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The End Of The Tax-Free Thai Dream?

5 min read

The End Of The Tax-Free Thai Dream?

Many consider Thailand a dream expat destination because of its fantastic food, warm weather and low cost of living. 

Moreover, many expats are attracted to the country’s tax-friendly environment. In particular, Thailand was popular due to its peculiar tax policies. All income earned from abroad and remitted to Thailand the following year was tax-free.

However, this is changing starting January 1st, 2024. This massive shift to Thailand’s taxation of foreign income might ruin the Thai dream sold to many expats.

I can’t count how often I have said that Thailand is not a good plan B destination, and this amendment to the Thai Revenue Department's tax regulations has again proven my point. 

In this article, we’re delving into Thailand’s upcoming tax environment and its potential implications for expats. 

 

Bankok, Thailand - As an expat residing in Thailand for more than 180 days, all income you earn regardless of the source and when it was obtained will be subject to tax

Bankok, Thailand

CHANGES IN TAXATION FOR FOREIGN RESIDENTS

Let’s first dive into what might be concerning – taxation for foreign residents. Imagine that you’re living and working in Thailand, enjoying the dream of earning tax-free foreign income in a country with a low cost of living. 

That’s how it used to be. Not anymore. Now, Thailand is shifting its stance significantly. Gone are the days when you could earn abroad, remit your money in a different year, and bring it into the country, enjoying a tax-free haven. 

The recent change to section 41, paragraph 2 stipulates that any assessable income from employment, business or property outside Thailand is taxable once brought into the country.

So, what’s the takeaway? If you’re an expat resident in Thailand for more than 180 days, all income you earn – regardless of origin and when it was earned – will be subject to tax. 

 

HISTORICAL TAXATION POLICIES AND THE PARADIGM SHIFT

Thailand was an ideal place for expats looking for a favourable tax regime and a low cost of living. Earning abroad and bringing money to the country was the key to living a tax-free lifestyle that most countries can’t even offer. 

This paradise-like option is now a thing of the past as the paradigm has been shifted. From next year, Thailand's new tax system will no longer be territorial; it will be residential. All foreign income will be taxed, but the tax rate has not been determined yet.

 

Chiang Mai, Thailand - Thailand was a common place for expats who wanted to protect their wealth, however, this Southeast Asian country is moving from being a wealth protection haven to just another vacation spot

Chiang Mai, Thailand

IMPACT ON FREELANCERS AND BUSINESS OWNERS

These changes will primarily affect freelancers and business owners who conduct online activities. Imagine being a digital nomad thriving on the online global marketplace, earning foreign income while residing in Thailand. Until now, you only needed to make your income, hold it for one year and remit it to Thailand the following year. 

In a world of increasingly higher taxes, Thailand was an oasis. Effectively, it was. The tax-free jurisdiction many freelancers and business owners envisioned is becoming a taxable terrain. This is a pivotal moment in the expat world since this dream destination for many is about to lose its tax allure and its status. This new law is hitting the pockets of foreigners who used to find solace in Thailand’s tax-free provisions. 

 

PERCEPTION OF THAILAND AS A WEALTH PROTECTION DESTINATION

For Westerners, Thailand offered the best of both worlds—a tax-free haven for foreign income earners coupled with a low cost of living. I don’t deny this is the dream of every Westerner, especially after dealing with high taxes and the cost of living in major cities. 

Imagine you’re a Canadian who decided to abandon Toronto and move to Thailand. Once you got your residency in Thailand, you went from paying high taxes and ridiculous rents to paying zero income tax and enjoying better housing for a fraction of the cost. Expats used to protect their wealth while immersing themselves in Thailand’s beauty. However, this Southeast Asian country is shifting from a wealth protection haven to more of a vacation spot. 

The upcoming massive tax implications are making it less attractive for wealth protection. Now, expats may find themselves questioning whether Thailand is the ideal place to safeguard their earnings. 

 

Krabi, Thailand - The change from territorial to residential tax structure in Thailand has significant implications for expats as it undermines the previous appeal of tax exemption on foreign income

Krabi, Thailand

SPECULATIONS ON TAX RATES AND FUTURE SCENARIOS

As of the time of writing, the final tax rate is yet to be determined. The Thai Revenue Department hasn’t said what the foreign income tax rate will be. The question is still hanging in the air. Foreign-sourced income could be partially exempt, or it could be taxed like domestic income.

