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 recently implemented 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 progress the Thailand 4.0 objectives. 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. Specifically,

  • Next-Generation Automotive
  • Smart Electronics
  • Affluent, Medical and Wellness Tourism
  • Agriculture and Biotechnology
  • Food for the Future
  • Automation and Robotics
  • Aviation and Logistics
  • Biofuels and Biochemicals
  • Digital
  • Medical Hub

While many of these industries are covered under 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

Smart T: Highly skilled professionals with scientific and/or technological expertise.

Applicants must:

  • Have at least a one-year employment contract with an employer in Thailand with a salary of at least 200,000 a month, before benefits;
  • Be employed by a company in Thailand certified in one of the designated S-Curve industries; and,
  • Be proven as a qualified scientific or technological expert in the designated S-Curve industry.

To receive:

  • A visa, valid for up to four years, with no re-entry permit requirements, while their 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

Applicants must:

  • Be an individual investing at least 20 million Baht in one or more Thailand company(ies), certified as an S-Curve industry for the duration of the SMART visa’s validity.

To receive:

  • A visa valid for up to four years, with no re-entry permit requirements, while their 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

Applicants must:

  • Have a minimum one-year employment contract with a Thailand employer, with a salary of at least 200,000 a month, before benefits;
  • Be employed by a Thailand company, certified as a designated S-Curve industry; and,
  • Hold a senior management position, having attained at least a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 10 years’ relevant work experience.

To receive:

  • A visa valid for up to four years, with no re-entry permit requirements while their 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

Applicants must:

  • 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 fixed savings account with at least one year left until maturity;
  • Adequate health insurance coverage for applicant and, if applicable, for spouse and dependents;
  • 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; and,
  • Establish a company in an S-Curve industry in Thailand, owning at least a 25% shareholding or holding a directorship.

To receive:

  • A visa valid for one year, with no re-entry permit requirements, with a possible extension for up to two more years (requirements TBA);
  • 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).

*A list of government-endorsed incubator programs is currently being compiled. Please contact GPS Legal for the current list.

Certified S-Curve Industries?

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. But for a one-time fee of 10,000 Baht for each year for each person (e.g. a family of four applying for a four-year visa would have to pay 160,000 baht), any initial cumbersome document compiling will be rewarded with a relatively hassle-free stay in Thailand.

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.