If you are lucky enough to be an expat living and working in Thailand, you are probably familiar with the stressful process of Visa applications.
If, instead, you are preparing to move to Thailand for work, better you get familiar with the procedures on how to apply for a Non Immigrant Visa ( Business Visa), and a Work Permit.
The web is full of detailed posts about the procedures to apply for visas outside of Thailand, however this blog is updated to August 2023, since I just applied successfully for a Non Immigrant Visa.
Keep in mind that I applied in Penang, Malaysia, at the Royal Thai Consulate, and that every country (and even different consulates or embassies within the same country) might have different requirements. This post refers only to Penang.
Penang is a popular destination where you can apply for Non Immigrant Business Visas for Thailand (commonly referred to as Non B ). It's a short distance from Phuket and the South of Thailand, it's a vibrant island of long beaches, museums and delicious food and it's one of the cheapest options in the region.
There are several sub-categories of Non Immigrant Business Visas (one is for teaching, one for short business trips in Thailand, one for employees that intend to work in Thailand long term and so on...).
I applied as an employee for a Thai Tour operator based in Phuket.
The process to request a Non Immigrant Business visa for Thailand in Penang is relatively straightforward, but there are a few details you should pay attention to.
First, you need to prepare the necessary documents for your application in advance, only then you can travel to Penang (by plane or by road).
I recommend to carefully read the check-list published on the Penang Thai Royal Consulate website.
To be sure that the online list of documents was updated, I did email the Consulate, however the answer arrived ten days after I had successfully completed my Visa run, and in any case they just told me to consult the website, so save your time and skip the email consultation.
Moreover, even if you do check the Royal Consulate website, two important details are missing there: first, it is not indicated on the website, but you will need to show a Contract Agreement between you and your employer stating the date of your first intended day of work, how many hours per week you will work, how many days per week and the agreed salary that you will earn. It must be signed by you and the General Manager or CEO of the Company.
Second, despite the Consulate in Penang being open every day (Monday to Friday) from 9 to 11 AM, the application for Non Immigrant Visa can be submitted only for 1 hour (9 AM to 10 AM); after 10 AM only other Visa applications are processed.
If you step inside the Consulate at 10:10 AM, you’ll be asked to leave and go back the next day, even if you have been queuing outside since 7 in the morning.
I witnessed this happening last week, and despite the strong protests of the rejected applicants, they were forced to leave. So, queue early and be sure to submit your application before 10 AM.
Remember to check the website for Thai and Malay public holidays, since there are plenty and the Consulate is closed for all public holidays.
Four years ago, I didn’t do my homework, and I ended up being stranded in Penang for 14 days. Not that Penang is a bad place to be stuck, but if you go prepared you’ll save time and money.
REQUIRED DOCUMENTS FOR IMMIGRANT NON B VISA
For Employee Non Immigrant Visa (B), the required documents are:
1) Completed visa application form. The form can be dowloaded from the Thai Royal Consulate website, and I suggest you download it, print it and fill it before going to the Consulate, because the office is crowded and the guard at the entrance will ask you to step out of the line if the papers are not in order, so you'll end up losing your place in the queue.
2. Original passport with at least 6-month validity and 2 blank pages
3. A copy of passport (ID page)
4. Two passport size photo (3.5x4.5 cm, white/ blue background and taken within the past 6 months)
5. Any of the following:
In this case, I did have the WP3 with me when I flew out of Thailand, but 4 years ago I wasn’t so lucky and had to wait for the WP3 in Penang.
6. Documents from employer in Thailand:
Once you have all the necessary documents, you can submit your application at the Royal Thai Consulate General in Georgetown, Penang.
The processing time for a Business Visa for Thailand usually takes around 2-3 working days (it can take longer if additional documents are required or you apply on a Friday or before a long weekend).
For example, if you fly or drive to Penang on a Sunday evening, you can submit your documentation on Monday morning and get back your passport with the Non Immigrant B Visa on Tuesday after 2 pm.
