The Hassles of Staying Legal in Thailand
Imagine owning your own company in Thailand, holding a valid work permit, paying all your taxes but still having to do visa runs every 90 days and also fly to the other side of the world each year. The lengths some foreigners in Thailand are forced to go to and the hoops they have to jump through to stay legal are amazing.
I first met “Jake” – not his real name – in 2004; he prefers to retain his anonymity. And neither can I tell you what sort of work he does, but let’s just say that it ranks up there amongst respected, respectable professions. Think teachers, nurses and other essential positions. The community benefits from his work and Thailand is lucky that Jake has chosen to do his thing in their backyard.
Jake’s profession requires a solid moral compass and Jake likes to do things properly. He does not cut corners, nor does he fly below the radar. From the outset, Jake intended to do everything by the book and be legal. He knew there were corners he could cut and money he could save but that is not the type of person he is. With that said, the hassles Jake goes through to stay legal are an eye-opener.
Jake formed his own company in Thailand many years ago. He does not have any staff. His company setup is 100% legal. That’s the good part.
The bad part is that the costs – the financial and time requirements – of being and staying legal in Thailand are significant.
Setting up a company in Thailand isn’t expensive, but then neither is it cheap. Foreigners inevitably need to use a professional services company like Sunbelt and the professional fees along with all of the government fees can see a company setup run between 50,000 and 100,000 baht.
Once the company is set up there are all sorts of requirements and fees to ensure that it remains legal. In addition to regular tax filings for both VAT and income tax, there are the twice-yearly compulsory audits. And being Thailand, and all the filings must be done in Thai and all dealings with the Revenue Department are in Thai, so it’s not like you can do it all yourself as you might if you were a sole trader in your homeland. You need to retain an accountant.
Jake estimates the cost of staying legal is around 150,000 baht a year. That’s not a lot of money in the big picture but when you’re earning a small amount it adds up.
It’s not just the financial cost, but all of the hassles.
Jake doesn’t have any employees because in his line of work he does not need any. He fields all customer inquiries himself. His specialized work is something you have to train for and qualify in and very few Thais practice his profession. There is no need for Jake to hire anyone to help as he can do it all himself.
Jake set up his Thai company at a time when a foreigner could set up and operate a business in Thailand and get a work permit without the need to hire any Thai staff. That is no longer possible and now 4 Thai staff are required for every work permit issued in a company’s name.
As Jake does not have any Thai employees, he is not eligible to get a 1-year visa extension of stay from Immigration. What that means is that despite being legal in terms of holding a work permit and paying all his taxes, Jake still has to do visa runs!
So once every 3 months, Jake gets up in the middle of the night and heads over to Sukhumvit where he pays 2,500 baht and puts his life in the hands of a young Thai dude with a bad attitude who spends most of the trip to the border with Cambodia chatting with his various girlfriends on his mobile. At 2,500 baht, that’s 10,000 baht each year Jake pays to keep his visa status legal, and 4 wasted days. Due to the ungodly hour he has to get up and the uncomfortable ride he has to endure, he finds that the effects can run in to the next day; he cannot work the day he is away and is not at his best the next day either, meaning 2 days out of every 90 days are essentially wasted.
Now Jake is not a young man and first impressions are of a man who enjoys his food. Poor Jake has suffered at the border crossing at Aranya Prathet / Poi Pet where the queues are lengthy and the waiting area congested. In recent times he has queued for hours in the heat, sandwiched amongst hoards of Cambodian traders, Thai gamblers and foreign travellers, jammed in the middle of a melee in a hot room where few of the air-conditioning units are turned on. The Cambodians and the Thais sweat profusely while the huge frame that is Jake leaks like a damn about to burst as his body desperately tries to keep his body cool. Twice Jake has suffered from heat stroke and felt he would have fainted and fallen down, something that was prevented by the crush of people. It simply wasn’t possible to fall down!
