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THAI WORK PERMIT:
LIVING AND WORKING IN THAILAND ON A LONGER TERM BASIS

  Thailand is a beautiful and scenic country.  The people are charming, the food is extraordinary and the life style and the good transportation links in this strategically well located country to do business in the region have attracted many expatriates.  Thailand for its part welcomes foreigners both as tourists and on a more long term basis. (Recently the Thai Government Board of Investment (BOI) has instituted incentives in order to encourage companies to establish their regional headquarters in the country.  Additionally, Thailand is now promoting the country as a retirement location and has instituted long term visa provisions for retirees in order to encourage foreigners to retire in the country.)  Thailand, however, like most countries requires that those wanting to reside in the country follow the laws on immigration and work and that they respect the country’s other laws on tax, outlawed activities, etc.

Although our company does not involve itself in facilitating immigration, work permits or re-entry permits, we do work with law firms and others in Thailand that specializes in this service.  Please note that in mid July 2003, the Government of Thailand announced large fee increases for immigration services and that the process is now more expensive than previously.  Below is a general explanation of the process that may be helpful.  We note, however, that the discussion below is only general and that we would recommend you further consult with the many specialists that offer services in facilitating visa, work permits, tax cards and other necessary paper issuance for foreigners.

PROCESS FOR WORKING IN THAILAND


Step One:  Getting a non-immigrant visa

If you want to work in Thailand, you need a work permit.  However, before you can apply or be issued  a work permit you must have a non-immigrant visa.  This is required to apply for a work permit. It can be acquired prior to your arrival.  It also often can be arranged in Thailand after your arrival or if you are in Thailand already and must depart for various reasons can be arranged at a Thai Consular Office in a neighboring country.  Here are the steps you must follow:

Requirements for getting a non-immigrant visa outside the country
To get a non-immigrant visa at a Thai Embassy you need a letter on company letterhead that states the following:

•    the applicant has been offered a job
•    the company requests that the applicant be given a non-immigrant visa so the company may apply for a work permit for them
•    The company knows the person to be dependable, upstanding and law abiding and that they will respect the laws and customs of the Kingdom of Thailand.

Generally you should apply for this visa several days before you plan to leave the country outside of Thailand that you are visiting. The Consulate or the Consular Officer may also ask for copies of the registration documents from the company you are going to work for. Prior to applying for the visa, you may want to ask that a Thai employee at the company you plan to work for calls the Foreign Ministry in Bangkok to find out exactly what documents are required in this case and that these are provided to you. Recently, consulates have been warning people who have non-immigrant visas that they must present their work permits to get another visa next time (they even stamp this message next to the visa).  Also since 9-11, Thailand’s laws on visas, re-entry permits, etc. have changed and it is best to try to get the latest information from the Royal Thai Foreign Ministry so that you have all the documents you will need.

Consulates
Typically, most foreigners who have previously been in Thailand seek their non-immigrant visa at one of the Thai Consulates in a neighboring country.  These are either Penang, Kota Baru, Phnom Penh, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi or Manila.  The Royal Thai Embassies and Consulates in the U.S., Australia and Britain can also issue the necessary visa.  All of these Consular operations can issue the necessary visa and all are well experienced in the process.  The one current exception to this prompt processing is Hong Kong.  We have heard several complaints about the Consulate in Hong Kong which has always had a reputation for being difficult.  The Consulate there has a very high rejection rate.

In any case CHECK AHEAD!  Conditions change frequently.  If you are in Bangkok, call the Foreign Ministry or have your company do so.  Also, oftentimes you can check on the web or with friends as to their recent experiences. 

In applying for a non immigrant visa at a Thai Consulate in a neighboring country, beware that some overzealous Consulate staff may ask you things like "how do you like working in Thailand or how has you company treated you so far?" This is often a way to trick you into disclosing information that might indicate you are working without a permit. Be careful in how you reply and only answer questions asked. 

Multiple-entry visas
Remember, it is always best to get a multiple-entry visa so you will not have to waste time and expense on visiting a consulate for a new visa every three months (in the event there is some problem with your work permit paperwork or you cannot get a long visa).  Oftentimes, the Consulate will try to encourage you to get a single-entry and may even tell you that they do not issue multiple-entry visas.  They do, however, and often a patient and friendly approach will get you what you seek.  Current cost of a Non Immigrant Visa, Single entry is 2,000 Baht. Cost of a multiple entry non-immigrant visa for use within one year is 5,000 Baht.

