January 16, 2021

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Thailand to roll out New Smart Visa rules for digital nomads

Digital nomads in Thailand might soon be able to apply for the Smart Visa, allowing an up to 4 years stay without a work permit. The Board of Investment, or BOI, is proposing changes to the visa requirements to allow foreign freelancers to apply for the Smart Visa. The rules have already been approved by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration. The next step is Cabinet approval.

This is good news for foreign freelancers who have needed to get creative when it comes to legally stay in the country. Before the pandemic, many did border runs every few months, going from tourist visa to tourist visa. Now that borders are closed, some are on tourist visas that have been extended in the country due to the pandemic. Others are on volunteer visas. Some have even paid thousands of baht and signed up for classes just to get on an education visa to stay in the country.

Under the proposal by the BOI, those currently in Thailand on a tourist visa would be able to transfer to a Smart Visa. To apply for the visa, applicants need to have an employment contract with a foreign firm for at least 6 months as well as proof of qualifications and experience.

The Deputy Secretary-General of BOI stated that opening the Smart Visa to foreign freelancers will draw in more talent from overseas. The influx of talent will create a talent pool in the country.

The Smart Visa was launched in February 2018 and was “designed to enhance Thailand’s attractiveness in drawing science and technology experts, senior executives, investors and start-ups.” Since then, only 514 foreigners have been granted a Smart Visa.

Along with allowing foreign freelancers to apply, the BOI also wants to loosen requirements to allow more executives, investors and start-up entrepreneurs as well as science and technology experts to apply.

According to another report, after receiving the smart visa, appliers’ expertise could be tapped by universities, the Digital Economy Promotion Agency, National Innovation Agency, National Science and Technology Development Agency, and others.

Known as digital nomads, the foreign freelancers currently work in Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai and even on Koh Phangan in Surat Thani province, where they have set up a co-working space.

The new visa rules will also cover experienced foreign executives in several businesses, helping to boost the development of an investment ecosystem, especially for start-ups. Their expertise could be applied to innovation camps, co-working spaces, advanced materials and packaging, and 3D printing said in the BOI press release.

The BOI also aims to lure academics to government universities to teach subjects beyond science and technology. These would include innovation, technology management and entrepreneurship.

Smart visa holders are permitted to stay up to four years in Thailand without a work permit. The visas also allow travel in and out of the country, as well as fast-track privileges at airports.

About Thailand’s Smart Visa

The Smart Visa is a new type of visa specially designed to attract highly-skilled manpower, investors, executives and start-ups entrepreneurs wishing to work or invest in the following targeted industries in the Kingdom of Thailand. Smart Visa holders will be granted maximum 4-year permission to stay, exemption from the work permit requirement and entitled to additional privileges, according to the government website.