As you are probably aware, the whole system in Thailand of teacher work permits, teacher licenses and the visas that go with your work permit (often mistakenly called a 'work visa') is very complex. So it's always good to hear things from a teacher who has very recently gone through the process. The majority of the text and information below comes from Teacher Mike, and any extra comments in bold type are from ajarn.com.
(This blog has been reproduced with the very kind permission of Mike, a teacher in South Thailand. Mike runs an excellent website called 'Southern Thai Expat' which contains many blogs based around the daily life of an expat living and working in Thailand. Please pay Mike's website a visit and show him your support)
OK, down to the nitty gritty.
This is a two part blog which demonstrates the typical process of applying for and renewing a work permit and visa if you are a teacher in Thailand.
Those who live in and work in the kingdom of Thailand know that whether they like it or not, once a year they will be required to renew their documentation to remain in the country for another year. This has always been a contentious issue for a large number of long term expats who feel aggrieved that they have to effectively ask permission to remain in the country each year with no consideration or reward given for their investment in the country.
Part one (Applying for a Visa & Work Permit)
There are a number of different visas that foreigners can obtain to remain in Thailand. The vast majority of the foreigners you will see here will be in possession of tourist visas or visa exemption stamps, these give them permission to remain for a limited time for the sole purposes of travel. It is however not uncommon for teachers to work on these tourist visas, particularly if they perhaps don't have the required qualifications to obtain a work permit.
Ajarn.com says - Mike originally wrote this information in March 2014. Since then, there have been significant changes in Thai immigration law. From mid-August 2014, Thai immigration will be clamping down on teachers (well, anyone really) using tourist visas to constantly leave and re-enter the country in order to work illegally for an extended period. One tourist visa is OK but you may face problems being let back into the country with a second tourist visa. In a nutshell, if you are using back-to-back tourist visas, you need to prove to the immigration officer that you are indeed a tourist.
Long term residents of Thailand normally have possession of a 'non immigrant visa'. These are split into a number of categories but the most common are 'non o' (marriage) and 'non b' (working). I myself am not married and work in a local government school on a non immigrant b visa.
Signing a contract with a school
When you first sign your contract with the school you will be issued with the documentation to obtain a non immigrant b visa. In order to get this visa stamped into your passport you will need to apply at either an embassy or a consulate outside of Thailand. The vast majority of people in the south of Thailand choose to do this at the consulate in Penang, Malaysia and the whole process can be completed in a just a few days. I actually had my documentation sent to my home in England before I came to Thailand and I received my visa from the Thai consulate in Hull.
Upon your entry to the country you will be given permission to remain for three months. It is your responsibility to obtain a work permit during this period so that the visa can be extended for a full calendar year or until the end of the term of employment (whichever comes first).
Ajarn.com says - It is not always necessary to leave the country in order to obtain a non-immigrant B visa. Many teachers have been successful in changing a tourist visa to a non-immigrant B visa at the main immigration office in Bangkok. Yes, it requires a lot of paperwork. Yes, it requires your school (employer) to be pro-active and yes, you should probly contact immigration to find out the correct procedure.
Licence or licence waiver?
Teachers who are teaching in OBEC Schools (basically every school with the exception of universities and private language companies) will be required to obtain the required documentation from the TCT (Thailand Teaching Council). This takes the form of either a full teachers licence or a waiver to teach without a licence.
A full teachers licence can be obtained by having a degree in education e.g. PGCE and having taken part in the 'thai culture course'. Most people however will be applying for a waiver to teach without a licence. This waiver gives the holder permission to teach at the school for a period of two years.
Applicants who wish to apply for a waiver to teach without a license must have a degree from a recognised university, TEFL certificate and a recent criminal records check. The degree can be in any field and does not have to have any relation to teaching whatsoever. It is worth noting that those applying to the TCT from countries considered not to be 'native english speaking' (all countries except AUS, CAN, NZ, IRE, UK, USA) will be required to sit a TOEIC examination prior to application.
Once the process has been completed you will be the proud owner of a blue work permit (cost 3,100 baht) and an extension of your visa until the end of the contract (cost 1,900 baht). The whole process will normally take the better half of the three months on your initial visa but it has been known for the process to take longer, resulting in applicants having to do another visa run and start the application process again from scratch (not fun!!!)
If you thought that the reward for that long-winded process was to be required to have nothing to do with immigration for twelve months, I'm afraid you were wrong. You are required to report to immigration every three months to 'confirm' your current address. It's actually more of a minor inconvenience then a problem because the whole process is completed in a couple of minutes (providing you don't live in an area with many foreigners) and is free. The date is confirmed by a slip being stapled into your passport and you are free to attend 7 days before, if this is more convenient for you to do so.
Ajarn.com says - The 90-day reporting can also be done by post and the system works very well. There is no need to make a personal appearance at immigration every 90 days.
Part two (Renewing Visa & Work Permit)
In part one of this post we talked about the typical process one would go through when applying for a work permit and visa in Thailand.