Extending Your Visa in Country
Until about a year ago, extending a non-immigrant visa was a laborious process that required you to take similar paperwork required by the Labor Department for your work permit.  Now, all that has changed and you can get a one-year extension in country in most cases.
A few days before your visa expires bring the following documents to the Immigration Department:
•    your passport
•    your work permit
•    copies of your passport showing the picture page, entry stamp and other stamps that relate to your stay in Thailand
•    copy of your work permit
•    copy of your employment contract or a letter from the company on their letterhead stating you have been accepted for employment and indicating your starting gross monthly salary and duration of employment)
•    one passport photo
•    copy of forms showing the company has applied for a taxpayer ID number for you or the actual tax ID card
•    copies of your last six months Palmador One forms.   Palmador 1 is a form that lists the salaries and tax paid for every member of a company. The company must pay the total taxes each month and they get a little yellow receipt to show they have paid. For each month you must copy the first page, the page your name appears on, and the receipt showing that the company paid.
•    Possibly your bank book.  This has been required recently.
•    Immigration specifically asks that a Thai staff member from the company accompany the foreigner down to Immigration to help translate, answer questions and help resolve any issues. This is a good idea and should be followed. 
•    Application fee for a visa extention is 1,900 Baht.  The above provisions change from time to time, so please have a Thai staff member of your company check before you go.
Step Two:  Getting a Work Permit

Required papers for a work permit
After you have your non-immigrant visa, you can now apply for a work permit.  Here are the papers generally required from the prospective employee to start a work permit:
•    copy of the picture page/identification page of your passport (the one with your photo and passport number)
•    your non-immigrant visa
•    copy of the passport page with your current entrance stamp
•    copy of your entry card
•    Copy of your degree or resume or transcript - sometimes they require it be certified by your country's embassy (this requires bringing your degree or resume to your embassy, declaring it is a true and original document and then paying an authentication fee.
•    a doctor's certificate stating you are in good health (this can be arranged quickly in Thailand and generally costs less than 100 baht and usually does not required any actual exam
•    2 color, 4 by 5 centimeter photos (this is the photo size used by most photo shops in Thailand for Visas.  This is not a Passport photo size which is different.
•    Three to Five Thousand baht (depending on the length of your work permit.
•    Additionally, your employer will be required to submit tax and legal documents concerning the nature of their business and employees.
Getting the Work Permit Approved
A job description is often the determining factor in the approval or denial of a work permit. Unless the written job description requires skills that a Thai is not likely to possess, the applications will not be approved. One option to save time is to ask a Labor Department employee to suggest a job description that will fall under a classification that can be accepted. Most Labor Department staff will not volunteer this information, but if you ask, they will generally suggest some possible job titles.

The Labor Department often seems to want to reduce the number of permits actually issued to help demonstrate that they are protecting Thai jobs. Therefore if your company applies for three permits, they may approve only one or possibly two. It is unlikely that all three will be approved

Once the papers are submitted for a Work Permit
Once you submit the documents for a work permit, you must not let your visa expire. The Labor Department’s system links the non immigrant visa you listed on your application to the work permit paperwork. Even if you have a double- or triple-entry visa, you cannot go out again without invalidating your work permit papers. If you do have to go out of country and return on the same visa, you must get a reentry permit from Immigration. The reentry permit, like a work permit, is valid until your visa expires. (Please see the section later in this article on reentry permits.)

If you cannot get your work permit approved before your visa expires, you may have to get your visa extended. You can always get an extension of two weeks (it is a stamp that says your application is ``under consideration'') and then a further extension of one week (this stamp usually says your extension of stay is rejected and you must leave in one week).

In terms of time expectations, processing of your work permit can require several weeks or even months. 

Signing for your new work permit
Generally to receive your work permit, you must go to the Labor Department in the Huay Kwang area with your passport and sign a document acknowledging receipt. The Labor Department puts a stamp in the back of your passport at the time of receipt.

Don’t let your work permit expire
If your work permit expires before you submit the papers for renewal, the work permit is invalidated and you will have to start from scratch and apply for a new one.  Renewing a work permit is always much; much easier and less costly than trying to remedy an expired work permit.   To save you aggravation, always return from your visa renewal trip before your work permit expires. If you cannot leave before the permit expires, you have to fill out the work permit form and leave it, along with the work permit and 500 baht fee, at the Labor Department. You MUST do this to prevent the work permit from expiring. When you return from outside of Thailand your work permit will be extended according to your new visa.

In several recent news articles and in speeches to various groups the Labor Department has noted that although many aspects of work permits are vague and accommodations can be made that the Department is very strict concerning the expiration of work permits.  If the permit expires, you will have to start from the beginning and apply for a new one

Restrictions on Your Work Permit
The work permit once approved allows you only to work at the noted company and location.  If your change employers or place of work, you must get a new work permit.  Also if you resign or are terminated or laid off, according to the law within 10 days of this, you must return you work permit to the Labor Department. Don't count on your company doing this as you are the person liable if they don’t.  Also please note that to get another work permit at any other company that generally a written recommendation is required from the last company where you held a work permit.   Keep this in mind as oftentimes it can save you additional work.

Step Three:  The Tax ID Card
Once your work permit has been arranged, the next step is for your company to apply for a Thai taxpayer identification card.  This ID card has a tax ID number which will be needed to be listed often in the future on documents.

