Thailand’s new rules for retiree visas sound alarm bells

How will the new visa rules affect him?

The Thai Cabinet has agreed the framework of a new visa policy which has been under consideration by government committees for most of 2021.  The general idea is to lure well-heeled foreigners to have a base in the kingdom whilst enjoying a number of perks which include a 10 year permission to stay, the end of 90-day reporting, an attractive income tax structure and owning land outright.  However, the devil – or devils – lurk in the detail.  As always.

One of the eligible groups are “wealthy” retirees who are described as over 50 years and with an annual income of US$40,000, or US$250,000 in government bonds or ownership of real estate to the latter amount. At present retiree rules are very different.  Ownership of property or of government assets doesn’t count, whilst the income rule is 800,000 baht in the bank or in foreign income shipped in monthly.  That equates to only about US$25,000 and can sometimes be avoided if a friend loans you the cash.

The immediate question is whether current retirees will have to move to the new regulations or whether they will be protected on the rules as they are.  It is possible, though by no means certain, that they will be “grandfathered”, that is able to retain one year renewable extensions of stay but without any of the new perks promised for the wealthier group.  An earlier government statement last June suggested that comprehensive insurance, as well as Covid-related, would be required for “all” retirement-based visas and extensions of stay issued by Thai embassies abroad and by the immigration bureau here.  Lots of detail still to come on those issues.

The Cabinet decision also seeks to encourage migration by rich foreigners – basically those with assets worth one million dollars US – by linking a ten year visa to an automatic work permit and a special-reduced income tax rate for those working in the Eastern Economic Corridor which is currently based in the Rayong area.  These ideas seem to be based on the current four-year Smart visa for hi-tech experts and some digital nomads which does not anyway require a work permit or the 90 days reporting.  Although not well known, the Smart visa has already broken new visa ground.

The government says it is now committed to allowing “some” rich foreigners to own freehold land.  This is likely to mean a newly-built house on specially-agreed estates with the proviso that the dwelling is bought directly from the developer.  This perk was publicized as a possibility last June when it was suggested that some Elite visa holders might qualify provided they kept on investing over a five year period.  But the most recent Cabinet statement doesn’t mention Elite.

The overall aim is to boost the Thai economy and the Thai treasury by attracting one million or so wealthy foreigners to stay long-term without the traditional downsides.  The proposals will appeal mostly to Chinese and other Asian investors who already dominate the foreign-bought condo market and the multi-billion (in any currency) import and export complex dominated by the Eastern Economic Corridor.  The English-speaking, social media keyboard warriors are already ridiculing the idea that Thailand can attract hundreds of thousands of really wealthy guys and gals.  However, the proposals are not primarily aimed at the current expat population.