Thai military service for dual citizens

“Do I have to undertake Thai military service?” is one of the most common questions that arises for male Thai citizens born and living overseas, as well as dual citizens born in Thailand.

As a basic rule, all healthy males with Thai citizenship who are resident in Thailand are required to report to a conscription officer at age 20. The only men who don’t have to go through the conscription process are naturalised Thai males or those who have completed the territorial defense program while at school.

Undertaking conscription is still a major rite of passage for most young Thai men. Having fulfilled your obligation is important from a general legal perspective, but also important given some employers – particularly in the public sector – still require evidence of completing your obligation.

Conscription

Thai males who are registered in Thailand on the tabieen baan (house register) are normally sent initial administrative papers about their obligation at age 17. They are expected to respond to this letter in anticipation for being sent instructions for presenting themselves for the conscription lottery at 20.

The basic health requirements are as follows:

  • Be free from diseases and disabilities that can interfere with military service; and
  • Height at least 160 cm or more and a chest circumference of 76cm measured when exhaling.

Those with a suspected disease or disability contrary to military service are required to be examined at one of the 20 Army hospitals in the country between October and February in the year of being eligible for conscription.

On conscription day, eligible recruits will take part in a lottery, picking coloured ball out of a barrel. Those who choose a red ball will be drafted for 2 years. Choose a black one, and you are home free.

Registration is handled by the local recruitment officer – the Sasadee (สัสดี) located the local district office (สำนักงานเขต) where your father or mother are registered on the house book/tabieen baan (ทะเบียนบ้าน).

In 2017, a little over 100,000 twenty year-olds, joined the armed forces. Most (78%) went into the army, 14% into the Navy and 8% into the air force. Of these, 49% volunteered for Thai military service and the remainder were conscripted.

The local office will usually provide statistics on how many in that district need to be conscripted to meet the local quota. In some areas, the ranks are mainly filled with volunteers who see the military as a good employment option. As such, the actual number (and the chance of) needing to be conscripted may be low, depending on the district.

Some basic misconceptions and myths:

Before we examine the legitimate ways of de-risking your chances of being conscripted, let’s look at some misconceptions about what gets you exempted.

  • Myth 1: Dual citizen children are not eligible for conscription;
  • Myth 2: Not speaking Thai exempts you from selection;
  • Myth 3: Children who aren’t ethnically Thai aren’t eligible to be conscripted; and
  • Myth 4: Becoming a monk automatically exempts you.

Having read the rules from start to finish, there is nothing in the regulations that refer to these factors as exemptions. Don’t be caught out by rumours to the contrary!

The (lack of) Thai language one is often cited to me, however the fact is there are loads of kids from Khmer, Malay or Lao speaking regions of Thailand whose central Thai may not be terribly strong – let alone literate – but they are as eligible as a Thai male who only fluent in a European language.

Indeed, English language skills are useful to the military, particularly for intelligence related roles. Though it isn’t unknown to find those who have been exempted because of their lack of Thai speaking skills – do not rely on this as a general rule!

The ONLY impediment for Thai males with a foreign parent is that they are ineligible to become an officer in the Thai armed forces. While other areas of Thai law have mainly removed discrimination based on parent’s nationality (e.g. eligibility for being an MP), this rule remains firmly on the books of the Thai military for the time being.

Becoming a monk doesn’t automatically exempt you – a monk passing out having chosen the red ball. Image Source: Matichon Newspaper

Its also worth noting that becoming a monk doesn’t automatically exempt you. Only monks who have undertaken higher (divinity) level Buddhist education within the Mahajana sect (พระภิกษุที่มีสมณศักดิ์ชั้นเปรียญ นักบวชนิกายมหายาน) and monks and novices who have been certified by the Ministry of Education (สามเณร ภิกษุ นักบวชพุทธศาสนานิกายมหายาน ที่ได้รับการรับรองจากกระทรวงศึกษาธิการ) are automatically exempted.

As such, those serving as monks, who fall outside these categories will need to report for military conscription, and it isn’t an uncommon sight to see ordained men lining up on conscription day to see if they are chosen for Thai military service.

 

 

Legitimate exemptions from the military draft

While a good proportion of applicants see military service as a way out of poverty, or as a way to serve their nation, others have personal reasons for avoiding being conscripted for two full years right at the start of their 20’s.

Regulations thus contain some thoroughly above-board ways to avoid having to be conscripted, or at the very least, delay it. These include the following:

1) Territorial defense program

This program, known colloquially in Thai as Ror Dor (รด) is the equivalent of army ‘cadets’ in places like the UK or Australia, or the ‘ROTC’ in the US.

This is one of the main methods Thai kids use to avoid the lottery. If you are parents of young children, then selecting a high school with a ‘Ror Dor’ program might be something worth thinking about. International schools generally also offer ‘Ror Dor’ as well.

The concept is very simple. In the senior years of high school (and in some cases university), a child can sign up and participate in training during school hours a few days per month for three years. This provides an alternative form of basic training which culminates in a multi-day camp at the end of the program. After the full three-year course is completed, the students receive exemption papers for the draft at age 20.

For partial completion of Ror Dor, credit will also be given. Completing one year of Ror Dor means only having to serve full-time for one year if conscripted. Similarly, completing two years of reserve training means only doing six months of full-time training if conscripted.

