Elite card is not a free pass to return to Thailand


Following press reports in UK that the long-stay visa known as Elite is an automatic permission to return to Thailand, Thai embassies abroad are stressing that all foreigners must follow the proper procedures. There have been several instances of Elite card holders purchasing an air ticket to Bangkok online only to be refused boarding at the airport.

The Elite is a 5-20 year visa offered in exchange for a non-returnable, initial cash payment of between 500,000 and 2,000,000 baht according to which option is chosen. Last month, the Thai government agreed to allow Elite holders to be included in the list of foreigners who are eligible to request entry permission from the Thai embassy in the country of intended departure.

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The other privileged groups are permanent residents, who hold a police red book, medical tourists seeking substantial surgery, work permit holders and sponsored business people, registered students and those with Thai wives or dependents to support. All these potential groups, plus Elite holders, must submit copious documentation to the appropriate Thai embassy including proof of medical insurance worth at least US$100,000 and proof of virus-free status. Another requirement is that all non-Thais pay for 14-days quarantine at a state-approved hotel on arrival.

The Thai foreign affairs ministry stresses that all applications are handled on a case by case basis. Nobody can travel without a certificate of entry issued by the embassy after consultation with Bangkok authorities. General tourists and retirees are not currently included in the list of categories permitted to return, according to the website of the Thai embassy in UK. Thailand has been coronavirus-free of community transmission for several months, but there are regular Covid-19 cases of returning Thais who have been identified during the compulsory quarantine period.

The Elite card is not issued by Thai embassies worldwide but by the government in Bangkok after liaison with the immigration bureau. Applications can be made on-line from virtually anywhere in the world and are welcome irrespective of age or nationality. However, Elite membership does not allow working in Thailand nor ownership of land. It is basically a long-term visitor visa which additionally carries perks such as fast-track immigration and discounts at some leisure and retail outlets. Holders are not exempt from the requirement to report their address every 90 days if they have not left the country for three months.

Several British nationals, desperate to return to Thailand, told Pattaya Mail that they had applied on-line and been told the processing period was between two weeks and two months. Once granted, the card could be picked up by special arrangement at a Bangkok airport. They are allowed to request permission to travel from the Thai embassy during the application period after payment of the cash sum. One applicant Roger Inkerman said, “The Elite offers me the only possible way to return this year, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”

Views differ on the overall merits of Elite. Some claim it is expensive, does not exclude members from regular reporting at the immigration bureau and has few tangible benefits. But others point out that a cash payment of 500,000 baht for a guaranteed five years is a fair deal, especially as there are no further financial requirements or checks. Roger Inkerman concluded, “It’s good value for money when you remember that the annual Thai retirement visa requires you always to have 800,000 baht in your account for five months and 400,000 baht for the other seven. This is money you can’t spend. Elite is a better deal.”