This important step is part of a wider programme to attract more foreigners to Thailand to live. However, the government is also determined that these new residents must have the ability to generate wealth and prosperity for the kingdom’s wider economy. The proposed legal provision has yet to be ratified by the cabinet and there are already signs that ministers are aware of the politically sensitive nature of the plan.

A high powered Thai government committee chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha has approved in principle a proposal to allow select foreigners who qualify for newly approved 10-year visas to own small landholdings in connection with their homes. The proposal was agreed on January 21st last by the Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA) while other plans to extend lease terms for foreigners and allow more foreign ownership of condominium developments were rejected. The news is linked with an ongoing programme, first announced last April, to attract 1 million foreigners to come and live in Thailand over the next five years, a move which it is hoped could generate 5 to 6% of the country’s GDP in the future.

Deputy Prime Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow is the minister behind the scheme to attract 1 million foreigners to live and work in Thailand over the next 5 years. The Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA) chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha recently approved a proposal in principle that when perfected and approved by the cabinet, will allow foreigners to own small landholdings in Thailand associated with residential units. This is in addition to another provision drawn up by the Ministry of the Interior that will allow for more flexible work arrangements and work permits for the new cadre of incoming foreigners who will be expected to invest substantially in the kingdom’s challenged economy.

A select committee within the Thai government has approved a measure in principle to allow certain qualified foreigners to own land in Thailand going forward but limited to one rai or approximately 0.4 acres or 0.16 hectares, strictly for residential purposes.

The decision was reportedly made on Friday the 21st of January at a meeting of the Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA) and is part of the initiative being led by Deputy Prime Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow to lure up to 1 million foreigners to come to live in Thailand.

Part of a new scheme which is the brainchild of ex JP Morgan boss in Thailand Mr Chayotid Kridakon

The plans were first revealed last April. This initiative is headed up by a committee chaired by Mr Chayotid Kridakon, a former managing director of JP Morgan Thailand.

The project, which aims to generate ฿1 million per year in internal economic activity alone from each foreigner who comes to live in Thailand, could conceivably lead to economic activity or GDP valued at $1 trillion per annum if its targets are achieved.

Based on 2020’s GDP of $501.8 billion or ฿16.743 trillion, this could represent up to between 5 and 6% of the country’s GDP going forward in addition to foreign tourism.

Growing expat community and inward investment are intertwined – new 10-year visa, more flexible working conditions approved by the Interior Ministry

Over the last two years of the pandemic, Thailand’s officials have also firmly established the overlapping links between Thailand’s critically important foreign tourism industry and the country’s growing foreign resident or expat community which is also linked to attracting inward investment and talent into the kingdom. 

This initiative, announced last year, is progressing and has already led to a 10-year visa provision being approved by the Ministry of the Interior.

On January 18th, two key legal provisions were approved by the Ministry of the Interior.

One was a new long term residency visa for 10 years in respect of those qualifying for the new initiative and the other was a measure that will allow foreigners more flexible working conditions in Thailand.

Four classes of well off foreigners targeted by Thailand to come to live, work and invest here 

The new measures will be used to facilitate the government’s advancing plans to attract four classes of well off foreigners to come and live in Thailand for ten years.

Government preparing a plan to lure millions of expats to come and live in Thailand spurring the economy
Economic plan to put the smile back on Thailand’s appeal to western foreigners to live and work
10-year visas for the right kind of foreigner who can play a part in Thailand’s economic future

These include wealthy retirees from around the world, well off individuals who can afford to invest in Thailand, high earning professionals who are willing to relocate to Thailand for an improved lifestyle and highly skilled individuals who either possess critical or patented technology that can assist with the growth of Thailand’s economy and its efforts to become a high tech, high earning country over the next two decades.

French magazine Capital, with an affluent readership, rates Thailand the fifth best place in the world for French people to retire to even in COVID-19 times

The drive by the government was given a boost this week when a French business and economics magazine, Capital, aimed at an influential and wealthy audience of over 250,000 people, voted Thailand the fifth most attractive place in the world to retire to for affluent French nationals who can afford to do so.

The rankings were skewed against Thailand this year because of COVID-19 travel restrictions which favoured countries closer to France such as Spain, Portugal, Greece and Mauritius, who took the top four slots.

The news was grasped and presented, this week, as a positive development by Government House spokesperson Rachada Dhnadirek who told reporters that the accolade was backed by a survey with no less than 12 metrics.

These include property prices, cost of living, weather, safety and security, cultural and natural attractions, public health facilities, food and basic infrastructure.

Retirees seeking a 10-year visa must invest $250,000 in Thailand and have an income of $40,000 per year

Under the government’s new proposals which are in addition to normal retirement visas which are still available to foreigners, to qualify for a 10-year residential visa, the foreigner will be required to invest $250,000 in Thailand while also, at the same time, having an income of $40,000 a year.

In the last week, changes first introduced on October 1st last by the Ministry of Public Health in respect of enhanced requirements for any foreigner applying for an O/A Retirement visa were highlighted by Thai officials and international embassies.

This means that those applying for this retirement visa type, which should be differentiated from the normal O Non-Immigrant Retirement visa, must show hospital inpatient insurance of $100,000 or ฿3.4 million, an increase from the previous requirement of ฿400,000.

