Ultimate guide to Thailand

Thailand is a country famous for its culture, cuisine and natural beauty. It is one of the world’s most visited countries and has also been the most popular residency option in the location independent community for as long as there has been a location independent community. Why? Year-round warm weather, a low cost of living, world-class entertainment and a very favourable taxation system. This guide covers how to acquire residency, how taxation works in Thailand, how to open a bank account along with useful travel information.

 

Residency

Not only is it easy to become a resident in Thailand but it also is possible to obtain permanent residency and citizenship within a reasonable timeframe, something unusual in the region. This, combined with a high quality of life (in Bangkok), year-round warm weather and an excellent taxation system makes Thailand one of Asia’s most interesting residency options.

 

Overview

There are numerous ways to qualify for residency in Thailand. Essentially, you could bundle them into four different categories: non-immigrant visas, marriage / retirement visas, the Elite visa and the BOI SMART visa.

 

Non-immigrant visas
There are many different types of non-immigrant visas, covering nearly every purpose of stay possible. The most popular ones are the B (business), ED (education), EX (expert work) and O (others). Non-immigrant visas are either valid for 90 days or a year. If valid for a year, it may still require the holder to leave and re-enter the country every 90 days (and almost always require the holder to report to the government every 90 days). While the requirements vary depending on the purpose of stay, they usually include having a valid passport and a justification of stay. You can apply for a non-immigrant visa from neighbouring countries in South East Asia as well as in your country of residency / citizenship. Please note that not all types of visas may be available if applying from a neighbouring country.

 

Marriage visa
To qualify for a marriage visa, you will obviously need to marry a Thai citizen. Assuming that is already taken care of, you will need to apply for a non-immigrant visa type O. To do so, you will need to bring to a Thai consulate your passport, marriage certificate, a letter of sponsorship from your Thai spouse and a proof that you have at least 400000 THB in a Thai bank account (must have been in the account for at least two months) OR a monthly income of 40000 THB. The application fee varies from country to country and so does the processing time. If approved, you will be granted the right to live in Thailand for one year and will be exempted from having to leave every 90 days (you will still need to report your address every 90 days). The visa can be renewed indefinitely, provided that you still meet the requirements.

 

Retirement visa
Officially known as the Non-Immigrant OA-Long Stay Visa, the retirement visa allows citizens from eligible countries to retire to Thailand. To qualify, you need to be retired and over 50 years old. You also need to have at least 800000 THB in your bank account OR a monthly income of no less than 65000 THB. If applying for the O-X variant (ten-year retirement visa), you will need to deposit at least three million THB in a Thai bank account OR 1.8 million if your annual income is at least 1.2 million. It is important to note that you will be required to maintain at least 1.5 million in deposit through your stay (you can withdraw anything above that after a year spent in-country). The retirement visa, all variants, can be renewed indefinitely and comes with an exemption from the 90-day rule. That said, you must still report your address to the government every 90 days. In any cases, the retirement visa does not allow for work (although those holding the O-X variant are allowed to volunteer). Compared to many other retirement visas around the world, it is a fairly good deal although I wish Thailand would do away with the ridiculous 90-day reporting rule.

 

Elite visa
The Elite visa is essentially a blinged up tourist visa which allows you to visit Thailand as often as you want, for a period of up to ten years. It comes in several packages, each offering different benefits. The cheapest one costs half a million THB and is valid for five years. It includes a government concierge, some airport benefits and access to the Elite airport lounge. The most expensive one costs two million THB, has a 20000 THB annual fee, is valid for ten years and includes benefits such as unlimited airport transfers, a golf service, an annual medical checkup and more. In any cases, the visa does not allow for work and cannot lead to permanent residency. It comes with an exemption from the 90-day rule (for up to a year at a time with extensions) but still requires reporting to the government every 90 days. In my opinion, it is not a good value due to the fact that it does not allow for work. Those who are not working typically are retired and can use the retirement visa instead (which has more benefits).

 

BOI SMART visa
When first announced, many mistook the BOI SMART visa for a visa aimed at digital nomads. In reality, it is aimed primarily at entrepreneurs, investors and top talents. While there are multiple ways to qualify, as this chart demonstrates, none fit well with location independence. There is also the issue that despite much fanfare from the Thai government about a streamlined application process, in reality it still involves a lot of bureaucracy and going around. That said, it can be a great option for those who meet the requirements and intend to live and work in Thailand long-term. It also offers a great pathway to permanent residency. For more details, you can visit the BOI website.

