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The Thailand Smart Visa Explained – Is it a “Digital Nomad Visa”?

Ryan Zander
28th March 2018

When Thailand first announced they would be adding a new 4-year “Smart Visa” in 2018 there was much anticipation and speculation among the digital nomad community that this would be a type of “Digital Nomad Visa”.

Now that the Smart Visa is live and its full details have been published, we can categorically state that in no way, shape, or form is this visa intended for digital nomads.

This is a visa for scientists, engineers, executives of tech companies, and investors willing to put up at least THB 20 million (USD $640.000).

It’s certainly not a visa for drop-shippers, crypto traders, affiliate marketers, SEOs, bloggers, content writers, Amazon sellers, or freelance web developers.

Will some people who self-identify as “digital nomads” meet the qualifications for the visa? Possibly, yes.

But the requirements are so strict and the application process so cumbersome that few, if any, nomads would be interested.

With that being said, let’s take a look at who does qualify for Thailand’s Smart Visa, what benefits they would get, and how to go about applying.

Purpose of the Smart Visa Program

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The stated purpose of the Smart Visa is to attract highly-talented people involved in emerging technologies to Thailand. These include experts in science and technology, tech company executives, investors, and startup entrepreneurs.

Smart Visa applicants must be working or investing in one of ten so-called “S-Curve Industries”:

  • Affluent, Medical and Wellness Tourism
  • Agriculture and Biotechnology
  • Automation and Robotics
  • Aviation and Logistics
  • Biofuels and Biochemicals
  • Digital
  • Food for the Future
  • Medical Hub
  • Next-Generation Automotive
  • Smart Electronics

The company they’re investing in or working for must also receive certification from a relevant government agency in Thailand to confirm that it belongs to one of these targeted industries.

The main benefits of the Smart Visa are that it can be valid for up to 4 years, it allows the visa holder to bypass the requirement to obtain a Work Permit, and they are only required to report to Immigration once annually rather than every 90 days.

Qualifications for Thailand’s Smart Visa

There are four basic categories of potential Smart Visa applicants, plus a fifth type for their qualifying dependents:

  • “Smart T” – Highly-skilled Experts (Talents)
  • “Smart I” – Investors
  • “Smart E” – Senior Executives
  • “Smart S” – Startup Entrepreneurs
  • “Smart O” – Spouse and Children of Smart Visa holders

Each type has its own specific requirements and comes with its own list of benefits.

Highly-skilled Experts

This category is intended for scientists, engineers, researchers, and highly-skilled technicians.

Requirements:

  • Minimum salary of THB 200,000 per month (roughly USD $6,400)
  • Employment or service contract for minimum of 1 year with a company or government agency in Thailand
  • Expertise in one of the targeted industries with an endorsement by a relevant government agency
  • The employing entity must also receive certification of engagement in a target industry by a relevant government agency

Benefits of the Smart T visa:

  • Visa up to 4 years, but not longer than the employment contract
  • No Work Permit needed for working in the approved company or Thai government agency
  • Once a year Immigration reporting instead of every 90 days
  • No re-entry permit required to exit and re-enter the country

Investors

investor-visa-thailand

The investor category aims to attract those willing to invest significant capital in companies using technology for delivering services or manufacturing products.

Requirements:

  • Minimum investment of THB 20 million (roughly USD $640,000) in one or more companies in the targeted industries
  • Investment must be held for the entire duration of the visa validity
  • The company or companies invested in must receive certification of engagement in a target industry by a relevant government agency

Benefits of the Smart I visa:

  • Visa up to 4 years
  • No Work Permit needed for working in the approved company or Thai government agency
  • Once a year Immigration reporting instead of every 90 days
  • No re-entry permit required to exit and re-enter the country

Senior Executives

This category applies to senior executives and management of companies engaged in the targeted industries.

Requirements:

  • Minimum salary of THB 200,000 per month (roughly USD $6,400)
  • Must hold at least a bachelor’s degree and have a minimum of 10 years experience in the relevant industry
  • Employment contract for minimum of 1 year with a Thai company or a foreign company with a Thailand-based job post
  • Must hold a position in senior management
  • The employing company must also receive certification of engagement in a target industry by a relevant government agency

Benefits of the Smart E visa:

  • Visa up to 4 years, but not longer than the employment contract
  • No Work Permit needed for working in the approved company or Thai government agency
  • Once a year Immigration reporting instead of every 90 days
  • No re-entry permit required to exit and re-enter the country

Startup Entrepreneurs

entrepreneur-thailand-smart-visa

The conditions for the Startup Entrepreneur category are probably the least attractive of the available types.

