Thai citizenship guide for foreigners married to Thai spouse
Thai law provides an expedited path to citizenship for those who have deep connections to the country through marriage. Put simply, you can apply for citizenship without first having to hold Thai Permanent Residency for five years.
Foreign men married to Thai citizens are biggest category of people who are potentially eligible for Thai citizenship, but often don’t know it, or they think that the requirements are higher than they actually are.
To be sure, this path doesn’t apply to everyone (even if you are married). However, if all of the following points apply, or will apply to you at some point, then you are at the starting point of a realistic and attainable path to Thai citizenship.
- Lived in Thailand consecutively for three years on valid non-immigrant visa extensions;
- Have had three years of consecutive work permits from a Thai based employer;
- Have a minimum income of 40,000 baht per month and have paid tax for three years on that income; and
- Are married to a Thai citizen.
If this isn’t you (i.e. not working in Thailand for a Thai employer, not working, or on a retirement or education visa), then this article probably isn’t for you as current legislation doesn’t provide any realistic paths to citizenship for those who are not currently working in Thailand.
If you are working here and planning to stay long term, but not marred to a Thai national, then check out Thai permanent residency, which you can apply for after a full three years of uninterrupted work permits. After holding PR for 5 years, you will then be eligible to apply for Thai citizenship.
If you are a foreign woman married to a Thai husband, then please read this article, as the process is different for you.
WHAT THE LEGISLATION SAYS
The Thai Nationality Act (2008) states:
An alien who possesses the following qualifications may apply for naturalization as a Thai:
(1) becoming sui juris in accordance with Thai law and the law under which he has nationality;
(2) having good behavior;
(3) having regular occupation;
(4) having a domicile in the Thai Kingdom for a consecutive period of not less than five years till the day of filing the application for naturalization;
(5) having knowledge of Thai language as prescribed in the Regulations.
The provisions of Section 10 (4) and (5) shall not apply if the applicant for naturalization as a Thai;
(4) is a husband of a person with Thai nationality.
Interpreting the amendments
The key thing to understand is that changes made to the Thai Nationality Act in 2008 have opened an easier and expedited path to foreign men who are married to Thai citizens. The key ‘shortcuts’ are outlined in Sections 11 of the Act above and in plain language mean:
- Having permanent residence in Thailand is no longer required – so you are eligible after 3 years living in Thailand
- You are exempted from singing the Thai national anthem or the Royal anthem (Sansoen Phra Barami/สรรเสริญพระบารมี)
Although Section 11 refers to waving the Thai language requirement, in practice this has meant that the singing portion of the test isn’t applied to those married to Thai’s. Speaking Thai is certainly useful as far as the points test goes, and it be used to further boost your overall score which will determine your eligibility.
NAVIGATING THE POINTS SYSTEM
We’ve outlined in detail the points system in an article here.
It is worth familiarising yourself with the different sections, but the broad-brush strokes are that you’ll need to score 50 out of 100 points to be able to apply for citizenship based the following criteria.
- Qualifications of the applicant (maximum 25 points)
1.1 Age (10 points)
1.2 Education (15 points)
- Security of profession (25 points)
- Length of civil registration – i.e. the length of time on a tabien baan (20 points)
- Thai language ability (15 points)
- General knowledge about Thailand (10 points)
- Personality, appearance and expression (5 points)
Reading how the points system is structured, becomes pretty apparent that the system is designed to facilitate citizenship for those who are in full time work in Thailand, earning a reasonable salary and who have some level of post secondary education.
The system also rewards you for the time spent in Thailand, as well as your ability to speak, read and write Thai. As such, different applicants who are weaker in some categories can potentially make up points in other areas.
Laying the ground work so you qualify for Thai citizenship
Simply working here legally for three years, being married, and earning the minimum salary, whilst necessary for applying for Thai nationality, it is not sufficient.
As such, people reading this far might not yet be in the position to apply, but there are a number of basic things you can do to put yourself in good stead for an eventual application sooner rather than later.
Much of the documentation required (passports, photos, marriage certificates etc.) is rather straight forward. A detailed list documents which are required for your application are outlined at a separate page, here.
For those who are strategic about their approach to their application however, there are a few useful tips and tricks to maximise your points to qualify for Thai citizenship.
