Thailand is a very popular retirement and investment destination. It has a relatively low cost of living, affordable and reliable healthcare and is generally safe with a rule of law. The Thai economy is growing at a healthy pace with its gross domestic product (GDP) growing at 3.3%, 3.9% and 4.1% in 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively. 2018’s growth rate of 4.1% was the fastest pace since 2012 and it is important to note that despite a strong export uptick, Thailand’s increase in capital utilisation and acceleration in capital goods imports does suggest that there is a strong local demand for infrastructure development which can only bode well for the kingdom in the long run. The introduction of Thailand 4.0, an economic model designed to transform the Thai economy to one that is driven by higher-value industries with an aim to increase per capita GDP, the influx of foreign investors and Bangkok playing a pivotal role in China’s One Belt One Road initiative in the South East Asia region does bode well for Thailand in the long run. This is resulting in an influx of foreigners into the kingdom. There is a deluge of reasons why people are coming into Thailand but they can be broadly summarised into three categories, to work, to invest and to retire. To effectively stay in Thailand, you will need long stay visas and in this article, I will be explaining the various options.
Visas for work
There are two types of visas for those looking to work in Thailand. You will need a company as a sponsor when applying for these visas.
Business Visa (Non-Immigrant Visa “B”)
This visa is issued to applicants who wish to enter Thailand to work or to conduct business.
- This visa is for foreigners who are employed in Thailand or for foreigners who wish to conduct business in Thailand.
- The applicant will need a Thai company as a sponsor when applying for the visa. This would mean that the applicant would have to have secured a job from a Thai company before applying for a business visa.
- Validity: 90 days with an extension of stay of up to 1 year (Application for extension of stay is through the Office of the Immigration Bureau)
- The business visa is a prerequisite for the applicant to obtain a work permit in Thailand.
- It is recommended that the applicant applies for this visa at the Thai Embassy or Consulate in their country of residence.
- Family members can apply for a dependent visa.
- 90-day reporting period (Holder has to report to the Immigration Police every 90 days)
Here is the standard process for foreigners who wish to work in Thailand.
Step 1: Securing a prospective employer in Thailand and preparing all the necessary documents.
Step 2: Apply for Non-Immigrant Visa “B”, single entry at the Thai Embassy or Consulate in the applicant’s country of residence (details: www.mfa.go.th). [1 to 3 days]
Step 3: A 90-day stay permit will be granted at the immigration checkpoint.
Step 4: Apply for a temporary Work Permit at the Department of Employment (www.doe.go.th/workpermit) [7 days]
Step 5: Apply for an Extension of Stay Permit at the Immigration Bureau (www.immigration.go.th) [30 days]
Step 6: Apply for an Extension of Work Permit at the Department of Employment. If the applicant is leaving Thailand, he or she must apply for a Re-entry Permit at the Immigration Bureau or at the airport before departure if he or she would like to re-enter Thailand under the same employment status. [both same day]
Business Approved Visa (Non-Immigrant Visa “B-A”)
- This visa is for foreigners who are investing in a Thai company or for foreigners who will conduct business in Thailand.
- The granting of the visa is through the Office of the Immigration Bureau in Bangkok.
- Validity: 1 year from the date of first entry into Thailand.
- Family members can apply for a dependent visa.
The Smart Visa is designed to attract highly skilled manpower, investors, executives and startup entrepreneurs to work or invest in certain targeted industries in Thailand. It is designed to support the Thailand 4.0 initiative.
The targeted industries are:
- Next-Generation Automotive
- Smart Electronics
- Affluent, Medical and Wellness Tourism
- Agriculture and Biotechnology
- Food for the Future
- Automation and Robotics
- Aviation and Logistics
- Biofuels and Biochemicals
- Medical Hub
- Alternative Dispute Resolution
- Human Resource Development in Science and Technology
- Environmental Management and Renewable Energy
There are 5 categories of Smart Visas
- T: Talent
- I: Investor
- E: Executive
- S: Startup Entrepreneur
- O: Other (Spouse and legitimate children of Smart Visa holders)
There are different criteria for each category. You can refer to the Thailand Board of Investment website for more details (https://www.boi.go.th/index.php?page=detail_smart_visa).
- The sponsoring company must be designated and endorsed by the various government agencies and come from one of the targeted industries.
- The Smart Visa is a 4-year multiple entry visa into Thailand.
- There is no need to apply for a Work Permit to start working.