If your documents are accepted, you will be asked to pay cash for the visa (320 Malaysia ringgit, Thai bath are also accepted) then the Consulate will issue you a receipt with the appointment to collect your passport the following afternoon.
A WORK PERMIT IS MANDATORY TO WORK IN THAILAND
It is important to note that the Non Immigrant Business visa for Thailand (B) granted to employees is a 90 day, single entry Visa that you will have to extend in Thailand before its expiration.
To legally work in Thailand, a foreigner must also apply for a Work Permit: the work permit is a legal document that states a foreigner's position, job description and the Thai company he is working for. It also serves as a license to perform a job allowed for foreigners inside Thailand.
It’s best that you consult with your employer for this other procedure, which is quite straightforward once you have the Non B, but it requires a medical health check , blood test and a proof of residence.
Upon arrival at the immigration checkpoint in Thailand with your Non Immigrant Visa (B) you will be granted an initial permit to stay in Thailand up to 90 days.
Within 90 days after entry Thailand, you must obtain a work permit from the Labour Department. With the work permit, you can then apply for a 1-year extension of stay from the Immigration Bureau.
The extended stay permit is valid for multiple entries into Thailand.
GET EXTRA HELP FROM A LOCAL AGENCY
In conclusion, applying for a business visa in Penang can be a simple process if you go prepared and have all the necessary documents.
If you are willing to pay a small fee for the help of a local agency (which I recommend), you can contact Sharma Travel in Leith Street, Georgetown: Jim, the owner, is an institution in town, and has been precious in saving my time and helping with the application.
This time, I flew in on a Sunday night, went straight to Jim’s place to check that all the documents were in order (the agency is open on Sunday if, as it often happens, they have costumers that need to apply the following day ), found out that the Contract Agreement was missing, contacted my employer in Thailand, got the document sent by email, printed it at Jim’s place, then on Monday morning Jim drove me to the Thai Royal Consulate at around 7.30 am and there I queued with the rest of his group until the opening time.
When I was done with my application, Jim drove me back to my hotel.
The following day, he collected the passport for me so that I didn’t have to drive to the Consulate, I just walked from my hotel to his place in the city centre.
Jim’ service was around 700 THB, a vey honest fee for his help. Through Jim it is also likely that you will get your passport back before 2 PM, however this is not a general rule.
EXPECT LONG LINES AT THE CONSULATE
Queuing outside the Consulate can be a CRAZY experience: the line reserved to Chinese citizens was 500 meter long by the time I joined the queue at 7:30 AM. Some of those people had been queuing since 4 AM!
Luckily, there is another line reserved to other countries, and it was shorter.
Anyway, if you apply for a Non Immigrant B, be sure to go as early as possible before the official opening at 9 am, or you won’t make it.
In case you need to copy any document or take a photo, there is a minivan equipped like a copy centre parked outside the Consulate, however I advise you to prepare everything before and avoid more queuing.
One last info: there are agency in Thailand charging crazy fee for a Visa run to Penang (one told me to book flights and hotel by myself and “bring all the correct documents” but asked me 6500 THB . "For what?" I enquired. They never answered back but I guess that was the price for a return trip by taxi between the hotel and the consulate, a 10 minute trip).
So, I suggest you book your flight and accommodation in the city centre of Georgetown, then you either travel to the Consulate by yourself (by Grab or taxi) or go to Jim’s office and use his service.
No need to pay extra money to the agencies in Thailand, which, it turns out, 9 times out of 10 use Jim’ service but decuplicate the price.
In Georgetown I’ve slept in two different hotels over the years, both okay: Kim’s House Penang and Chulia Heritage Hotel. They are in the backpackers' city centre, surrounded by shops, bars, attractions, restaurants, supermarkets and easy transportation, including buses. However Georgetown has plenty of hostels, b&b and hotel available, and Booking.com is your best ally.
Good luck with your Non Immigrant Visa application for working in Thailand!