Step Four:  Getting a Re-entry Permit

Visa vs. a Re-entry Permits
A lot of people misunderstand the difference between a visa and a re-entry permit much to there own disadvantage. Here is the key point: your visa is the controlling document.   Everything is dependent on the dates there.  Your reentry permit or work permit is only good till the date stamped in your passport to leave the country.  Any reentry permit you get will expire when your visa expires.  If you depart the country without a re-entry permit, your visa is invalidated as will be your work permit.  This is a key distinction so after going through the process of getting a longer term visa and a work permit; please ensure you have a re-entry permit before departing the country.  Also, for your initial trips after getting the visa and work permit, you may have someone knowledgeable look over your documents prior to leaving on the trip.

How to get a reentry permit

- Go in the morning (before noon), in person, to Immigration. The reentry window is on the ground floor on the left side. If you truly require your reentry permit the same day or you've submitted it after noon, the officers will accept "an expedited service fee" to get the job done.
- Here is the process:
•    Submit a Re-entry request form
•    Three passport-sized photos
•    One thousand baht for one reentry or 3,800 Baht for a multiple reentry. Keep in mind that the reentry permit expires when your visa expires or if you get any visa extension stamp in your passport.
When you present the above, you will receive a receipt and be told to return in the afternoon (or the next day if you submit it late) to pick up your passport.  If this is inconvenient, you can send someone else to pick it up.  All that is required to pickup the re-entry permit is the receipt.  You can send someone else to pick it up and all they need is the receipt. 

Step Five:  Renewing your visa and work permit

Your work permit expires when your visa does.  Therefore you will have to renew your visa before you can renew your work permit. This can either be done in-country or in some cases you must leave the country. If you cannot get your visa extended in country, you will have to get a new non-immigrant visa from a Thai consulate abroad as explained above.  If you have an unexpired multiple-entry visa, all you have to do is go over the border and then return. If required to go overseas, you will need to provide the consulate copies of your work permit and a new visa recommendation letter from your company on company letterhead. Some consulates have required the actual work permit (not a copy) be presented to them. Again, this is why it is good to check with the Foreign Ministry and with others with recent experience with the Consulate you will be utilizing to get updated information. Again, all of this must be done before your work permit expires.

Helping Your Chances
The more complete and official-looking documents you submit (i.e. Thai tax returns, Thai taxpayer identification card, etc.), generally the better. Usually you are wise to carry them with you in case you need them.  However, only show them if asked or if it seems that your request will be refused. Once you return with your new visa, your work permit can be extended.

Making Things Easier for All
A few suggestions about surviving the process:
•    First, be patient.  This is a foreign country, you are a guest and the norms of bureaucracy may be different.
•    Presence of a Thai to help expedite things usually is helpful as Thais generally understand how to deal with their own government officials better and usually can defuse potentially awkward moments without hard feelings.
•    Keep in mind that you probably will need to return to Immigration more than once.  It is therefore good if the Thai company person accompanying you can establish a personal relationship with someone at Immigration.
•    It is important that the company person accompanying you is polite but it is also important that they be a good problem solver and a person who when confronted with refusal will not take “no” for an answer just because your request requires some work or possibly the need to search out someone at Immigration who is willing to be more helpful.

Various notes
1.    Keep track of the expiry dates of your visa, work permit, re-entry permit, etc. yourself. If you’re overly dependent on the Thai staff to do this you may be disappointed.
2.    Reporting every three months - All foreigners are required to register their address with immigration if they stay in the country over 90 days. Please note that this report must be made before the 90 days (that is 90 actual days, NOT three months) takes place.  Reporting is free, but if you do not report in time there is a several-thousand baht fine. As long as the report is made before the 90 days are up, you can send someone else to Immigration to fill out this form for you.
3.    Overstays - Overstays (staying in the country beyond the date your visa expires) is illegal and will probably result in a fine.  Usually the best way to handle this is to depart the country immediately and try to explain to the immigration officer the reason for your error.  If your overstay is not long, generally you will just get a short lecture although you should be prepared to pay the fine if required.  Don’t argue and keep in mind that the Immigration lockup is not a desirable place to be.


About the Author:
  

Christopher W. Runckel, a former senior US diplomat who served in many counties in Asia, is a graduate of the University of Oregon and Lewis and Clark Law School. He served as Deputy General Counsel of President Gerald Ford’s Presidential Clemency Board. Mr. Runckel is the principal and founder of Runckel & Associates, a Portland, Oregon based consulting company that assists businesses expand business opportunities in Asia. (www.business-in-asia.com)

Until April of 1999, Mr. Runckel was Minister-Counselor of the US Embassy in Beijing, China. Mr. Runckel lived and worked in Thailand for over six years. He was the first permanently assigned U.S. diplomat to return to Vietnam after the Vietnam War. In 1997, he was awarded the U.S. Department of States highest award for service, the Distinguished Honor Award, for his contribution to improving U.S.-Vietnam relations. Mr. Runckel is one of only two non-Ambassadors to receive this award in the 200-year history of the U.S. diplomatic service.


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