Don’t believe the hype: One cannot just sell their things, board a plane and move to Thailand.
That’s how it works in the movies, and that may have even been possible few decades ago, but not anymore.
If you want to live in Thailand long-term, your primary concern is how you can get a visa to allow that.
In this article, I will provide you with a comprehensive overview of the most common visa options for people wishing to move to Thailand for the long term.
I will try to keep this as brief as possible because this is a very complicated and nuanced subject—there are laws, rules, regulations and exceptions to almost every rule.
I will not be going through any tourist visa options, as I am focusing on the long-term visa options only.
I also will not be discussing any illegal options or visa “loopholes” here. If you wish to move to another country to live there, you don’t want to start that by breaking the immigration laws or trying to bend the rules in your favour.
Do things by the book, and you will be much better off.
Educational Visa – Non Immigrant Visa Type ED
If you study something, you can get a Thai educational visa.
Technically, this isn’t really an option for real long-term living in Thailand but a viable option if you want to live here for 1-3 years.
Anything over that and things can get difficult.
The purpose of the educational visa is, after all, to allow people from other countries to come here to study and then leave after having finished.
There are basically two routes one can take with the educational visa.
First, there are the prominent universities, both public and private, in which one can study anything one would expect to be available in a university.
That said, the selection of programs available in English is quite limited.
The second option is small schools, which can provide you with an educational visa (ED Visa for short) only if they are certified by the Ministry of Education of Thailand.
That is often referred as the MoE certification.
Typically, big schools are a safer option—for example, they will probably not go bankrupt while you are studying there—but usually, they are also more expensive.
The small schools are typically language schools, allowing you to study the Thai language.
They have a minimum amount of hours you must study to qualify for the visa, but how strictly this is enforced can vary.
Ask the institution for details when comparing your options.
Until quite recently, there used to be many small schools offering educational visas for foreigners studying many things, such as Thai culture, cooking or even Thai boxing, but most of these schools have since lost their MoE certification and can no longer legally provide you with an educational visa.
If you decide to go with a small school, you should ask to see their MoE certification to make sure they can provide you with the visa and try to get the visa option agreed upon in writing.
Be careful of any schools that use vague terms such as “visa support”—them “supporting” your visa can mean anything, for example they can simply ask you to get a tourist visa from the Thai Consulate!
Investor Visa – Non Immigrant Visa Type I or B
If you have money to invest, it will open many options for you.
Naturally, all investments carry a risk of you losing all of your invested capital, but if you do your homework and have some luck, you may get your money back with interest and get a visa as well!
There are two routes to move to Thailand via investment. Firstly, there is the official way of investing money in government-approved investments for the investor visa which is the Non-Immigrant Type I visa.
This typically requires a lot of capital—as in the 5-10 million THB range, and the investment opportunities might not be to your liking.
Keep in mind that you cannot simply invest a few million baht into anything—say a condo for yourself to live in—and expect to receive an investor visa.
That is not how it works.
However, there is also another, less-known way.
In this method, you would make an agreement with a Thai company of your liking in which you would invest in the company in exchange for them sponsoring you a business visa.
Optimally, you would work as a business angel, providing a company money and know-how of how to run the business.
Almost any Thai LLC that has enough capital can sponsor your business visa.
If you also want a work permit, the enterprise must meet more strict requirements, but it can be done as well.
It should go without saying, that proper due diligence is required whenever investing money.
Be advised that typically, Thai companies are not aware of the immigration law.
Therefore, you are responsible for ensuring the company you wish to invest in meets the requirements of the immigration law to be able to provide you with the visa.
Start a business and get a Business Visa – Non-Immigrant Visa Type B
Basically, Thailand is very open to foreigners moving into Thailand to start up businesses to invest money in the economy and provide jobs to the Thai people.
If you start a business in Thailand, you can get a business visa and can live in the country as long as your company meets the requirements.
The requirements of the business visa are flexible, and there is a lot of room to negotiate.
In fact, it’s possible to get a one-year business visa solely on the premise of you wishing to come to Thailand to start a business.
That is, you can get the business visa before you even establish a company or invest a single dollar—and on the other end of the scale, you may not be given the business visa until you have an established enterprise, you have hired Thai staff, and invested enough capital to the company.
