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Immigration Crackdown on Digital Nomads in Chiang Mai, Thailand (johnnyfd.com)
78 points by cbovis on Oct 1, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 86 comments



They ever showed the officers letters saying that they were operation a coworking space which is similar to an internet cafe, and that no one here is working for a Thai company or making Thai wages, meaning they are not taking Thai jobs or working illegally.

Unfortunately this is not how Thai law views this kind of thing. If you're earning money in Thailand then you need all the right permits and paperwork. It doesn't matter if you're not working for a Thai company or doing business in Thailand. They've let this kind of thing slide for a long time but the new junta is cracking down hard on all kinds of visa violations.

Those of us in Vietnam and Cambodia are expecting an influx of Thai expat refugees.


    > Unfortunately this is not how Thai law views this kind
    > of thing. If you're earning money in Thailand then you
    > need all the right permits and paperwork. It doesn't
    > matter if you're not working for a Thai company or doing 
    > business in Thailand.
The problem is what you've just said isn't true - it might be true, and no-one has any damn idea. Immigration give consistently mixed messages, as does the Labour department. If it was a cut and dry as you suggest, no-one would work here, but it's not.


Nothing is cut and dry in Southeast Asia, particularly when the government has just been thrown out of power by the military. The first thing you learn when living here is not to expect anything to make sense or work the way it should in your view of what's logical or practical.

Certainly Thailand has a history of being much more strict about this kind of thing than its neighbors though.


Peter is correct. Cageface is wrong. No one is influxing to Vietnam, especially after the internet there was cut for the second time in the past few months. There is currently no Visa that fits the needs of a digital nomad. The business visa is too complex as DMs aren't actually working for a Thai company. Which means a Tourist Visa is actually the best suited visa currently.

The solution would for Thailand to create an easy to obtain Tourist+ Visa which would cost more but would allow the tourist to also work on their online businesses while here, as long as it doesn't interfere with local Thai businesses, accept Thai baht, have Thai customers, or take away Thai jobs.

Digital Nomads would happily pay $300+ for a 1 year, multiple entry TR+ visa if it existed.


That's a stupid thing to do. I know from podcasts that there are Russian companies who let their Russian developers stay in Thailand on a business visa, developing their product for Russian audience.

What does Thailand gains by scaring those people? After all they spend a lot of their wage money there. What's the downside?


On a business visa it sounds strange, assuming it's a type of business visa that allows "productive work" (as opposed to meetings/taking instruction, which is generally ok on less stringent visa types, or).

On a tourist visa, or "non-working" business visa, it is commonly illegal to do work even if for a foreign company and for a foreign market in many, maybe most, countries.

The visas don't tend to take into consideration the nationality of the company you work for, or the notional audience, because it'd make it trivial to work around (set up a "foreign" company owned by some trust to hire you, set up another foreign company to buy what you build, and have said companies contract with a local company), instead they regulate the type of activity you can engage in.

(e.g. I used to


To clarify - you can't work on a Non-B (Business) visa.

You can attend meetings, sign contracts, make investments etc.

Non-B visas are also needed if you want to get a work permit. You can't get a work permit whilst on a tourist visa.

Starting your own company in order to get a work permit requires 2,000,000 baht ($62,000) of registered capital and social security payments 4 Thai employees. There is also reasonably sized list of businesses you cannot start. You also can't own your businesses outright unless it's approved by the Board of Investment.

It's very difficult to do business there legally.


Yes it would be unwise. The authorities let everyone go once they figure out what was going on - they seemed to think the people were employees of the cafe...

The policy is fairly straightforward, but letting people do "digital nomad" work while trying to stop those taking jobs in a country isn't so easy.

A bunch of countries in SE Asia seem to have economic development people in favor of attracting these people to their country. But coordinating with the immigration enforcement authorities isn't very well developed (given the systems in place this isn't an easy problem it will likely be messy for awhile).

And if long term visitors are seen as negative (often for acting out and making asses of themselves) this can lead to crackdowns. A few jerks are very noticeable, so a large community of good visitors can be seen as a negative based on just a few bad actors.


thinking as a thai junta member: if you want to stay here, and work here, please be kind enough as to pay 40% of your wage in taxes rather than spend 5% on fried rice.