Jake’s work permit status means he does not qualify for a 1-year extension of stay so he has to apply for a new multiple-entry non-immigrant B visa each year. The only place to get that is in his native United States so every 15 months Jake flies all the way from Bangkok to the east coast of the United States and back again. In less than a week. He has no other reason to visit and doesn’t care for the States at all. Thailand is his home. The big man on the big bird, he is a zombie for a few days afterwards, to say nothing of the expense of the flight and accommodation. And let’s not forget that you can’t serve clients in Bangkok when you’re in the US.
Jake likes what he does and in many ways it’s more about offering a service to the community, a service he enjoys performing.
Jake is a qualified, experienced professional, but at the same time, after all of the expenses of staying legal, what he earns is less than minimum wage here in New Zealand. A supermarket shelf-stacker makes more. Flipping burgers earns more. Even cleaning public toilets will put more money in your pocket.
Jake loves Thailand, loves his girlfriend and wants to do his bit for his host country. At the same time the hoops he has to jump through to remain legal are mind-boggling.
Many people go to great lengths to remain in Thailand. It’s not just early retirees, digital nomads and drifters, there are tax-paying work permit holders performing tasks that benefit Thailand who also have to jump through many hoops to stay legal.
I always think it is best to do things properly and to be legal, but at the same time I can’t imagine going through the hassle and expense Jake goes through. I have mentioned to Jake that he consider flying below the radar. Jake could get a retirement visa and continue to operate his business – and the odds are he would never have a problem. The business does not have a shopfront. He refuses the suggestion without a second thought. He wants to do things properly, by the book. Jake is a better man than me.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week’s photo was taken at Victory Monument. The road was packed because it was a Sunday afternoon and presumably everyone was racing home to read that week’s Stickman weekly column. One clever reader was able to deduce where it was by looking at the buses in the photo and knowing the bus lines in Bangkok, working out where they intersect which is only Victory Monument.
FROM STICK’S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick.)
Thailand visas too easy.
I’ve never had any problems with Immigration or visas. If you apply for the proper visa in your own country, no problem. Visit the Thai embassy / consulate website and it’s amazing how easy things can be. For those who arrive in Thailand on a visa exempt stay or tourist visa, and then want to make a change, things can become very difficult. This is usually where people start to break the rules, game the system and take advantage of loopholes. I wish Thailand would be far more aggressive in cracking down on those who have no respect for visa rules. Thailand would be a much more pleasant place to visit if all the visitors were there legally.
Where are the rules published?
If the Thai authorities would PUBLISH a final set of regulations and then make ALL the consulates and border crossings keep that final set the same way, the number of visa inquires would reduce. I’d prefer a more liberal policy towards farangs, but with what rules there are enforced to the letter of the regulation, instead of the current mish-mash of some things enforced, some things not, and some things depending on where you enter or you suddenly get a regulation that wasn’t being enforced at all, enforced strictly. Wishful thinking, I know. Has Thailand ever tried this?
Jomtien Immigration office turned me away on Friday morning. “Too busy! Come back Tuesday” (my last legal day) as Monday would also be busy. That never happened before in my 19 years of visits. Chiang Mai can be bad, but Jomtien always got me in.
The nutty professor of Bangkok.
You made mention of the graffiti artist who draws scientific nonsense sums all over Bangkok a while back. I was crossing the bridge to go in to the park just past Asoke and saw him doing a sum on a telephone box. He looks to be about 35/40ish, has no shoes, dirty jeans and a T-shirt. As I crossed the bridge I notice he had stopped his work and was pointing at people and cars who weren’t there. By the time I re-crossed the bridge his handiwork was all over the place. About a week later it was all painted over. It would appear the guy has mental problems and sleeps rough.
Stickman to branch out?
