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The Problem with Digital Nomads in Thailand

More and more digital nomads are moving to Thailand, it's now almost at the point where if you want to become a digital nomad, living in Thailand is almost like a right of passage.  I'm all for people coming to Thailand to work on their own startup but what really urkes me about the digital nomads that are coming to Thailand is the complaints on the visa and associated costs. The ultimate bullshit is that a lot of these digital nomads think they are helping the country so much that they should have the right to stay in Thailand indefinitely and only pay $50 a month for the privilege.

Noone actually says it like that though, they usually say they can't afford to pay the 500k for an Elite Card, they don't want to learn the language on an ED visa they just want to stay here and sip lattes all day while using free WiFi. They're in a startup, not ready to start a company and hire local talent, so please, just let them stay here for nothing, the mantra they are really repeating.

At age 21 I moved to the USA with no job and my life savings $10,000 in my pocket to realize my dream of living in the USA, don't tell me in 2015 you can't save up $15,000 to start your life journey, if you can't you're probably going to fail anyway cause you're not dedicated enough. If you're a digital nomad why are we having this discussion anyway? Shouldn't you be travelling the world instead of complaining about the difficulties of trying to stay in Thailand?

Digital Nomads love Thailand because it has good infrastructure and is insanely cheap compared to the west and lets be honest, the best food of any country at the same cost of living standard. Do digital nomads help Thailand? They send a shit load of money into Thailand right? Wrong! Most digital nomads don't make a lot of money especially if they are working on a startup, but even those that do make a lot of money only bring in enough money they require for daily living. yet all these people use all the government infrastructure from water to roads and pay neglegable amounts in tax which if you think about their main expenses rent and food, little is going into the governments pocket at all if any. And lets face it, even if you did pay a lot to the government how much do you really think is going to help the Thai people anyway? In fact the most these guys pay are the visa fees which they all complain about. Get over it.

What the digital nomads are getting louder about these days is there idea that there should be a visa for digital nomads. Most of these people couldn't live the same existence if it wasn't for taking advantage of currency and economic differences between their own country and Thailand. They add little to no value to the skillsets of the local population. They like to claim that having a digital nomad visa will effectively allow them to be self employed and pay taxes, when they eventually figure out that the taxes they pay will be more than the Elite Card they'll go get the Elite Card and say that the visa doesn't work.

In this video which is basically an advertisement for a digital nomad filmmaker who's raising money to produce a film about digital nomads (ironically using video from this site). You have a couple of Thai nobodies talking about how digital nomads should have a type of visa so they can live in Thailand and do their thing yet at the same time discussing the cons of such a system, basically it would allow sexpats to come to Thailand and take advantage of Thailand's women.


What a load of crap, for starters most sex tourists don't even live in Thailand, they'll come for 3-6months and leave maybe coming once a year. I've been here for so long now I don't know many people at all who live here solely to bang prostitutes all day every day. And you know what, those that do, spend a lot more money in this country than a whole co-working space full of digital nomads.

I've helped pay for 2 high shool diplomas, sent a girl to University, taught a thai girl to build websites which I guess technically she's now a digital nomad, I've started brick and mortar businesses and employed dozens of Thai people, I can speak the language, and you'd be surprised how many Thai girls I've dated that ask me or I've corrected them on Thai culture and customs. But because I've fucked a few hundred prostitutes in Thailand I'm the kind of guy they don't want here. When I was 17 I completed my student exchange program in Thailand, I was sitting at home when 4 teachers from my school picked me up and took me to a soapy massage. This was my final lesson in Thai Culture. I didn't bring prostitution to Thailand, it was already here and deep within the culture, i'm just trying to fit in. I'm not alone either there are hundreds of VIP members on this site with similar stories, and thousands of businessmen around the country that do the same thing. Stop demonizing sexpats!

If you're a digital nomad why on earth would you need a long term visa for anyway? aren't you a nomad? Most like to say that they would be happy to pay taxes, yet monitarily the biggest advantage to being a digital nomad is that you live in a country only long enough to avoid paying any taxes, being a digital nomad should mean you're not going to stay in Thailand for more than a few months, otherwise you're not a digital nomad you're a location independent freelancer/entrepreneur/employee trying to live in a country you have no logical right to do so indefinitely.

I'm from Australia, would Australians want a bunch of Chinese nationals living and working in Australia for a Chinese company where there is absolutely no benefit to Australias? Fuck No. Open a company and hire some Australians to do the job or go back to China. There's no reason digital nomads should have the right to live long term or forever in any country based solely on their "digital nomad status".

I have to laugh when I watched this video when the guy says "we used to have a lot of problems with people abusing visa's". They havn't fixed anything, requirements have changed a little but like most governments if you fill in your forms and provide the correct paperwork you're allowed to stay, you think people who wanted to live here a long time still aren't abusing ED visas, setting up bogus companies to get work permits? Or paying lawyers to help facilitate the fake application of university courses, NGO's handing out volunteer visas for money, and now with the 5 year Elite visa I'd argue it's just as easy as ever if only just a bit more expensive and sometimes more time consuming but if you want to stay in Thailand and avoid paying taxes there are still dozens of ways to do it.

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About Chris

Chris founded LivingThai.org in 2011 and has received over 3 million visitors. He has lived here for over 10 years and speaks reads and writes very good Thai.

42 Responses to The Problem with Digital Nomads in Thailand

  1. Carlos July 6, 2015 at 3:34 am #

    I couldn’t stop laughing from the rankings of https://nomadlist.com/

    what the nightlife is okay in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia ????? and it is ranked better then Medellín-Colombia or Playa del Carmen
    Mexico WT….

    Lagos in Nigeria which is very dirty with high crime rate and has one of the worst traffic jams in the world is ranked better then Singapore, kuala lumpur and Phnom Penh.

    • Chris July 6, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

      I agree, the only correct listing on that list is Chiang Mai.

  2. Simon July 6, 2015 at 9:01 am #


  3. Ben July 6, 2015 at 7:43 pm #

    But digital nomads *do* add to an economy.

    Let’s consider a digital nomad (or even a retiree) who lives in Thailand and pays no tax, but spends THB 1m in Thailand every year. They don’t have any customers or employers in Thailand, so they aren’t taking local jobs. Instead, they’re bringing a THB 1m net inflow, that will likely be taxed in some form as it flows through other hands.

    Economically, Thailand is THB 1m better off per year for having this person there. Even if the nomad only spends half that money they’re still THB 500K off per year, almost 3x the local graduate entry wage of around 180K. At the same time, the nomad has essentially no claim on the Thai public purse. Thailand is richer if they come, poorer if they don’t.

    The Elite card doesn’t represent a viable option for such a person—no freelancer starting out would spend THB 2m, close to USD 60,000, to make a 20-year commitment to living in a particular location. For starters, you have to think about its future value: invested at 8%p.a. for 20 years, it would be worth more than USD 279k at the end of the period. Even if the freelancer or small businessperson has the cash, they can put it to more profitable use.

    But if the Elite card were available on a yearly basis at THB 100,000, or roughly USD 3000/yr, it would become viable for some—particularly this class that’s going to spend THB 1m or more per year. Alternatively, Thailand ask that such a person pay 10% of their net income in tax—but this should be less attractive to nomads and government alike, as it would probably increase compliance costs without raising additional revenue.

    Many Australians likely would be uncomfortable about Chinese digital nomads settling in Australia, but they’d have an equally slim basis for objecting on economic grounds: so long as they have no claim to government benefits, the nomads’ spending would be a net inflow to the economy with no drawback.

    The reason left to object, then, is mainly cultural: people don’t want aliens with different customs changing the ethnic and cultural makeup of their society.

    That’s not an entirely flattering motivation to admit to, especially if those changes you’re afraid of could make your country more cosmopolitan and liberal.

    • Chris July 6, 2015 at 10:28 pm #

      Let me just touch on some of your points

      1. THB 1 million per year per digital nomad, I’ve taken a poll on this site before about how much people spend, the average was closer to 60k baht a month. The rent on most places these people live at is not taxed, nor is very little of the money they spend on food which represents around 70% of their expenses. How many digital nomads in Thailand? How many jobs do they create here? Do you think the combined amount these people spend even comes close to say a Japanese car manufacturer? It’s so insignificant. If tourism is 10% of the economy what these people do represent what 0.000001% of the economy it’s so insignificant if they are here or not it wouldn’t make any difference, show me some numbers that prove me otherwise!

      2. Nomads have no claim to the public purse…you’re assuming all these nomads don’t use the roads, use water to shower themselves, put trash in the bin, and never have a problem that they need to call the police.

      3. The Elite card is 500k for 5 years. That’s 100,000 baht a year, if you want an ED visa it’ll cost you at the very minimum 33,000 a year. My point is really if you didn’t want to study this is your best option and quite honestly $15,000 for 5 years is not a lot of money with the point that it’s cheaper than paying local taxes. 10% net income in tax for digital nomads, yeah that’ll never fly, you do realize the top tax rate here is 35% why should a non-citizen be taxed less? This is really my point, for these morons asking for a work permit and have freelances taxed in Thailand, when you do the math the elite card works out cheaper, go register a company in Ireland pay tax there and work here on the elite card. Why can’t they do that? Cause they can’t save 15k? Well go sleep on grandmas couch till you have the money seriously!

      4. Yes most Australians would object to handing out residency to minimum wage freelancers who have no vested interest in the country just as Thai people have the right to say if you are not studying, working for a thai company,retired, or married then you have no right to live here. But Thailand which as far as I know is the only country that sells you that right for 500,000 baht. And quite honestly if you have no other reason to be here except to take advantage of the country and you can’t afford 500k (the right to stay) then what grounds does someone have to say that no I just want to stay here for 2 years take advantage of the system and leave absolutely nothing for Thai people when i’m gone. Not sure what this is called, neocolonialism?

      • James Shields July 18, 2017 at 11:20 pm #

        You reveal your jealousy.

        • Chris July 19, 2017 at 12:08 am #

          Jealous of??

        • Allen October 26, 2017 at 6:15 am #

          LOL who could be jealous of someone who can’t afford $15k visa?

  4. Richard July 6, 2015 at 11:44 pm #

    Great article. Can I ask how were you able to move to the USA at the age of 21 to live for the rest of your life there. I thought that was an almost impossible dream of 1/2 the population of the world.

    • Chris July 7, 2015 at 1:29 am #

      Pretty simple. Married an american. 11 months later had an unconditional green card. Month 12 got divorced.

      • Don July 7, 2015 at 2:52 am #

        You mean you scammed the US system ?

        • Chris July 7, 2015 at 3:16 pm #

          I didn’t scam anything, like I said in this article, if you fill in the forms correctly with most any government agency of any country you’ll have no issues.

        • Don July 13, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

          Chris — you answered a question I didn’t ask.

      • Richard July 7, 2015 at 1:45 pm #

        Thanks Chris, Does your unconditional green card not have the conditiona that requires you to spend the majority of your time living in the USA.

        • Chris July 7, 2015 at 3:11 pm #

          I gave up the green card when I moved to Thailand, I could have got citizenship after 5 years living there but I honestly could not see the benefit.

  5. Ben July 6, 2015 at 11:57 pm #

    Didn’t realize Elite card now had a 500,000B option. Thanks for the heads up.

    BTW, the marketing spiel on the Elite Card site sounds like real neocolonialism to me: “Experience the true appeal of exactly what THAILAND ELITE is all about: an entire country at your service.” Hmm…

  6. Dude July 6, 2015 at 11:58 pm #

    Dude, in Thailand we pay for the water, it is not free. I pay the trash collector outside my house, it is not free. When I have a problem, the last people I would call is the police. Just saying.

    Getting the Elite Card would be kinda stupid. It works now, will it work in one year? Two? Three? Who knows.

    • Chris July 7, 2015 at 1:34 am #

      The trash collection costs 20 baht a month i doubt that really covers the expense. Water yes u pay but the true cost is subsidised by the goverment. Whats realy stupid is digital nomads saying give them a visa so i can pay tax. The tax u pay would be greater than the cost of the elite card. What they are complaining about already exists, thats my whole point.

  7. George July 7, 2015 at 3:21 am #

    You are a complete wanker Chris!

    • Chris July 7, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

      I’ve been called worse.

  8. Jon July 11, 2015 at 5:26 pm #

    You hit the nail on the head in a lot of areas. ThaiVisa visa forum is often filled with people that have this entitlement mentality that they have a ‘right’ to be in Thailand indefinitely. But if they have no intention on setting down any long-term roots (Thai family [marriage, children, etc], legit business, legit school, retirement, and Elite card are the usual suspects), why should Thailand issue you a long term visa? You already can get a short-term [tourist] visa in sufficient quantities. Yes, you are not supposed to work on a tourist visa, but that’s the point.

    There is a reason why they have a visa system in place, as does every country….mainly to control their borders.

  9. Jake July 18, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

    So wait.. do you like digital nomads? Couldn’t quite make out that part…

    • Chris July 18, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

      No problem with digital nomads in particular, I do have a problem however with people who think they should get a visa to live in any country simply because they call themselves digital nomads.

  10. Harvie July 20, 2015 at 11:27 pm #

    Haha nice one.

    I find the the digital nomads who complain about about the visas are the one’s who can’t afford to make the visa runs.

  11. Pascal July 24, 2015 at 9:48 am #

    my 2 cents on the topic

    i dont mind paying for the priviledge of staying in this country

    what i DO mind are all the stupid hoops i have to jump through like leaving/entering the country, reporting with immigration

    you want me to pay? fair enough…. but why do i have to waste my time with stupid nonsense like that?

    • Chris July 25, 2015 at 4:21 am #

      Not really a point dude, there’s already an option, it’s called the elite card!

    • Jon July 25, 2015 at 5:52 am #

      Every country has to control its borders. Thailand is no different.

  12. Pascal July 29, 2015 at 10:15 am #

    elite visa is like what… 250 bucks a month?

    its a high end solution and youre paying for a whole bunch of crap I dont need like airport pickup. what about a mid-level solution without all the fancy gimmicks?

    i understand countries have to protect their borders but other countries are way more reasonable with their visa regulations than thailand.

  13. [email protected] August 7, 2015 at 8:26 pm #

    6 month multi entry coming soon to digital nomad heavan

  14. Greg Andrews August 29, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

    Am a great fan of Living Thai site and love your very funny writing about beautiful Thailand, very inspiring and keep up the good work! PS..you could work anywhere, very professional…Greg (Australia)…a little bit worried about what a digital nomad is??

    • Chris August 30, 2015 at 6:45 pm #

      Personally I think people call themselves digital nomads as a catch phrase for anyone who works online.

  15. Dennis September 9, 2015 at 4:11 pm #

    Elite card is a good option indeed, cheaper than setting up a company.

    I’ve thought about setting up a company but I swear I’d kill some of my staff if they make the same stupid mistakes like my people in India now, lucky for them they live in India and I don’t know where.

    • Chris September 14, 2015 at 6:43 pm #

      At least Indians can speak English (not that I ever talk to mine) I would hire an indian over a Thai any day!

  16. Yobbo October 5, 2015 at 12:19 am #

    Why do you care how much money the government gets? At best, the government does fuck all. At worst. it’s actively stealing from the people.

    Digital Nomads spend money in Thailand, and that money goes to Thai people who provide them with goods and services. Fuck the government.

    • Chris October 13, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

      The point is the money people spend here most if it goes to Thai’s who have money already.

  17. Ed Zed January 7, 2016 at 5:15 pm #

    Sounding a bit righteous there Chris. I hope u don’t think ur doing net good for this country? I’ve little doubt the Thais call you “Key nok” behind ur back. You think folks in Oz wouldn’t take a dim view on the exploitative crap that you write?

    However I agree. I work online and don’t think there should be a visa for digital nomads. I disagree that they aren’t a net gain for Thailand’s economy.

    The terms of a buisness visa means u employ 4 Thai folks per farang. It’s up to Thailand to regulate their visa regime. They offer a 6month multiple entry now.

    My guess is Chris, you come from a privaleged background and haven’t had to work particularly hard for anything, because mummy and daddy will throw you some coin when the going gets tough.

  18. Ed Zed January 8, 2016 at 1:00 am #

    Ya such a whimp Chris, every fair comment I’ve made you take down? Piss weak mate.

    • Chris January 12, 2016 at 11:48 am #

      Just hadn’t approved it yet mate that’s all.

  19. Regan May 21, 2017 at 11:33 am #

    haha love it Chris, love how your roll mate, you should know by now that nobody really likes blunt honest dialogue, Im ex military so i thats all I know. As for money flow its all bro science from what i can tell. I spend 6 months per year in thailand, all i know is I pay THB of approx 25k per day when im here. Its not my business to care where it flows etc. Im purchasing the 20yr elite visa so will enjoy the benefit & thailand enjoys my cash… fair trade i reckon. Lets face it, ‘most’ digi nomads live off peanuts & from my experience of the majority read the 4hr work week & only put in 4-6 hrs SOLID work a day or maybe 8hrs per day x 5, spend the rest of the time “networking” or socialising & then wonder why they only pull in $200-500 per month. Iv only met a handful of people that make good dollars but they tend to be consultants/remote workers.

  20. Regan May 21, 2017 at 12:02 pm #

    also for those who get upset about visa runs/cost etc the choices are… stay working 9-5 in your home country with 4wks annual holiday, no work life balance, high cost of living & for many, no chance of ever owning your own home & whinge that your government should do more… or…suck it up, pay for the visa & live the goodlife in thailand or other location… can’t afford the 2mill THB? work harder/smarter. Entitlement mentality theses days is very sad, you deserve nothing & the world/thai government owes you nothing….

  21. Diver October 5, 2017 at 12:49 pm #

    Wow who are you to judge? Why not leave it up to the Thai how to handle their visitors?

    I used to work as a dive instructor for almost 7 years. Legal and all, earning second to nothing but my daily living expenses and sometimes a little extra. Just saying that someone’s working or living status means shit.

    I think I fit under the digital nomad label now. And yes making more money than the best paid dive instructor. But what’s a nomad? And why does it matter if someone lives in Thailand or any other country full time or if he or she (like me) likes to switch from time to time, perhaps to escape the rain or just because of the necessary change of environment? So what if I plan to stay in Thailand longer? I follow their immigration rules, I pay all the fees and the only thing you could blame me for is not paying taxes. They never ask why I come back so often despite my passport being loaded with stamps. They know better of course but they follow a don’t ask don’t tell policy and as long as that doesn’t change I’m OK with it.

    Sure one can set up a company but that is not realistic for nomads as they’d have to have a company in every country they stay in. And while Thailand already has quite cumbersome procedures you don’t even want to get started in Indonesia for instance where minimal investment for any foreign owned company is about 200 thousand US dollars and where it easily takes up to a year to complete the process. And then still not knowing for sure whether it’s all OK because even agents are often surprised with the ever changing rules there.

    You could also approach this matter from a different angle that I believe would be more effective. Instead of trying to police people you could highlight the benefits of paying taxes, setting up a company, and ways to help the local community. Don’t be just another angry expat. I avoid people like you in daily life like the plague. I’m here to live a happy life, not to be policed as people in my home country tend to do often.

    Have a bear and enjoy life. Do good and help others. And before you know it it rubbs off on others.

  22. Don tamba July 10, 2018 at 10:02 am #

    I have to agree with you re: digital nomads and their economic impact on Thailand. Most DNs I’ve met are millennials and or bit older. They usually tend towards the cheapest accommodations, cheapest food, cheapest transportation, cheapest entertainment, cheapest scraping bottom of the barrel budget twatpacker style life especially in Chiang Mai. Not quite the quality tourists the TAT wishes to attract. Most live hand to mouth eking out a barely sustainable life off their online earnings….although they will never admit to this. It’s only 10% of 1% that actually make an enviable online profit…..and trust me, they toil extremely hard for it….not the fabled 4 hour work day either. DNs are a cult on themselves who wishes to portray their free lifestyle as something exotic sexy lucrative and to be emulated if not envied…..

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