Thai dual citizenship – is it legal?
The question of whether Thai citizens can hold more than one nationality is one that is asked often. This in part stems from the fact that the law has changed a number of times over the years, and partly because people’s impressions of what the law says is rooted in rather outdated understandings of the law as it stands today. Furthermore, if people do go and read the Thai nationality act, they often read sections which don’t apply to them, further confusing their understanding of the dual citizenship issue.
Without going too deeply in to the legal minutiae, the basic fact is that it hasn’t been illegal for a Thai citizen to hold more than one citizenship since 1992. Below, we outline some common questions and answers on this topic.
Are Thai’s allowed to hold dual citizenship?
The simple answer is ‘yes’.
As such, a Thai who is born with another nationality, a person who naturalizes as a Thai, or a Thai who takes a foreign citizenship are generally allowed to maintain their Thai citizenship without issue. We examine a number of different categories below.
1 – Dual nationals with a Thai & foreign parent
If you are in this category, you probably are identified by most in Thailand as Luk Khreung (ลูกครึ่ง) – literally ‘half-child’ a colloquial term used for those with mixed heritage.
a) Do children have to ‘choose’ a citizenship at age 20?
Simply put: ‘No’.
This is a misconception, based partly on old, now extinguished legislation, as well as a misreading of how the law now stands.
Prior to the 1st of March 1992, Thai law did indeed state that a decision to chose must be made between ages 20 and 21 and that if a decision was not made, then Thai citizenship would automatically be forfeited.
However this law has since been repealed as of the third version of the Nationality Act (1992) where the automatic loss of Thai citizenship for not making a choice was removed.
b) So what happens when I turn 20?
In essence, nothing.
The current Act gives a child, born to a Thai and foreign parent, the opportunity between ages 20 and 21 of renouncing Thai citizenship, if they so wish.
Section 14 of the current Act says:
“A person of Thai nationality, who was born of an alien father or mother and has acquired the nationality of the father or mother according to the law on nationality of the father or mother, or a person who acquired Thai nationality under Section 12 paragraph two or Section 12/1 (2) and (3) is required, if he desires to retain his other nationality, to make a declaration of his intention to renounce his Thai nationality within one year after his attaining the age of 20 years, according to such forms and in the manner as prescribed in the Ministerial Regulations”.
Many people read the above passage and take it to mean that a child born with dual citizenship MUST file renunciation papers within one year of their 20th birthday. However one should note there is no penalty for not making a declaration to renounce.
Context is critical here – the second version of the Nationality Act in 1992* DID have a penalty for people not choosing inserted after the above mentioned massage. The short lived 2nd edition of the act did state that:
“If no notification is made within the said period of time, that person is deemed to renounce Thai nationality, unless the Minister shall given an order otherwise for each particular case”
However, this was done away with in Version 3 of the Act which came into force on 1 March 1992, and has remained the same the subsequent 4th and 5th versions of the Thai Nationality Act.
*As an interesting aside, it is worth noting the respective dates of the second and third revisions to the Thai Nationality Act. The 2nd version was gazetted on the 9th of February 1992 while the 3rd version was gazetted on the 1st of March 1992. One can only speculate why the law had to be changed so quickly, but one can assume that this being Thailand, some well connected families who held dual nationality objected to the wording of the 2nd version of the Act and forced Minister of the day to change the law – which he did quite quickly!
c) The 2017 constitution
The 2017 constitution implemented by the military government provides further certainty to those who have acquired Thai and foreign citizenship from their parents.
Section 39 of the Thai Constitution stipulates, “Revocation of Thai nationality from anyone who is Thai from birth shall be prohibited.”
Given most, if not all, Luk Khrueng (ลูกครึ่ง) derive their Thai citizenship by birth from a Thai parent, then the constitution provides a further safeguard from the state taking their Thai citizenship away on a non-voluntary basis.
2 – Thai women taking on their spouses nationality
Under the 1965 version of the Thai nationality act, Thai women who took up the nationality of their foreign spouses automatically lost their Thai citizenship. This remained the case until 1992 when the 3rd edition of the Thai nationality act automatically and retrospectively restored Thai citizenship to these women.
Nevertheless, some people still think this is the case. As such, there continues to be a lot of confusion particularly for men or women who move overseas to be with their spouses and eventually take up their spouses nationality. But similar to those Thai dual citizens who were born with another nationality, the choice is voluntary:
“Section 13 – A man or woman of Thai nationality who marries an alien and may acquire the nationality of the spouse according to his nationality law shall, if he or she desires to renounce Thai nationality, make a declaration of his or her intention before an official according to the form and in the manner prescribed in the Ministerial Regulations.”
As such, Section 13 of the Thai Nationality Act exists mainly for those people who are looking to take up a new nationality where laws in that country prohibit holding dual nationality (for instance Austria, Malaysia or Singapore) and require that an application to renounce Thai citizenship is made before granting their new citizenship.
3 – Dual citizenship for naturalised Thai’s
For those who weren’t born with Thai nationality, then the main way to get it is to apply for it.
Generally, for those who have naturalized as Thai citizens are able to keep their original citizenship unless their original country of citizenship forbids it.
On applying for Thai nationality, Thai authorities require applicants for Thai citizenship to make a ‘statement of intent’ to relinquish their original nationality upon acquisition of Thai citizenship. This somewhat muddies the waters for some, however this statement of intent is merely that, a statement of intent at the time of application. Once the statement is made….well intentions can change.
It is questionable if such a statement holds any legal force with your home government, particularly where the home government has no issue with dual citizenship or if they require you to follow their own specific processes to renounce that citizenship.
Where it may be of consequence is if the Thai government notifies your home government of your acquisition of Thai nationality when that country forbids holding dual nationality (e.g. Singapore or Malaysia) which automatically strip that nationality upon evidence of the acquisition of a new one.
4 – So is it possible to lose Thai nationality as a dual citizen?
In very rare cases it is possible for dual citizen to lose their citizenship, but this is only in the following limited situations:
- Those who were born Thai due to both their foreign national parents being permanent residents can potentially be stripped of Thai nationality under Section 17 of the Nationality Act if:
- resided in a foreign country of their parents citizenship for more than five years consecutively;
- if there is evidence to show that he makes use of, or has an active interest in a foreign nationality*; or
- does anything prejudicial to the Thai state, national security or public order
- Under Section 19 of the Nationality Act, a naturalised citizen may be stripped of Thai citizenship:
- if it appears their Thai citizenship was grant was effected by concealing facts or making false statements;
- makes use of their former nationality*;
- have lived outside of Thailand for more than five years;
- does anything prejudicial to the Thai state, national security or public order; or
- retains the nationality of a state at war with Thailand.
Sections 17 and 19 will not apply to those who were born Thai to at least one Thai parent, nor will it apply to foreign women who take on Thai nationality due to being married to a Thai husband under Section 9, given this is not considered naturalisation under the act.
*making use of their former citizenship appears to be based on evidence where a person has used their foreign passport to enter Thailand. All of these cases are rare, and stripping of Thai nationality must be announced in the Royal Gazette before it becomes official. There are few recordings of this are rare, though it has been enforced where one British man was stripped of Thai nationality under Section 17 for entering Thailand using his Thai nationality. That Royal Gazette announcement can be viewed here.