The Thailand SMART Visa: Everything You Need to Know

When Thailand first announced it would be adding a new 4-year “Thailand SMART Visa” in 2018, it generated a lot of hype and fanfare. In particular, digital nomads and freelancers were hoping this would be their ticket to an ideal visa type and work permit. 

With one type of SMART Visa in particular, certain entrepreneurs and startup founders can qualify, but in general the SMART Visa is specifically designed to attract top-qualified talent in a small handful of technical industries in Thailand.

At launch, it became clear that the SMART Visa was not exactly a digital nomad visa for Thailand. So what is it, and who can get one? We’ll answer all your questions. Let’s dive in!

Let’s dissect what’s in this new package and all that it offers—and doesn’t.

Editor’s note: if you’re serious about pursuing any of these options and in need of a local expert in visa & business law to help expedite and simplify the process for you, we highly recommend reaching out to us via this instant form so we can personally advise you. Your initial consultation is 100% free.

On This Page:

What is Thailand’s SMART Visa?

OFFICIAL NAME:

COMMONLY CALLED:

VISA TERM:

RENEWABLE:

WORK PERMIT ELIGIBLE:

SMART Visa

(You guessed it) the SMART Visa

Up to 4 Years

Yes

Not needed

OFFICIAL NAME:
SMART Visa

COMMONLY CALLED:
The SMART VIsa

TERM:
Up to 4 Years

RENEWABLE:
Yes

WORK PERMIT-ELIGIBLE:
Not Needed

The official purpose of the SMART Visa is to attract highly-talented individuals involved in emerging technologies to Thailand. These include experts in science and technology, tech company executives, investors, and startup founders.

Thailand SMART Visa applicants must be working or investing in one of 18 so-called “S-Curve” or “Targeted” Industries.

 

Targeted Industries in the SMART Visa Program

Automotive
Electronics
Affluent Tourism
Agriculture, Food & Biotechnology
Automation & Robotics
Transportation & Logistics
Petrochemical & Chemical
Digital
Digital
National Defense
Direct & Significant Supporting Industries for Circular Economy
Aviation, Aerospace & Space
Human Resource Development in Science & Technology
Environment Management & Renewable Energy
Management of Technology Innovation & Startup Ecosystem
Targeted Technology Development
International Business Center (IBC)
Alternative Dispute Resolution Service

Benefits for SMART Visa Holders

Beyond simple permission to stay in Thailand, there are a number of significant benefits that motivate people to apply for a SMART Visa. Specific perks depend on precisely which type of SMART Visa you qualify for, but most come with valuable incentives like:

1
Up to a 4-year visa term, renewable
2
The ability to work in Thailand without needing a work permit
3
Easy, free, unlimited re-entries into Thailand (re-entry permit exempt)
4
Report only once per year instead of every 90-days
5
Spouse & children also permitted to live and work in Thailand
6
Benefit from airport fast-track service for arrivals and departures

Full Requirements for Obtaining a SMART Visa

Your ability to obtain a SMART Visa largely depends on whether you fit into one of the four types of SMART Visas on offer (five if you count the one meant for family members of primary visa holders). In general you have to be either a highly-qualified expert or entrepreneur in one of the S-Curve fields listed above, a serious investor, or a senior executive of an established international company.

We’ve broken out the requirements to apply for SMART Visa status based on the different versions of the visa in this next section.

Types of SMART Visa for Thailand

There are four basic categories of Thailand SMART Visa, plus a fifth type for their qualifying dependents. Each type has its own specific requirements and comes with its own list of benefits.

"T"
Highly-Skilled Experts
"I"
Investors
"E"
Senior Executives
"S"
Startup Founders & Entrepreneurs
"O"
Spouses & Children of SMART Visa Holders
building

SMART-T:  Highly-Skilled Experts

This category is intended for scientists, engineers, researchers, and highly-skilled technicians.

Requirements

  • Minimum salary of THB 100,000 per month (roughly USD $2,850)
  • Employment or service contract for minimum of 1 year with a company or government agency in Thailand
  • Expertise in one of the targeted industries with an endorsement by a relevant government agency
  • The employing entity must also receive certification of engagement in a target industry by a relevant government agency
 

Benefits of the SMART T Visa

  • Visa up to 4 years, but not longer than the employment contract
  • No Work Permit needed for working in the approved company or government agency
  • Once a year Immigration reporting instead of every 90 days
  • No re-entry permit required to exit and re-enter the country
building

SMART-I:  Investors

Yes, the SMART Visa is available to investors. The SMART I version aims to attract those willing to invest significant capital in companies using technology for delivering services or manufacturing products.

