Live Updates: Immigration Crackdown in Chaing Mai, Thailand

I'm sitting here at PunSpace the coworking space in Chiang Mai, and about an hour ago 20 armed uniformed police and immigration officials stormed in and detained everyone.  Currently 18 tourists are in a police van being taken to Thai Immigration near the airport.

The only four tourists left at PunSpace right now is a European guy that has his passport and a valid Education visa, myself, and an American couple who are on 30 day visas on arrival.

chiang mai punspace visa

The owners of PunSpace were called and rushed here and have been extremely helpful. They ever showed the officers letters saying that they were operation a coworking space which is similar to an internet cafe, and that no one here is working for a Thai company or making Thai wages, meaning they are not taking Thai jobs or working illegally. 

It would be the exact same thing as going to Spain, Bali, or London on vacation and checking your work email or blogging from an internet cafe while you were on vacation.

They originally stated that they will detain anyone who cannot produce their passport, which sucks but is fair.  

My Situation: 

Luckily my girlfriend was home and was able to bring me my passport within minutes.  I have proof of my identity,  and a valid tourist visa so I was left alone.  An hour later, they are still trying to get the last few people out of PunSpace into the van.

I asked the officer if I was being arrested and they said no.  The American girl is currently on the phone with the US Embassy to ask what to do.

The reason why I do not want to go in the van is because I have no idea what will happen after that. It may be nothing, we may get locked up, we may be subjected to a bribe, or we may even be deported. I basically told the officers that unless they want to arrest me, that I'm not getting in the van.  I've been polite and cooperative so they are leaving me alone for now.

Digital Nomads in Chiang Mai?

About a month ago, Chiang Mai City News reported that immigration does not care about "digital nomads" but clearly this has changed.  PunSpace was targeted, but i'm sure Coffee Monster, or anywhere else will be targeted as well.  

The guy from Poland is on the phone with his lawyer and being taken to immigration.  The American girl will most likely be taken as well as she doesn't have her passport.  I'm hoping I will be left alone because I have mine.

But we'll see....

Update: The last of us "volunteered" to come to immigration on our own. We drove there unescorted. Turns out they thought we were employees of PunSpace which is untrue. We're all still here but good news so far is that they aren't targeting digital nomads.

Update: At Thai immigration near the airport, everyone got interviewed but were treated extremely kindly.  It ended up taking a few hours and felt like a big waste of time, but nothing bad actually happened.  The owners of PunSpace were even nice enough to bring us lunch.

After 5 hours of being detained, this was the best fried rice I've ever tasted.

Those without passports on them were supposed to be fined, but ended up being let go without penalty after their information was looked up on the computer.

The Conclusion: 

It turns out that the reason for the raid wasn't because we were working online, it was because they thought PunSpace was illegally hiring western staff without work permits.  They did not know the concept of a co-working space or why we would pay to use an office and not just check our email at a coffee shop or in our hotel.

Hopefully after this fiasco Thai immigration now has a better understanding of what a co-working space and a digital nomad is, and now they will realize that not only are we not being paid by places like PunSpace to work there, we are in fact, paying them, and bringing money into the Thai economy and not taking any local Thai jobs away.

WIN for Digital Nomads:

Although one of the people detained is extremely worried and does not want her name associated at all with todays events, in the long run, I believe this is a win for location independent entrepreneurs. After checking my passport and seeing that I'm on a valid tourist visa and haven't overstayed, and that I have no blacklist or warrants internationally, I was free to go.

I even hung out at immigration a bit longer and got my 30 day extension while I was there.  The owners of PunSpace were also nice enough to give us all another month for free for the trouble.

What I told the reporters for Asian Correspondent when asked will I stay in Thailand and will I go back to PunSpace?

The answer is, yes, I'll be back at PunSpace tomorrow.

Warm Regards,

Johnny FD 

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Post a Comment

  1. Thanks for putting this together Johnny. Seems like they are figuring out a bunch of things with immigration ever since the military coup? Will you be staying in Chiang Mai or looking elsewhere in Southeast Asia?

    1. Hey sorry for the late reply, but in the past 4 years since this raid happened, i've spent 3-9 months in Thailand each year and come back each time on a 6 month METV tourist visa with no issues. However, if you've been following my blog, I've also been actively promoting other countries while looking for the "next Chiang Mai" or at least an alternative. But i'm back in Chiang Mai now and love it here.

  2. Crazy stuff, man. Dana and I went over to the coffee shop right next door to see what was going on. Saw you and the remaining others take off in POVs with the police/military/immigration following you. Hope you guys get this sorted - be safe!

  3. We've been here for over 2 hours now. They questioned us individually about our visas, what we do at punspace, etc. They are particularly interested in the edu visa ppl. They may try and fine us for not having our passports on us, but apparently this isn't a legal requirement. In the meantime, I'm getting hungry.

  4. 'They may try and fine us for not having our passports on us, but apparently this isn't a legal requirement."

    Yes it is, or a photocopy stamped by immigration.

  5. It is absolutely a legal requirement that all foreigners have their passport on them at all times and if they are caught without it the fine is 2000 baht it is a longstanding law but rarely enforced.

  6. A group of us were at Coffee Monster when we heard what happened. People cleared out quick there after hearing the news about PunSpace. Pretty sure, like you said Johnny, they're going to be hitting up all the co-working spaces.

    Hope everyone makes it out of immigration, unscathed.