Maybe you should start a branch of Stickman South America covering Cuba, Brazil, Columbia etc as that’s where the action is <South America just doesn’t appeal to me – Stick>
I headed for the ever-popular house of oral fixation just off Sukhumvit Soi 8, plucked a fine friendly technician from the line-up outside and headed upstairs for some of the specialty of the house. Got comfortable on one of the red-lit sofas while said technician headed off for her basket of goodies. She returned and spread a clean towel on the sofa—a sprightly lass, this should be fun…BZZZT! “Phone?” she wondered, but twas not: was a real alarm indicating the local gendarmes were expected shortly. She tossed my clothes at me and urged me to put them on, WTF, BZZZT! once again and all black curtains were rolled up on their rails, lights on, me and three other bemused gents sitting clothed next to their equally clothed dates. We all sort of looked at each other…then one of the staff urged us to go downstairs post-haste. “Would you like to drink?” inquired my friend—I don’t drink alcohol and that’s not what Lolita’s is about, so I headed straight out the door. Fortunately, Kasalong, which offers the same type of service, was 50 meters away and I spent a delightful half-hour there without any annoying alarms or other crass interruptions.
Technology not for everyone.
I know this internet hook up way of doing things seems to be the way more guys are going nowadays but it’s not something I’ve given a go yet, and to be honest it’s just not really my thing. There is just something missing for me not meeting the girl before the actual moment of truth, so to speak. It’s just too clinical. The bar scene may not be what it was when I started frequenting the gogo bars 20 years ago but I still enjoy myself the majority of times I’m out amongst it. Ok, I might get the odd dud experience now and again but the tales of doom and gloom that appear online don’t ring true in my experience. The interaction and fun in the bar is as an important part of the enjoyment of the experience for me as the sex. And I often will just do an evening in the bars and not take a girl on every occasion. As well as an undeniable change in the way a lot of the girls do view the scene, I do think a lot of guys bring poor experiences upon themselves. I often interact with a girl several evenings before taking her. And I’m selective which bars and which girls I give my business to. Rapport and chemistry are as important to me as looks and the thing that guys often forget about. I think too many guys simply pick the girl they find the most attractive and ignore any lack of chemistry or warning signs they should really have been aware of, especially if they’re not newbies.
Tats on Thais.
I agree that the young lady whose photo you put in the weekly was lovely, a real heart-breaker. But, that large tattoo on her shoulder was a turn off for me. I am not a big tattoo fan though I did get one when 15 years old – I hung with a bad crowd. I really don’t understand why so many young women nowadays get so many tats. I think a small design on a shoulder, back, hip, ankle is okay, but to me these full arm sleeves, tramp stamps, full back tats, on the neck or face makes the woman look slutty – but that might be the look they want. It’s probably just a personal bias as when I grew up the only people with tats were bikers, criminals, mostly social misfits. It is much more acceptable now even among some professionals, so I’m just old-fashioned.
Girl of the Week
The slim, smiling & cute Miss Butterfly can be found in
Butterflies and you can snuggle up on the red sofa with her.
Photos kindly provided by the Nana Plaza Marketing Department.
PlaySkool in Nana Plaza has been sold by the Stumble Inn Group to the Thai bar group that runs Enter on the top floor. They plan to rename PlaySkool when they take over so the PlaySkool legacy will be no longer. A great job was done refitting the bar out to a high standard a few years back and the new owner inherits a tidy bar in a good ground-floor location.
It’s hard to believe that Spanky’s has been around for 9 years. This week the consistently popular Nana Plaza gogo bar will celebrate with a party. Officially, the anniversary is the 11th but as the bars are likely to be closed that night the party will be held on Friday, February 10th. A pig will be sacrificed and it should be a fun night.
Known to some as Little Tokyo and others as Soi Taniya, a huge raid took place on the Japanese soi at Patpong. The raid was carried out by a very large contingent of police and army with some estimates putting the combined total of men in brown and men in green uniforms in the hundreds. I don’t have contacts in Soi Taniya and am not sure what it was all about, but what I can say is that bar bosses in Patpong are nervous that a similar raid could happen in their soi next.
In Patpong soi 2, the shutters at Glamour are still down. They were open the other day and word is that it looked like renovations at the venue weren’t far from completion. Someone had better get the workmen to hurry up – high season is almost over!
