Thailand’s SMART Visa program: What you should know

A major obstacle for many foreigners looking to start a business in Thailand is the generally arduous procedure of obtaining a work permit and a non-immigrant type B visa and the laborious requirements of reporting and maintenance. With the SMART visa program, this process has been greatly simplified for qualified individuals.

The Thai government developed this program to encourage foreign investment in targeted industries believed to advance Thailand’s economy. And to further show their commitment to this endeavor, the government designated the expedient One Stop Service Center for Visas and Work Permits (OSS), located in central Bangkok, to process applications.

While the OSS is attached to Thailand’s Board of Investment (BOI), you do not need to have, or be employed by a company with BOI privileges to apply.

SMART visa applicants must be in an S-Curve industry

As defined by the Thai government, S-Curve industries are those designated as beneficial to Thailand’s economic and technological growth. These include medical tourism, biotechnology, robotics, and more. As part of the application process (which includes a record of your education, experience, publications, etc.), the OSS will contact the relevant ministries to obtain a determination whether your industry qualifies.

While many of these industries are promoted by the BOI, there are fewer requirements and lower investment thresholds for the SMART visa program. This way, investors or entities that may not be able to achieve BOI promotion can still receive benefits for contributing to Thailand’s development.

There are four different SMART visa categories

Here are the general requirements and privileges for the main SMART visa categories. Endorsements required are generally through the National Innovation Agency, the Digital Promotion Agency, or Strategic Talent Center network. According to conversations with SMART visa representatives (in July 2020), these endorsements are part of the process and do not require applicants to obtain them separately, unless specified.

There is a fifth category for spouses and dependents, but we are focused on the primary visa categories here:

Smart T: Talent

Requirements for: Highly skilled professionals employed in the private sector

  • Have at least a one-year employment contract, or at least one year left on current contract;
  • Be employed by a Thai or overseas company endorsed as being engaged in a targeted industry;
  • Be receiving an income from said employer of at least 100,000 baht a month (although there are cases where the minimum is 50,000 baht a month); and
  • Be endorsed as an expert in science or technology.

Requirements for: Experts working with government agencies, for certain education or training institutions, or in alternative dispute resolution (ADR)

  • Be engaged, with official documentation and employment contracts, as an expert by relevant agency or institution or be appointed to provide ADR services; and
  • Be endorsed as an expert for one of the targeted industries or, for ADR experts, be certified by sanctioned arbitration institute (either in Thailand or home country).

Privileges (same for both professionals and experts):

  • A renewable visa, valid for up to four years, with no re-entry permit requirements, while employment contract remains in effect;
  • Exemption from applying for a separate work permit;
  • An annual immigration reporting requirement, rather than every 90 days; and,
  • Same visa status for spouse and dependents, along with permission to work for both (dependents must be at least 18 years old to work and certain limitations on the type of employment apply).

Smart I: Investors

Regarding the investments in this section, SMART Visa officials must certify, before application, start-ups, technologies companies, and venture capital funds as qualified in targeted industries. A link to the most recent endorsed accelerator and incubator programs can be found below or at the SMART Visa website.

Requirements for investments of 5 million baht or more:

Requirements for investments of 20 million baht or more:

  • Be an individual investing at least 20 million baht in technology companies qualified as belonging to one of the targeted industries, either directly or through venture capital funds, which also must be certified.

Privileges (Same for both investment types)

  • A renewable visa valid for up to four years, with no re-entry permit requirements, while investment(s) still qualify;
  • Exemption from applying for a separate work permit;
  • An annual immigration reporting requirement, rather than every 90 days; and,
  • Same visa status for spouse and dependents, along with permission to work for the spouse (certain limitations on the type of employment apply).

Smart E: Entrepreneurs

Requirements:

  • Have a minimum one-year employment contract (or one year remaining in current contract) to work in Thailand either with a Thai or overseas employer, with an income of at least 200,000 a month;
  • Be employed by a company certified as being a technology company in one of the target sectors; and
  • Hold a senior management position (e.g. Chairman or Managing Director), having attained at least a bachelor’s degree or achieved a minimum 10 years’ relevant work experience.

Privileges:

  • A renewable visa valid for up to four years, with no re-entry permit requirements while employment contract remains in effect;
  • Exemption from applying for a separate work permit;
  • An annual immigration reporting requirement, rather than every 90 days; and
  • Same visa status for spouse and dependents, along with permission to work for the spouse (certain limitations on the type of employment apply).

Smart S: Start-up Entrepreneurs

Requirements: Foreigners who have already established a certified startup

  • Have established a startup certified as belonging to a targeted industry in Thailand, owning at least a 25% shareholding or holding a directorship;
  • Have at least 600,000 Baht (plus an additional 180,000 Baht for spouse and for each dependent also applying), or foreign currency equivalent, in a bank account either in Thailand or in country of residence that has been held for at least three months; and
  • Adequate health insurance coverage for applicant and, if applicable, for spouse and dependents for the duration of stay in Thailand.

Privileges (for established start-up)

  • A renewable visa valid for two years, with no re-entry permit requirements;
  • Exemption from applying for a separate work permit;
  • An annual immigration reporting requirement, rather than every 90 days; and,
  • Same visa status for spouse and dependents, along with permission to work for the spouse (certain limitations on the type of employment apply).

Requirements: Foreigners participating in qualifying programs or receiving qualified joint venture funding

  • Be participating in a government-endorsed incubator program, or have received endorsement or joint-venture funding from a Thai government agency, that is certified as a designated S-Curve industry;
  • Have at least 600,000 Baht (plus an additional 180,000 Baht for a spouse and each dependent also applying), or foreign currency equivalent, , in a bank account either in Thailand or in country of residence that has been held for at least three months; and
  • Adequate health insurance coverage for applicant and, if applicable, for spouse and dependents for the duration of stay in Thailand.

Privileges (for qualified participation)

  • A visa valid for one year, with no re-entry permit requirements, with a possible extension for up to two more years once applicant becomes an at least 25% shareholder or director in qualified company in targeted industry;
  • Exemption from applying for a separate work permit;
  • An annual immigration reporting requirement, rather than every 90 days; and,
  • Same visa status for spouse and dependents, along with permission to work for the spouse (certain limitations on the type of employment apply).

Requirements: Foreigners exploring startups in Thailand

  • Plan on setting up startup or on participating in an activity promoting startups or an activity like a Startup Camp; any of which endorsed by relevant government agencies.
  • Adequate health insurance coverage for applicant for the duration of stay in Thailand.

Privileges (for qualified participation)

  • A visa valid for up to six months, with no re-entry permit requirements, with a possible extension for up to two more years;
  • Exemption from applying for a separate work permit; and
  • An annual immigration reporting requirement, rather than every 90 days.

Think a SMART visa is the right path for you?

GPS Legal & Consulting is happy to answer your questions to help you decide whether you qualify and should apply for a SMART visa. Please contact us for a consultation so that we can help you start on your journey to doing business in Thailand.

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