The situation for foreigners in Thailand has changed a lot due to a number a reasons, and considering the current trends it’s worth to ask the question: Is Thailand Good for Digital Nomads?
Thailand has always been one of the first destinations for anyone who was ready to quit the rat race and start a more interesting life project. I have heard and read, on and offline dozens of people who were ready to take the leap and move to a sunny place, with pretty girls and try to make a less miserable routine for themselves: Thailand, always came to be as one of the first options.
During the last 5 years or so the situation in Thailand has dramatically changed for foreigners and it has caused both positive and negative effects for its inhabitants, depending on their inspirations and socioeconomic role in the Thai society.
When it comes to digital nomads, from the first glance Thailand seems to gather all of the best qualities any plae can have for people who work remotely: an appealing climate, a relatively low cost of living, a liberal society without the influence of sensitive religions in its daily life, an exquisite cuisine, beautiful women, cheap work force, a good place for shopping, unparalleled natural beauty, the list goes on… theoretically, Thailand has it all. But, considering the current economic and political outlook of this Southeastern Asian nation, Is Thailand good for digital nomads?
The Tourism Industry Boom In Thailand
Despite the rather complicated times in the political scenario that Thailand faced in 2013 and 2014, Tourism is Thailand is still on the rise, as we can confirm by the rise in passenger traffic in Bangkok’s main airport Suvarnabhumi Airport which had an increase in passenger traffic of 36% since 2008 and finished 2015 with 52 milions passengers. The increase in Chiang Mai’s airport is more sharper, which almost doubled its traffic in the last 3 years and receive more than 8 milion passengers in 2015.
Even if some of this traffic is of Thai citizens, it only ratifies the Thai government expectations of receiving 100 milion tourists per year in 2032. Evidently for the Thai economy, tourism has been proven to be a good business, but on the other hand it has raised the cost of living in Thailand.
Cost of Living in Thailand
One of the biggest appeals of Thailand has been its low cost of living, but that is unfortunately changing. As we can see from this World Bank data report, Thailand GDP per capita has doubled in less than ten years, and this fact combined with the tourism boom in Thailand made rent prices in Bangkok to be greater than those of many European capitals like Budapest or Lisbon. If you compare Bangkok with cities like Prague or Bratislava(which is very expensive for what it offers) with the Thai capital on numbeo.com, you will see that Bangkok is overall more expensive than both European capitals.
Chiang Mai is still far cheaper than Bangkok in each and every aspect of the daily life, but it has a very similar cost of living as other cities in South East Asia with possibility more things to do like: Hanoi, Manila and Ho Chi Minh City.
Visa Policy Changes in Thailand
Until 2014, most OECD citizens could get a 3 months passport stamp on arrival when flying into Thailand, then, most of them would do a visa run to Myanmar, and keep their never ending crescendo of happiness in Thailand. However, the political situation in the government led policy makers to slash stamps to up to 1 month for most OECD countries, and imposed further regulations on visa runs.
This was terrible news for digital nomads, and the key point of being a digital nomad is to be able to move freely without a lot of compromise. So in most cases foreigners that wish to stay in South East Asia either arrange grounds for a longer stay visa (studies, marriage, etc), or just move on to a place with not so restrictive visa policies (namely Cambodia and Vietnam).
Thailand did again another critical change in its visa policy in the second half of 2015, making the situation for digital nomads a bit less miserable. From November 13, 2015, any foreign national is entitled to apply for a 6 month tourist visa when applying from his home country, which is certainly a massive improvement if you plan to visit Thailand seasonally (e.g. stay in Thailand during winter in the Northern Hemisphere). You can read more about this new visa here.
Is Thailand Good for Doing Business as a Digital Nomad?
One option that many cogitate is to open a business in Thailand, that sounds good for a start but it involves a lot of red tape, and the most complicated point is the fact that you obliged by law to have a Thai partner in your business. If you happen to be that lucky to have a Thai person with which you have a strong bond of trust, it might be an option, but if you are just the average digital nomad, you might be better off visiting Thailand for just 1 month and running away as fast as you can to a more friendlier jurisdiction.
To summarize it, if someone was to ask me the question “Is Thailand Good for Digital Nomads?” I would have probably answered yes 10 years ago, but currently, unless you have a Thai wife or you have a visa for retirement, I’d probably not consider Thailand for anything longer than 1 month.