How quickly you will get the business visa depends on your credibility.
If you are a person with high education and a proven track record of running businesses and investments in your home country, and you wish to establish a high-tech startup in Bangkok, you will probably get the visa easier.
It won’t be the same if you’re a person who has done manual labour all your life and wish to move to Thailand to open a bar in a tourist destination because you fell in love with a waitress while on holiday.
Thai Work Permits
When it comes to doing business in Thailand, one needs to understand the concept of the work permit.
Simply put: unless you are a Thai citizen, if you wish to work in Thailand legally, you must have a work permit.
The work permit is a small, blue-covered booklet with the words “Work permit” on it, and your employer must provide you with this document before you start any type of work.
If you are doing anything one could consider working, such as volunteering, remote work, freelancing and so on, you are required by law (Alien Working Act of Thailand) to have a work permit.
What actually constitutes as work can sometimes be difficult to define as one can manage a business without a work permit, and live from the interest of investments without a work permit.
Typically, one can even act as a director of a business telling staff what to do, but if one does anything outside of that within a company, they would need a work permit.
If in doubt, please consult the Ministry of Labor, which is the authority that issues the work permits and decides who needs one.
Lastly, unlike the work visas or green-card systems in some other countries, in Thailand, a work permit is specific to an employer and a workplace.
That means that even if you have a work permit to work as a teacher at a school teaching English, if you’d also want to work as a bartender in a restaurant, you would need another work permit for that job.
If you wish to have a business in Thailand which would include you doing anything that one could consider working, by law you must have a work permit.
To be able to have a work permit, whether that being for your own company, or for an employer, the company must meet specific requirements.
There is some negotiation room in these conditions, but basically, the company must be a company registered in Thailand and it must be conducting real business.
Typically, a business must have four full-time Thai employees paid at least the minimum wage for every one work permit the company can sponsor.
Some capital must also be invested in the company.
Simply establishing an empty shell company and attempting to get a business visa and/or work permit is not going to work.
Lastly, when discussing the possibility of starting a business in Thailand, one needs to take into account the Business Act, which requires all Thai Limited Liability Companies to have a Thai majority ownership.
In other words, if you establish an LLC in Thailand and wish to use that business to receive a business visa and/or a work permit you must typically have at least 51% of the company owned by Thai citizens.
Ideally, you would want to have a Thai business partner that would invest their money and know-how in your company and have that person fill the required 51% Thai ownership.
A common but non-ideal way would be to have one’s lawyer or a Thai spouse act as the majority owner, in which case you are giving away the ownership majority of your company to that person for free.
In case the company ever makes a profit and wishes to pay dividends, the Thai owner(s) will naturally receive their share. For the record, any kind of nominee shareholders is illegal in Thailand.
That said, you can have 100% control of your company even with the 51% Thai ownership.
This can be done by having shares of different voting power that is legal and commonly used.
There are certain exceptions to the 51% Thai ownership requirement—the most well-known being a BOI special permit.
BOI, or the Board of Investments, is an agency which allows certain exclusive rights to companies and individuals who wish to invest in Thailand.
Some particular rights are being able to have a Thai LLC with 100% foreign ownership and being able to sponsor more work permits than the typical one work permit per four Thai employees.
Receiving and maintaining the BOI certification requires a certain level of investment to the company and typically also a certain level of turnover or profit.
Find a job and get a Business Visa – Non-Immigrant Visa Type B
Besides starting your own business or investing into one, another way to receive a business visa is to get a job. While this sounds trivial, it is not.
Because of the way the work permit and immigration laws are set, unless you have some fantastic skills that almost no Thai national and no other expat has, your odds of finding a (legal) job in Thailand are pretty slim.
Think you can send your CV and a job application to some big Thai companies via email, and they will hire you and pay your ticket to fly here? No, that’s not going to happen.
Unless your skill level is very high, no Thai company will even consider hiring you before you are actually inside the country.
If your work history is mainly in low-skill manual labour, your odds of finding a legal job in Thailand are almost non-existant.
The general principle is that any job a Thai can do, a foreigner cannot do.
Furthermore, Thailand already has thousands upon thousands of expats already living in the country, desperate to take any job they could find, so the market for jobs available for foreigners is fiercely competed.
