What is the best Thai Visa for someone wanting to stay in Thailand? Is it the Thai Elite Visa, Thai Retirement Visa, Thailand Marriage Visa, or a Non-immigrant Business Visa? This featured article will offer a comprehensive look into the world of Thailand visas for foreigners wishing to live in Thailand.
I have been working in the field of Thai immigration for the last 12 years. I started out working the night shift in the Bangkok headquarters for Thailand’s largest network of law offices. My responsibilities were to chat with visitors online and receive telephone inquiries to guide foreigners regarding which was the best Thai Visa for their travel to Thailand. I received calls and chats from nearly every country in the world. Each night I would consult with people from around the world who desired immigration advice for their upcoming long stay in Thailand. Nowadays, I lead the customer service team for Thai Immigration in the Bangkok law firm. I often speak to 15 to 20 people a day offering immigration advice for entering Thailand.
It is interesting to note that Thai visa issuance policies change almost on a monthly basis. When I am home at night I will often read the forums and blogs trying to stay on top of the latest experiences of persons who have made visa applications for Thailand at the Thai Embassies and Consulates around the world. About ten years ago it was commonplace for foreigners to obtain a 1-year multiple-entry Thailand visa by post within their home country using an invitation letter from a Thai Company. However, Thai Embassies restricted that practice, first in the UK, then in Australia, and finally in the US for the 1-year Thai Visas.
Thai Elite Visa
The Thailand Elite Visa is a long-term visa given to the Thailand Privilege Card members. It is categorized under Tourist Visa (Privilege Entry Visa “PE”) allowing residency in Thailand along with benefits for a period between 5, 10, or 20 years depending on the chosen package in exchange for a membership fee.
- The Thai Elite Visa is a 5-year renewable multiple entry visa with an extendable 1-year length of stay per each entry.
- The Thai Elite visa holder can have an uninterrupted stay in Thailand without the usual need to leave the country every 90 days as with the other visa types.
- The Elite Visa holder will be represented by the Thai Elite staff on the 90-day reporting as required by the Thai Immigration.
- Thai Elite Visa holders will receive expedited immigration formalities and passport control processing when arriving in Thailand
Thai Elite Visa Qualifications
The applicant/member must have and maintain to have the following qualifications:
- Holder of a foreign passport
- Being allowed to stay in Thailand in accordance with the immigration laws, which means the applicant has no overstay record in Thailand
- No age limit is required for this program apart from the Elite Ultimate Privilege (Grand Package) which requires to be at least 20 years old
- Not having been sentenced by a judgment to imprisonment in any countries except for an offense committed to negligence
- Not having been adjudicated bankrupt
- Not having been declared as a person of unsound mind, incompetence, or quasi-incompetence
The application for the Thai Elite Privilege Card membership and the Thai Elite Visa may take 1 to 3 months.
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How to Apply for Thai Elite Visa
- Application for Membership and Background Check
You can apply for the Thailand Elite Visa whether you are in Thailand or abroad. All you need to do is to send a soft copy of your passport and application form to an accredited Thai Elite Visa agent. Then, the agent will work with the Thailand Elite Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Bureau to do immigration and criminal background check. The process may take 1 month for most nationalities and up to 3 months for special countries.
- Transfer of Membership Fee
When the applicant has passed a background check and the application has been approved, the applicant will be instructed to transfer the membership fee. The membership fee ranges from 500,000 Thai baht to 2 million Thai baht depending on the membership package the applicant has applied for. The payment for the membership fee can be made through a bank transfer.
- Membership Acceptance
After completing the payment or bank transfer, the applicant will receive the Membership ID and instruction on how to receive the visa.
- Visa Issuance
The Thai Elite member can affix the Thai Elite visa at the Thai embassy or consulate in his/her respective country. The applicant has to drop his/her passport and come back to collect it on another day at the Thai embassy. If it is not convenient for the applicant to apply through the Thai embassy, it is also possible that the applicant obtains the Thai Elite Visa upon arrival in Thailand at Suvarnabhumi Airport. However, this option is unavailable during the COVID-19 travel restriction. In case that the Thai Elite member is in Thailand, the Thai Elite agent may arrange the visa issuance at the Immigration Bureau in Bangkok.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Thai Elite Visa?
