I'm in the business of helping foreigners incorporate businesses in Thailand - and we then provide follow-on services to obtain work permits, entry permit extensions, and provide accounting support (almost 14 years now, with 225 companies launched).
I am long used to hearing all the griping about how tough it is to get set up here, and how unfair all the rules are. My reply to the hand-wringers goes something like this:
Imagine yourself as a champion-level Olympic athlete, and you've arrived to compete in a "games" being hosted by this small, odd country. You arrive, and you quickly determine than: the whole place is full of "special Olympics" grade competitors. Effectively, you will be a real Olympic athlete, competing against Special Olympics grade opponents. All is good - except - you discover that the entire country - including the entire government and all the officials running the games - are all ex-Special Olympics athletes. Effectively, the whole shooting match is run by retards.
Now, you can sit down and cry about this sad state - or you can run your hands together, and say to yourself "I can't wait to get out on the track, and run circles around these fools" - and you just have to put up with the half-ass environment into which you are immersed.
Think of that imaginary scenario - in a mythical country - and then think about how the lessons learned might apply to life in Thailand.
I have to admit that I just shake my head at the bedrock idiocy of some of the fundamental processes here. To highlight a couple points:
1. Immigration processes for foreign employees. OK - imagine this scenario: A fit, bright young Aussie chap - let's call him Mark Read - is in Thailand legally - maybe as a tourist, or as a student, or as a visiting businessman. But - he is here legally. He now crosses paths with a legally-established business in Thailand - a company that is fully eligible under other (inane) rules to sponsor employment for another foreigner - and this company and Mark find each other to be a good fit for an employer/employee relationship, under mutually- acceptable terms. What should happen next? Who in their right fucking mind would dream up the absurd idea of instructing the two parties to assemble a bunch of proof of identity/status documents, and then have nice young Mark "Chopper" Read FLY OFF TO SOME NEIGHBORING COUNTRY to present himself and a stack of forms to some random fucking diplomatic service employee in some place far from Thailand, who has no ability to double-check anything about either the employer, or the would-be employee - and have that drone stumble through a 24-hour process to file all the documents away somewhere, and then stick a decal into a passport ? WTF? What has that brainless process accomplished?
Better idea: Employee must go to his own Embassy in Bangkok, and get a quick certification letter that his face does not appear on any "most wanted criminal" poster in his home country (Chopper - Good luck with that one, mate!). Take Embassy certificate, passport, and a copy of the employers registration affidavit (and maybe some other forms) to an Immigration office (or even a local Ministry of Foreign Affairs office - if that Ministry needs the income) and pay a fee to get a Class B entry permit placed into your passport - so that you can go to work and start paying personal income tax and Social Fund tax. It is virtually certain that appropriately-selected screening officials inside Thailand will have a better ability to screen employees and employers, than will Embassy/Consulate employees in Godzillastan.
2. Immigration attitude toward foreign work permit holders. OK, let's look at different classes of foreign residents in Thailand, and how they are treated by Immigration:
Retirees: Pay no payroll taxes. Do not contribute to Thai Social Fund system. Unlikely to directly generate any Thai employment. Generate VAT income for government only to the degree that they purchase personal goods and services on which VAT is charged. Treatment by Immigration: walk in with your passport and a small handful of the right documents - and walk out with a one-year extension - same visit. All smiles.
Tourists: Pay no payroll taxes. Do not contribute to Thai Social Fund system. Unlikely to directly generate any Thai employment. Generate no VAT income for government - even if they purchase personal goods and services on which VAT is charged, they get it back upon application. Treatment by Immigration: walk in with your passport and an outbound ticket 30 days down the road - and walk out with a 30-day extension - same visit. All smiles.
Students: Pay no payroll taxes. Do not contribute to Thai Social Fund system. Although closer than the first two to impacting employment (of teachers), still unlikely to directly generate any Thai employment. Generate VAT income for government only to the degree that they purchase personal goods and services on which VAT is charged. Treatment by Immigration: walk in with your passport and a small handful of school documents - and walk out with an extension. All smiles.
Foreigners (without employment) married to a Thai spouse: Pay no payroll taxes. Do not contribute to Thai Social Fund system. Unlikely to directly generate any Thai employment. Generate VAT income for government only to the degree that they purchase personal goods and services on which VAT is charged. Treatment by Immigration: This group gets treated with more suspicion. Walk in with your passport and a sizable collection of bank documents, identity and marriage documents, map and photos of your marital home, as well as photos of you and your tilac in various domestic posses - and you must bring your spouse with you - and you are given an "Under Consideration" stamp - and must return home to await an inspector to visit your home, and confirm that you and your spouse are not miserable liars and cheats. Not so many smiles.
Employed Foreigners. Let's see: You pay payroll taxes - and Social Fund taxes. If you are the director of a small business, you create Thai employment - all of which employees pay Social Fund taxes. If you are not the boss, your presence at least requires the off-setting employment of four Thai workers. Assuming that your are hired in order to help boost company's ability to earn revenue, you help generate VAT income and corporate income tax. Alone among this list of foreigners, you pay fora work permit, you pay for annual preparation of a personal income tax return (PND.90/91). So - you might think that the Thai government might treat this group of foreigners better - since they contribute much more that any other type of foreigner. And that should be especially true of
the entrepreneurial foreigner who CREATES A BUSINESS OUT OF THIN AIR - paying lawyer's fees, governmental capital registration fees, lease deposit and rent on an office, accounting fees, employer's Social Fund matching contributions, etc, etc. The government should be rolling out the red carpet ........
Uh, no. Would-be employees - and in particular "bootstrap" entrepreneurs - are treated like lepers. You are assumed to be a lying, devious scoundrel - and thus must bring voluminous quantities of certified documents, maps, photos, tax records, - and your work permit. You are given an "Under Consideration" stamp - and must return to your office to wait for an inspector to visit your business office, and confirm that you and your employer are not miserable liars and cheats. Oh - and when this inspection occurs - you and all your Thai employees must be present IN THE OFFICE - regardless of what type of business you run. Scorn for any foreigner with the audacity to try to create and build a profitable business engine in Thailand.
The wisdom of the Special Olympics style of government is best typified by the employment disqualification standards of the work permit medical exam. You must be diligently screened to ensure that you do not have:
3. Tertiary syphilis
4. Drug addiction
What is perfectly OK is: You have one arm, no legs, missing one eye, toothless, a heart pacemaker, and you wheeled into the doctor;'s office in an iron lung. 'Good on ya' mate! Here's your medical certificate - you are good to go.