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Immigration, Visas and Work Permits

 Entry Regulations

There are six visa categories. The type of visa granted depends on the purpose of the visit. It is important to obtain the correct visa to prevent inconveniences at the port of entry or exit.

Visitors in transit or coming without a visa from selected countries are normally granted 3-day permits-to-stay at the point of entry. Visitors from New Zealand and South Korea may be granted transit visas for permits-to-stay of up to 90 days at the port of entry. A transit visa issued outside Thailand usually enables the holder to obtain a permit-to-stay 30 days. In both cases, only a limited extension is available unless exceptional circumstances warrant further extension.

 Tourist visas are issued for permits-to-stay of up to 60 days and are renewable at the discretion of the Immigration Bureau. Tourist visas must initially be obtained from a Thai embassy or consulate.

The other visa categories are immigrant, non-immigrant, and non-quota immigrant. Foreigners intending to remain in Thailand for some time or to work in Thailand should obtain a non-immigrant visa.

 There are several types of non-immigrant visas: Business (Category B); Dependent/Other (Category O); Education (Category ED); Diplomatic and Consular (Category D); and official (Category F). Holders of non-immigrant visas are granted a 90-day permit-to-stay.


Unlike in other countries, a “visa” (permit-to-enter) and a “permit-to-stay” in Thailand are different. A visa must be obtained form a Thai embassy or consulate before entry, whereas a permit-to-stay is granted upon arrival. The length of the permit-to-stay depends on the type of visa held upon entry. The permit-to-stay may be extended depending on the reason and the type of visa initially obtained for entry.

 For example, a person who enters on a non-immigrant ”B” (Business) visa is initially granted a 90-day permit-to-stay. This type of visa may be granted one-year extension of a permit-to-stay if a work permit is procured.

 Re-Entry Permits

Note that a permit-to-stay is automatically cancelled if a foreigner departs the country without first obtaining a “re-entry permit”. A foreigner who intends to exit Thailand and wants to return and stay up to the expiry date of the permit-to-stay previously granted, is required to apply for a re-entry permit before departing.  Applications for re-entry permits must be lodged with the Immigration Bureau in Bangkok.  Applicants may apply for a single or multiple re-entry permit.

 Individuals who depart Thailand using a re-entry permit must return to Thailand prior to the expiry date of their permit-to-stay. If a return journey cannot be made prior to the expiry date, then the individual must obtain a new visa from a Thai embassy or consulate before returning.

 Immigration and Work

A visa from a Thai embassy or consulate or a permit-to-stay does not constitute permission to work. Such permission is only granted by the Alien Occupation Division of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare upon the issuance of a work permit to foreigners on non-immigrant or immigrant visa.

 On 30 June 1997, the government established a One-Stop Service Center to facilitate the issuance of relevant work permits and immigration authorizations. The center’s service can be extended to investors who meet certain criteria.  Only investors from certain countries are eligible to use the Center.

 The current process of procuring a work permit and related immigration approvals is extremely complicated and requires series of dealings with the Immigration Bureau of the Ministry and Social Welfare. The process could be time consuming and frustrating to foreign employees and their families and may, in some cases, require departure from and re-entry into the country.

 Visitors to Thailand should be aware that overstaying a visa constitutes a very serious offence. The penalties may even include mandatory imprisonment. Another concern to keep in mind is that holders of permit-to stay must report to Immigration every 90 days to update their permits. Fines are now imposed against foreigners who fail to report to Immigration every 90 days. This requirement is not enforced against foreigners who exit and re-enter within the said 90 days as the exit constitutes reporting under this regulation. However, if foreigners intend to stay beyond the said 90-day period, then report must be made toward the end of their current 90-day stay.

 Work Permits

Aliens Act B.E. 2521 (1978) requires all foreigners to obtain a work permit prior to actual work in Thailand. The definition of “work” is extremely broad and means “engaging in work by exerting energy or using knowledge whether or not in consideration of wages or other benefits.” 

 The Act also lists certain occupations that are reserved exclusively for Thai nationals and for which a work permit cannot be granted. Generally, foreigners are prohibited from working in manual and industrial labour and some professional occupations.

 With certain exceptions, (diplomats, United Nations Officers, and individuals performing duties under agreements between Thailand and a foreign government), all foreigners must obtain a work permit from the Foreign Occupation Division of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare before commencing work in Thailand. The granting of a work permit is discretionary. However, where government contracts or BOI-promoted companies are involved, there is usually no difficulty in obtaining one.

 A foreigner must hold a non-immigrant or immigrant visa before a work permit is issued, and the permit is only valid for the duration of the holder’s authorized permit-to-stay under immigration law. Work permits are restricted to the particular occupation, employer, and locality for which they were issued, and any change necessitates an application for a new permit, or an amendment of the existing permit, depending on the nature of the change.

 It is an offense for a foreigner to “work” in Thailand without a specific work permit or in an occupation or location other than that specified in the individual’s work permit. Working in prohibited occupations is penalized with imprisonment of up to five years.







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