Thursday, January 27, 2011

Country Profile: Thailand

Country profiles are simply overviews of how to get into a country and some obstacles you'll face. They are not intended to be in-depth discussions of the country.
BBC, Wikipedia and CIA World Factbook articles on Thailand.



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Languages

Official: Thai.

Multiple languages are spoken in Thailand, with Thai being the most prominent. English is spoken in the cities and it's a required subject in school, but fluency levels remain low. Without basic knowledge of the Thai language, you'll probably struggle.

Work permits

Thailand is a very popular destination for expats. It's friendly people and low cost of living make it very attractive.

Due to the Thai Amity Treaty of 1966, Americans are allowed to start a business there with few restrictions, making Thailand a bit easier to get into than other countries (other nationalities may have businesses there, but it's not as easy). As this is a treaty and not laws passed by the Thai legislature, it's fairly stable, legally, and thus gives Americans a something solid in a country which otherwise has had a troubled political history.

Aside from the Amity treaty, entry into Thailand via work permit is pretty standard. An employer must offer you a job and you must have apply for a non-immigrant work visa. The BSA Law Web site seems to have better coverage of the requirements than most.

Residency

Acquiring residency in Thailand is fairly straightforward, though it sounds like the bureaucracy is painful and multiple readings of blogs on the topic indicate that local officials may have a lot of leeway in how they interpret the law. In short: don't piss them off.

To qualify for residency you must:

  • Have held a non-immigrant visa for at least 3 consecutive years before application (this is shorter than most countries!)
  • Have a personal qualification for staying, such as being an investor, having a business, a relationship with a Thai national or an alien with a residence permit.

Bangkok
Bangkok, Thailand
Photo by Bruno Ideriha
Unfortunately, as a foreign national, you won't be permitted to own property in this lovely country without marrying a native, so this is a disincentive for some. Also, you can lose your residency if you commit a crime or if they think you have knowledge of an illegal alien and didn't say anything (so be careful of your friends). To top it off, they only allow 100 immigrants of each nationality and you may not leave the country without notifying the Immigration Division.

There is a dedicated Web site, Thai Visa, which will cover all of this in depth for you.

Citizenship

Citizenship is possible, but they do not recognzie dual citizenship (except in rare cases which you won't qualify for). To qualify, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Not be in trouble with the law.
  • Have a job.
  • Lived there for five years.
  • Be able to speak Thai.

There are other considerations, but those are the major ones. Yaiban.com has a good summary of the requirements, but sums up the general issue with Thailand:

"Last year 48 people applied for Thai nationality. Ten received approval from the Minister of Interior."
--
Pol Lt Col Somdej Khanthawong, Special Branch, Royal Thai Police, Bangkok

Retirement

Thailand is a popular retirement destination. There is a multi-step process that you have to go through. First, you must apply for the non-immigrant "O-A" retirement visa. There are several requirements:

  • You must be at least 50 years of age.
  • Not barred from entering Thailand
  • Have no major criminal convictions/contagious diseases
  • Have 12 months left on your passport
  • Apply from your country of nationality or permanent residence
  • Have 800,000 baht in the bank or a guaranteed income of 65,000 baht per month. A combination of savings plus monthly income times twelve equaling 800,000 baht will also suffice.

(As of this writing, 800,000 baht is rought $26,000 US and 65,000 baht is roughly $2,100 US)

That is enough to start you on your path to a Thai retirement, but there is more work to do along with plenty of paperwork. The Siam Legal Web site has a fantastic section walking you through the process.

I've also provided a bit more information about Thailand in my Retire Overseas post.
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