But that's the thing, it's 2014, it's not working there, it's working on the internet, which is everywhere. Laws need to change to accommodate telecommuting workers, no way I would pay my taxes twice.


It's not where you work that governments tends to ultimately be concerned about, but whether or not you are consuming local government services, since that's what the taxes are meant to pay for.

As a short term tourist, you're a valuable resource. As a long term resident, you may very quickly become a net drain if you pay your tax somewhere else.

And for most people, if they live and work in Thailand most of the time, they will either not pay tax in their home country, or will pay tax proportional to the amount of time they live there, on the expectation that someone who is resident outside the country most of the time will not expend much local resources.

Laws have dealt with this kind of scenario for a very long time since it's been an issue in border areas pretty much "forever" that people try all kinds of creative methods to cut their tax costs. There's nothing particularly new here with the internet other than magnitude.

The biggest notable exception that can cause expensive double taxation is the US, since the IRS likes to get their hands on US citizens income regardless where they live, but even in that case it's ameliorated substantially for most countries via double taxation treaties.


This logic is flawed. When does a tourist cross from being profitable to being a drain?

The tax argument only holds water if your income is earned in the country you are living in. That money came from a system that is supported by government and shared infrastructure and services. So yes, there is a strong legal and economic argument saying if you earn money from Thailand you should pay taxes in Thailand. The key here being earning money in/from Thailand.

But if you are visiting Thailand, but earning money in the US and paying taxes in the US, it's pretty difficult to say that you are a net drain.

You absolutely are equivalent economically to a tourist as far as your impact on the economy is concerned. As a non-local citizen, you won't have access to state health care (if it's provided) or anything else tax paying citizens have access to. And your absence from the country would be a net negative value since you will be paying $0 into the local economy instead of room and board, internet connectivity, and general consumption, which all can be taxed with a VAT.

Edit: Also, I promise I'm not trying to be an internet jerk :). But I'm not sure what you mean by laws have had to deal with this exact scenario for a long time.

They haven't.

Generally speaking, the common case is for people to evade taxes by leaving where you earn money and claiming to be a citizen of some other country with more lenient tax laws. Which is the total inverse of this scenario.


Why would you pay them twice? Pay them once, in the country you actually live in.


These are called tax treaties - each individual treaty has some different rules regarding where incomes are earned and where taxes are owning. As an example, here is one between Thailand and Canada:

http://www.fin.gc.ca/treaties-conventions/thailand_-eng.asp


As I understand it, the US is the only country that taxes you on income abroad. So why would there be double taxation elsewhere?


More than 2 dozen countries, including China, tax their citizens and permanent residents on their worldwide income. However, as a practical matter only the U.S. actually attempts to enforce its income tax laws on a worldwide basis.

The U.S. and China both offer an expatriate exemption (first $100k in income for the US) and foreign tax credits against U.S./China taxes for local country income taxes paid.


When I lived in Vietnam I paid more in VAT alone than 50% of a typical Vietnamese college graduate's income. It would be totally ridiculous to say I was mooching off the taxpayers of Vietnam.


You are not mooching, but you are not being squeezed as much as possible.

If you spend $5 a day while earning $5000 a month, it's better to have one person who really loves the country and wants to stay paying income taxes, rather than 100 staying and paying VAT.

The typical government member in my experience tends to think in terms of "people will just pay more" rather than "they will go somewhere else".

EDIT: Moreover: how should a government discriminate? If you are working for a company in Norway you are probably earning better than someone working for a company in laos. If both of you are residing in vietnam, should I expect the latter to spend more in VAT than 50% of the vietnamese college graduates ?


> The typical government member in my experience tends to think in terms of "people will just pay more" rather than "they will go somewhere else".

That's a pretty stupid viewpoint in this context, considering I've already demonstrated my willingness to leave and go somewhere cheaper (Canada -> Vietnam). You'd think they'd rather have something from me than nothing.


Stronger shoulders carry larger burdens, and all that.

In the Netherlands, for example, >50% of income tax is received from the 10% highest earners. So it's not unreasonable to expect a high earner to contribute accordingly.

