This article will look at the advantages and disadvantages of making your money online and living in Thailand. It should be immediately noted that the laws of Thailand can change very quickly since there isn’t any democratic process to slow down decision makers. Thus, we advise checking the current rules regarding working in Thailand as an ex-pat; and, at the same time looking at a range of media to ascertain how these rules are being applied (or not).
Being a reluctant optimist, I will start with the benefits of working from your computer in Thailand. For a over a decade there has been a considerable number of non-Thais living in Thailand and making their money from the internet. There are those pursuing marketing strategies using partnerships with Amazon, Booking.com, Agoda etc. to make a ‘passive income’. There are those who are influencers feeding at the teat of Twitter, Instagram and Tik Tok. Gamers posting videos and creators making good money on Youtube are also to be found on the beach with their heads in their laptops. And there is the latest breed of digital nomads following the cryptocurrency markets and making their money that way.
Officially, the Thai government is clear that those living in the Kingdom and making their money online need to fill out the necessary forms, pay the necessary taxes and have the appropriate visa. At the same time the nationalistic protection of jobs for Thais remains: a foreigner cannot do a job in Thailand if a Thai could do that job instead.
Obviously, it is very hard to monitor how people fund their stays in Thailand. Nowadays, you can make an online income, have the money feed into a foreign bank account and then draw those funds via an ATM machine anywhere in Thailand. The only reason to have a Thai bank account is if you own a property or business in Thailand. Thai banks have nothing to recommend themselves in terms of convenience, interest rates or valuable services. With a little caution it is easy to fly under the radar in Thailand and enjoy your digital income in the Land of the Smiles without anyone being any the wiser.
And why would you do that? Well, because Thailand is many people’s notion of paradise. You have a country where the weather is great, the living costs are low; where you can find beautiful beaches, exciting cities and locals that consider you to be apotheosis of ‘handsome’. For others it is the cheap weed, the unregulated and incessant parties. Thailand has traditionally a lot to offer both old and young fed up with the high costs and bad weather of their home countries.
Part of that offering is comparatively good infrastructure and services. Not all digital nomads are indestructible 20-year-olds. Thailand has excellent hospitals. The road and train networks in Thailand are also good. And of course, the internet is fairly fast in Thailand. Moreover, internet coverage is extensive. It is no problem to check your digital gains in Thailand.
So, what are the downsides of living in Thailand and drawing an online income? Well, the biggest inconvenience is renewing your visa. If you declare your online income, you will be taxed and be made to pay lots of visa fees to permanently stay in Thailand. You will also have to have a Thai bank account with a regular flow of money going into it. If you marry a Thai then I suggest your nomadic ways might be coming to an end. Only marriage is not a way of guaranteeing a visa in Thailand. You still have to show proof of a regular income; you will have to make continued trips to the immigration office; and worst of all, you will remain under the fickle control of the Thai government who seem to enjoy making foreigners jump through ever moving hoops. In short, the Thai authorities make it as difficult as it possibly can (and as profitable as it possibly can) to stay long term in Thailand. Of course, while at the same time forever championing the idea of foreign investment in Thailand.
For these reasons many digital nomads based in Thailand turn to solicitors and other local ‘fixers’ to sort out long term visas for them. Others find it easier to leave Thailand every few months and return on another long-term tourist visa. You can no longer nip over to Cambodia, Malaysia or Myanmar for a few hours and arrange another tourist visa. The law states you have to fly out, get a visa and then return. The cost of airplane flights might push some digital nomads from the black into the red, and thus make this avenue of evasion unrealistic.
In contrast other South East Asian countries have shown themselves a lot more friendly to digital nomads offering long term visas with less red tape. And less silly rules about having to leave and re-enter. Moreover, places like Vietnam and Cambodia are becoming more attractive to digital nomads because of cheaper living costs while still having great weather. You don’t need to search through many ex-pat forums to find posters who have had enough BS from the Thai authorities and who have moved on to countries with friendlier immigration policies.
As I have mentioned, roads, internet connections and medical facilities are good in Thailand. It is harder to make the case for good educational facilities in Thailand. If you have a child to educate while you pursue a nomadic, digitally funded life, you will either need to spend big bucks on foreign schools in Thailand, educate your child yourself or burden your child with a sub optimal Thai education.
The original nomads moved from place to place to take advantage of seasonal changes. Being nomadic was a way of maintaining a consistent daily calorie count. We might think of nomads moving where ever their whims take them, never going back to the same place. Actually, the first nomads moved in a yearly cycle returning again and again to the same places. Other nomads like the Moken people made one big move across the ocean and then stayed mostly in the same place. It is often the case that the term ‘nomad’ is applied to a group as a pejorative term by the mainstream in society.
For a digital nomad, the term means a freedom from having to be in any one place. It is not working from home, as a digital nomad is a freelancer, not beholden to a boss that lets them escape the office.
Putting aside these philosophical speculations, if you are smart enough to free yourself of the shackles of a regular 9 to 5 job through using the internet then you are very likely to be an independent person who is not easily scammed. You should weigh up the pros and cons for yourself.
|Flight Bangkok - Chiang Rai ฿ 778–4,514 1h 20m – 1h 35m|
|Bus Bangkok - Chiang Rai ฿ 593–1,247 11h – 14h 30m|
|Flight Don Mueang Airport - Chiang Rai ฿ 638–1,230 1h 15m – 1h 45m|