- 1-year reporting period (Holder has to report to the Immigration Police every 90 days).
- Immediate family members can apply for a Smart Visa under category O.
- Access to fast track immigration services.
Visas for retirement
This is for those who are looking to retire in Thailand.
- Must be at least 50 years old.
- Must fulfil the financial requirements for a Retirement Visa.
- Bank account balance of at least THB 800,000. (Money has to be in a Thai bank for at least 2 months before application date and at least 3 months after approval); or
- Have a monthly income or pension of at least THB 65,000; or
- Have a combination of both where the bank account balance and annual income or pension is at least THB 800,000 (Bank account + (12 x monthly income or pension) ≥ THB 800,000); and
- Minimum balance of visa holder has to be at least THB 400,000.
Do note that the criteria are for one individual. Thus if you are applying with your spouse, the criteria will double. For example, you will both need to have a total of THB 1.6 million in your bank accounts.
- 1-year visa with yearly extension
Visas for the affluent and investors
These visa options are for those who would like to obtain visas through investments or memberships.
- 5 to 20 year validity.
- Multiple entry visa with no minimum stay requirements.
- VIP greeting and escort on arrival and departure in Bangkok and Phuket by Elite Personal Assistants.
- Fast track clearance through immigration and passport control.
- Exclusive arrival and departure lounges.
- Many other benefits depending on the various tiers of membership.
- For affluent guests, businessmen, entrepreneurs, investors and long-stay groups.
- A privileged visa.
- Membership is bought. One time membership fee which ranges from THB 500,000 to THB 2 million as well as an annual fee.
- No age restriction.
- A tourist visa. Does not allow the Elite Visa holder to work in Thailand.
Seven different tiers of membership
- Elite Ultimate Privilege Membership
- Elite Superiority Extension Membership
- Elite Privilege Access Membership
- Elite Easy Access Membership
- Elite Family Alternative Membership
- Elite Family Excursion Membership
- Elite Family Premium Membership
THB 10 Million Investment Visa
- Foreigners can apply for this visa by investing in Thailand.
- There are no age restrictions.
- 1- year visa, renewable yearly.
- The investor’s family is also eligible for the visa.
- This visa does not allow the visa holder to work in Thailand.
- Invest in specific assets in Thailand.
- Total investment value must be at least THB 10 million.
Specific assets that are eligible:
- Thai government bonds; and/ or
- Fixed deposits in a Thai bank; and/ or
- Condominiums. The purchase must be a newly built condominium, directly from a developer. It can be a rental from a developer as well. The tenure has to be at least 3 years. Value of investment is calculated as the total rent paid for the period.
With a great deal of geopolitical instability in the world, many are looking for options to park their money. In some cases, people may grow weary of instability and turmoil in their home country and look to uproot themselves and possibly their families to a safer and more stable environment. The last significant political crisis happened in November 2013 and ran through till May 2014. It resulted in the removal of Yingluck Shinawatra through, a coup d’état and the establishment of the military junta. Elections passed earlier in 2019 with little issues and Thailand is seeing perhaps its longest period of economic and political stability in recent times. This makes Thailand a very viable option to set up a business, retire or to invest in.
If we were to compare the various visa options, the most popular options would be the Retirement Visa or the THB 10 million Investment Visa. To many, paying for a 20-year visa with an annual fee under the Elite Visa does feel like money down the drain. Thus many choose to purchase Thai property from developers instead. Purchases from the resale market are not accepted perhaps from the fact that such prices can be manipulated between seller and buyer to hit the THB 10 million threshold. I personally have been dealing with Thai properties since 2012 and many clients have often made purchases with the intention of having a retirement or holiday home. Coupled with the fact that the local demand has been strong, Thai property prices have been climbing steadily for the good part of the last decade. If you are looking for a long stay visa without the need to work in Thailand, I do think that the THB 10 million investment visa is the most viable option and the investment should be in the form of condominiums in the heart of Bangkok, Thailand’s capital. You will set yourself up for potential capital appreciation and you can also have rental income if you choose to rent out the condominium. Property prices have climbed a great deal in Bangkok but so has property in most parts of the region.
Disclaimer: I run and co-own a property company in Thailand and run a property portal InvestBangkokProperty.com and the Invest Bangkok Property YouTube Channel. The purpose of this article is to educate readers of the various long stay visa options in Thailand and give my simple take on which options I think are most viable.
Other related articles: