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Working in Thailand without a Work Visa

You know someone who does it or either your thinking about doing it yourself. Working in Thailand without a work visa sounds really scary and illegal. But for many people who live in Thailand it's a necessity or they will be on the next plane back home.

There are so many different jobs you can do in Thailand that you could work illegally most being in either teaching or in music but really any sort of job you could do in Thailand without a visa providing you find someone willing to take you on as an employee. The biggest motivation is really down to money. Working without a visa means you get paid cash you don't pay taxes and don't have to pay for the work permit.

What happens if you work in Thailand without a work permit?

I get asked this question a lot and honestly every case is different however it's extremely rare that you'll ever get deported or thrown in jail. What happens if you get caught working without a permit is typically a slap on the write and a hefty fine. The fine can vary greatly depending on what the police officer asks for but in recent cases I've seen is about a 20,000 baht fine. That is a lot considering most illegal workers (Farang) get paid less than 30,000 baht a month. It's always a good idea to have this money in your bank ready to take out at a moments notice in the event that you do get caught.

Getting caught working illegal in Thailand is not inevitable but it can happen. If you work as a musician you are more likely to get caught than any other profession. The authorities don't like people working as a musician because it's taking jobs away from Thai people. Things like Teaching is actually a good service so it's less likely you'll get into trouble.

A recent case I heard about was a guy who worked in the Night Bazaar here in Chiang Mai. He and his wife own a store that sells amulets and small buddhas, well the police came around one day and told him he had to pay a fine because he was working. He was only just sitting there and not doing anything at all. But see how he got done was through his own admission, when asked if he did anything here he said "No i don't work, but if someone asks me a question I'll answer them with the required information" That's it your working and a 20,000 baht fine ensued.

You might thing much of Thai police but they are not stupid and police in any country know exactly how to get you to confess. They have methods that you are not aware of that trip you up and admit guilt, they are trained to do so. So if you decide to work illegally in Thailand you should train yourself in exactly what to say in the event they come knocking.

If your a musician your stuffed because you're carrying your guitar and sitting on stage singing etc there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Your F'd. Pay the find and be as polite as possible. However say you own a bar, you help run the staff poor drinks talk to customers etc. When the police come by admit nothing. It is scary when they start asking questions but you keep your cool and repeat over and over again "I don't work, I drink". Any question they ask repeat the same answer, don't smirk or look cocky, look really concerned and surprised and keep saying "I don't work, I drink".

Police: What's your name?
Pete: Pete
Police: This bar is called Pete?
Pete: Yes
Police: You own this bar?
Pete: Yes
Police: How long have you been running this bar?
Pete: 3 years.
Police: So you've been running this bar for 3 years show me your work permit!

What Pete should have said is I don't own the bar my wife does, I don't run the bar my wife does. Typically they will ask you a bunch of questions where you only have to say yes to until they are ready to ask you a trick question which you answer yes to that will trip you up and admit your guilt. Don't answer any question quickly and make no admission to anything you don't work and you don't know. Better off answering questions by refering to your wife/gf. Admit nothing.

Final thought here for you is the biggest reason people get caught working illegally in Thailand without a permit is someone dobbing them in. For those who don't know what dobbing is to turn someone in, in the case to turn someone in for working illegally. It is quintessentially un-Australian to be a dobber or dob someone in yet Thai people have no such qualms. In fact it is a known trait of Thai people to turn people in, especially if you are doing better than they are. So make sure your friends with the people you work around at all times, don't ruffle any feathers and give them a home made pie now and then to make sure they don't dob you in.

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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.

15 Responses to Working in Thailand without a Work Visa

  1. Gashbell February 23, 2012 at 12:30 am #

    I also would suggest for those of you that do speak Thai, it would be a good time for you to forget! Speak only in English and as fast as you can, so they don’t get a word of it. What you say doesn’t matter as much as how you say it. Be polite, shocked, confused, and apologetic as you can. Then hopefully they will be so frustrated with you that they will just let you go and chalk you up to being another stupid “Farang”. I know most think since I speak Thai, I should just use it and impress them. But in most cases it just makes it easier for them to fine you, and gives them proof that you have just been here way too long…

  2. Joe February 28, 2012 at 4:43 am #

    I worked two jobs for a while without a permit but didn’t get busted thankfully.

    I see lots of farangs working now doing jobs they probably wouldn’t get a work permit for compared to when I first came here.

    Saw a busker down on Silom the other day too. Is that working?

    • Chris February 28, 2012 at 4:49 am #

      There is no way you could get a permit for busking so yeah that’s illegal. There was a guy in Chiang Mai used to do magig at Thapae. He wasn’t very good but he did it for months. not sure if he got busted or not but your pretty stupid to do things in the open like that.

      • Elliott May 9, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

        What about working online? Websites, programming, etc etc.

  3. Edie March 11, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    Ok. I am sure this is a dumb question. I can understand the working-illegally-and-getting-away-with-it part. A person can stay under the radar, working online or whatever and not get caught “working”. What I don’t get is what kind of visa these people have that lets them live in Thailand year after year without getting thrown out. I mean single foreigners, not those married to a Thai. How long can a person get away with being a tourist? Or being on an education visa? I have heard the Thai government is cracking down on tourist and ed visas.

    • Chris March 11, 2012 at 5:17 pm #

      There are ways around everything, if you had an ed visa and was denied simply go back to your country or basically any Thai foreign embassy that is lenient on issueing visas and get a 1 year business visa. Queensland is said to be the easiest though with the right paperwork you could get one from any Thai embassy. Having “Friends” in the embassy is helpful. There are also volunteer visas. When they say cracking down on ed visas it usually means closing schools that don’t apply.

  4. Brad November 8, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

    Just pay the 7,000 Baht/year for a work visa and be done with it, no more looking over your shoulder all the time.

    • Chris November 9, 2013 at 10:35 am #

      well you’d need a company to sponsor you to do that, not always possible.

      • Brad November 11, 2013 at 9:36 am #

        Of course it is also possible to start your own Thai company and employ yourself. This is quite a big job though if you are simply looking for a bit of employment.

  5. Stuart G December 14, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    This was a really helpful article, thanks for posting.

    As a freelance web designer who has lived in CM for 2 years and gets most of his work from the UK, i’m fully aware that even just conducting business on this soil is classed as illegal. Been really wanting to tap into the local market but have held back through fear of getting “dobbed in” as you put it.

    If the consequences are likely to be nothing more than a 20K fine, and let’s face it, helping Thai businesses with online marketing is probably the craziest thing you could be fined for in this country, i’m tempted to start a little venture under the name of a Thai person I can trust. Not sure where to start with that part mind you!

    But yeah, maybe my fears of getting caught working here and being deported from the city I want to live in are unnecessary. As you stated, awareness of how deal with the unlikely event of a confrontation is whats gonna make or break you, so thanks for bringing it up.

    (Great blog BTW, keep finding it through Google whenever I search for the most random and sordid of questions and always enjoy the read ;-))

    • Chris January 27, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

      Thanks for reading. Working online doesn’t take jobs away from Thai’s so they could care less.

  6. michael July 20, 2015 at 4:24 pm #

    im an ethiopian im going to Bangkok after a month with family on vacation and im thinking on staying there but the problem is my visa is for vacation so if i stay there i have a lot of dis advantages like i dont know any one i have no where to stay……. but i know i can survive, i know i can work any job but its a good idea????

  7. Ajoy Tqmqng July 19, 2016 at 3:01 pm #

    I want to work n live in thailand..m indian from darjeeling
    Anyone help me

  8. Mark February 17, 2017 at 1:16 pm #

    I am living out in the sticks in issan, my wifes family have a shop which also has 2 petrol pumps, they get pretty busy cooking food, so i end up filling scooters and cars with gas. I dont get any pay for this. Could i get fined for just helping out ?

    • Chris February 18, 2017 at 12:25 pm #

      As long as you don’t piss anyone off no one will care. Best not to let anyone take photos of you doing this.

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