EDIT: Heavy downvoting, but this is how things are in most Western democracies, like it or not.


You're making the common mistake of assuming there's come kind of rational, centralized decision making process at work here.

As longer term expats tend to say "TIT" (aka this is Thailand). Don't expect it to be consistent or make sense to a Western mind.


What are some such podcasts or companies? Sounds like an interesting topic.

[Email in my profile.]


http://habrahabr.ru/post/131223/ This is the podcast, and the company in question is aviasales.ru.


I'll ask my Thai lawyer whether or not using Skype and checking emails is illegal in Thailand.


It's not illegal unless you get specifically paid for doing that type of thing. Eg. if you are doing a secretarial job and get paid for checking email and answering skype.

Not that it hurts to ask your Thai lawyer for a confirmation.


> Unfortunately this is not how Thai law views this kind of thing.

Or EU law. Non-EU people cannot just come to EU countries and work as freelancer.


Or US law. A Thai citizen can't come to the US with a tourist visa and work there as a freelancer either, as far as I know.


But that's not being a freelancer at all. I have a business registered in the UK, my clients are international, I pay all business taxes in the UK, but I will occasionally spend a couple months abroad, I'm not freelancing or even doing local business. I'm just staying there as a tourist, visiting, enjoying local life, while still being able to run my business.


It's very unlikely to work that way for most jurisdictions.

Let's look at the situation if you had a US-based company and you visited the UK. While you were in the UK you did some work. The UK tax office will interpret that as meaning you are earning money within the UK jurisdiction and therefore you owe money. In this specific case there are set limits of days for when 'work' is deemed to have taken place, and you would handle it through the double taxation between UK-USA. But, to be clear in this simple example you would incur UK tax.

I can't imagine which jurisdictions you're visiting that would not interpret you as "working".


Does that mean I'm not allowed to check my work emails if I take a vacation in Thailand or EU?


I've wondered about this but haven't found a clear answer. If I'm working on some projects under a US LLC, does it count as "work" in whatever country I'm currently in? Do I have to pay local taxes? Get a visa? And what does it mean for my tax situation in the US?

Our laws weren't written for this manner of work, so I wonder how it's going to get resolved.


Generally you should assume that yes, it will count as work in whatever country you're currently in, and doing it on a tourist visa is often illegal.

In practice it will depend on exactly what you do, and where. E.g. I used to travel to US a lot on the visa waiver scheme, and was briefed by an expensive US immigration lawyer on how to answer immigration questions out of concern that if I were to answer the wrong thing I might get turned away even without actually ever doing anything wrong.

In the US the general rule is that if you visit without a business visa, you can not do "productive work". That is, you can go to meetings and take instructions from your employer or a client, answer e-mails (but work you may need to do to be able to answer it may in theory not be allowed), or negotiate a contract, but you can't work on a project. In practice US immigration is pretty flexible as long as you're not taking the piss or give them reasons for concerns, and never overstay. Other countries can vary substantially - some will see you as an income stream for their country, others will see you as a nuisance, and treat you accordingly.

When it comes to taxation, you should assume that yes, you have to pay local taxes unless you specifically know otherwise. In most countries there will be a time threshold and/or a matter of what work you do, and often you won't be able to stay long enough or do work that incurs taxation on the most basic business visas anyway. 3 or 6 months is a common threshold before being considered resident for tax purposes, but tax liabilities can be incurred before you're considered resident some places. In many cases there will be treaties in place that regulates which country you should be taxing to if you're ordinarily resident - or a citizen - somewhere else.

If you're a US citizen, you have the added complication that the IRS considers its jurisdiction over US citizens as global, and so you need to check the situation before you do work abroad, as the absence of a tax treaty regulating income taxes can in the worst case mean you'll get taxed twice.

And yes, our laws were written for this manner of work. People have been travelling across borders to work for centuries. There's an extensive amount of treaties and case law dedicated to handling this, and large numbers of lawyers specialising on giving advice on how to deal with this.


Our laws have covered this type of work for decades. There is even an established international framework for dealing with these types of situations.