If you are offered a new contract from your current employer and you would like to stay for another year you will be required to extend your work permit and obtain a new visa for the forthcoming year. The paperwork involved with both the application and renewal of a work permit are mammoth including various copies of the directors i.d, maps of the school and even details of the schools financial position (if private). This should however not be your concern and either your school or agency will know exactly what is required for the work permit renewal.
The first stage of renewing your work permit is to check the status of either your teachers licence or waiver to teach without a licence. Teachers licences are valid for five years before they need renewing, whereas waivers to teach without a licence are only valid for two years. Teachers who hold a waiver to teach without a licence are given an initial two years which can be extended subsequently for another two years providing they have taken part in the 'thai culture course'.
The official rules from the TCT state a maximum of two waivers (maximum four years) will be given and that during this time the teacher must become 'fully qualified' to receive a full teachers licence. It is worth noting at this stage that the waiver you receive is permission to teach in your current school. If you change school at any point you will be given a new waiver and you will lose any time on your current waiver.
*Please note that I believe that if you were only at the school for a short period of time (i.e. less then four months) that this waiver will not count towards your total count. I was at my first school for six months but only held a work permit for three months and the TCT gave me a new waiver for my next school without taking part in the thai culture course.*
The current route to becoming a 'qualified teacher' is to either take a degree in education or to sit the TCT professional knowledge and ethics tests. Both methods require that a thai culture course certificate be obtained as well. Let's be honest the vast majority of teachers are not going to want to pursue a degree in education merely for the purposes of teaching in a Thai government school. If they did want to obtain a degree in education they would then be suitably qualified to work at an international school, which attracts more pay and doesn't actually require a thai teachers licence, so most people will look to taking the TCT tests.
There are four tests each with varying levels of difficulty which in theory can be taken in one day (nobody passes them all at once though). The main complaint about the tests is that the standard of English used in the tests makes the answers ambiguous and very difficult to work out. In theory you will have multiple attempts at these tests providing that you start the process early enough. It is worth noting that the thai teachers who wish to obtain a licence have to take nine tests, so maybe we should feel lucky to only have to take four (just a thought)
Current Situation (March 2014)
The TCT has currently suspended the thai culture course and has not announced when it will be running again.
The TCT has also not announced the details for the next set of tests which had been due to be announced in January 2014.
Teachers who are needing to obtain new waivers to extend their work permits (myself included) are being given work permit and visa extensions for a full year without the usual requirements due to there being no possible way for them to comply at the current time. I can confirm this to be 100% true because I have just extended my work permit and visa until 31st March 2015 but my teachers licence ends in July 2014. I cannot confirm whether a new two year waiver has been given at this point though.
Once you are in possession of a waiver to teach without a licence for a full year, you can apply to extend the work permit. This is done at the local labour office and the renewal of the work permit is actually quite an easy stress-free process (providing all the documents are in order). The process typically takes 7 days but smaller offices take much less then this. You must leave your work permit at the office during this period.
Keeping the tax man happy
Just because you live in Thailand doesn't mean the tax man is off your back, but I'm guessing that he's not going to be as much of a burden then in your home country. The truth is that the tax situation in comparison to most other countries in extremely generous. I am no expert on the Thai tax system but I have been told that the rate is 3% of your total salary for employees but much more for businesses or those who are self employed.
There is no universal monthly tax system i.e PAYE(UK) so most people settle their tax bills at the end of the financial year. I am going to assume that there is a minimum threshold of which you can earn before you pay tax because my last tax bill was (thankfully) much less then I had anticipated. My income comes from my teaching job of which i'm paid 30,000 baht per month. My last tax bill was 870 baht so I cannot accurately conclude how this was calculated.
The cost of it all
Armed with your renewed work permit and the receipt for your paid tax you can head to immigration to extend your visa for another year. The immigration official will check through all of your paperwork and providing everything is in order you will receive a brand new stamp in your passport (full page). Please see below a full list of what was required for my latest work permit and visa renewal and their costs.
Work Permit (3,100 baht)
Visa (1,900 baht)
Tax (870 baht)
Official Stamp (400 baht)
Health Clinic Certificate (40 baht)
Total: 6,310 baht
If you would like to leave the country at any point during the time you hold your visa you will be required to purchase a re-entry permit. Those who travel frequently in and out of the country should purchase a multi reentry permit (3,800 baht) which entitles you to unlimited trips throughout your visa period. I myself who only anticipates taking two trips out of the country find it more cost affective to purchase two single reentry permits (1,000 baht each).
In order to apply for these permits all that is required is a passport photo and the fee. It is vitally important that you obtain these permits prior to leaving the country because if you leave without one you effectively cancel your visa. If you do not obtain these prior to travel you WILL only be given a tourist visa on reentry to the country and will have to reapply for a work permit and visa again from scratch. I am sure your employer will not be amused particularly if they have paid for the work permit and visa!!!.