Requirements

  • Minimum investment of THB 20 million (roughly USD $640,000) in one or more companies in the targeted industries in Thailand
  • Investment must be held for the entire duration of the visa validity
  • The company or companies invested in must receive certification of engagement in a valid industry by a relevant government agency
 

Benefits of the SMART I Visa

  • Visa up to 4 years
  • No Work Permit needed for working in the approved company or government agency
  • Once a year Immigration reporting instead of every 90 days
  • No re-entry permit required to exit and re-enter the country
building

SMART-E:  Executives

This category of visa is available to senior executives and management of companies engaged in one of the targeted industries.

Requirements

  • Minimum salary of THB 200,000 per month (roughly USD $6,400)
  • Must hold at least a bachelor’s degree and have a minimum of 10 years experience in the relevant industry
  • Employment contract for minimum of 1 year with a Thai company or a foreign company with a Thailand-based job post
  • Must hold a position in senior management
  • The employing company must also receive certification of engagement in a target industry by a relevant government agency
 

Benefits of the SMART E Visa

  • Visa up to 4 years, but not longer than the employment contract
  • No Work Permit needed for working in the approved company or government agency
  • Once a year Immigration reporting instead of every 90 days
  • No re-entry permit required to exit and re-enter the country
building

SMART-S:  Startup Owners & Entrepreneurs

The S-type SMART Visa is for entrepreneurs building startups that fall into one of the specially-designated industries of Thailand. It’s unfortunately not for just any business founder. Those hoping to gain access to Thailand’s SMART Visa program in this category by opening a restaurant or a small shop will fall short of the qualification endorsement requirements.

Requirements

  • Must hold a fixed savings account with a balance of no less than THB 600,000 (roughly USD $20,000) with a minimum 1 year remaining on the maturity term
  • An additional amount of THB 180,000 (USD $5,800) included in the fixed savings account per person in the case of accompanying spouse and children
  • Must possess health insurance for the applicant and any accompanying spouse and/or children that covers the entire visa duration
  • Must either be participating in a business accelerator or incubator program with relevant government agency endorsement—OR—be receiving joint venture funding from a relevant government agency or be endorsed by the agency
  • Must set up a company engaged in one of the targeted industries within 1 year, with certification by a relevant government agency
  • The applicant must hold a minimum 25% share of the company or be a board member.
 

Benefits of the SMART S Visa

  • 1-year visa, with a possibility of renewal for up to 2 years
  • No Work Permit needed for working in the approved company or Thai government agency
  • Once a year Immigration reporting instead of every 90 days
  • No re-entry permit required to exit and re-enter the country

Spouses & Children of SMART Visa Holders

A SMART Visa holder’s spouse and children are eligible for a visa of equal duration. Spouses are allowed to work without a Work Permit provided that the job does not fall into one of the occupations or industries prohibited to foreigners.

In the case of the “SMART T” type visa for highly-skilled experts, their children above the age of 18 are also eligible to work in non-reserved fields without a Work Permit.

How to Apply for The SMART Visa

After you’ve fully understood everything you’ll need to qualify for the SMART Visa you wish to obtain, you can send what you have to us so we can help you review it and make sure you qualify. To do that, start by getting in touch so we can give you a free consultation.

Endorsement from Government Agency & Thai Company

In all cases, the applicant must have their qualifications verified by a relevant government agency in Thailand. These agencies include the Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA), National Innovation Agency (NIA), and National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA).

In some cases, multiple government agency endorsements will be required. For example, a Biochemical Engineer applying for the “SMART T” visa to work at a private research lab must obtain one certification to show they have expertise in their scientific field and a second endorsement must be obtained from their employer to show that it operates in one of the specified industries.

Applicants should expect the government agency endorsements to take up to one month. If residing outside Thailand, the requested documents can be submitted at Royal Thai Embassies or Royal Thai Consulates.

If already residing in Thailand, the applicant can submit their documents to the SMART Visa Unit of the Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) at Immigration’s One-Stop Service Center (OSS) in Bangkok.

Within 30 working days, the applicant should receive the result of their qualification endorsement application.

If the applicant is currently residing in Thailand on a non-immigrant visa, they must submit their qualification documents to the OSS at least 90 days before their visa expires. When it comes time to renew a SMART Visa, you have to re-apply for qualification endorsements with at least 90 days remaining on your current visa.

 

Completing the Visa Application Form & Process

Once you have received a letter of qualifying endorsements from the BOI, you can apply for the actual Thailand SMART Visa at any of the Thai Embassies or Royal Consulates (assuming you’re not already in Thailand). If you are residing in Thailand, you can submit the application form and required documents at the one-stop service center for visa and work permits.

