Entrepreneurs wishing to conduct business, bring skills and knowledge or invest in a start-up in Thailand can now easily do so through the so-called Smart Visa. New measures have been introduced through the Smart Visa in order to promote innovation and boost the economy. The Smart Visa was introduced in 2018 in targeted industries, when the Kingdom devised its ‘Thailand 4.0’ development plan.
The Smart Visa was designed to attract highly skilled manpower, investors, executives, and start-up entrepreneurs. Foreigners obtaining a Smart Visa can work or invest in targeted industries. Recently, three more S-Curve industries were added to the list, namely: Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”), Environmental management and renewable energy, and Human resource development in science and technology.
Figure 1. Smart Visa S-Curve Industries.
Smart Visa Qualifications
There are five Smart Visa categories: “T” for talent, “E” for executives, “I” for investors, “S” for start-ups, and “O” for others.
Generally, Smart “T” may be granted to science and technology experts whose credentials are evaluated and endorsed by the Strategic Talent Center (“STC”). These experts must have a monthly salary equal to or greater than THB 100,000. The individual must have a service or employment contract with a corporate entity in Thailand with a term of at least one year. The employer must operate in one of the S-Curve Industries and must have obtained a qualification endorsement issued by the relevant authority, such as the National Innovation Agency (“NIA”) and the Digital Economy Promotion Agency.
In some specific cases, in order to qualify for a Smart “T” visa, foreigners working in the field of science and technology must obtain an endorsement letter by one of the following institutions:
Figure 2. Smart Visa Qualification Endorsement.
The Smart “I” visa is granted to investors in technology-based firms in any of the targeted industries. There is no minimum salary required. To qualify, foreign investors must plan an equity injection in either of the following ways:
✓ Investing no less than THB 20 million, either directly as an individual investor or through a venture capital firm in Thailand, in a technology-based business in any of the targeted industries; or
✓ Investing no less than THB 5 million, directly as an individual investor in a start-up or incubator or accelerator program endorsed by the competent agencies.
The endorsed firm must be in the high-tech manufacturing industry or, alternatively, deliver services in the targeted industries.
The Smart “E” visa-holder must earn no less than THB 200,000 (or equivalent in other currency) per month and must have at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent with no less than 10 years of work experience in the relevant field. To be eligible for this visa, the executive must have an employment or service contract to work in Thailand with a term of at least one year, holding a senior management position such as Chairman or Managing Director. The firm hiring the executive must meet the same eligibility requirements described under Smart I.
The one- and two-year Smart “S” visa applicants are required to have already established a start-up company in Thailand. The company must be certified by the relevant agency as being in one of the targeted industries. For both types of visas, the applicant must have a deposit of no less than THB 600,000 (or equivalent in other currency) in a bank account in Thailand or in their country of residence. This deposit must have been held for at least the past 3 months. If the applicant enters into Thailand with a spouse and children, an additional deposit of no less than THB 180,000 per person must be held in an account for at least 3 months.
The main difference between the one- and two-year visa options is that, under the two-year option, the applicant must hold no less than 25% of the company’s registered capital or be a director of the company. Under the one-year option, if the applicant does not attend an incubator or similar program, their business must either be a joint-venture with or be endorsed by the public sector. For both types of visas, the applicant and their spouse and dependent children must be covered by health insurance.
Entrepreneurs keen on establishing a start-up or engaging in promotional activities for start-ups or start-up camps can apply for the 6-month Smart “S” Visa. Applicants must have a plan to incorporate a tech start-up, which must be endorsed by the relevant agency, such as the National Innovation Agency (NIA). Applicants can also engage in activities aiming to promote start-ups, or activities such as Start-up Camp, endorsed by the Board of Investment (BOI) and NIA.
Across all visas, visa holders must notify the relevant authorities and receive additional endorsements where there are any changes to their employment. In applying for Smart “S”, applicants must ensure they have all the required documents.
All Visa types have similar privileges. All categories have a maximum extension period of 4 years, with the exception of the Smart S. The Smart “S” visa has different extension periods depending on the length of the first visa application. For example, a 2-year visa has a maximum 2-year extension period. The 6-month visa can also be renewed for up to 2 years.
Other privileges across all visas are:
✓ Extensions up to 4 years;
✓ No work permit required;
✓ 1-year reporting to the Immigration at the One-Stop Service Center;
✓ No re-entry permit required;
✓ Spouse and children are permitted to live in Thailand. A Smart Visa-holder’s spouse (who is a Smart “O” visa-holder) is permitted to work in Thailand without a work permit; and
✓ Access to the Fast Track service at international airports in Thailand.