Requirements:

  • Must hold a fixed savings account with a balance of no less than THB 600,000 (roughly USD $20,000) with a minimum 1 year remaining on the maturity term
  • An additional amount of THB 180,000 (USD $5,800) included in the fixed savings account per person in the case of accompanying spouse and children
  • Must possess health insurance for the Smart Visa applicant and any accompanying spouse and/or children that covers the entire visa duration
  • Must either be participating in a business accelerator or incubator program with relevant government agency endorsement—OR—be receiving joint venture funding from a relevant government agency or be endorsed by the agency
  • Must set up a company engaged in one of the targeted industries within 1 year, with certification by a relevant government agency
  • The applicant must hold a minimum 25% share of the company or director position.

Benefits of the Smart S visa:

  • 1-year visa, with a possibility of renewal for up to 2 years
  • No Work Permit needed for working in the approved company or Thai government agency
  • Once a year Immigration reporting instead of every 90 days
  • No re-entry permit required to exit and re-enter the country

If Thailand really wants to attract startup entrepreneurs, the requirements for the “Smart S” visa may be counter-productive. Assuming that the purpose of the savings account is to prove that one has resources to fund one’s living expenses during the first year, then why restrict the entrepreneur from touching this money for the entire period? And how many boot-strapping entrepreneurs would want to lock-up a large chunk of money in an account that will yield at most 1-2% interest?

The conditions for the “Smart S” visa clearly indicate that the goal is to attract a small number of elite startup entrepreneurs rather than a large number of “quit your 9-to-5 job, travel the world, and build a business from your laptop” type nomads.

Spouse and Children of Smart Visa Holders

A Smart Visa holder’s spouse and children are eligible for a visa of equal duration. Spouses are allowed to work without a Work Permit provided that the job does not fall into one of the occupations or industries prohibited to foreigners. In the case of the “Smart T” type visa for highly-skilled experts, their children above the age of 18 are also eligible to work in non-reserved fields without a Work Permit.

How to Apply for the Smart Visa?

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Government Agency Endorsement

In all cases, the Smart Visa applicant must have their qualifications verified by a relevant government agency in Thailand. These agencies include the Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA), National Innovation Agency (NIA), and National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA).

In some cases, multiple government agency endorsements will be required. For example, a Biochemical Engineer applying for the “Smart T” visa to work at a private research lab must obtain one certification to show they have expertise in their scientific field and a second endorsement must be obtained for their employer to show that it operates in one of the targeted industries.

Applicants should expect the government agency endorsements to take up to one month. If residing outside Thailand, the requested documents can be submitted to a Thai Royal Consulate or Embassy. If already residing in Thailand, the applicant can submit their documents to the Smart Visa Unit of the Board of Investment (BOI) at Immigration’s One-Stop Service Center (OSS) in Bangkok.

Within 30 working days, the applicant should receive the result of their qualification endorsement application.

If the applicant is currently residing in Thailand on a non-immigrant visa, they must submit their qualification documents to the OSS at least 90 days before their visa expires. When it comes time to renew a Smart Visa, the visa holder must re-apply for qualification endorsements with at least 90 days remaining on their current visa.

Visa Application

Once they have received a letter of qualifying endorsements from the BOI, the applicant can finally apply for the actual Smart Visa at a Thai Embassy or Consulate. If they are residing in Thailand, they can apply directly at the OSS.

Immigration Reporting

Holders of the Smart Visa must report to the Smart Visa Unit at the OSS once a year to submit documents showing their current employment and residence status. This replaces the 90-day reporting that other non-immigrant visa holders are required to perform.

For more information about the Smart Visa program, please see the official brochure put together by the BOI.

Alternatives to the Smart Visa

Those who had gotten their hopes up that Thailand would be moving forward with a visa intended for digital nomads are left looking for alternatives.

Tourist Visas and Education Visas will likely remain popular choices for staying in Thailand for shorter periods of several months up to a year. The major drawback with residing on Thailand on one of these visas is that they don’t legally allow one to work.

For those willing to commit to at least a 1-year contract, another viable alternative is to obtain a Business Visa and Work Permit by joining Iglu. Qualifying digital professionals not only get to live and work in Thailand worry-free, but they also have access to shared office space in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket, Thai national health insurance, free coffee and other perks.

To learn more about the program click the join button below.

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