Applying for Thai residency
One of the most common questions asked about Thai immigration is the procedure to apply for permanent Thai residency. Assuming you qualify – not a foregone conclusion by any means – what then are the advantages?
Well, you can live permanently here without needing an extension of stay. This is an improvement on visa extensions for one year at a time and also on the Elite visa. The latter is technically for 5-20 years, depending on the type and cost, but requires some kind of action every three months.
With residency, you can also have your name on a blue (not yellow) house registration document and can own a condominium unit in Thailand without proving the cash was brought here from abroad. Work permits are easier to obtain and you can even become a director of a Thai registered company.
The most likely candidates
But you cannot vote in Thai elections. Nor can you own freehold land in your own name. The immigration bureau handles all permanent residency applications and there is a quota system of 100 persons per country in a calendar year. Applications are made between October and December but the exact dates may change from year to year.
The next question is whether you qualify to apply. You must have held a Thai non-immigrant visa for a minimum of three years prior to application – three consecutive yearly extensions – and be in possession of one when you send in the forms.
Most successful applications in fact are holders of non-immigrant “B” (business) visas and an up-to-date work permit issued by the Labour Ministry. Tax returns and other relevant documents are part of the application procedure. Minimum income levels also come into play. After 10 years, you can apply for Thai naturalized citizenship.
There are several other categories for application, although it is fair to state they tend to take longer or even fail on technical grounds. These include a steep cash investment category, an “expert” category (although there is a separate working visa for hi-tech experts) and a special “humanitarian” group who has a close blood relationship or marriage with a current Thai citizen.
The devil is in the detail
The list of documents required depends on the category of application. The period of waiting can be lengthy, 1 to several years. If finally successful, a blue book for residence will be issued which in turn enables you to register it with the local authority and obtain a house card. Shortly afterwards, you will apply for an alien red book at the local police station (not immigration this time) which has to be re-registered from time to time.
In effect, the bureaucracy associated with permanent residency is lighter than with one year or elite visas – for example no 90 days reporting – but has by no means disappeared. Re-entry permits are always required with residency.
After accepting an application for permanent residence, the immigration bureau will grant a six months’ extension of stay from the actual date of submission. Additional periods of six months are granted until residence is granted or until the application is refused. It may be necessary to have a series of interviews with Thai immigration officers and the applicant’s knowledge of the Thai language is likely to be probed. Expect health checks too.
The actual cost of the whole process is difficult to state as there are umpteen variables. Between 250,000 and 350,000 baht would be a fair estimate – all aspects considered. If the successful applicant is under the age of 20, the charges are maybe half.
Not suitable for everyone
In summary, most expats probably won’t get into the detail as they may well not qualify or feel that the bureaucracy isn’t worth the trouble. But it is worth emphasizing again that most successful applicants are from business executives who are married or have close blood relatives who already hold the residency book.
Expats who simply like the idea of having a longer visa than 12 months are probably better suited to the Elite visa which is very flexible, easy to obtain and requires only a cash payment at the time of application of between 500,000 and one million baht.
Otherwise, it may be best to remain with your annual retirement extension or your visa based on marriage to a Thai citizen or your annually renewable non-immigrant “B” if holding a work permit.