For tax purposes, the type of visa is irrelevant. What matter is whether the country has a tax treaty with the U.S. If you work while you're on vacation or otherwise temporarily in another country with which the US has a tax treaty, you generally shouldn't be subject to local country taxation. At the same time, however, you will remain fully subject to U.S. taxation on that income (assuming you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident).

If you stay in another country long enough to become subject to income taxation in that country, you will continue to owe taxes to the U.S., though you should generally be able to offset some or all of those local country income taxes paid. The U.S. generally provides a roughly $100k exemption for individuals; there is no exemption for business entities.

If this is really a concern for you, you should probably talk to a lawyer or an accountant.


What initially seemed like an issue turned out to be a potential win for digital nomads (at least in Thailand).

"Although one of the people detained is extremely worried and does not want her name associated at all with todays events, in the long run, I believe this is a win for location independent entrepreneurs. After checking my passport and seeing that I'm on a valid tourist visa and haven't overstayed, and that I have no blacklist or warrants internationally, I was free to go.

I even hung out at immigration a tiny bit longer and got my 30 day extension while I was there. The owners of PunSpace were also nice enough to give us all another month for free for the trouble."


Exactly.

It does indeed look like Chiang Mai will not enforce laws prohibiting digital nomads from working.

If anyone wants to know more about Thai immigration law in regards to Digital Nomads:

http://ashleyconnor.co.uk/blog/2014/09/07/the-digital-nomad-...


According to the Alien Working Act of 2008 quoted in the article even using a washing machine would be considered work by Thai Law:

    “work” means engaging in work by exerting energy or using knowledge whether or not in consideration of wages or other benefit;


I personally wouldn't work from Punspace or anywhere similar in Thailand until the laws are clarified. It's too risky. Even when not under military rule, the Thai state, police and immigration change laws - or their interpretation of them - on a whim.

One day the laws will change without notice or they'll come looking for tea-money and all the rich farang workers (on tourist visas) herded together in somewhere like Punspace will be like shooting fish in a barrel for them. It won't matter that the work is being done for foreign companies. The digital-nomad type aren't the priority of Thailands tourist board. They typically spend very little compared to the rich Chinese and Japanese tourist they try to attract.

I'd rather do any work from my hotel room or condo or from somewhere like wawee coffee where you would have plausible deniability than a designated 'co-workers space' - where the only reason you would be there is to work.


Although this appears to have been a misunderstanding, the government has warned that it would stop visa-runs [1]. So it's possible the people here won't be able to get a new tourist visa for some time.

[1] http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/investigation/423791/coming-...


The government has been applying more scrutiny to foreigners who repeatedly leave and re-enter on 30 day visa exemptions. Actual visas (tourist or otherwise) have not been affected by this (though some have had other, minor changes).

Immigration provides Thai consulates with guidelines for how to assess visa applications, but each consulate's process is different. In the case of acquiring a tourist visa from the Thai consulate in Vientiane, Laos (one of the looser ones where a lot of visa runners go), they tend not to ask many questions until you've acquired at least three back-to-back tourist visas. Considering that one tourist visa can be extended to provide around 90 days in the Kingdom, that's a lot of time in Thailand!

For the digital nomad crowd, 9 months in Thailand is still pretty easy to do with a visa run to Laos every 90 days. People are doing it every day and I haven't heard of anyone getting knocked back as long as they have their paperwork in order and pay their visa fees.


Most digital nomads have an actual visa (albeit a tourist one) rather than a visa exempt stamp, so the crackdown on visa runs isn't really an issue.


I'm not surprised at all.

In Canada, nobody is allowed to work on a Visitor Permit (Tourist Visa). Here, the definition of work is earning money in any way. In fact, they take it a step further: you can't even volunteer for a job that others get paid for! A Work Permit is required (getting which is a lengthy and tedious process without any guarantees whatsoever).

US too is similar in this regard, although many companies misuse the B1/B2 business visa for work. Though legally speaking, it's not allowed.


TL;DR: Some people are idiots and don't carry passports with them AT ALL TIMES when travelling abroad.

AFAIK, having a legal identification document at all times is a legal requirement even for citizens in the EU, or at least in Slovenia.


