back to article Sarong it's right: Coining it in Thailand without a visa

In this week's eXpat files, we're speaking to … well, actually we're not going to use this person's real name, because they may work in Thailand without all the necessary paperwork. Our expat has therefore suggested we use the name “David Green”. So without any further ado, tells us what life's like over there, “David”. The …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Frequent border crossings

    I've heard of other expats just crossing into Thailand for a few months at a time so they appear as frequent tourists and spend time in the main tourist spots. They then spend time back in their mother country to boot.

    AC due to friends doing similar things

    1. Triggerfish

      Re: Frequent border crossings

      Yeah the visa runs are either good fun or a real pain depending on where you go and who you go with (you can make a weekend of it with mates if you time it right) and flights to places like Nepal and Singapore can sometimes be cheap. Other times its just a slog where you try and get to a border and back in as short a time as possible due to time constraints. I had mixed opinions of them when doing them.

      Depending on what border you cross it ranges from a few months to about 6.

      As for getting caught I know people who have been living over there for more than twenty years now doing this (including one being deported years ago and coming back a year later), Years ago before they cleaned it up my friends had a customs guy come and pick up the passports from their flats in BKK and for a fee he would go and process them, stamp them and drop them back off to the apartment, all very dodgy but totally normal for those times.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

    I could understand working without a visa for a few months because you're waiting for the paperwork etc but once it gets to years you're just setting yourself up for trouble. You don't even need to get busted for working for it to all go sour at this point.. if you leave Thailand and on your way back immigration decide you've been in the country too much for too long they'll send you "home" and you'll have lost all of your belongings. Are you getting paid in the UK and then moving the money to Thailand? Surely the inland revenue are getting interested in your bank account at this point?

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

      Surely the inland revenue are getting interested in your bank account at this point?

      He should probably hope it's only the Inland Revenue, I hear that Thai jails aren't nice places. For the pittance he's earning surely it can't be worth the risk? He will get caught eventually.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

        " He will get caught eventually."

        Well there's a new business idea for him: Find a Thai business partner, and set up a fully registered, legal, tax paying company that legally acts as a holding company for smaller businesses that would struggle to be compliant on their own, from those businesses point of view they'd be paying for administration and compliance services. Not being familiar with the local rules it's difficult to be specific about how you'd keep control and beneficial ownership with the small businesses, but perhaps having the holding company "own" the subsidiaries through non-voting shares or something with similar effect. That assumes the smaller business manager can legally own (say) preference shares in the country.

        The holding company would not be a way of dodging rules, but a way of complying with them, and as I'm thinking, it's business would not be trading activities, just providing services to the subsidiaries. Individually it would be difficult to do this, but as a business in its own right, it becomes a cookie cutter approach - set it up, make it work, sell the service on. As a former bank manager he should have the background and skills to make this work?

        1. Ciaran McHale

          Re: Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

          I'm guessing that one way such a company might work would be similar to the contractor umbrella companies in the UK that help VAT-registered self-employed contractors avoid IR35 transgressions. Those umbrella companies take a small-ish fee (my hazy recollection is about £30 per month) for doing the paperwork. They also take the 20% VAT that the contractor adds to invoices, pay about three-quarters of that (I forget the exact figure) to HMRC and keep the other quarter of the VAT for administration overheads. This (perfectly legal) skimming of the VAT gives the umbrella company significantly more income than the £30/month fee charged to the contractor.

        2. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

          That business would work wonderfully until an inspection where they'd have to provide a list of staff/providers/subsidiaries, none of which would be legal or paying their own taxes.

      2. James 47

        Re: Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

        £54k after tax isn't pittance, especially in Thailand

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

          >£54k after tax isn't pittance, especially in Thailand

          It sounds like he isn't paying any tax. Everyone's salary would look a lot better if they didn't have to pay income tax, national insurance etc..

    2. Alain

      Re: Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

      The ruling military junta has shown clear signs that they want to get rid of these fake tourists eventually, making the "visa runs" to a neighbourhood country every 3 months or so impossible.

      Whether this will be actually done remains to be seen, but that's certainly a sword over the heads of people living like this. I'd be more afraid of having my visa application denied than of an early morning knock on the door.

      To legally get a single work permit for a foreigner, the amount of money you have to put into a locally registered business and the number of locals you have to hire makes it very impractical in most cases.

