Living & working in Thailand can often seem like a dream come true for anyone who visits Thailand on a holiday or extended holiday.
But as many expatriates learn each year this dream can quickly turn into a nightmare if work permit regulations or other rules are not followed.
All about Work Permits
Over recent years there have been many changes to work permit rules and regulations and some rules have been enforced more strongly than may have been the case previously.
Working without a work permit is definitely not something you should consider and this now also has serious repercussions for the employer as well as the employee. Whether it will make employers more responsible is yet to be seen.
Employers who employ foreigners illegally will face fines of between B400,000 and B800,000 per employee and foreigners caught working illegally will face fines of between B2,000 – 100,000 or imprisonment for a maximum of 5 years.
Important note: The term ‘working illegally’ also covers carrying out work other than which is stated in your work permit as well as working without a work permit.
A common practice amongst unscrupulous employers has been to hire foreigners to do jobs which they are prohibited to do or which would be difficult to obtain a work permit for and then obtain a work permit for a different position.
If you are doing a job which is different to the job stated on your work permit then you are working illegally – no matter what excuse your employer gives you.
It is a relatively simple procedure to have other job details added to your work permit when required as long as that job is not prohibited for a foreigner.
Jobs which are prohibited to foreigners include:
1. Agriculture: rice farming; salt farming.
2. Commercial Business: Internal trade in local agriculture products, Land trade.
3. Service business: Accounting, farming animals, architecture, advertising, brokerage, auctioning, Barber, hair dressing & beautician. Building industry.
1. Agriculture Business: orchids, cultivation, animal husbandry including silk worm raising, timbering, fishing.
2. Industrial & Handicraft: Rice milling, Flour making, sugar, alcohol & non alcohol drinks, Ice cream, Pharmaceutical manufacturing, cold storage, timber, gold, silver and inlaid stone, wood carving, lacquer-ware, match making, cement etc, Dynamiting rocks, Manufacturing garments & shoes, Printing, newspaper publishing, silk weaving or silk printing, manufacture of finished products in silk.
3. Commercial: all retailing not in category C. Or trading not in Category C, selling food an drinks, trading of antiques & fine arts.
4. Service Industry: Tour agency, Hotels except Hotel management, photography, laundering, dress making and service jobs.
5. Land, water & i.e. Transport.
Some companies both Thai and foreign owned have been known to take advantage of foreigners lack of knowledge of Thai employment law.
The labour office would normally expect work permit applicants to be suitably qualified for the position applied for, or at the very least have relevant experience.
So, if you have neither of these it will not be a straight forward procedure for a company to apply for a work permit on your behalf.
Here are some basic items which you should know about working in Thailand:
- Your work permit should be available to you whenever you request it and your employer should not refuse to give it to you.
- Your employer (or anyone else) should not keep your passport from you, it is required by law that you carry your passport with you although many people prefer to carry a copy and this is usually accepted.
You are liable for paying your income tax even if your employer has deducted it from your salary. If your employer doesn’t pay, you will be responsible for paying it.
- If your employer is paying Social Security insurance or any other type of health insurance for you and does not keep up the payments then your cover will lapse. Even if the money has been deducted from your salary.
- Some employers may request that you contribute towards the cost of your visa and work permit. This is often done to ensure they don’t lose out if you leave after just a few months of employment.
Administration for visas and work permits can be expensive and companies with a high turnover of staff could quickly see their costs mount up.
It is not unreasonable for a company to ask you to pay your visa and work permit costs up front and then have the money ‘paid back to you’ through your salary over the year.
If you are asked to do this then you may want to consider why the company has adopted this procedure, have they had a high turnover of foreign staff in the past, why that may be and whether their policy is something you are willing to accept.
What type of visa do I need to work in Thailand?
Most people who are working in Thailand have a Non B visa obtained overseas and when that visa expires they will usually be able to obtain a visa extension for one year at a time based on their employment status.
There are a number of conditions to extending your visa which include income tax payments, minimum salary requirements and other business documentation which your employer will need to provide.