In 2023, the top income tax rate is 35%, which applies to domestic earnings of 5,000,001 Baht ($135,832.68 USD) onwards. The dream of living a tax-free, cost-effective lifestyle is coming to an end soon. 

 

EXPLORING BETTER OPTIONS

The world is, fortunately, a huge place, so even though Thailand is transitioning from a territorial tax system to a residential one, you can consider better alternatives. 

Thailand’s upcoming residential tax structure has significant implications for expats as this shatters the previous appeal for tax exemption on foreign earnings. I admit that this country was one of my options when my wife and I wanted to move out of the UAE. 

Finally, we decided to move to Panama, and now I enjoy tax-free income. Panama is not only a tax-free country for those earning money from abroad, but it’s also in a time zone that facilitates my business operations. 

I love how tax-friendly Panama is for me, and I’m a firm believer that these days, Latin America is one of the best places to live in the world. This part of the world boasts other interesting territorial tax systems like Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Paraguay. 

Other territorial tax systems around the world are Hong Kong, Singapore and Gulf countries like Bahrain or Qatar. I don’t personally recommend them, but each person’s preferences and needs are certainly unique. 

 

Phuket, Thailand - Thailands old approach to foreign income was quite strange, you had to earn money abroad and keep it in a foreign bank account and bring it to Thailand at the end of the year to get the tax exemption

Phuket, Thailand

THAILAND HAS PROVEN I WAS RIGHT

If you've read this far, you’re probably convinced that the tax environment in Thailand is about to get worse. But somehow, I felt it coming. Thailand, in reality, isn't the paradise many expats once dreamed of.

Beyond taxes, what truly concerned me were their visa policies. The immigration program was challenging, and it never led to permanent residency. To stay in the country, you needed a long-term tourist visa, hoping the procedure went smoothly. I want my clients to secure their new lives abroad. A temporary fix won't free you from the tax burdens of the US, Canada, or any other tax-heavy country, allowing you to truly embrace a better life.

Back to taxes: Thailand’s former approach to foreign income was rather strange. You had to earn money abroad, keep it in a foreign bank account, and then bring it into Thailand once the year ended to enjoy tax-free status. This meant you had to live on a budget for a year, which never felt right to me. In other territorial tax systems, you can bring the money in whenever you want, and it’s still tax-free.

All in all, I believe in clearly defined rules to know where I stand at all times. No grey areas, no ambiguity, and no fear of potential persecution by tax authorities. We've all dealt with aggressive tax jurisdictions that do everything in their power to get your money. Going abroad to face the same situation is not what you’d desire as an expat. Enough is enough. Your journey is toward more freedom and simplicity.

 

Koh Nangyuan Island, Thailand -If you are looking to secure your new life abroad and at the same time keep your money in your pocket, Thailand is no longer a good option

Koh Nangyuan Island, Thailand

CONCLUSION

We’ve gone through Thailand’s evolving tax landscape, with the new territorial tax system taking effect from January 1st, 2024. This paradigm shift ends the era of tax-free foreign income that once made Thailand an expat haven. 

If you want to secure your new life abroad while keeping your money when it belongs – your pockets – Thailand might not be the best option. Countries like Panama and several others in Latin America and even Asia boast territorial tax systems, providing enticing opportunities for expats seeking tax advantages.

The world remains vast, offering multiple paths for those seeking a favourable tax environment and an enriching expat experience.

 


WORK WITH ME

I help my clients to move offshore for freedom, privacy and autonomy by focusing on the immigration, legal, and tax issues that you will face when becoming an expat. If you would like to work one-on-one with me on getting out of your home country (or setting up a Plan-B location), then read this important letter and fill in an application form to become a Private Client. My fees are not cheap; however, I can assure you that when you work with a professional firm like ours, the results will be worth it.

 

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Mikkel Thorup

Written by Mikkel Thorup

Mikkel Thorup is the world’s most sought-after expat consultant. He focuses on helping high-net-worth private clients to legally mitigate tax liabilities, obtain a second residency and citizenship, and assemble a portfolio of foreign investments including international real estate, timber plantations, agricultural land and other hard-money tangible assets. Mikkel is the Founder and CEO at Expat Money®, a private consulting firm started in 2017. He hosts the popular weekly podcast, the Expat Money Show, and wrote the definitive #1-Best Selling book Expat Secrets - How To Pay Zero Taxes, Live Overseas And Make Giant Piles Of Money, and his second book: Expats Guide On Moving To Mexico.

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