  7. Hey Johnny,
    The "Other Asian American from Hawaii" here. Wow! I just saw and read this post you wrote! Well, it does make sense about Immigration checking on foreigners who don't have their proper ID with them which is fair like you said as they did announce it to the media I think it was a couple of months ago. One thing is the government is doing what they said they are going to do which is a good sign the government is improving here in Thailand. Thanks for keeping us informed about things like this Johnny! And thanks again for all the help and motivation you've given me and to others to achieve our goals and dreams in life!

  8. Wahou that is a really weird situation... At least Chiang Mai police officers are now super aware of the concept of coworking haha :)

  9. I tried to get a photocopy stamped at immigration in August and they had no idea what I was talking about. I am ok with Thai and deal with immigration a lot. I wasn't talking with any newbie, but one of the experienced guys.

  10. News flash; There is NO thai law on the record books which says foreigners need to carry their passports. The law reads "valid I/D" and any I/D from your country will work to meet the requirement of the law.
    NOW with that in mind Police/Immigrations or anyone else in an "oh-so tight uniform" can ask to see your passport which you then have to fetch for them.. Still it is total b/s to spout that "it's the law" concerning carrying passports. In fact, the head of Immigrations came out a while back and said foreigners didn't need to carry them!
    I am sure given that the "shared workspace" concept is fairly new here, someone saw a bunch of foreigners hunched over desks and thought they were working illegally here.

  11. Thanks for writing this post and for keeping us updated. Glad that everything ended up being ok. It does sound like a win for digital nomads. I look forward to arriving in CM soon and either meeting you there or at DCBKK :)

  12. This is the kind of post that will hurt the community. To live happy, stay hidden

  13. So the information on any number of embassy websites is wrong? For example from the British Embassy Website: "By law, you must carry your passport with you at all times in Thailand. Tourists have been arrested because they were unable to produce their passport on request. Make sure you complete the next of kin details section in the back of your passport." What information do you have that the British Embassy does not? Please share

  14. Since the aftermath of the tsunami in 2004, when a significant number of foreign "volunteers" turned out to be using the disaster as a convenient means to legitimize their illegal work in pubs/clubs/scuba diving schools, etcetera, Thai Immigration and the Thai Labor Department have cracked down and made it crystal clear all volunteers must obtain a work permit through the organization for which they "work"/"volunteer".

    If a volunteer enters Thailand on a 30 day travel permit or a 2 month tourist visa, the Thai authorities will usually turn a blind eye. If you keep your nose clean, do not break the law, and behave in manner which does not bring you to the attention of the authorities, you will not be challenged. But if this not the case and you get stopped and questioned by the police for an unrelated incident, e.g, running through a stop light, expect the full weight of the law to come crushing down upon you,

    And my question for Coffee Monster is this, what is the difference in the pragmatic application of Thai law between an oversees volunteer who provides their services free of charge to a non-profit organization and an unpaid overseas intern working for a commercial operation whose primary objective is to make money for its shareholders?

  15. From what I've heard/logic it doesn't make sense to get an official to stamp your photocopy. Instead, simply make a photocopy of the stamp they put in your passport when you entered with the valid till date.

    So the two things to carry at all times: 1. Photocopy of your passport (the page with your photo) and 2. Photo copy of the entry stamp with visible valid until date.

  16. No one is going to carry their physical passport with them at all times. The risk and headache of you losing it is far worse than paying $60 in the .01% chance you are fined. Just use a photocopy.

  17. Hey Luiz, glad everyone has been enjoying the live drama. I updated this post with my thoughts, but basically, yesterday was a win for Digital Nomads in Thailand, and I'm staying. I've been to Bali, Saigon, Laos, Cambodia, the Philippines, Malaysia, etc, but Chiang Mai is the best place by far. I'm staying put and am back at PunSpace the following morning.

  18. It is illegal to work without a work permit in Thailand, even for your business abroad, whatever anybody will tell you, you can be detained and deported, you like it or not, this is our law.

    1. What about if you need to clean your car, tidy your house or cut your grass, is that kind of work illegal?

  19. Thank god. They treat you guys well.
    I'm Thai and I know it sucks wasting time like this. But also fair enough for them. (from their point of view jobs)
    Hope you guys are fine and they have better understanding about Pun space.
    BTW "Thailand retreat" is on next week right? Cheers!

  20. Everyone is fine now =) And the Retreat is on and well! 90% of the people coming are only coming for a week or two to Thailand anyways as Tourists so they won't have any issues with their visa.

  21. Link to said law?

    I've heard this a lot and never seen the law itself.

  22. About a month ago the Head of Immigration in Bangkok clarified the passport thingy (it was in the BP), saying that it was impractical and would not be enforced, if you carried some proof of ID or could produce some promptly that would be fine.

  23. "we are in fact, paying them, and bringing money into the Thai economy and not taking any local Thai jobs away." - I like this comment. it is true and making sense. Thank you for sharing your experience. I am going to be defense myself to not get a caught.

  24. Hey Johnny, I have one more question, if you do not mind. Do you have any information about Thailand VISA? (Avoid to travel out of Thailand and entering Embassy of Thailand to get a Visa)

    1. Hey e-three I wrote a bit about it here:

      Also check the forums at for more info.

  25. Hey Johnny,
    Glad all worked fine for you guys, I suggest that a group of digital nomads should arrange a meeting with thai immigration and explain in detail what you do. Take thai assistant such as thai blogers and one Lawyer who can explain to them in Thai language.

    1. That is an absolutely terrible idea. What they do is illegal, end of story.


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