The Thai Elite Visa is a special visa introduced in 2003 by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports that aims to attract affluent visitors, businessmen, investors, and expats to stay in Thailand long-term. It is a visa classified as a Privilege Entry Visa that is valid for 5 years with multiple entries without having to deal with so much paperwork or visits to the immigration office. The Thai Elite Visa holder will be allowed to stay in the country for up to 1 year on each visit.
How long is the Thai Elite Visa application process?
The Thailand Elite Membership and Thai Elite Visa application process may take 1 to 3 months depending on the nationality of the applicant and in case of immigration or criminal record of the applicant.
Do any Thai Elite application documents need a notary stamp or to be certified?
No. It is not required for the Thai Elite Visa application forms and copy of passport to be notarised or to be certified. A scanned copy sent through email or photocopy of these documents is sufficient.
What is the passport validity that is required for this Elite visa process?
Ideally, you need to have at least 5 years remaining in the validity of your passport. However, in case you have less than 5 years, the Thai Embassy or Immigration Bureau will affix the Thai Elite Visas based on the expiration date stated in your passport. The remaining validity of your visa will then be affixed to your new passport. It is also good to note that you need to have at least 3 blank pages in your passport.
Do I have to appear in person for the Thai Elite application?
No, it is not required to personally appear during the Thai Elite membership application. You will be represented by a sales agent during the membership application. However, your presence is required during the issuance of the visa whether it is at the Thai Embassy abroad, at Suvarnabhumi airport, or at the Bangkok immigration office.
What are the required documents for application for the Thai Elite Visa?
The required documents for the application of the Thai Elite membership are a copy of the profile page of your passport, colored ID photo with white background, duly accomplished application form, and copy of proof of relationship for any family member applying with the main applicant.
Is there an income requirement to hold the Thai Elite visa?
There is no income requirement to hold the Thai Elite Visa. The applicant only needs to pay the membership fee which will range from 500,000 Thai baht to 2 million Thai baht. Although there is no income requirement, one of the requirements to qualify as a member is that the applicant has not been adjudicated bankrupt.
How does the Thai Elite visa differ from the Thai Retirement visa?
The Thai Elite Visa differs from the retirement visa in such a way that the financial requirement or membership fee is non-refundable. The financial requirement for a retirement visa is deposited in the visa holder’s bank account as his/her own savings. The retirement visa must be renewed every year whereas the Thai Elite visa does not need to be renewed every year. Both Thai Elite Visa and Retirement Visa require 90-day address reporting.
Do I have to pay income taxes in Thailand as a Thai Elite visa holder?
The Thai Elite Visa is a privilege visa which falls under the special tourist visa category. The Thai Elite Visa holder does not need to pay income taxes especially when the income was derived abroad. There are instances where a Thai Elite Visa holder may voluntarily pay income tax in Thailand.
Can Thai Elite Visa holders buy real estate in Thailand?
Just like other foreigners, Thai Elite Visa holders can own condominiums in their own name. If applicants wish to acquire land and build a house, they can obtain a long-term lease on the land (for up to 30 years). They will need to apply for a construction permit to build the house in their own name. This way applicants can own the house and have a secured long-term lease on the land.
Type of Long-Term Thai Visas for Foreigners
Here are other types of long term Thai visas available to foreigners who wish to live or move to Thailand:
Thai Retirement Visa
This type of long term Thai visa is popular among retirees aged more than 50 years old. There are 3 types of retirement visa, namely:
- Non-immigrant O visa extended into a Retirement visa
- Non-immigrant OA visa valid for 1 year
- Non-Immigrant OX visa valid for 5 years
Both the non-immigrant OA and OX are issued only by the Thai Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence. The applicant must meet the financial requirement of 800,000 THB savings in their bank account for the Non-Immigrant OA visa and 3 million baht for the Non-immigrant OX visa, or the required monthly income, together with the criminal record check, medical certificate, and health insurance.
For the Non-immigrant O visa, it is valid for 90 days and it can be issued by the Thai consulate or embassy from the country of residence or it can be issued in Thailand. Once the applicant receives this visa, he/she must open a bank account in Thailand and transfer the required funds of 800,000 THB. After 2 months, the applicant may convert to a retirement visa which is valid for 1 year. This type of retirement visa does not require a criminal background check, medical certificate, and health insurance. The extension of stay will be issued at the local immigration office of the applicant.
