Thailand lures digital nomads with 10-year visas and ultra-low tax rates

The sandy beaches of Phuket, the busy streets of Bangkok and the mountains of Chiang Mai could soon be options for digital nomads looking for their next home.

Thailand will soon be offering a 10-year visa to potential long-term residents, with applications open from September 1. The program hopes to attract “high-potential and skilled foreign human resources,” according to Narit Therdsteerasukdi, deputy secretary-general of Thailand’s Board of Investment Nikkei Asia.

The visa is primarily aimed at people working in high-tech industries such as electric vehicles, biotechnology and electronics. However, the visa is also available to employees of foreign companies who want to settle in Thailand as digital nomads – or “work-from-Thailand professionals”, as the visa describes them.

Visa holders would be taxed at a lower rate – 17%, as opposed to the 35% charged on income over $140,000. (For comparison, the US levies a 35% tax rate on income between $215,950 and $539,900). The visa will also be available to those with assets over $1 million or retirees with stable incomes, similar to other so-called golden visa programs that offer residency status to wealthy foreigners.

Thailand is the latest country to seek telecommuters as a new source of visitors as hotspots seek to rebuild and renew their tourism industry in the wake of the COVID pandemic.

Thailand hopes to attract a million people from Japan, South Korea, China, the US and Europe. Therdsteerasukdi tells Nikkei Asia that he expects visa holders to contribute about $28,000 per person to the local economy, with the entire program contributing a total of $27.6 billion.

Thailand Investment Committee documents lay out the requirements to become a “work-from-Thailand professional”: you must have earned $80,000 per year for at least two years (with some exceptions), have at least five years of experience, and be for a company that has generated at least $150 million in revenue over a three-year period.

The board is clearly interested in attracting remote workers. His website boasts a survey by workspace company Instant Offices that ranks Bangkok as the second best location in the world for digital nomads (after Lisbon, Portugal).

Digital nomads

Other Southeast Asian countries are also appealing to digital nomads. Indonesia, home to the resort island of Bali, is considering a teleworker visa that would allow them to stay for up to five years. In June, Indonesia’s tourism minister, Sandiaga Uno, told Bloomberg he hoped the visa would attract higher-spending visitors.

Uno described the digital nomad visa as part of a broader initiative to rebuild the country’s tourism industry. “In the past, the ‘three S’s’ were sun, sea and sand. We move it to serenity, spirituality and sustainability,” said Uno at the time.

Research by Harvard Business School professor Raj Choudury found that 33 countries offer a formal digital nomad visa. Most visas offer stays of one to two years, with the longest being four years. These programs often exempt foreign earned income from local taxes.

Tourism recovery in Thailand

The loss of tourists due to COVID-19 travel restrictions has created a huge hole in Thailand’s economy. Before the pandemic, tourism contributed about 11% to Thailand’s GDP. Thailand lifted all COVID restrictions, including its travel restrictions, on July 1.

On July 26, Thailand’s Treasury Ministry forecast that the country would welcome 8 million tourists this year. That’s up from the 6 million forecast in April, but still well below the 40 million who visited the country before the pandemic.

Thailand is optimistic that visitors will return. Bangkok is now hoping to return to pre-pandemic growth levels by next year thanks to a faster-than-expected recovery in international travel.

However, Chinese tourists – Thailand’s biggest source of tourism revenue before the pandemic – are likely to stay at home as long as Beijing maintains its strict quarantine system for international arrivals, including returning tourists.

But another big source of tourists might be on their way back to Thailand. In October, Aeroflot will resume daily direct flights between Moscow and Phuket after the Russian airline suspended flights following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

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