While at first glance they might appear daunting, most of these steps should come pretty much organically for those who are looking to put down roots here and who interact with Thai friends and colleagues on regular basis.
Setting place the suggestions below could potentially add 28 to 36 points to your total score:
- Yellow tabien baan (ทะเบียนบ้าน): Quite simply, get yourself registered on one. The earlier the better. The scoring criteria offers points for people who have “evidence of civil registration showing domicile in Thailand for at least 5 years”. In plain English, this means being registered on the yellow tabien baan (see this article on getting yourself registered on one). If you are just exploring the possibility and are still a few years off applying, then this is an easy 5 points towards your 50. It is also worth noting that there have been some anecdotal reports of people getting the 5 points even though not having held it for the entire five-year period.
- Learning basic Thai civics: Part of being a future citizen is knowing some things about how the country works and some of its symbolism. Applicants are offered a maximum of 10 points for answering multiple choice questions in Thai on a range of questions from how many provinces there are to what the Thai flag represents – so brushing up on these things can help your points tally immensely. We’ve taken the liberty to outline some of the common questions you may get in this article here.
- Learning conversational Thai: If your points from education and salary levels are dragging you down, then having a decent level of comprehension and ability to speak will add an extra 8 points to your total. From what we have heard and seen, this by no stretch means fluency – but neither does it mean ‘taxi Thai’. It does imply however that you can have a relaxed conversation with the special branch police and be able to talk about yourself with confidence, your history and why you want to apply for Thai citizenship.
- Learning some Thai mannerisms: This is a harder one to quantify, and the granting of these points by Special Branch is quite subjective, but “personality, physical appearance and bearing, speech, Thai manners, attitude towards Thailand, Thai culture and ceremonies” will net you a further 5 points. In other words, a combination of dressing well for your interviews, learning to ‘wai’ properly, proper greetings and the more ‘formal’ words in your discussion, appropriate use of polite articles such as ‘krup’ (ครับ) and coming across as being respectful and courteous will go a long way to getting you these points.
- Applying at the right age: You’ll also score points for your age. Younger applicants score less than those in middle age. Those older than 60 are awarded less points. As such, the optimal age to apply is between 40 and 50 and will automatically get you 10 points for doing so.
Of course, everyone’s circumstances will be different, which will mean you can take or leave some of the above-mentioned tips and strategies. Still, focusing on these are usually gets peoples applications ‘over the line’ to reach the magic score of 50 out of 100 points.
In addition to maximising your point score, there are a few tips which will mean that your application is accepted at the first try:
- Charitable donations: Special Branch are going to want to see that you have a verified history of charitable donations. Five Thousand Baht a year of donations is the magic number, so make sure you dig up your receipts from past donations (or start making some well in advance of applying – one off donations of 5000 baht are fine too, so long as it done in advance). What Special Branch won’t like however is if you have just made the donation so as to apply for citizenship, so any evidence that donations were made ‘recently’ will not go down well with them
- Bank letter addressed to Special Branch: Your application will require a verified 80,000 baht deposited in a Thai bank account at the time of applying, verified by your bank. Most banks are used to writing verification letters to immigration in support of marriage or retirement visas, and probably will have a pro-forma letter template for this verification. Ensure that they don’t use this one and address the bank letter to police Special Branch instead.
- Choosing a Thai name: As part of the process, you’ll need to formally choose a Thai name which is unique. You can use this link to check if your name doesn’t clash with any existing names.
- Two Thai witnesses: An easy one, but you’ll need two Thai citizens who know you to come to Special Branch and vouch for your background. This will need to be done before the application package can be finalised by them and then sent off to the Ministry of Interior.
WHERE TO APPLY FOR THAI CITIZENSHIP?
Special Branch, National Police HQ, Bangkok
Like all others who apply for Thai citizenship, the reality is that Bangkok is the best, and often the only place to apply for citizenship.
If you normally reside in Bangkok and have your registration there, and your wife has her house registration – the ‘tabien baan’ (ทะเบียนบ้าน) – and ID card (บัตรประชาชน) at the same address in Bangkok, then all applications must be made at police Special Branch, who’s location is at the National Police Headquarters on Rama 1 Road. For those who know Bangkok well, it is across the road from Central World. Details can be found here.
