the return date.


Thai Work Permit

In Thailand, work is defined by law as:

Work means any work involving physical strength or knowledge whether or not done for money or other remuneration. (Alien Working Act, B.E. 2551 Section5)

Furthermore, the act describes that: “Any alien engaging in the work without permission shall be subject to an imprisonment of not exceeding 5 years or a fine from 2,000 baht to 100,000 baht, or both.

Not only work permits can be a hassle for a long time visitor of Thailand. Other laws in the Kingdom can be quite cumbersome to foreigners at times. Citizenship is virtually impossible for those not born in Thailand. For example, the absolute longest stay granted at any one time in Thailand is 1 year. Regardless of whether you have a family, wife, kids, business and home in Thailand and can speak the Thai language, you are restricted to a maximum one year stay at any given time.

thailand visaThailand wants it always to be remembered that if you are a foreigner, you are a guest in Thailand, and this is not your home.

It’s amazing how Thailand truly has created 2 sets of economics. Firstly, there is the foreign investment and tourism. For the most part, all foreign investment is really ex-pats looking to enjoy the beautiful weather, warm women and pristine beaches that are plentiful in the land of smiles. However, there is serious business to be made. Most of the business here is indeed, as I spoke of earlier, bars, hotels, and other hospitality located in beachfront areas such as Koh Chang, Krabi, and the highly developed Phuket and Pattaya. The prices in these areas are completely different for Farang (or foreigners) than Thai citizens.

Even more difficult than working in Thailand is starting a business in Thailand.


Starting a business in Thailand

Ownership of the company must be 51% Thai. The one exception to this is a BOI (board of investment) approved company which can have 100% foreign ownership.

For the most part, this is how business operates in Thailand. Although there is an opportunity, you need to be flexible while dealing with the local power structure – but legitimate and illegitimate. It’s not as difficult doing business in Thailand as say, Indonesia – but certainly not as straightforward as Hong Kong or the United States.

If you desire to own land personally, you are allowed up to 1 rai as a foreigner under this special type of company.

How do you get a Thai work permit?

You must have a ratio of 4 Thai workers to one foreigner – and the foreigner must be paid a salary determined on their nationality (Thai law requires that English, American and other western countries receive about 50,00 baht per month (at a 30:1 dollar exchange rate, about $2,000 p/m, or 24,000 p/a) in order to receive a work permit.


You can start a board of investment approved company. Many of these companies have special exemption for foreigners to receive work permits – because they are promoted industries that provide great value to the Kingdom of Thailand. These companies also do not have those specific salary restrictions. All employment in these companies is regulated by the BOI directly, through which they interface with companies through an “e-expert” online system. Through this system, you create new positions in a company hierarchy and then fill those positions with employees.

Is it possible to ever get Thai Residency and Citizenship?

You need at least 3 years minimum of tax receipts in order to apply for residency or citizenship.

Why Thailand?

thailand visaPersonally, I like Thailand, but I am a citizen of the WORLD. I believe that with flag theory – we can live and be free wherever is best for us, and that no we don’t need to give allegiance to one given land. I don’t consider Thailand my home, Asia is my home.

There are many places for the permanent traveler to live and travel, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Some may like big cities, others may enjoy a quiet country retreat, others may enjoy learning about new cultures and trying new things, but most enjoy the warm weather and the beach. From my experience, Thailand satisfies all these needs, and more.

Can Foreigners ever own land in Thailand?

First off, foreigners are ALMOST never allowed to own physical land in Thailand. Under very special circumstances they can own one rai of non-inheritable land. 1 Rai is equivalent to 1600 sq. About 2.5 Rai is equal to one acre.

In order to get around this law many foreigners opened Thai owned limited companies which were majority Thai staked. However, oftentimes the company will filled with nominee shareholders, which are not allowed. Nominee shareholders are essentially ‘fill-in’ or fake shareholders which are Thai citizens who do not play an active role in the company.

Nowadays, the Thai government is cracking down and does not partially foreign owned companies to buy land without adhering to strict guidelines, and it is definitely not advised to run any company with nominee shareholders.

A Thai spouse can buy land but only if he or she can demonstrate that the money is entirely derived from a Thai claim. In other words the spouse can give his wife or her husband money, but must formally sign a paper stating no claim to the land or the money and that it is the personal property of the spouse. This process can sometimes be done abroad at a Thai consulate if certain conditions are met.

After the property is acquired, the spouse becomes the sole owner of the land; but not any structures built on the property, which can be owned jointly. The most popular method of property acquisition is through a 30 year lease, or a usufruct (life lease). Again, with these leases, the foreigner has no ownership of the land, but does have a variety of rights based on the lease, including building structures on the land in their name.

Something important to note is that if a foreigner builds a structure on the land, and the lease expires, the building will be property of the landowner unless the lease stipulates as to the ownership of the building by the foreigner.

If you sign a lease longer than 3 years, it is registered at the local land office. This ensures that anyone purchasing the land knows of the tenants rights to the use of the land before the lease expires. Most of the time, if a 3rd party buys the land, the tenant would retain the right to use of the land for the remainder of the lease, and the tenant pays rent to the new owner.

Most foreigners get an initial 30 year lease and are pushed by developers to lock in an additional 30 year lease option. This is not advisable, because only the 1st thirty year period is guaranteed under the Civil Commercial code. The renewed clause is most likely not binding for the heirs of the Lessor, and is in most cases non-transferable. Furthermore, the 30 years is only guaranteed for the original tenant if the land owner and the tenant go to the landlord to register an additional 30 years. If, however, the LL decides not to allow a lease renewal (after the original 30 years is expired) the tenant can file a civil suit against the LL alleging breach of contract.

Tenants are allowed to transfer rights to a 3rd party if a provision that allows the sublease is included in the original lease. Furthermore, the lease must be registered with the land office if the transfer is intended to be longer than 3 years. In order to be valid, any lease longer than a three year period must be registered with the local Land Office where the land is located. Leases for up to three years may be entered into with a simple contract and do not need to be registered. Any lease longer than 3 years would be registered at the local Land Office and on the back of the title deed or Certificate of Use. Registering the lease at the local Land Office allows any potential third party purchasers of the land to know of the tenant’s rights to the land during the period of the lease. If a third party buyer was to buy it, the tenant’s rights would be acquired for the remainder of the term of the lease.

Oftentimes the owner might want to secure this right by getting a ‘yellow book’ which is a House Registration Certificate.

Taxes on the usufuct are registered as 1 and ½ percent (1.5 %) tax based on the value of the benefit if there is no Thai spouse. If you are married to a Thai wife, the tax will most likely be less than 300 Baht, or less than 10 dollars.

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