Carrying a copy of your passport is an excellent idea. Carrying your actual passport around is a great way to lose it and spend the rest of your vacation in an immigration office dealing with paperwork.


Ya I carried a laminated two-sided copy of the info and signature page of my passport scaled down to the size of a credit card/driver's license. Worked throughout Western Europe and Latin America for authorizing credit card purchases in person and entry into venues. Cost me $2 to make at FedEx Office/Kinkos and an employee did it all for me, since I came at an off-peak hour. Of course at official border crossings, you need the real passport.


+ driving license as valid ID.


Driver licenses are useless as IDs abroad.


I live outside of the US for most of the year and can say that my driver's license is not at all useless as an ID.

In fact, I have been at police checkpoints in two countries where they refused to see my passport and specifically requested that I present my driver's license - but these were both when I was driving, of course.


An Australian one is fine in the UK, you can even drive using one.


That's pretty amazing how Australians can use a driver's license to drive a car.


They will actually sometimes accept them here in Vietnam for various things but Vietnam is still kind of the wild west legally. Certainly not a good idea to count on it.


They are useless in China, but mine expired 8 years ago.


At least in Germany driving licenses aren't valid ID.


I was just fine with drivers license for random check.


It depends on why they're checking you and what mood they're in. Often times they'll accept it just to make everybody's life easier, but they don't have to.


No such requirement in the UK, although it can be helpful in that if you are stopped by the police and they don't believe you are who you say you are, then they _may_ detain you until your identity can be confirmed.


No such requirement in Germany either. We have a national ID that you're required to have somewhere but you're not required to have it on you. Same as above, though: in case you're involved in some fracas, they may detain you until your identity can be checked.


Papers please!


Some would argue what carrying your passport at all times is riskier than facing a small fine.


I would advise you to at least keep a copy of it. In France that I know best, they could book you up to four hours to find your identity without any suspicion of wrongdoing. But if you carry a copy of it, everything changes, because now they have to either accept it as true or make a case for falsification of papers ID.


Same in Thailand. The copy is not legally valid, but helps a lot when asked for your ID. If you show enough respect to the officer then it might be sufficient.

Side note I lived in Thailand for several years and was never asked for an ID.


It's not a legal requirement in Thailand. Whomever is telling them this is wrong.


Yes, but it's a super good idea if you're getting out of major cities. I've been stopped on trains a few times and asked for my passport. If you can't produce it, you get 24-48 hours to produce at a police station, which is a ballache


> AFAIK, having a legal identification document at all times is a legal requirement even for citizens in the EU, or at least in Slovenia.

Nowhere in EU countries there a requirement for their citizens to _carry_ a legal ID. Some may require you to _possess_ at least a valid one (at home maybe) and all of them require that you are _able to be identified_ by police officers (this means you accept to go to a police station to check your identity).


Did you do a web search before you wrote that?

The first hit when I did:

http://www.iamsterdam.com/en-GB/living/official-matters/comp...

"In 2005 the Dutch government introduced a law to improve public safety stating that everyone must be able to produce valid identification when requested by the police or supervisory officials. Those who fail to produce vailid identification risk being fined. Read on to learn more about valid identification, and to whom the law is applicable."


That's correct. Everybody needs to be able to produce an ID when asked for it by the police. Note however that it is not common for police to ask you for your ID, so not everybody carries it at all times. You get a fine if you don't have it on you or the police can take you to their station.

link (in dutch) http://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/paspoort-en-identifi...


> Nowhere in EU countries there a requirement for their citizens to _carry_ a legal ID.

To all the downvoters: please PROVIDE A SOURCE (bill, act, legal review, any language is OK) that states that a citizen of a EU country must _carry_ a legal ID while staying in that country.

Please note I wrote in the original comment and in this comment _carry_, not _provide_.

As I wrote, there are states that require you to _provide_ an ID to police officers. But that doesn't mean that you have to _carry_ it with you all the time, just that you can go back home to take it or go to a police station and be identified there.


Please do not post authoritative-sounding advise when you obviously don't know anything about the issue. There are several EU countries where carrying legal ID at all times is law.


I'm fairly certain it's a requirement in France.


