Thousands of people arrive in Thailand every year to do volunteer work at a school, charity or foundation. While it might seem it should be an easy thing to do – work for free to help people less fortunate than yourself – the Thai government doesn’t make it simple. Doing any kind of volunteer work in Thailand, whether for a day or a year, requires you to submit specific documentation to be issued the appropriate travel visa to be allowed into the country. Once in, you must then apply for a work permit as, yes, every volunteer position in Thailand requires a foreigner to have a work permit. Even though you’re not getting paid. Here is the paperwork you’ll need to get them.
What Paperwork Do You Need For a Volunteer Travel Visa to Thailand? – To be legally allowed to enter Thailand with the purpose of doing volunteer work, you must have the appropriate travel visa stamped in your passport. The visa is called a Non-Immigrant O Visa, and you can apply for it at any Thai consulate or embassy. Here’s what you’ll need to apply:
a) Your original passport with at least one empty page (I recommend having at least four empty pages as, if you stay in Thailand for a year or longer, you’ll be surprised how many visas you end up getting stamped in it).
b) A visa application form, which you can download from here.
c) Two photographs taken within the last six months (2″ x 2″).
d) Evidence of at least $500 in funds (In actuality, you will need a lot more than this if you’re not getting paid as nobody can survive in Thailand for a year on $500 (currently less than 18,000 baht)
e) A letter from the organization you’ll be volunteering with, confirming they’ve offered you a volunteer position and that they are requesting approval of a temporary stay for you. All legitimate charities and foundations in Thailand are used to creating these so, if the organization you want to work with can’t get one for you, they’re not an agency you should volunteer with as you’ll end up having to volunteer without a work permit – against the law in Thailand.
How and When to Get a Work Permit to do Volunteer Work in Thailand – When you’ve been approved for the appropriate Non-Immigrant O Visa and have had your passport returned to you by the Thai embassy or consulate, you’re free to leave for Thailand.
Once in the country though, before you begin volunteering, you must apply for a work permit, and I recommend applying for it as soon as the place you’ll be volunteering for can supply you with all the paperwork necessary. Receiving a work permit can take up to two months, although once it’s applied for, according to the Thai Labor Department, you are allowed to begin volunteering.
To apply for the work permit, you will need a whole new set of documents, which are explained in How to Legally Get a Work Permit in Thailand.
Word of Warning About Legitimate Volunteer Work
All legitimate charities, foundations or schools in Thailand that want you to volunteer teach know you must have a work permit. If the organization you want to volunteer for refuses to apply for one for you, you should not work for them. They know it’s illegal but don’t want to spend the money to get work permits for their volunteers. Avoid them, and find a charity, foundation or school that will. There are tens of thousands of them all over Thailand.
Also, don’t sign up with a ‘charity’ in Thailand that’s asking you to pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of volunteering. That’s not a volunteer position, it’s an organization making money off people’s kindness and should be avoided at all costs.
Sure, with some agencies, if they ask for a small fee (a few hundred dollars) to help pay for room and board, more power to them, and you shouldn’t quibble about paying it. But one that’s demanding $1,000 a month or more so you can be ‘allowed’ to volunteer, cross them off your ‘cool non-profits’ list – they’re neither.
Paperwork required for Non-Immigrant O Visa – Royal Thai Embassy, Washington DC
Photo – Volunteers and Thai villagers – copyright Darlene is evil, Creative Commons License