      With the current authoritarian regime, pushing rampant xenophobia hidden behind so-called self-sustained economy, Thailand is bound to make live increasingly difficult for all foreigners working there, especially it it's illegally.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There must be better ways

    I am one of the few "falang" capable of owning land and business in Thailand without needing a Thai involved (which tends to cost an arm and a leg, and you have to be VERY careful with who controls the money for reasons I assume to be obvious).

    You've given me an idea for next year - I know a few other expats in that position (well, less troubled, they married locals which deals with the problem in a different way but they're still handing off a lot of money to middle men). Maybe there's something fun I can do here. Must have a chat with some friends..

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: There must be better ways

      If you think about it he isn't "working" in Thailand he is working in the USA for the American startup.

      If he is taking anyone's job it is an American's. He is bringing cash into Thailand which he is spending locally, potentially training or at least encouraging, Thais to get into the business.

      The Thai authorities kicking people like him out to move to the country next door so they can go back to basing their GDP on having younger hookers than their neighbours doesn't seem to have massive macro-economic benefits.

      A flat-rate visa+tax for people living their but working overseas seems to make sense. especially since you are never going to be able to track their actual PAYE, become a Monoco or Dubai for programmers.

  4. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    When I started working in the US I was very careful to keep all my visas and paperwork in order and spent an arm and a leg with lawyers to get residency - having been here some 40 years now, I understand how easy it actually is to stay completely under the radar and avoid almost all problems due to non-citizenship/illegal status etc.

    The problem is that you have to really understand the culture - and David Green appears to have this sorted - to get away with it, and most newbies are wet behind the ears and thus run into problems of their own making if they try this on their own. Of course, corporations have been doing this legally for years, they have the political clout to get the visas and then just import the workers - the situation is the same, it's just that when a corporation does it you sit in a cubical at weekends instead of on the beach.

  5. Genki_des

    Thai "Elite Card" for 5 years visa

    Just google "Thai Elite Card". For those under retirement age (< 50 yrs old) buying this "elite card" for 500,000THB (17,000US$) gives 5 years visa, reporting once a year (Thai Elite Card does the reporting for you) and you can stay and keep on working as you do.

    It comes with some perks (priority immigration line, limo , golf, yearly medical checkup, some that you would never use too).

    It is not a work visa but it's all a grey zone for Thais, the laws are decades old, before "digital nomads" were even thinkable of.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ... or move over to Cambodia, legal work visas are straightforward, and, if you choose the right location, internet connections are better than Thailand.

  7. king of foo

    pre-shattered dreams

    I often wonder what working life would be like sitting by/on a beach with my laptop on my, well, on my lap. Swapping the sea breeze for the air con, the waves for the chatter of work colleagues, the calm for the stress.

    Then I wake up; my pasty Scottish skin would burn. My laptop battery would die every 2 hours. It would rain. There would be a tornado or hurricane. I'd get paranoid; wondering what the locals were saying. My phone signal would cut in and out. My internet connection would be crap. My paradise would be a nightmare of aftersun and mosquitoes. And I'd get an apocalyptic dose of the shits.

    Then, to top it all off, someone from India would poach my clients, working harder, and probably better, for less. I'd end up working for pennies, barely scraping a living. Then my laptop would die and I'd struggle to find a replacement or get it fixed. This would happen mid project and I'd lose my best client.

    Real life sucks.

    Sorry to blast the fun out of this, I truly hope people are enjoying "the dream" but I'll take my dreary Monday mornings...

    Unless someone offers me a job on the beach... with guaranteed work every day, and corporate sun cream. I'll start tomorrow...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: pre-shattered dreams

      > I'd get paranoid; wondering what the locals were saying.

      To be fair, that's what happens to most people visiting Scotland. :-)

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: pre-shattered dreams

      You could still work from the beach in Aberdeen - then you wouldn't have to worry about the sun or mosquitoes. It would still rain and your battery would still die after 2 hours and you would be even more paranoid about the locals

  8. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Low rent, not cheap rent. "Cheap" describes something you buy. You don't buy rent, you buy accommodation, you pay rent.

    1. The Indomitable Gall

      Funny how pedants are so quick to show their superior knowledge that they don't even stop to check the Oxford English Dictionary. No mention of purchasing in their definition of the word.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not sure it is all the truth...

    £4,500 per month for an IT job in Thailand is quite a lot.

    I am currently in vacation in Thailand and honestly I see far too many "shady" expats characters, so I wouldn't take all his words for granted...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not sure it is all the truth...

