Given the complexity of Thailand’s various long-term visa rules, Pattaya Today has spoken to 20 local expats (aged over 50) about the various alternatives currently on offer. The research did not consider aliens with work permits nor those with permanent residency rights.
The three main alternatives are the traditional one year extension of stay, commonly known as the retirement visa, the new 10 year visa announced earlier this year and the various options available under the Elite card initiative. There is also the annual extension of stay based on a foreigner’s marriage to a Thai national.
Far and away the most popular option is the annual extension of stay for retirees which requires income or bank balances of at least 800,000 baht. Bill, a 62 year old Brit, said he had looked at all the options. “I found the new 10 year retirement visa required a lot of complex paperwork including police clearance from the UK and possession of comprehensive Thai medical insurance.” He said he had limited medical cover from a UK company but had been told foreign-based policies were ineligible.
However, not everyone agreed. Bob, an American expat, said he had applied for the 10 year visa – in fact two chunks of five years – because his American wife and children could share the advantages of long-stay in Thailand. “We all feel much more secure with a visa option which does not require annual renewal,” he said. “My wife and I previously held the one year retirement option, but found that we each had to have 800,000 baht in a Thai bank. The bureaucracy was actually more hassle than the new 10 year path.”
The Elite card also has its champions. This requires a one-off payment of between 500,000 baht and two million baht for residency rights from five to 20 years. Jacques, a 55-year old French citizen, said he had paid 500,000 baht for the “baby” Elite card which allowed him a five years’ stay but renewable annually. “I do not have to do 90 days reporting in person as Elite sees to that,” he said, “and I don’t have to stand in long lines at the airport immigration.” Other advantages were discounts on spas and golf courses and no need for the cumbersome paperwork associated with one year extensions of stay.
Introduced in 2003, the Elite card is now a privatized company owned by the Thai tourist authority with the aim of earning revenue from high-end visitors and investors. It currently has 4,300 members with most members coming from UK, China and several Asean countries. There are now various options and pricing structures which allow for family membership in the scheme.
Critics of the Elite card complain about the cost and the fact that the advantages can be nebulous. For example, the discounts at sports facilities and various retail outlets are not restricted to Elite card holders. A half-promise in 2003 that the Elite card might permit foreigners to own land under certain conditions was never ratified.
At present, far-and-away the most popular option for retirees is the one year extension of stay for retirement. Its main advantage is its cheapness (1,900 baht + re-entry if required)and the fact that the documentation is relatively straightforward. However, some commentators believe that the 800,000 baht minimum requirement could be hiked whilst some government sources have expressed concern about long-term foreigners who do not have medical insurance.
The X-O or 10 year retirement is only months old, but has so far not had a major effect on the expat market. Most retirees say they prefer to remain with the one year option – provided the ground rules do not change. One disadvantage of X-O is that a sum of money from 1.8 million to three million baht has to be lodged in a Thai bank on a long-term basis.
The Elite card is the most expensive to obtain but requires little documentation and certainly simplifies responsibilities with Thai immigration. Although it is true that Elite can handle the 90 days reporting on a customer’s behalf, this holds true only for those members living in major cities and not in rural areas. Elite membership networks are also useful for those needing work permits or investment introductions.
The one year extension based on marriage to a Thai citizen is a route mainly used by expats under 50 who are too young to apply for the retirement option. It requires at least 400,000 baht in a Thai bank or proof of overseas income to the same amount. Application and renewal can be slow processes because of the substantial documentation required and the need to show that the marriage is not on the rocks or a fake arrangement.