In late April, Airbnb announced a "Live and Work Anywhere" initiative that allows its employees to work remotely. Earlier this week, it went a step further by sharing 20 destinations it intends to promote with special pages on its website as hubs of remote work, with Thailand on the list. The company will partner with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to create a "Thailand Hub" page that shows long-term accommodation, entry requirements, and visa policies to users.
The remote work industry has experienced explosive growth in the past decade. Even prior to Covid-19, at least 17% of the US workforce worked remotely full-time, while many others expected flexible work or part-time remote work as a benefit.
Thailand has long been an attractive option for remote workers or entrepreneurs looking to scale companies, thanks to its top-notch infrastructure, low costs, and world-class tourism destinations. In recent months, the country's reputation as a remote work haven has captured headlines. Late last month, Bangkok was ranked as the second-best city for digital nomads by Instant Group, while another survey -- the William Russell website, gave Koh Phangan the top spot for being the world's best location for a workcation, according to its latest survey released on July 3.
Previously, without any clear visa category that allowed remote workers to stay in the country long-term, most relied on headache-inducing tourist or education visas. But in a bid to stimulate economic growth, the cabinet recently approved a new visa category known as the long-term resident visa scheme (LTR), effective from Sept 1 of this year. It will grant remote workers and wealthy pensioners the right to live in the country for 10 years and provide other immigration-related benefits, given applicants meet certain conditions. But will it work as intended? Although it's commendable the government has finally passed a new scheme for digital nomads after years of discussion that led nowhere, it's unlikely to attract the remote workers that it hopes to.
Remote workers must be able to prove a salary of at least US$80,000 (2.8 million baht) in the past two years. This is quite high compared to the annual €8,460 (370,000 baht) that Portugal, a country with a similar cost of living as Thailand, requires as part of its D7 residency scheme. Costa Rica, another competing country, requires proof of a monthly income of US$3,000, or about 108,000 baht.
But beyond a high salary, the killer clause is the requirement that a remote employee's company be publicly traded and listed on the stock exchange or a private company with revenue of US$150 million in the past three years.
Unfortunately, this will disqualify a considerable segment of remote workers who are bootstrapping or part of venture-capital backed projects. This translates to lost opportunities for knowledge and tech transfer, job creation, and the possibility of Thailand emerging as tech hub.
As Thailand looks to diversify its tourism industry, it must remember to stay grounded. All tourist hotspots were hit hard by the pandemic and most of these countries are attempting to pivot and bank on the trend of remote work. To ensure that it is able to capture a share of this market, the government must understand the market. Otherwise, countries that offer better terms like Bali's plan to introduce a nomad visa that allows remote workers to live on the island tax free will come out on top.