Thailand’s expat retirees face yet another visa choice

Retirees to Thailand face a bewildering choice of visas, particularly the well-heeled ones.

The Thai Cabinet has confirmed that applicants for the yet-to-be-introduced Long Term Resident (LTR) ten-year visa will need to pay only a 50,000 baht registration fee rather than the 100,000 baht previously touted. The announcement was made by deputy government spokeswoman Rachada Dhnadirek in remarks reported by ThaiPBSWorld. She pointed out that the LTR is designed for wealthy retirees, serious investors and professionals in various fields. These groups are all designated as “high capability or potential” meaning they are wealthy by most standards.

Any retiree over 50 would need as a minimum an income of 80,000 baht monthly (US$2,300) plus other registered cash or assets here or abroad. In return for a ten-year visa, actually 5×2, successful applicants will have privileges which have yet to be fully publicized. These will include exclusion from the tiresome 90 days report and some rights to buy specified properties (not just condos) in their own name. The LTRs would require comprehensive medical insurance annually, but are now promised the alternative right to self-insure to the tune of US$100,000 or 3 million baht.

The LTR is yet another try at catching a rich expat market believed by Thai authorities to be in the millions worldwide. In 2016 the government introduced a ten-year O/X visa for retirees and their families. It has not proved popular because of the weighty registration bureaucracy required, ongoing checks on bank balances and the need to keep substantial cash reserves in Thailand. Uniquely, this visa promised retirees they could work as volunteers subject to agreement by the Ministry of Labor. It does require ongoing medical insurance.

The Elite visa dates back even further – to 2003 and the premiership if Thaksin Shinawatra – and offers a five year, multiple-entry residency, in annual chunks, for a non-returnable fee of 600,000 baht. There are also alternative packages with prices ranging up to 2 million baht depending on the complex detail. Elite has proved most popular with retirees, professionals who visit frequently and individuals who don’t easily fit into other visa categories. It does not require medical insurance – except for the Thailand Pass US$10,000 rule on entering the country by air, land or sea.

But most of Thailand’s 150,000 or so retirees (no official figures) are on annually renewable “O” or “OA” visas. The differences between the two, especially on insurance, are a very popular subject on social media in general and the well-informed Asean Now in particular. To date, “OA” visas have been ring-fenced, along with the Special Tourist Visa (STV) and the O/X, and require ongoing hospitalization cover not required for any other visas. Jumping through hoops seems to be an inalienable privilege for today’s retiree population. Some say that visa complexity encourages multiple markets. Others say it’s a real turnoff.