But word is that this year’s high season has, again, not been great. New Year was a hit but January turnover in many bars has not broken any records – and that is the consensus from contacts across Bangkok as well as in Pattaya and Phuket.
Speaking of Phuket, the authorities are doing everything to put a dampener on the holiday experience with nightlife on Patong, Phuket’s party beach and nightlife central, closing at 1:00 AM. Everywhere else across the island all nightspots are closing at midnight! Many people go to Phuket for a good time but that’s not what they’re getting at the moment. These sorts of crackdowns never last too long so hopefully sense will prevail and things will revert back to normal very soon.
For English soccer fans, Stumble Inn in Soi Nana still has their unique Premiership Predictor where customers can predict the final score of English Premiership matches. Get the score correct and you win a 3-litre beer tower!
This coming Saturday, February 11, is Makha Bucha Day, a Thai Buddhist day, so it’s likely all of the bars along Sukhumvit Road will be in darkness that night. Patpong should be open but the revelry might be a little more subdued than usual.
Back to Patpong soi 2, The Dragon’s Head live music format actually seems to be working and some nights the small venue is packed out and it’s standing room only, a big improvement on how things were a couple of months ago.
Floating above Patpong soi 2, Black Pagoda still has the coolest location of any bar of the gogo genre even if Black Pagoda is, strictly speaking, not quite a fully fledged gogo bar. Black Pagoda is doing ok but has not managed to return to the heights it hit before the big raid took place a few months ago. Back then, the cool bar could have up to 45 girls on a busy night. Current estimates see the venue’s nightly entertainment troop at around 20 girls or so. It’s still a fun spot – and is definitely worth dropping by if you’ve never been.
Still on Patpong soi 2, there was a decent argument that Bada Bing was one of Bangkok’s best gogo bars for a time but now some regulars are complaining that there are too many girls whose MO is milking customers for drinks and as soon as said customer refuses her request for another drink she quickly disappears. This is a problem in Patpong soi 2 where the dynamic is rather different to the likes of Cowboy and especially Nana. Regular customers are the life-blood of many Patpong soi 2 bars. The reason some Patpong regulars prefer Patpong is a desire to avoid the business-like attitudes more common in Sukhumvit bars. When these guys feel they have been taken advantage of by ungrateful girls they can get pissed off to the point that they take their business elsewhere. Apparently this has become an issue at Bada Bing. It’s a tricky one because whilst bar bosses want the girls to get customers to buy them drinks, gouging regulars has never been a recipe for success.
As reported in this column a few times, the star bar of Patpong in recent months has been King’s Castle 1 which continues to pack the punters in. The venue has taken on a new DJ who has that irritating habit of cutting in to the music every few seconds to say something completely moronic to the girls on stage. I guess most customers aren’t bothered as King’s Castle 1 continues to do a roaring trade.
Soi 6 has long been a popular spot for Pattaya expats who wish to play away from home as well as the hardcore keen to escape the gawking eyes of the ever-increasing numbers of mainstream visitors on the likes of Walking Street. A mate in Pattaya this week tells me that girls on soi 6 commented that some Chinese tour groups are taking a warts and all approach to Sin City and include a trip down the soi as part of the wildlife tour.
I know that not a lot of females read this column, and especially female farangs, but for those who do and are looking for fun, word is that Lolita’s, the popular BJ bar in the sub soi connecting Sukhumvit sois 6 and 8, welcomes female customers.
I’ve never been able to get my head around American football but I know for you Americans it is every bit as important to you as major rugby matches are to me. The time difference means that Super Bowl 51 kicks off at 6:30 AM Bangkok time tomorrow morning when the Patriots take on the Falcons. A number of venues will be showing it live and a selection are detailed below:
Margarita Storm at the corner of soi 13 on Sukhumvit Road is showing the Super Bowl at 6:30 AM. With its 17 HD screens and a very convenient location, it is probably the best place to watch it. Margarita Storm is open 24 hours a day and is the only venue which has stated customers can arrive early and watch the pre-game show which gets going from 1:00 AM Bangkok time. Some venues are charging an entry fee for the Super Bowl but at Margarita Storm entrance is free. Pints during the game are just 99 baht and Margarita Storm’s extensive breakfast menu is just 199 baht which includes coffee, tea or juice.
