A couple of months ago I wrote about coworking spaces in some of the more exoctic locations around the globe. One of the places I mentioned in that piece was Punspace in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Chiang Mai is the top city for digital nomads according to crowdsourced rankings by NomadList and is quickly becoming a popular destination for remote workers. Yesterday, however, the people working out of Punspace got a reminder about a potential drawback facing digital nomads: a surprise visit from immigration officials.
According to Johnny FD, a writer and entrepreneur who was working at Punspace yesterday and live-blogged the whole thing, about 20 police and immigration officials showed up at the coworking space and detained the foreigners working out of there. The officials wanted to see the nomads’ passports and visas; those who couldn’t produce their papers (which was most of them) were taken to an immigration office. The few, like Johnny FD, who were able to produce their passports and valid tourist visas were eventually persuaded to come to the immigration office voluntarily for questioning.
In the end, the whole thing turned out to be a misunderstanding. Immigration officials thought that the nomads were actually Punspace employees, and, as such, would have been required to have work permits. After several hours of worry and hassles, everybody was allowed to go back about their business and nobody was fined or deported. Punspace’s owners were, according to Johnny FD, very responsive and helpful and gave everyone a free month of usage for all the trouble.
This whole situation can be a viewed a win for digital nomads, since the Thai authorities, ultimately, confirmed that they can work in the country on a valid tourist visa. This incident also comes about a month after Chiang Mai immigration officials declared that digital nomads could work under a tourist visa.
However, it should also serve as a reminder that if you wish to work remotely from a foreign country, be sure you know the laws. How exactly, immigration laws apply to digital nomads in many countries is not always clear. This is isn't surprising since, after all, remote working is a fairly new thing.
While things seem to have been clarified for remote workers in Thailand - at least for now - to be really safe, talk to a lawyer with knowledge of the immigration laws in your destination. Also, to be super extra safe, make sure to always keep a copy of your passport handy at all times, you know, just in case.
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