 

Immigration Reporting

SMART Visa Holders must report to the SMART Visa Unit at the OSS once a year to submit documents showing their current employment and residence status. This replaces the 90-day reporting that other non-immigrant visa holders are required to perform.

Other Visa Options To Live & Work in Thailand

Since the many people unfortunately don’t qualify for Thailand’s SMART Visa, these are the alternatives most will want to consider in seeking a long-term stay in Thailand.

 

The Long-Term Resident (LTR) Visa

Only just announced in 2022, the LTR visa is very similar to the SMART Visa in terms of its target candidates and requirements, albeit a bit more attainable in some ways.

For an in-depth overview of what it takes to get one, check out our full LTR Visa breakdown page.

In addition to experts in advanced fields of technology, environmental management, future automation, and similar STEM industries, the LTR Visa can be a great option for remote workers—but only if they’re employed by publicly-traded companies.

You can also get one if you have a certain level of personal wealth (at least USD 1M in assets, plus income of $80,000 per year), and are willing to invest half a million US dollars in Thai property, government bonds or FDI.

Essentially this can make it a good alternative for anyone who might have considered a Thailand Elite Visa, as the LTR visa is also work permit eligible.

 

The Business Visa

The Business Visa is the go-to choice for talented professionals from a wider range of fields, including IT, software development, marketing and business management. You can actually qualify for a business visa in any profession that isn’t legally restricted from foreigners—provided you can find a registered Thai company to employ you.

While this isn’t a visa you can simply apply for as an individual, if you have the right skills it can actually be reasonably attainable.

Is the SMART Visa a True Digital Nomad Visa?

Unfortunately, it would be inaccurate to describe the SMART Visa as a “digital nomad visa.” While it offers some great benefits that definitely appeal to freelancers and remote-working entrepreneurs, the requirements tend to exclude many (but not all) who fall into these categories.

Having said that, the SMART Visa’s requirements—especially those for the SMART-T variant targeted at skilled experts—can often be a bit more forgiving and manageable in practice than they seem on paper.

Like many things in Thailand, what makes the biggest difference is having access to professionals who work closely with the relevant government agencies, and understand visa law. Our team has successfully helped many qualified experts in their field fulfill SMART Visa requirements and get set up to live and work in Thailand. If you have the right background, we may be able to do the same for you.

How You Can Access the SMART Visa

Working With an Agent Can Make it Possible

Many people exploring long-term visas for Thailand quickly get discouraged when they encounter the long and complex lists of strict requirements for obtaining one. What they don’t realize, though, is that true eligibility can often be a matter of interpretation. Visa applications sent directly by individuals to the government also have high rejection rates regardless of a candidate’s actual qualifications. 

When you connect with an experienced agent in Thailand you gain the help of knowledgeable, qualified professionals whose job it is to know visa law and help get applicants approved, plus key advantages like:

  • Identifying (often easy) paths you can take to become eligible, if not already
  • Clarity on exactly what many requirements mean and how most people meet them
  • The guarantee that all of your important application documents are complete and error-free, prior to submission
  • Reliable advice on your realistic chances of being approved
  • Real, attainable alternative options if you’re not eligible for your preferred visa

 

If you’re serious about getting your long-term visa (of any kind), don’t leave it to chance. A professional agent with a legal background and years of experience getting professionals the results they want is worth having on your side.

Gain Thai Employment On Your Terms

If you’re someone who meets the requirements for any of the types of SMART Visa outlined above, we have corporate clients and business partners that are always looking for capable new talent. 

If you’re a tech or tech-adjacent professional with experience looking to live and work in Thailand, drop us a message so we can talk about your options.

Better Fit For Other Visa Options? Explore Your Eligibility With The Experts

Explore your choices, gain clarity on requirements and make the process simple with professional legal help from some of Bangkok’s leading expat experts.

If you’re not sure where to start or need help getting from points A to B in pursuit of your SMART, LTR, Business or Elite Visa, our team at Siam Visa and Business Law is ready and able to help.

Check out our other recent article all about the best visa options for living and working in Thailand, or schedule your free initial consultation today!

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Sally

Somluck (Sally) Choopinij
Director & Legal Consultant

Natinee (Sandy) Eakworraphan

Natinee (Sandy) Eakworraphan
Legal Assistant

Contact Us

Sally

Somluck (Sally) Choopinij
Director & Legal Consultant

Natinee (Sandy) Eakworraphan

Natinee (Sandy) Eakworraphan
Legal Assistant