Western retirees in Thailand feeling rather insecure

The annual extension of stay, based on retirement in Thailand, is getting more complex.

Premier Srettha Thavisin’s new Pheu Thai-led administration has already seen massive investment in Thailand’s short-term visa programs. The mass market Chinese tourists are now 30 days visa-free, at least until February 2024, and appear to have no problem obtaining a further month at immigration if wished. The sports and tourism ministry is planning to spend 600 million baht in the next financial year to promote marketing campaigns abroad for tourism. There is talk that some visitors, including Europeans and Russians, might soon see the arrival of the 90 days visa exempt stay awarded on entry.

But around 250,000 expats, mostly men dependent on one year extensions of stay based on retirement or marriage, are increasingly feeling left out in the cold. Graeme Clifton, an American who retired to Thailand 10 years ago, said, “We only ever hear bad news for us such as more visa bureaucracy and threats of extra taxation.” He added that renewing his annual extension at immigration was becoming a real hassle because of extra paperwork, some of it totally unexpected. Letters to the Bangkok Post and concerns at expat clubs up and down the country echo the same sentiments.

Although immigration offices have discretion about the detail, there is concern that the certificates from a Thai bank to show the applicant’s cash balance or monthly transfer amounts have become more complex. There is also increasing emphasis on proving a Thai address, not only by the 90 days reporting, but by updates to the TM30 registration form after leaving the country for even a day or two. Many observers say the Cambodian address registration system for expats is preferable as it requires, just once, the downloading of an app. The stated address then remains valid until the expat changes it – although the penalties for updating or defaulting can be serious.

Another headache right now is the reinterpretation of Thai Revenue policy which means that foreign-derived income by Thais or foreigners, no matter the source, becomes liable for Thai taxation from the start of 2024. The issues are complex – a tax accountant’s dream some say – but the worry of most retirees is that they live on pension income from the home country which has already been taxed there with or without a formal double-taxation treaty. Whilst there is no doubt the Revenue has principally in mind offshore and overseas income from businesses or windfalls or currency manipulation profits, the implications for the typical retiree or foreigner married to a Thai remain a mystery, for now. One scenario could be that the renewal of an annual visa might within a year or two require a TIN (tax identification number) obtained on application to the internal revenue service. Possession of a TIN does not necessarily mean tax is liable or due. But it would be another hassle.

Already many better-off expats, who are not in formal employment or claiming to be adult students of the Thai language, have moved to alternative visas which are less hassle but more expensive. A five year Elite multiple-entry visa now costs 900,000 baht. Although far from being bureaucracy-free, Elite has the advantage of not requiring medical insurance certification or ongoing checks about bank balances. There is also the 10-year Long Term Residence which has the intriguing reference to being “tax free”, but has a weighty bureaucracy controlled by the Board of Investment.

The one year visa expats, mostly retirees on modest incomes, thus look to be wedged between the Thai government’s concern to boost revenue by reducing the rules for short-term tourists and its preference for expats who are rich enough to invest in longer stay options. It will likely take several months before all the implications are clarified by several government sources. Even then, there will remain the thorny issue of whether use of visa agents might (or might not) be able to help with the rising pile of required documentation. Still, never try to hurry the Orient.