When Do You Need a Work Permit in Thailand?

When any non-Thai citizen moves to Thailand to work, the issue of getting a work permit soon comes up. In Thailand, few jobs are open to westerners, which is why most come to Thailand to teach English – a job they’re allowed to do. Volunteer teaching or volunteering at a charity is also popular, but with these jobs or volunteer positions, the work permit issue soon rears its ugly head.

It’s confusing, it’s frustrating and, for many westerners, something they sometimes simply ignore. If you’re going to be working in Thailand, teaching full-time or part-time, or volunteering, here’s what you need to know about work permits. Everyone should have one.

Full-Time English Teaching Position – If you accept a full-time English teaching position in a school, language school or company, you must have a work permit to be able to teach legally. Many schools and language schools, and some companies, skirt the issue refusing to get their teachers work permits, as for the school’s it can be expensive and a time-consuming process, and for the companies frustrating. But, be aware, if you teach full-time in Thailand anywhere, you are required by law to have a work permit.

The school or language school might make excuses, telling you it’s “not necessary” or they’ll “get you one later” (which rarely happens), but if you’re caught teaching illegally by the Thai police or any immigration official, you can be fined, imprisoned or kicked out of the country.

Sure, thousands of western teachers teach full-time in Thailand every year without work permits. But, as the Thai government continues to tighten the regulations, I don’t recommend it. Not if you like Thailand and want to stay here for a long time. Insist the school gets you a work permit or find a job with a school that will.

Part-Time English Teaching Position – Many language schools and some companies hire English teachers part-time, either because of lack of money for a full-time teacher or, in the case of language schools, they can’t always keep every teacher working somewhere full-time.

The problem with teaching part-time in Thailand, even if you want to do it permanently, technically you can’t get a work permit to teach part-time as you must work 30 hours a week to get one. But, the catch-22 situation is, if you do teach part-time without a work permit, you’re working illegally. Fined, imprisoned, kicked out of the country? Can happen.

Of course, tens of thousands of westerners work part-time in the evenings and on weekends as business English teachers or at language schools. Few have work permits for those jobs as, even if they have a work permit for their full-time job it isn’t legal to use it for a part-time one too.

The only advice I can give on working illegally part-time is, yes, a huge percentage of teachers do it and I’ve never heard of anyone being caught. Authorities seem to turn a blind eye to it as, without these teachers, half of Thailand’s work force would never be able to get English lessons.

If you do work part-time, keep a low profile and don’t broadcast too much where you work and Thai police will likely leave you alone. Unless of course you already teach English part-time at a police station (I know two westerners who do). The police there probably already know you don’t have a work-permit and, frankly, probably don’t care.

Volunteering to Teach English – Some schools do hire volunteer English teachers to work in their schools without pay. In Thailand, just like with any other ‘job’, you must have a work permit to do so and you must work at least 30 hours a week to get one.

So, if you do decide to accept a volunteer position to teach English, make sure the school or charity using you is aware you must have a work permit and make sure they apply for one for you.

Volunteering with a Charity – Again, just like volunteer teaching, you must have a work permit to be able to volunteer anywhere in Thailand and must do it 30 hours a week.

Some charities will tell you “it’s not necessary”, as they don’t want the expense of applying for one. Inform them that you already know otherwise and, if they’re not willing to get one for you then, really, they’re not a charity you want to work for.

Working any job or volunteer position in Thailand, as a foreigner,whether its working with elephants at an elephant camp, volunteering as a doctor, a teacher or working in an orphanage, you must have a work permit.

Sure it can be a hassle to get one, particularly if the charity doesn’t complete the paperwork correctly or on time but, in the long run, having that work permit will make your life so much easier and less stressed, I can’t imagine living in Thailand without one.