Not that I know of. At least, for French citizens, within the scope of identity checks ("contrôle d'identité"), you need to be able to prove your identity but there is no required list of established means to do so (and some are not even documents, e.g., appeal to a witness): http://vosdroits.service-public.fr/particuliers/F1036.xhtml#...

The relevant article of the penal procedure code ("Code de procédure pénale"), 78-2, is especially broad: "by any mean" ("par tout moyen").

To my knowledge, the French state does not even require that a French citizen even requests or obtains an identity card or a passport (although having some ID document may be useful in practice).


From living in France, I always had the impression it was mandatory. All of my French friends thought it was bizarre that I would go out without my UK passport on me as they always kept their ID card with them at all times. My girlfriend's (whose French) parents never drive anywhere without ID on them (in addition to their driving license) and used to have a go at me for not doing the same.

All anecdotal though and maybe you're right that the letter of the law does not require it. The UK certainly doesn't.

I never had an encounter with the gendarmes in the 5 years I lived there so I never found out first hand.

Edit: looks like you're right. This article does a nice job of breaking it down: http://rue89.nouvelobs.com/2011/12/26/fouilles-controles-did...


What I said applies to French citizens, not foreigners. For foreigners the situation is less clear, in some cases you need to be able to show your passport and visa http://vosdroits.service-public.fr/particuliers/F31208.xhtml -- if you are within the scope of a visa exemption I would imagine that you would need to justify it by producing a passport of the correct nationality and supporting documents if any.

(Personally, I always keep my passport with me when travelling abroad.)

In France I always have my ID with me but I know friends who don't (e.g., did not bother replacing a lost ID). Having lived 24 years in France I have never been asked to produce ID by the police or gendarmes. (That said, I am white, not often involved in demonstrations and such, etc.; other people's experiences may vary. :-/)


generally It's not required for nationals, but mandatory for foreigners.


It is in Germany.


It's not a requirement in the UK.


it is not a legal requirement in the UK, which is in the EU.


The title is misleading. There was no crackdown on digital nomads. It was a misunderstanding.


The title was not misleading when he created the post. The update ended up clarifying the situation later.


UPDATES From the article:

Update: The last of us volunteered to come to immigration on our own. We drove there unescorted. Turns out they thought we were employees of Punspace which is untrue. We're all still here but good news so far is that they aren't targeting digital nomads.

Update: At Thai immigration near the airport, everyone got interviewed but were treated extremely kindly. It ended up taking a few hours and felt like a big waste of time, but nothing bad actually happened. The owners of PunSpace were even nice enough to bring us lunch. - See more at: http://www.johnnyfd.com/2014/09/live-updates-immigration-cra...


It seems that they should just creste a nomad visa. Charge 3% income tax when people are being payed by an out of country entity.


Wonder if this is just a simple case of misinterpretation.

Nomads talking to person1: We work at PunSpace, you should check it out!

person1: Cool! So you guys must have work visas then?

Nomads: No, you don't need a visa to work there :)

person1: Oh really! That's awesome.

Then someone else overheard and thought Nomads are actually working for PunSpace company.


I'm assuming the wage disparity between digital nomad and local thai would be wide and offensive to the immigration officers — but that would really help explain why anyone would want to do that. It also shows the importance of having well-informed civil servants.


     > I'm assuming the wage disparity between digital nomad
     > and local thai would be wide and offensive to the 
     > immigration officers
The standard Thai response to foreigners having lots of money is not offence, it's opportunity.


Indeed it's usually wealthy countries that tends to have the strictest immigration laws. Many poorer countries will even let you buy full residency for a near pittance by western standards.


But don't all countries have laws like that? If you are paid in country x, you have to have a work visa for x and have to pay taxes on it. In some countries, you pay taxes on the money you make abroad as well, even if you don't ever intend to bring the money. For example, on an L visa in US, I was paid salary in my home country and an allowance in US. At home I got taxed on just the salary, but in US I had to pay taxes for the salary I got back home as well.


The title is in-accurate and should be changed to "Digital Nomads caught in mistaken police raid". They are not cracking down.


yep the title its a bit misleading, makes you think that you guys where doing something illegal lol, but it was just an ordinary check, thats all




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