Bangkok’s long-time favourite American bar and restaurant, Bourbon Street, will put on a special breakfast buffet @ 650 baht from 6:00 AM when the doors open.
And if you prefer to watch an American sport in the comfort of a British pub, The Londoner will host live coverage of the Super Bowl. Both floors of the venue will show the match with 3 projectors. To book a space, call 02-0228025. Like Bourbon Street, the doors open at 6AM.
Further to the tightening up by the Immigration Department on various types of visas, some offices are asking for more documents from those extending their visa. Irrespective of whether you are extending a tourist visa or a visa-waiver stamp for 30 days, or are extending your retirement visa, you may be asked to provide a copy of your rental contract and the condominium owner’s ID card (or passport, in the case of a foreigner). This is proving to be an issue for some people as not every tenant has a contract and many condo owners are reluctant to provide any documentation, especially foreign landlords who want to keep everything off the books, with many flying under the radar. Strictly speaking, when you sign a tenancy agreement you should provide the landlord with a copy of the main page of your passport and they should provide you with a copy of their ID card or in the case of a foreign landlord, a copy of their passport. Do insist on this when you sign a tenancy agreement as you may need that when it comes time to extend your visa.
With more mentions of visa issues, immigration issues and whatnot in the column in recent months, there are some things you can do to make the process easier. Whenever you go to a Thai embassy or consulate to apply for a visa, it’s a good idea to take along a folder with copies of various documents, including a copy of every page in your passport, extra passport photos, a printout of a current bank statement, copies of air tickets to and out of Thailand etc. If you’re going to an Immigration office in Thailand, all of this is useful along with copies of your marriage licence, wife’s ID card, wife’s tabien barn (house registration book) etc if you’re married. If you rent property in Thailand, a copy of the rental contract as well as a copy of the ID card of the owner is something Immigration officers are increasingly asking for – and in some cases they want a copy to keep and to view the original rental contract. Obviously what you take with you depends on the type of visa you’re applying for – but it is always a good idea to have extra copies of everything so if you are asked for anything you have it there with you and do not need to go all the way back home, get it, go and make a copy and return to Immigration. It doesn’t take long to prepare everything in advance and it can save much time and many hassles later.
The email from a reader in the readers’ emails section about being turned away from the Immigration office at Jomtien (which is the office that serves the greater Pattaya area) is part of a trend in recent years where Immigration offices are dealing with more foreign visitors and foreign residents than ever. The Immigration Department has opened new branches in many provinces and I guess it won’t be long before every province has its own Immigration branch. The wait times at some branches of Immigration can be hours. Oh, how I don’t miss those visits to Immigration!
I always find it fascinating to know what sort of remuneration package expats in the entertainment industry in Bangkok are on. With that in mind, how much does Hooters pay their general managers? Hooters advertises often and there is quite some turnover of their managers…
I notice more and more readers commenting to me that they don’t like tattoos on the girls, although I don’t mistake this for thinking that the majority share my thoughts. On the contrary, that would actually seem very unlikely. A friend mentioned to me that he posted a simple question on the social media account of a bar: “Tattoos, Yes or no?” and the overwhelming response of readers was about 8 : 1 in favour. Wow, I really am in the minority!
For long-term expats in Thailand, how do you get on seeking intellectual stimulation? Finding interesting people to talk to, especially people who don’t have a one-track mind and only want to talk about what they got up to the night before was something I struggled with. And I particularly craved intellectual stimulation because many of the women I dated did not really satisfy me that way. And to be frank, with a lot of foreign residents in Thailand I would have a more interesting conversation with an ATM machine. So if you’re resident in Thailand, how do you get on seeking intellectual satisfaction?