The main exception is becoming an English teacher—almost anyone can find a job as an English teacher if they have the TEFL/TESL diploma (which you can do in Thailand).
The pay for English teachers is not very good and the hours can be long.
Also, the authorities have been starting to tighten the criteria for English teachers, often requiring them to have teaching experience from their home country and/or a university degree in teaching.
The policy on this varies significantly around the country.
Therefore, if you are serious about this option, the best way to do it would be to get some teaching job in your home country first—even only part-time.
Do that for some time, and with that in your resume, come here and start to work as an English teacher.
Another reasonably easily available job is diving instruction, which naturally requires a robust set of skills and certification, and is only available in parts of the country with diving businesses.
Another viable option is to find a job as a volunteer in a volunteer organization that is legit and sponsors your visa and work permit (yes, you’ll need a work permit even for a volunteer work in Thailand).
Such positions are quite rare, and as with paying jobs, very fiercely competed by all the foreigners already in the country.
Unless you have some exceptional skills in the field, finding such volunteer work can be very difficult.
If you are open to living in some village in the middle of nowhere, your options increase significantly.
Especially if you are flexible, finding a volunteer job might be more comfortable than finding a real job, especially if you can’t teach English.
However, it should go without saying that typically the salaries of volunteer positions are very modest.
Work online and sign up with a BOI certified Co-op company – Non-Immigrant Visa Type IB
If you are a professional in your field and already working online for your existing clients, you can sign up with a BOI certified umbrella/co-op company such as Iglu.
Basically, you will work for your clients abroad, the umbrella/co-op company invoices them, pays your taxes and social security to Thailand and sponsors your business visa and work permit at a term of one year at the time.
The cost is in the ballpark of 30% of your invoice amount, and you must make around a minimum of 65,000 baht per month (before taxes), every month.
This option gives you pretty much a red carpet treatment in regards to living in Thailand and includes free health care in a private hospital without a coverage maximum.
That is, it’s a taxpayer-supported health care scheme, not private insurance.
The option with Iglu comes with office space with electricity and a high-quality internet connection as well.
This option is usually only available in certain cities, for example, Iglu at the time of writing has offices in Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Phuket.
While the 30% might sound steep, one must realize that it is the absolute total cost which includes everything from taxes, social security, visa and work permit.
If you do the math, this option is typically a lot cheaper than establishing a Thai LLC of one’s own, hiring Thai staff, hiring accounting, lawyer, visa assistance and so-on and so-forth.
Not to even mention how easy this option is: Iglu takes care of everything.
You can focus on your work and business—Iglu takes care of all the paperwork for you.
Thai Elite Card – Non-Immigrant Visa Type O
A lesser-known option for a long-term visa is to buy the Thai Elite Card.
It is reasonably expensive (hundreds of thousands of THB expensive) but it does permit you for 5 or 10 years stay in Thailand.
This option does not give you the work permit.
Also, if the program gets cancelled, you just lost all your money with the visa.
That said, the elite card visa program has been running for years and there are no indicators of it being cancelled any time soon.
Marriage Visa – Non-Immigrant Visa Type O
If you legally marry a Thai national, you can receive the so-called thai marriage visa.
That typically requires you to have money in the bank to prove you can support yourself and your new family in Thailand without working.
You may be able to get the first year visa without the proof of income, but after one year, you will need to prove each year that you have the money, without the need to work, to support your family and live in Thailand.
If you happen to find a job, it is possible to have a work permit while on this visa type.
Retirement Visa – Non-Immigrant Visa Type O/OA
The option of the retirement visa is only available for people over 50 years old, and you must have money in the bank to prove you can support yourself in Thailand without working, or you must have a pension coming in from abroad.
A retirement visa cannot (typically) be combined with a work permit, so you cannot legally work while on a retirement visa, although technically it could be possible.
These are, in a nutshell, and greatly simplified, all your legal options for staying long-term in Thailand.
I left out many details to keep this as short and straightforward as I possibly could.
This article does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with a certified legal advisor before making any investment or visa decisions.
The author has been living in Thailand since 2014 via the business visa option offered by Iglu and is currently working on verifigator.com.