Thai Marriage Visa
The Thai marriage visa is best suited to foreigners who are married to a Thai national. The marriage must be registered or reported in Thailand in order to obtain the visa. The application starts by obtaining the non–immigrant O visa from the Thai embassy or consulate abroad or in Thailand. After obtaining the non-immigrant O visa, the applicant may convert this visa into a 1-year marriage visa at the local immigration office. The applicant will be required to meet the financial requirement of having 400,000 THB savings in a Thai bank account or having 40,000 THB monthly income transferred into a Thai account or verified by the foreign embassy of the applicant. The marriage visa is valid for 1 year and it can be renewed annually in Thailand.
Thai Business visa
The non-immigrant B visa can be issued based on two purposes of stay:
- Foreigners who wish to set up or conduct business in Thailand should apply for a Thai Non-Immigrant B visa under the “business” category. The applicant will be required to have a sponsorship from a Thai business partner or Thai entity. The visa holder may stay in Thailand for a maximum of 90 days per entry.
- Foreigners who intend to work in Thailand should apply for an initial 90-Day Non-Immigrant B visa from their home country under the “employment” category. The applicant will be required to present a WP3 letter from the Labour Department when applying for the visa. After arriving in Thailand, the work permit application takes place during the initial 90 days given through the initial visa. Once a valid work permit is obtained, the applicant then applies for the one-year extension of stay inside Thailand and it can be renewed in Thailand every year.
Thai SMART Visa
The Thailand SMART Visa is a new type of visa specially designed to attract highly skilled manpower, investors, executives, and startup entrepreneurs wishing to work or invest in the following targeted industries in the Kingdom of Thailand. There are 4 categories of the SMART Visa namely:
- SMART Talent Visa (T) which is available to science and technology experts who earn 200,000 baht per month and are employed by one of the ten targeted industries.
- SMART Investor Visa (I) which is available to investors who make a direct investment of 20 million baht into companies that use technology in their manufacturing process or deliver services. These companies also must be in one of the ten targeted industries.
- SMART Executive Visa (E) which is available to senior managers that have at least a Bachelor’s degree, ten years of work experience, and are earning a minimum of 200,000 baht per month. Similar to the SMART T and I Visas, senior managers must be employed by companies in one of the ten targeted industries.
- SMART Startup Visa (S) which is for entrepreneurs looking to start a business in Thailand. To be eligible for this visa, you must deposit 600,000 baht in Thailand, have health insurance, and set up a company in one of the ten targeted industries within your first year.
Each of these four SMART Visas comes with a list of benefits, such as maximum 4-year permission to stay, one-year check-ins at immigration (instead of every ninety days), work eligibility for spouses and children without the need for work permits, and no re-entry permits. The interested applicant for these visas should get in touch with the BOI Thailand or Thailand Board of Investment.
How to Enter Thailand During COVID-19?
Due to the travel restrictions put in place by the Thai government since March this year, it would be difficult to enter Thailand during this pandemic. The situation is still unstable so the government policies on the visas are changing and this causes confusion to the foreigners both visitors or long-term expats in Thailand. To be able to ease the confusion, I have created the web pages: COVID-19 Guide for Travelers to and in Thailand and Can you enter Thailand now during the COVID-19 Crisis? that may provide up-to-date information to travelers stranded in Thailand and those who wish to travel to Thailand.
Recently, I also added the Thailand Special Tourist Visa page. I remember a woman in Tokyo who checks our page every day to get new information about her being able to enter Thailand and there’s also a lady who has an elderly father stranded in Thailand and was so scared that he may not be able to extend his visa amnesty. Having the opportunity to answer people’s questions and provide them the correct information and comfort during this difficult time is a rewarding experience and a great opportunity.
The visas I have enumerated on this page would allow you to travel and enter Thailand with ease during this time or even after this pandemic. Should you be interested in any of these Thai visas or you seek professional advice on which visa is best suited for you, please do not hesitate to contact us. You may ask your question on the web form above or on the comment section below.