 

Permanent residency and citizenship

After living in Thailand for three years on a non-immigrant visa (or BOI SMART visa), you can apply for permanent residency. There are multiple ways to qualify such as being married to a Thai citizen, having a local job and paying taxes, having invested money in the country etc. It is important to note that there is an annual quota per country (of 100).

Permanent resident status does not expire and removes most of the restrictions imposed on foreigners. For example, a permanent resident can own a house and be appointed the director of a regular Thai corporation. In my opinion, the status is definitely worth it if you intend to stay in Thailand long-term.

Citizenship, on the other hand, is a lot more difficult to acquire and in my opinion, rarely worth it. To qualify, you need to have lived at least five years in the country, speak Thai, have a local job and pay Thai taxes. The process is complex, takes around a year to complete and is very time intensive. As a citizen, you will be able to apply for a national ID card and a passport. You will also gain a few additional rights over permanent residents.

 

Visa running in 2019

With an annual limit on the number of land entries (2) in place for passport holders from most countries, going to neighbouring countries and crossing back into Thailand overland is not going to work for those wishing to spend an extended amount of time in-country (except if you are exempted from the limit, such as passport holders from Argentina, Russia, South Korea and a few more).

Instead, your best bet will be to fly to another country for a few days then fly back to Thailand. There is no limit on the number of air entries so you can do this as many times as you want. I personally enter Thailand over ten times annually and have never even been asked a question by immigration. Obviously, your mileage may vary and your experience may differ from mine (especially as I typically only stay for a few days at a time, not the full 30 days) so take this with a grain of salt.

 

Taxation

Thailand is a residential taxation country. As such, residents are taxed on their worldwide income while non-residents are only taxed on their local income. Unlike most other residential taxation countries, however, Thailand also uses the remittance-based system although only for some types of foreign sourced income (and only when specific conditions are met). This opens up great tax optimization opportunities and in some cases can even lead to tax-free living.

To benefit from Thailand’s taxation system, however, you must first qualify as a tax resident. According to the Thai Revenue Department, a resident means “any person residing in Thailand for a period or periods aggregating more than 180 days in any tax (calendar) year”.

It is important to understand that it does not usually matter which type of visa or residence permit you hold. As long as you spend the required number of days in the country, you will be considered a Thai tax resident. That said, Thailand being Thailand, this rule is rarely enforced especially when it comes to long-term tourists. This is “great” as it could otherwise lead to situations where double taxation becomes an issue (as your home country may not accept that you are a Thai tax resident if you live there on tourist visas).

If you do qualify as a Thai tax resident, you will be taxed on any income you generate while in Thailand. This includes income coming from Thai clients / employers as well as income coming from overseas (even when it is not remitted).

Income generated outside of Thailand (and passive income) will be exempt provided that it is not remitted during the year it was generated in. For example, investment income generated during the fiscal year 2018 should not be remitted until the fiscal year 2019. If it is remitted during the fiscal year 2018 (the year it was generated in), it will be subject to taxation in Thailand.

It is thus important to properly structure your income sources to ensure that a majority (or all) qualify as foreign-sourced or passive. You can get more details about available deductions and the tax rules in general by visiting the Thai government site here.

 

Compliance

If you qualify for residency, you will be required to apply for a Thai tax ID. To do so, simply visit your area’s local revenue agency office and file form L.P. 10.1. In rare cases, it has been reported that the form was refused due to the type of visa held (for example, a tourist visa). In such cases, a workaround is to deposit a small sum (10000 THB+) of money in a term deposit with a Thai bank and then apply for a tax ID via form L.P. 10.4 instead (withholding tax).

If your tax status is challenged by another country (such as your home country), you will usually need to apply for a Thai tax certificate. To do so, you will need to visit your area’s revenue agency office. Bring along a copy of your latest tax return (and tax receipt if any), your tax ID and your passport (to prove that you spent at least 180 days in-country).

As a Thai tax resident, you will need to file a personal income tax return on an annual basis. The tax year in Thailand is the calendar year and returns must be filed by the 31st of March (for the previous fiscal year). You can see what a Thai tax return looks like here (this is a translation, the return you will file will be in Thai). Income that falls under the exemption on non-remitted income should not be reported on the tax return.