      He is doing remote work for an overseas client.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not sure HMRC would give a stuff

    It depends where (if) he is paying tax. If he was being paid into a UK company, paying tax in the UK, and then shipping his gains across to Thailand... then I'm not sure HMRC would care.

    As long as he's paying tax that is.

    I live outside the UK, but my money is earned in the UK, all taxes are paid in the UK, and I ship whatever I need out to Austria. I'm sure the Austrian Government would want a portion of that, but that's a different story...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not sure HMRC would give a stuff

      I live outside the UK, but my money is earned in the UK, all taxes are paid in the UK, and I ship whatever I need out to Austria. I'm sure the Austrian Government would want a portion of that, but that's a different story...

      Nah, that's what tax treaties are for. If you're declaring everything officially, that is. Normally you pay tax where you're resident, except on certain things like real-estate income. If you don't do that by the book the Austrian authorities might just come looking for their share, and you'll have fun trying to get it back from HMRC. The proposed UK changes on personal allowances for expats might also change the maths here a bit.

      Of course, if you're paid in the UK and only paying tax in the UK you're also only storing up pension contributions in the UK. It may well be worth looking at how an Austrian pension compares, there could be advantages to paying some tax & social security there instead.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not sure HMRC would give a stuff

        I looked at the tax treaty... but my head started to get dizzy real quick. Plus the tax lawyers wanted an arm and a leg to get it all set-up... on both sides. To the point where it no longer seemed viable.

        This is only a temporary set-up until I move back to Blighty in a couple of years. If it all goes pear shaped I'll be on the first BA out of Vienna...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I live outside the UK, but my money is earned in the UK, all taxes are paid in the UK, and I ship whatever I need out to Austria. I'm sure the Austrian Government would want a portion of that, but that's a different story...

    Actually, you ought to be able to reduce your tax - I don't know what tax arrangements you have, but UK tax is not exactly low (but maybe it's lower than in Austria). Talk to a tax consultant - just refrain from complicated arrangements because that doesn't even work for very well off people (it's a time bomb) - just following the rules may be enough.

  12. Valerion

    The "where does he work" question is interesting

    And undoubtedly why he is able to keep renewing his Visa.

    He is not employed by a local company and not taking the job of a Thai. He is employed by a US company and working for them whilst living in Thailand. Frankly that's a win-win for Thailand as he gets good money which he can put into the local economy without taking a job from a national. He could be based anywhere and give them the same benefit.

    It makes me wonder though - I'm not allowed to work in the US (or anywhere outside the EU I suppose), but if I'm on holiday there and answer a work email, am I now working? Where is the line drawn? Methinks that remote working and the normal concept immigration/visas don't really fit well together, like many laws in this digital age. Seems like there should be a new type of Visa "remote-working migrant" or something, that allows paying of local taxes and flexible staying conditions.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: The "where does he work" question is interesting

      If you are a British citizen going to the US on visa-waiver you can do work - just have to be careful about the definition of work.

      For example, you can sell, demonstrate, install or test equipment made outside the US but you can't train locals on using it and "repair" always got a bit tricky.

      You can go to company meetings but not company training.

      There are some loopholes used by some illegal immigrants who register a foreign corporation and then work in the US for that corporation, and are taxed - but are illegal

      1. Number6

        Re: The "where does he work" question is interesting

        I remember pointing out to Canadian immigration that I was basically there to train one of their people to do a particular job so that he could do it and I didn't have to. They let me in. A colleague on another visit told them he was there to interview locals for jobs with a view to employing a few of them.

  13. Rol

    I remember..

    meeting a very charming Australian programmer (coders didn't exist back then) in a Thai bar at about dawn in Bangkok. He wasn't quite retirement age but had already started living his retirement.

    Towards the end of his working career he had studied one of the older programming languages, I forget which, with a view to being one of the few left in the world who could keep the old systems of certain organisations running.

    It appeared to have worked as he banged away on his pc for about three months of the year in Thailand and would then fly around the world for a few months meeting and greeting his contractors, finally to return to Thailand for a six month feet up.

    I sat in awe of his plan, while consuming another round of the entire top shelf generously paid for by his American, Australian and British contributors to this idyllic life.

  14. John Hughes

    David Green is confused

    I am viewed in exactly the same way as many people in the UK view the illegal immigrants from the various EU states.

    Sorry Dave, UKIP haven't won the election yet.

    By definition immigrants from EU states are legal, and, unlike the Dave, pay taxes.

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