Activities Falling Outside the Scope of “Work” for Thai Work Permit Requirements

The Thai Alien Occupation Act, B.E. 2551 (the Act) provides that foreigners cannot perform any act of work or service without first obtaining an appropriate work permit from the Department of Employment of the Ministry of Labour. The definition of “work” according to Section 5 of the Act is extremely broad. “Work” means working in the Kingdom of Thailand by exerting one’s physical energy or employing one’s knowledge whether or not in consideration of wages or other benefits. Please see here for more information on work permits and related penalties for working without a work permit.

Because of the Act’s definition of “work”, the Department of Employment contends an expatriate is required to obtain a work permit even when working without remuneration or where remuneration is made offshore. This has been understood to mean that a work permit is required in order to attend work related conferences or seminars and other similar events, with such attendees obtaining what is known as an “urgent” work permit. For a discussion on the differences between a regular work permit and an urgent work permit, please see our article here).

This broad interpretation of the term “work” has been questioned by various foreign chambers of commerce and other parties. In February 2013, the Office of Council of State issued its Opinion No. 152/2556 addressing this issue. In response, the Office of Foreign Workers Administration of the Department of Labor (Office of Foreign Workers) issued new guidelines providing that a work permit is not required for the following activities:

  • attending a conference or seminar
  • attending an exhibition or trade show
  • attending a business visit or business negotiation
  • attending an academic lecture
  • attending a training course or technical seminar
  • purchasing goods at a trade show
On March 6, 2015, the Director-General of the Employment issued a notification giving the above guidelines legal effect, while adding an additional activity to the list of exemptions:
  • participating in a board of directors’ meeting

However, organizers and participants including their employees or contractors (as opposed to mere attendees) of conferences, seminars, exhibitions, trade shows, business visit, business negotiation, lectures or courses are still required to obtain a work permit under the new guidelines.