Important note: If you are based outside of Bangkok and registered in another province, applications need to be made at the local division of Special Branch in that province. Except for possibly Chiang Mai and Phuket, applying via local Special Branch offices are a non-starter. Local officers aren’t trained or equipped to handle applications and if they do somehow do take your application, there are stories where peoples applications remain there gathering dust.
The long and the short of it is that the most efficient strategy is to bite bullet and find a friend who will allow for your names to be put on their Bangkok based house registration. The Special Branch people in Bangkok know the challenges of applying elsewhere, so they won’t mind at all that you have moved your registration to Bangkok simply for the purpose of the application.
First meeting with Thai Special Branch
The officer in charge of your case will set an appointed time, and you and your spouse should meet together. The meeting will usually consist of an initial interview with your case officer, followed by a meeting with a senior officer who will formally ask about your intentions and give you the multiple-choice questions.
The process usually begins about asking standard questions about yourself, background, current employment, and your relationship. They will formally check your documentation, and for the non-discretionary points (age, education etc.) allocations will be made. There will be lots of document checking, asking you to sign on verified copies of the documents and the officials formal application – which they will type for you.
Depending on the applicant, the initial case officer also may take the opportunity to give you a ‘mock’ interview – many of the questions what will be asked not only by his senior officer, but also down the track when you meet the NIA – National Intelligence Agency (สำนักข่าวกรองแห่งชาติ) and the Ministry of Interior.
You’ll then be asked to go upstairs at Special Branch to meet the senior officer.
Similar questions will then be asked about your history, background and current status, both personally and professionally. The multiple-choice civics quiz will then be given and an assessment of your Thai language ability (speaking, reading and writing) and general appearance and personality will be made.
Finger prints will also be taken, and you’ll be asked to pay the application fee of 5000 baht at this point.
For the most part, these interviews are very friendly and the officers are generally encouraging for people to succeed. If you’ve gotten this far, the officers generally will be confident that your application will make its way seamlessly through the rest of the process at other agencies. For those whose Thai language ability isn’t as strong, they’ll generally ask that you continue practicing so to be able to better interact with officials later in the process.
At the end of the meeting, you’ll be told to expect a call within the space of 3 to 4 weeks for a meeting with the NIA.
Thai government agency verification
You’ll also be given envelopes from Special Branch which need to be taken by you to different agencies around Bangkok to verify certain things. This may include letters to:
- Immigration requesting verification of your Permanent Residency Status (if applicable)
- Your local district office verifying your marriage, name change (to for your Thai name)
- Your embassy to verify your passport details, as well as a letter of your ‘intention’ to renounce your existing nationality upon acquiring Thai nationality (Please click this link to read up about this topic)
These agencies will then be asked to either post the responses back to special branch, or in some cases, they will ask them for you to return them yourself.
Special Branch will then also liaise with other agencies (tax, visa, work permit) to verify these documents. The timeline is approximately 60 days, and after verification your application and associated documentation will handed off to the Department of Provincial Administration (DoPA) at the Ministry of Interior ‘กรมการปกครอง กระทรวงมหาดไทย’ which processes the application.
National Intelligence Agency
Within 3 to 4 weeks of your initial meeting with Special Branch, another interview will be organized with the National Intelligence Agency (สำนักข่าวกรองแห่งชาติ).
The usual meeting place will be a mall somewhere near downtown Bangkok. Favourite venues include KFC’s or McDonalds. Again, you will be asked to bring along all of the documents used in the initial application most of the same questions will be asked again.
For most applicants, it will come across as a slightly bizarre experience, which officials like to keep ‘formal, yet informal’. It is a relatively short ‘chat’, going over your background again. The officials will also weave in why you want Thai citizenship. ‘Practical’ reasons are best. These include:
- Not needing to have work permits;
- To have rights with regards to things like land ownership; and
- Doing away with the need for visas.
Fluffy and overly obsequious reasons tend to go down less well – according to the NIA people themselves.
The NIA officials also ask about salary and assets. It is probably best to be honest here as ultimately the officials want that the applicant will not ultimately be a burden on the state.
Local police interview
Within this first 90-day period, you’ll also be required to schedule an appointment at your local police station in the district you are registered. Here the police will again interview you, asking basic questions about your relationship status and family situation, which they will type up in a report and send back to Special Branch HQ to form part of your application.