 

Powerful tax strategies

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Banking

Thailand has undoubtedly one of the worst banking sectors in the world. There are no firm rules, guidelines or direction. Everything and nothing goes and the only constant is a focus from the banks on ripping their customers off. That, combined with an unstable currency and an unstable government make it a very unattractive banking jurisdiction.

I understand that there are situations, however, in which you might need to have a Thai bank account. For example, to qualify for an O-X retirement visa. If you have a local job or have set up a local company, you will also need a local bank account.

Some people may also want an account to escape CRS reporting as Thailand is not a signatory country (although full implementation is expected to be complete by 2022).

In any cases, you should never rely on a Thai bank account as your only account. It should only be used for transactions related to Thailand.

 

Opening an account

Opening a personal account is fairly easy and can usually be done regardless of the type of visa you hold. All you need is your passport and some record regarding your stay in Thailand (entry stamp, visa etc). Most banks also require additional documents (see below for more details). You will need to deposit some money into the account, some banks also charge a fee for the issuance of a debit card. I recommend bringing at least 10000 THB, preferably more.

There is no need to set up an appointment, just show up at a branch with your documents and try your luck. If unlucky, walk to the next branch and try again. Having a Thai friend come along will definitely help.

In most cases, the account will be activated on the spot and a debit card will be issued to you. Thai banks issue both Unionpay and Visa debit cards. The only bank that I know of which issue a debit MasterCard is Citibank.

All the banks have internet banking and most have apps. That said, you will likely have to ask for it when opening your account as registration is not always automatic.

Thai bank cards can be used overseas but I do not recommend doing so. Fees are high and if something happens, dealing with the bank to get your money back or have a new card issued will be a nightmare (especially if doing so remotely).

(Up to date as of 2019) Most foreigners open their accounts with Bangkok Bank. In addition to the documents listed above, you will usually need a certified copy of your passport. If your country has an embassy in Thailand, you will probably be able to get that there. For Kasikorn, KrungThai, KrungSri and SCB, a work permit or some other long-term visa is usually required but this is Thailand so you may get lucky even on a tourist entry. UOB and Citibank typically require some sort of local ties although this is waived for Citigold clients.

 

International transfers

Transferring money into Thailand has become easier in recent years thanks to the rise of services like TransferWise and Revolut. Their rates usually beat the banks and they are far more secure than carrying large sums of cash. Speaking of which, you are allowed to bring as much as you want across the border but must declare any amounts in excess of 20000 USD (or equivalent). The limit for THB is 50000 per person. Keep that in mind if you plan to withdraw large sums of THB at foreign ATMs (for example, there is an ATM at the Oslo airport that dispenses THB).

 

How to avoid the ATM fee

Thailand has long been famous as one of the countries with the highest ATM fees in the world. Depending on the bank and card network used, the fee for a single withdrawal can be as high as 250 THB. That is in addition to any fees your bank may charge you. While short-term tourists may not care much about such fees, long-term tourists and residents will want to have a proper strategy in place to avoid it.

In my experience, there are four different ways to go about this.

1. You can visit bank branches and have the clerks do cash advances from your debit or credit cards. This works essentially like normal ATM withdrawals but without the ATM fees. Obviously, the need to visit a branch every time and have to wait in a queue makes this strategy fairly impractical for most.

2. You can open a local bank account using the information on this page and transfer money into that account from overseas. TransferWise works fairly well for this. Make sure to open the account near where you live as some banks charge “out of province” ATM fees.

3. You can use a debit or credit card, issued overseas, which refund ATM fees. Popular examples include Charles Schwab in the United States and Standard Chartered in Hong Kong.

4. You can use the ATMs of the banks which do not charge any fees. Bank of China is the best option, with branches all over Bangkok (MasterCard and Unionpay only). If you have an account in another country with Citibank, Standard Chartered, UOB or AEON, you can use their Thai ATMs free of charge.

 

Travel

Thailand is not only an interesting residency option, it also is a great place to travel. There is much to see and do, countless opportunities. Thailand’s main entryways are Bangkok’s two international airports (BKK and DMK), Chiang Mai (CNX), Phuket (HKT) and Hat Yai (HDY). Land crossing is also possible to / from all neighbouring countries and train crossing is possible to / from Malaysia and Laos. Once in-country, the best way to move around is by flying or, if on a budget, train (avoid the buses and minibuses like the plague!). Most visitors can visit Thailand visa-free for up to 30 days (90 days for some passports). That said, I recommend having a look at the “Visa requirements by nationality” link in the “Resources” section below to confirm whether a visa is required or not for your passport. It is currently possible to extend a visa (or visa waiver) without leaving the country, for up to 30 days (more for long-term visas). This can be done at most immigration offices (for example, Chaeng Wattana in Bangkok) for a cost of around 2000 THB.

