I often get asked about job opportunities in Thailand for specific industries, and “Can I move to Thailand and work as a [enter job here].
The answer is usually no – because Thailand prohibits foreign nationals from working in many areas of industry.
The large majority of the restricted positions are trades; jobs that require a specific skill set. The reason for the prohibition is to ensure that Thai nationals aren't priced out of the market, or even out-skilled, which would lead to job losses and increased poverty – particularly among the lower classes.
But what about free market capitalism?
I hear you. Surely the more competition the better for the consumer: skill levels rise and pricing becomes more competitive.
It's not that simple. And here's why…
Why Thailand Prohibits Foreign Nationals from Certain Jobs
The problem is that prices are already low in a number of trades, mainly, because, unlike in the West, trades like plumbing, massage/beauty, and taxi driving just aren't valued. They are seen as inherently low-paid jobs reserved for those with a lack of further education.
In contrast, where I'm from (the UK), a good plumber, plasterer or electrician is highly valued and worth holding onto, as is a cab driver who knows the West End like the back of his hand. Those in these areas of industry make very good money.
But, imagine if there was an influx of hairdressers to Thailand from Laos or Malaysia, all willing to cut hair at half the price because they are prepared to accept lower living standards in exchange for being able to send money back home to mom and dad for a better life.
This would heavily impact an already saturated labour market and price Thais out.
Conversely, imagine if plumbers and plasterers from the West were allowed to work in Thailand. They would charge more, but a lot less than back home because they don't need to earn as much to live.
So now you have a choice: hire Somchai to plaster your living room for 1,000 Baht, or Derek for 3,000 Baht.
Given the difficulty of finding reliable, competent tradesman in Thailand, I think a lot of foreign nationals would choose Derek. I also think the Hi-So Thais might consider hiring Western tradesman to elevate face and show their wealth, and get a better job done (maybe).
This type of situation would be unacceptable in a highly patriotic country like Thailand. People would get very upset if they saw foreign businesses sprouting up everywhere that directly competed with the industry they work in.
Never forget the words of the Thai national anthem
Thailand unites the flesh and blood of Thais.
The land of Thailand belongs to the Thais.
Thais always come first. That's how it should be, right?
Am I missing something here? Let me know in the comments section.
1. Prohibited Jobs for Foreigners In Thailand
These occupations are strictly prohibited with no exceptions:
- Wood carving
- Driving motor vehicles, driving a non-mechanically propelled carrier or driving a domestic mechanically propelled carrier, except for piloting international aircraft or forklift driving
- Auction (holding auctions, or running an auction house)
- Cutting or polishing diamonds or precious stones
- Haircutting, hairdressing or beauty treatment
- Cloth weaving (by hand)
- Mat weaving or utensil making from reeds, rattan, hemp, straw, bamboo, bamboo pellicle, grass, chicken feather, coconut leaf stick, fibre, wire or other materials
- Mulberry paper making (by hand)
- Lacquerware making
- Making Thai musical instruments
- Niello ware making
- Gold ornament, silverware or pink gold making
- Bronze ware making
- Thai doll making
- Alms bowl making
- Silk products making (by hand)
- Buddha image making
- Paper or cloth umbrella making
- Brokerage or agency work, except brokerage or agency working in international trade or investment
- Thai massage
- Cigarette rolling by hand
- Tour guide or sightseeing tour operation
- Manual typesetting of Thai characters
- Silk reeling and twisting (by hand)
- Clerical or secretarial work
- Legal services or services in legal proceedings, except for the following occupations: Performing duties of arbitration. Providing assistance or representation in the arbitral proceedings in the event that the law applicable to the dispute being considered by the arbitrators is not the Thai law
2. Prohibited Jobs with Conditional Exception
These occupations are prohibited but with a condition whereby an international agreement or obligation to which Thailand is bound under law may permit work.
- Controlling, auditing, performing or providing accounting services, except:
- Occasional internal audit work
- Work under international agreements or obligations to which Thailand is bound, which the Professional Association provides a certificate
- Civil engineering concerning counselling, project planning, design and calculation, construction supervision or manufacturing, inspection, administration work to organise the system, research and test, except those who are registered under the ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) and other international agreements
- Professional architectural work concerning project study, design, construction management and supervision, inspection or consulting, except for professional architects under the ASEAN MRA for architectural services and other international agreements
3. Skilled & Semi-Skilled Foreign Worker Exceptions
The following is a list of prohibited jobs that allow for an exception for foreigners when working for an employer.
- Agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry or fishery
- Bricklaying, carpentry or construction works
- Mattress or quilt blanket making
- Knife making
- Hat making
- Dress making
- Pottery or ceramic ware making
4. Foreign Worker Exceptions Under Treaties
The following are prohibited occupations which a foreigner may work in if 1. they have an employer, 2. they are permitted to enter Thailand by Immigration Law under a Memorandum of Understanding between the Thai government and the foreign government:
- Labour (manual work and menial work that requires physical strength)
- Shop front selling at a wholesale or retail establishment, as well as selling goods at stalls or shops located in markets or by roadsides
If you're looking for jobs you can do, check out my job opportunities post.
Prosecution for Working Illegally In Thailand
The Department of Employment issues strict penalties for those found in violation of employment law.
Companies found to be hiring a foreign worker without a work permit face a fine between 10,000 and 100,000 Baht per worker.
Repeat offenders can face up to 1-year in jail and a further find of 50,000 to 200,000 Baht. The offending company will also receive a three-year ban on the hiring of foreign workers.
As an employee, you can expect to receive a fine between 5,000 and 50,000 Baht, and possibly be deported
For employees, any foreigner found to be working without a work permit or working beyond what is permitted by Thai law, face fines of between 5,000 and 50,000 baht and could also be deported.
There are those who will say “they never check”, or say that it's easy to “live below the radar”. In some cases this is true, but the Ministry of Labour and Department of Employment make it very easy to report a person you suspect of working illegally.
There is a hotline number, 1506 (option 2), and 1694, respectively. A neighbor you have fallen out with, a Thai or foreign national that has taken a disliking to you or envies you in some way, may just drop you in the doghouse.
Special thank you to Acclime for assisting with the information in this post. Check them out for accounting, tax, HR & advisory services in Thailand.