Quote of the week comes from Bangkok Barry, “You know you’re getting old when you visit a gogo bar to hang out with the mamasan rather than a dancer.”
Cockfighters reap Year of Rooster bonus in Thailand.
Police in Bangkok have started using mobile speed cameras so expat drivers beware!
A Brit in Pattaya wakes up to find his lady of the night has disappeared with 170,000 baht.
Phuket’s party town, Patong Beach, saw all venues closed at 1 AM this week as nightspot owners were told to operate by the laws of the land.
Ask Sunbelt Legal
Sunbelt Legal Advisors is here to answer all of your legal questions related to life in Thailand. Send any questions you have to me and I will forward them to Sunbelt for their expert opinion.
Question 1: When transferring an existing and current visa from an expired passport to a new passport, is it correct that the documents required are:
1. Copy of the old passport.
2. Copies of the new passport.
3. Copy of the visa.
4. Completed application form for transfer, and required fee.
5. Copy of most recent 90-day form.
6. Completed foreigner information form.
Is anything else required, such as a letter from the embassy? Some people say yes, others say no. Please confirm what is required.
Sunbelt Legal responds: Yes, you do need a letter from your embassy certifying the change of the passport and a copy of your TM card. So the full list should read:
1. Copy of the old passport.
2. Copies of the new passport.
3. Copy of the visa.
4. Completed application form for transfer, and required fee.
5. Copy of most recent 90-day form.
6. Completed foreigner information form.
7. Letter from embassy certifying the change of passport.
8. Copy of TM card.
Question 2: My Thai wife I both wish to divorce. She is lazy, helpless and pretty much refuses to look for an attorney, insisting she will use my attorney (I plan to retain Sunbelt). In the USA, mediation lawyers are available for couples that agree on everything (as we have) and it is cheaper and faster. Is this possible in Thailand? Short of this I will have to find and pay a lawyer to call her.
Sunbelt Legal responds: A mediation lawyer is an option in Thailand and there is no need to retain two lawyers unless there is a dispute and the two sides are suing each other. The Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors team will be happy to help in the mediation. Please do contact us at [email protected] for an initial free consultation.
I notice the term fake news is used a lot these days and the idea that news articles contain only part of a story, are exaggerated or are just plain BS is becoming a big deal. I remember when I was out covering the red shirt protests in 2010 when large swathes of downtown Bangkok were occupied. What was being reported by the big name international news organisations did not correspond with what I was seeing. I would see these international news crews out – all farang and none with more than a basic grasp of Thai. How they could figure out what was going on in a Thai vs Thai conflict without fluent Thai speakers I do not know. Some of the reports contained so many inaccuracies that the Thais became most upset – and rightfully so!
It’s almost 7 years since the red shirt occupation but international news organisations are still getting things wrong and some of these blubbering fools who don’t deserve to call themselves reporters or journalists don’t have a clue what they’re reporting on. As an example, I refer to an article that appeared in this week’s Daily Mail which reported on the amusing story of a Brit who took a Thai lady back to his hotel room and awoke in the morning to find that she had gone, along with 170,000 baht of his money. The article was full of errors. The article featured various photos including a mug shot with the alleged perpetrator holding a board with their personal details written on it in Thai. The name started with “Nai”, the word for Mister – so the perpetrator was not a woman but a man, or in this case a ladyboy – yet the Mail reported that the thief was a female! Had the Daily Mail picked up on that it would have made the story all the saucier. Next, the perp is reported as being 30 years old yet their birthdate is clearly listed as the Buddhist year of 2535 – so he was born in 1992. In other words he ain’t 30! And the date the incident took place was July 25th, last year – yet the article is dated February 3rd and there is no indication that this is an old story! I accept that the odd error will slip through. We’re all human and that’s life. But when you find so many errors in one story, it shows, first, that the writer doesn’t have a clue about Thailand and, second, it makes you wonder about every other article in the publication and how accurate they are.
Your Bangkok commentator,