 

APEC cards
Holders of APEC cards are allowed entry into Thailand for up to 90 days at a time, regardless of the normal stay duration allowed for their passport. For example, a New Zealand citizen will be allowed entry into Thailand for up to 90 days when using an APEC card versus 30 days when using a New Zealand passport.

 

Local SIM cards
If staying for more than one month, the best SIM card is the one offered by Line Mobile. Thanks to frequent promotions, the price for truly unlimited 4G data is around 900 THB per month. Cheaper plans are also available if unlimited data is not something you care about. To order a card, simply download the Line Mobile app in the App Store / Google Play and follow the instructions.

If staying for less than a month, the best SIM card is the one offered by AIS. Unlimited 4G data is available for around 200 THB per week (the maximum speed is capped at 6mbps). Daily and monthly plans are also available. To buy a card, simply visit the AIS booth at the airport upon arrival (most airports have one).

 

Local payments
While Thailand has been slow to adopt cashless payments, things are finally beginning to change and a number of wallet services are currently gaining widespread adoption (especially in Bangkok). Line Pay is, by far, the best and its acceptance is very good at food courts, food stalls and coffee shops. It also is accepted on the BTS (Bangkok’s Skytrain). Creating an account is as easy as downloading the Line app from the App Store / Google Play and linking a credit card (Visa / MasterCard). To pay, simply load your personal Q code (Open the Line app, navigate to the “—” menu and select “Rabbit Line Pay” then “My Code”) and hold your phone in front of the reader (screen facing the reader). In many cases, you will receive a cashback when using Line Pay. To use this cashback, simply change your funding source from the credit card you linked to your account balance. Do note that for Line Pay to work, you will need to link a Thai phone number to your Line account.

 

Deals and discounts
For restaurant discounts, a great strategy is to use Eatigo. Many of the best restaurants and buffets participate and it is possible to get discounts of up to 50%. Using a Citibank or Standard Chartered credit card also works well as a large number of restaurants have deals in place with those two banks.

For flight discounts, book directly on the airlines’ sites in THB. The prices will often be cheaper than via the OTAs and using THB will save you expensive currency conversion fees (many airlines charge 5%+). Sometimes you will also get access to local pricing (although not as big a concern in Thailand as in some other countries).

 

VAT refund
Non-residents can get a VAT refund of up to 7% for goods purchased in Thailand. The value of each item must be in excess of 2000 THB and the refund must be done within 60 days of the date of purchase. It is important to note that not all retailers participate and that even at participating retailers, you will have to ask for a VAT refund receipt as this is not automatic. To get the refund, simply bring the goods and receipts to the airport with you when leaving the country. You will need to have everything inspected by customs first (before security) before going to the VAT refund counter (after security).

 

Resources

Visa requirements by nationality
Thailand on Wikivoyage

 

Simon’s list

Thailand has long been one of my favourite places in which to spend time (I should say Bangkok as I rarely visit the rest of the country). A big reason for this is the food and bar scene, which is definitely one of the best in the world. Below is a list of my favourite restaurants and bars, up to date as of 2019.

CHAR (hotel Indigo) is definitely the best rooftop bar in Bangkok, with a view to die for (the photo used for this guide was taken there) and an excellent selection of cocktails.

ThreeSixty (Millenium Hilton) is another of my favourites, especially during weekends. There is live jazz music, a great selection of drinks and the best views of the Chao Praya river.

Above Eleven (Fraser Suites) is my favorite rooftop restaurant. They have a great selection of sushi as well as South American food. Their cocktails are great too, among the best in town.

Helix (EmQuartier) has one of the best selection of restaurants in town. As an added bonus, the architecture of the building is pretty damn nice.

MyKitchen (Siam Discovery), CentralDeli (Central Chidlom) and ISETAN (CentralWorld) are the best food courts in Bangkok, with a good selection of food both Thai and foreign.

Seven Suns (Ekkamai area) has the best matcha in Bangkok, definitely a must try.