Higher medical coverage requirements for O-A retirement visa option but now Immigration Bureau will also accept self-insurance for those with assets

However, the Thai Immigration Bureau has, at the same time, provided an option for applicants to self insure provided that they have adequate capital and income available.

New health insurance regime for retirees living in Thailand means foreign firms can provide cover

The critical requirement for this option is to show ฿3 million in available assets including cash in the bank, available financial assets or ownership of property.

It is also understood that Immigration Bureau officers are authorised to accept evidence to show that any hospital bills will be paid for by sources from abroad.

This would apply to insurance provided to foreign retirees by their national governments or services in their home country.

The evidence requirement will mean that written documentation must be provided and certified by the foreigner’s embassy in Thailand.

New regulations do not yet impact the more popular Non-Immigrant O visas for marriage and retirement

These new arrangements do not impact current requirements for non Immigrant O visas or extensions either for marriage or retirement visas for now but may signal future intentions by the government which have also been regularly aired publicly by senior officials.

Thailand is moving upmarket and looking for wealthy foreigners to come to live and work in the kingdom.

In this respect, while efforts are being made to make investing in the kingdom by foreigners, seeking to live in Thailand, easier and provide flexibility to those with assets and financial backing, the bar may rise in the future for those foreigners living on the margins.

The new requirements are in addition to the existing financial requirements for all retirees to show ฿800,000 on deposit or a regular income per month to meet their day to day living costs in Thailand.

New property ownership provision must be prepared and finally agreed by the cabinet before it is effective

In relation to the concession to allow foreigners to own property in Thailand on a limited amount of land, it is thought the implementation of this has been forwarded to the official departments for the appropriate legal or regulatory action to bring it into effect with any detailed provision being first of all reviewed by the cabinet.

The meeting of the Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA) on the 21st January however rejected two other proposals as politically sensitive at this time.

This was a proposal to increase the percentage of condominiums that may be owned by foreigners in any one development above the current maximum threshold of 49% with another proposal to increase the terms of leaseholds that can be made available to foreigners from the current maximum term of 30 years to 50 years.

Opposition to other liberal moves from staunchly conservative Minister of the Interior General Anupong Paochinda on the basis of political sensitivity

It is thought that opposition to these changes, because they may prove politically sensitive, was led by the government’s powerful Minister of the Interior, General Anupong Paochinda.

General Aunpong is one of the three ‘brothers in arms’ or former commanders of the Royal Thai Army including the Prime Minister, General Prayut Chan ocha and the Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan who were the driving force behind the 2014 coup.

He has held the powerful role of Minister of the Interior since the coup and is seen as being a staunchly conservative influence within the government.

This plan is coming at a time when an election is drawing nearer in Thailand and public confidence in the government is low.

87% of people in the huge newspaper poll said they have never had confidence in the government

Another troubling factor is that the Thai public, consistently in opinion polls, have shown themselves to be wary of the creeping influence of foreigners in the kingdom. 

Shock poll shows the Thai public is suspicious of third parties behind the kingdom’s current political unrest
French expat government critic deported after being denied entry into Thailand via Phuket on Saturday
Western foreigners being blamed by ultra-right for this latest wave of radical student protests in Thailand

This has seen a large number opposed this year to the early lifting of restrictions for foreigners entering the country as tourists with other polls showing that over 75% of Thai people believe foreign powers play a part in the country’s political instability.

Counselling for retirees with Thai spouses

The government’s newfound determination to integrate foreigners living in the kingdom can also be seen from an initiative launched in recent weeks by the Office of the Attorney-General to provide assistance and advice to foreign retirees living in Thailand who are married to Thai spouses.

Many foreign retirees are married to Thai women and face particular difficulties because of the peculiarities of Thai law including challenges concerning inheritance difficulties faced by a Thai spouse when a foreigner is injured, dies suddenly or disappears as well as issues to do with offspring and Thai citizenship.

The initiative was launched by the Office of International Peoples’ Rights Protection which is headed by Charkrawan Saengkhae, the Executive Director.

He highlights that the service is free to any foreign retiree with a Thai spouse who wishes to avail of it.

Issues for retired foreigners in Thailand include inheritance rights of spouses after death and possible conscription of offspring into the army at 20

Artra Khunthongjan of the Office of the Attorney-General particularly drew attention to the status of offspring of such relationships who are eligible to be called up for compulsory conscription when they reach 20 years of age and who often must choose which nationality they wish to avail of at that time.

‘Most Thais don’t realise that our regulations prohibit children who are born in the kingdom from holding multiple citizenships. The Nationality Act states that when they turn 20, they must decide whether to keep their Thai citizenship or not,’ Mr Artra explained.

He revealed that, given the circumstances, many retirees chose to return to their home country with their children at that time.

The key government office also plays a role in unfortunate circumstances such as the demise of foreign retirees in accidents or where a foreign spouse goes missing.

‘Many foreigners have asked the Consular Affairs Department for help in numerous cases. We have also provided assistance in the event of deaths or road accidents, and also transferred cases to their country of origin,’ Mr Artara disclosed.

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Further reading:

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