10-year Thai visas are having a slow take-off

The LTR is all about catching the well-heeled, whether employed or born with a silver spoon.

Reports from Bloomberg and official Thai sources suggest that around 400 applications or expressions of interest have so far been received for the new 10-year LTR (Long Term Residence) visas. The actual applications are handled by the Board of Investment (BOI), although officials there have not yet commented publicly. Pre-launch publicity had indicated that enquiries could be made at immigration bureaux or Thai embassies abroad, but feedback has been scarce. A call to the immigration hotline clarified that enquiries had been “scattered”.

Almost half the applications since the launch on September 1 have been from the United States, China and the UK with retirees being the principal group. Provided they are aged at least 50, the application process is straightforward provided they can prove a regular income of at least 80,000 baht (two thousand pounds) monthly. Some of the benefits are shared with the Elite visa, popular with retirees, including fast-track at airports. But only the LTR can offer freedom from the 90 days immigration check-in and a digital work permit, assuming the latter is required for this group.

The Board of Investment has always assumed that working professionals would be the main target group. The key attractions are tax benefits from employment in Thailand – a standard 17 percent which benefits high flyers – tax exemption from most overseas income and abolition of the old work permit rule which required a ratio of four Thai workers for one highly qualified foreigner. However, at least 1,600 foreigners had already enrolled on the four year Smart visa, introduced in 2018, which does not even require a work permit.

Digital nomads or remote workers are another target group, but the LTR requires them to have written contracts with employers which many freelancers do not have, or even want. It is likely that many nomads will continue to rely on Thai tourist visas, unless the immigration bureau changes its stand-off policy, or they will choose countries with fewer bureaucratic hurdles and more concrete advantages such as a second passport or freedom from taxes. The final group are the wealthy global citizens, a mysterious breed, whom Thai authorities see as high-value customers and investors.

The LTR certainly offers some advantages not available in other visa choices. The issue is whether they are substantial enough for one million anticipated enrollers. When the Elite visa started in 2003, its claimed attraction was initially to allow ownership of one rai freehold property, an idea promptly vetoed and dismissed. Similar claims were made initially for LTR, but this has now been restricted to foreigners investing 40 million baht for a minimum three years period. It may be 2026 before the first enrollers find out for sure what they can actually do. When it comes to visas, the devil loves the detail.