General work place etiquette:
Thailand is a country which still operates on a hierarchy and you need to pay respect to anyone who is deemed to be your superior.
This goes a little further than the basic good manners you would show to your boss in your own country.
Whoever the owner or senior managers of the company are, they will expect to be treated with the utmost respect and never disagreed with – even when they are clearly in the wrong! This also goes for members of their family too, their wife, son, daughter, nephew, cousin etc.
Any family member of the actual boss will expect to be treated as a boss. Even in some Thai schools if a senior teacher’s child attends the school, the other teachers have to treat that kid like a prince.
If you are working for a Thai company, there will be a huge amount of procedures and protocols which you may see as pointless and a waste of time but this situation is unlikely to change in the near future and if you want to work in Thailand then you just need to get used to it.
There will always be a Thai & Western divide between your colleagues, no matter how hard you try you will never 100% fit in, simply because you are not Thai.
If you earn considerably more than your Thai colleagues and they know about it, they may not like it and they may choose to show that dislike in different ways such as talking about you behind your back or making snide comments to your face.
If you try to learn some Thai language, behave respectably, do not raise your voice or get visibly angry, be polite and appreciate any support that they give you then they will tolerate your presence and may even begin to like having you around, particularly if there is any way that you can make their job easier.
If you go out of your way to help your Thai colleagues in the beginning then hopefully you will generate some sort of loyalty from them.
Don’t be too serious if you want your colleagues to like working with you, Thais are notorious for their chilled out attitude and they want everything to be “sanook” or fun, which can be a great outlook to have on life, even if it is not what westerners are typically used to in the workplace.
We all have places which we would much rather be instead of at work and the Thai attitude is to make the time spent there as stress free as possible.
What happens to your visa when your employment ends
This depends on whether you have a Non B Visa or an extension of stay based on employment, there is a difference.
If you have a Non B Visa obtained in a country outside Thailand then this is still valid until its expiry date whether it is single entry or multiple entry.
- If you have an extension of stay based on employment then your permission to stay ends on the day that your employment ends.
- You need to get a letter from your employer stating that your employment has ended and take that letter along with your work permit to the labour office for cancellation of your work permit.
- You then need to visit your local immigration office who will give you a 7 day extension of stay in order to make arrangements to either leave Thailand or seek a new extension of stay.
- There are variants of this rule occasionally, for example you may be given a longer extension if you can prove that you are transitioning into employment at another company however this is purely discretionary and should not be relied upon.
It is best to assume that you will only get a 7 day extension.
If you intend to leave Thailand after terminating your employment, it is important to follow this procedure correctly or you may face issues when trying to leave the country.
There have been reports of people not being allowed to leave the country until they have followed this procedure.
Immigration officials may become suspicious if you are leaving very close to the expiry of your extension of stay or leaving with no re-entry permit.
This is to prevent people with an extension of stay based on employment remaining in Thailand on the same extension after their employment has ended.
- It is always best to end your employment in Thailand in the correct way by serving the correct notice and leaving on good terms with your employer to ensure that they will give you the documents you require to either leave Thailand or to move onto another job.
- When your employment ends, your employer should also give you a copy of your previous years income tax filing, known in Thailand as PND91, this is proof that they have submitted your ‘tax return’ to the government.
- You will need this in order to obtain a new extension of stay, if they are unwilling to provide this then you can visit your local tax office who should be able to provide a copy.
- Remember, if your employer hasn’t paid your income tax then it becomes your responsibility but you can make an official report to the tax office if you have salary slips as proof that the money was deducted from your salary and they may chase the company for the money.
- Some companies choose not to give salary slips so this is not always possible, but always try to get something in writing about any deductions from your salary.
- Living & working in Thailand can be a great experience if you choose the right company to work for who will obtain the correct paperwork for your visa and work permit and pay you a fair salary.
The minimum wage that a foreigner needs to be earning in order to obtain an extension of stay based on employment is 50,000 THB, there are some exceptions for teachers but not for other professions.
Key Visa do not offer specific advice on Thai labour laws but we wish all expatriates a happy and successful stay in Thailand and offer a number of services to make your life here easier.