If you are bored with visa runs or are too young for a retirement visa, here’s a novel way of spending long periods of time in the Land of Smiles. In a bid to save the failing Elite Card scheme, Thailand Privilege Card Company (TPC) is now hoping to sell foreign membership through a major real estate developer with a five-year visa as a perk.
The Elite Card, brainchild of Thaksin Shinawatra when in office 10 years ago, is believed to be the world’s first national membership card. It never really took root and has been very nearly cancelled by several governments in the last five years.
Early promises that Elite Card holders would be able to own land in their own name proved false, and various other perks–such as discounts at spas and golf courses–never lived up to their promises. The cost to foreigners was one million baht, later raised to two million, with the main attraction being a three-month renewable visa for a five year period.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), sole owner of TPC, is now selecting a real estate partner to launch the co-branded Elite membership cards. The developer will be allowed to design his own card package to sell with the units. The cost will be a one-off one million baht plus an annual service charge of 20,000 baht. To qualify, foreigners must invest–as individuals–in Thai real estate.
The incentive is a new five-year visa, renewable on an annual basis subject to security checks, and special airport services such as fast-track immigration. TAT believes that the Elite Card will become an interesting new marketing tool to attract foreign investors to make a stake in the Thai property business.
Meanwhile, TAT will continue to sell its own regular (non-branded) Elite packages but with a fee of two million baht and a 20,000 baht annual management fee. There are currently 2,534 existing cardholders under the old regulations; their membership term has been slashed from lifetime to 20 years, a span which also applies to the new-generation cards.
Critics say that the Elite Card will still be hard to sell and that the real estate angle is probably a shot-in-the-arm measure to try and revive a forlorn prospect. There is a stubborn feeling in the travel industry that there are not enough foreign visitors with mega-cash to spare to spend on a card which is yet to identify its commercial worth.
A major Pattaya real estate developer said, “If the government wants to market the Elite Card on a feasible basis, they should announce that its main perk would be to allow limited working without a work permit. The My Second Home scheme in Malaysia allows foreign investors and retirees to work hassle-free for up to 20 hours a week.”