MINISTRY OF INTERIOR (AKA the ‘black hole’)
Following your meeting with the NIA, your application is forwarded to Department of Provincial Administration (DOPA) at the Ministry of Interior (กรมการปกครอง กระทรวงมหาดไทย)
At this stage documents will be checked again and crossed checked that the application complies with the Nationality Act itself, and whatever ministerial regulations and interpretation are applicable.
None of this you will see or know about, unless, as does sometimes happen, DOPA finds a slight discrepancy or issue with the application, which will result in either DOPA or Special Branch calling you for supplementary paperwork.
For most applicants however, when the application hits DOPA, all they hear about their application is complete silence.
Working while your application is processed
One thing that can potentially trip applicants up is the issue of work permit continuity.
Applicants who are looking to apply for Thai citizenship know that they must be in Thailand on 3 years worth of consecutive work permits and extensions of stay before they are eligible to apply (though a few days between an old work permit expiring and the new one beginning seems to be fine, though admittedly a grey area and one open to interpretation).
However, once you have applied and your application has been accepted by Special Branch, it is important to know that you should continue to remain qualified during the processing period and up to your citizenship is formally announced in the Royal Gazette.
In other words, maintaining your work permit, minimum income levels, tax payments and of course, being married.
This is because during interview process, your marriage certificates, visa and work permits can be requested by officials. Secondly, in rare cases, DOPA and the Ministry of Interior may find a slight discrepancy in the application submitted by Special Branch – in which case the application technically has to be resubmitted – requiring you to be fully eligible at that point too.
The final BORA/DOPA/Ministry of Interior interview
Depending on a range of factors, the government of the day, the level attention that the Minister in charge places on citizenship applications, applicants will receive notification from Bureau of Registration Administration (สำนักบริหารการทะเบียน) or ‘BORA’, via Special Branch, that you will be required to attend a final interview with the large committee which formally considers all applications and then recommends to the Minister to approve them.
The standard wait time for getting to this stage is often 1 to 3 years, with little explanation as to why people experience different wait times.
What is ‘normal’ about this notice is that you’ll typically only be given 10 to 14 days notice of this meeting, often less. So it is often a case of dropping everything to make sure you can attend. The notification from DOPA will come with a list of documents you need to bring for the interview, which is basically every piece of identification, passports, visa and registration you have in Thailand.
The Thai citizenship interview
The meeting itself is formally hosted by the Minorities and Nationality Section which is a part of the BORA which sits under DOPA, which is a part of the MOI.
All applicants for Thai citizenship are interview in a conference room by a committee. This can consist of 20 to 40 officials from different agencies (as required to be present under the Thai Nationality Act) sitting around a horseshoe shaped conference table, with you and your spouse at the front of the room sitting at a table facing everyone.
The conference room is typical of what you’ll find in every government office across Thailand with microphones on each desk. The atmosphere is formal, but everyone is friendly and polite.
By this point, you will be well versed and practiced in many of the questions that will be asked – information about yourself, your background, and your relationship. You may be asked why you want to get Thai citizenship and about your employment. Some applicants have mixed English into their Thai answers, and this appears to have been fine so long as your overall passing score doesn’t rely on Thai language abilities.
Given this application is based on marriage to a Thai spouse, applicants are waived from having to sing the Thai national anthem and the Royal Anthem (Sansoen Phra Barami/สรรเสริญพระบารมี).
Uncontroversial applications are often very quick, lasting only a few minutes. If there were questions or concerns, the committee often takes longer.
GETTING THE THAI ID CARD
Following the BORA interview, there can be another long gap of a few months to a year or more.
The BORA committee will make a formal submission to the Minister of Interior to approve the application, which then must also be countersigned by HM the King, before it can be published in the Royal Gazette.
Following this, applicants will also need to undergo a formal citizenship swearing in ceremony at Special Branch headquarters. At this point, you will also a naturalisation certificate along with certified copies of the announcement in the Royal Gazette.
With all of this in hand, you can then go to the district office. It will likely the the case that you will need to scheduling a meeting with the appropriate person there, where they will again check all the required documents from you, and where they can move your yellow tabien baan registration to the blue tabien baan. Following this, you will be able to move over to the Thai ID counter to have your new Thai ID issued.