For those who start, but don’t complete the Ror Dor course at high school, they are permitted to carry on with the course for 2 more years at university.

2) University/Post graduate studies

Whether in Thailand or overseas, further studies are an acceptable method of deferring your obligations to attend the lottery.

Thai embassies overseas will have Military Deferment Forms (แบบฟอร์มขอหนังสือรับรองการผ่อนผันการเกณฑ์ทหาร).

3) Volunteering after graduating from university

Following graduation, a university graduate is allowed to volunteer to join the armed forces prior to or on conscription day, and as a result only serve 6 months. This is common for many Thai families who do see some merit in undertaking a short stint of Thai military service.

A word of warning though, if you decide to try your luck with the lottery, and pick the red ball, do note that you’ll have to serve to full conscription period, university degree or not.

4) Overseas military service

The conscription rules do state that comparable foreign military service does count towards reducing military obligations in Thailand. How this is administered is unclear, and probably comes down to being assessed a case by case basis.

5) Not moving back to Thailand until you are 30 years of age

All Thai males who report for conscription at after age 30 are automatically released from duty (technically this happens from the 1st of January in the year you turn 30). At this point, according to section 39 of the Military Service Act of 1977 (see here) once you register for military duty you will be put into the second division of the army reserves, which is an inactive register (ทหารกองหนุนชั้นที่ ๒).

As such, particularly if you are an overseas born Thai, it may be worthwhile staying unregistered in Thailand – no ID card and staying off the house book or tabien baan (ทะเบียนบ้าน) – and only formally registering yourself for Thai military service with the district office when you are past thirty years of age.

After age thirty, so long as you voluntarily report, you will be released from your obligation with a small payment of a fine at the police station. The fine for reporting late ranges between 100 and 300 baht – and a fine at the lower end of that range is usually granted for voluntary reporting.

Strictly speaking, the above process (though undertaken by many) leaves you still open to be considered an absconder in the event of being caught before you voluntarily report. For overseas born Thai dual citizens who want to avoid this small risk (anecdotally, we’ve never heard of any dual citizens being arrested), there is a ‘belt and braces’ approach to stay totally on the right side of the law.

For those who are born overseas, and who have never been registered on a house register or have gotten an ID card by the age of 17, you are able to send someone on your behalf to report. The rules allow for an adult representative to bring your Thai embassy issued birth certificate to the recruitment office. According to the rules, this must be done in the district office where your Thai mother is registered, but if your mother is not a Thai citizen, then you can do so in your fathers registered district.

By way of process, the  Sasadee office will begin the process register the enlistee via the Sor.Dor 44 form. Given the lack of house registration and ID card (which are on the list of required documents for conscription), the Sasadee will send your file to the district office head, who is empowered to delay the processing of the registration till such time as these documents are produced. Nevertheless a record will be kept of the attempted registration and a copy shall be given to the representative who reported on your behalf. Importantly, this record will be proof that an attempt to register has been made, and this is sufficient proof under law to prove that the enlistee did not attempt to abscond.

If I live overseas, can I travel back Thailand on a Thai passport if I haven’t reported?

Up until the late 1990’s, for those over the age of majority, having your military release papers was a requirement for being issued a Thai passport. Now, Thai passports are generally issued to anyone, except to those who have been charged by a court of absconding.

The real issue is whether you are normally resident in Thailand and thus, liable to report for conscription. This is a very grey area, but short trips are normally fine and many dual citizens travel to and from Thailand regularly.  But if you intend to visit for longer periods then the risk increases that you will be considered liable for duty so you should be aware of your responsibilities on this front if you move back to Thailand before age 30 for an extended period of time.

Chris Larkin

Long time resident of Bangkok. Married, three daughters. Managing director of CLC Asia (www.clc-asia.com). Lots of interesting knowledge and experience built up over time which I hope can be of use to people.

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214 Responses

  1. Elisa Derr says:

    Hi Chris,
    Just have a question for you regarding Thai military duty. My son avoided to serve because he will lose his green card. It is quite hard for him to come to America. Is that a criminal offense if you avoided Thai military service? He is 21 years old and suppose to go this August 2021 but came back to America. Please let us know if we have to send him back home to serve. He also plans to become a US citizen next year. Thank you and more power to yoou.

    • Hi Elisa,

      To be honest i’m not sure how to answer. Nominally a warrant can be put out for him, but that is a process in itself which I don’t understand. As the article states, if he is taken off the house registry in Thailand and not normally resident in Thailand (and can not report himself in person) then effectively the process allows him to defer. And if at 30 he voluntarily reports he will pay a small fine and the matter will be finalised – and he will also be exempted.

      Hope this helps!

  2. Nicholas says:

    Hi,
    Is there somewhere I can ask about specific medical conditions?
    My eldest son has a fused thyroid/parathyroid and is required to take multiple medicines every week.

    • Hi Nicolas,

      Thanks for your message. You’ll need to speak to the local conscription office as to the location of the appropriate military hospital to assess your sons condition. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

      Regards
      Chris

  3. Kyle says:

    Hello so my son was born this year in the usa i am a us citizen and my wife is a thai citizen. We will continue living in america. I saw at the beginning of the article it says that they conscript healthy male thai residents. My wife is concerned that they will still expect him for conscription wether he lives here in the usa or not, if we get a thai birth certificate. I also read that we can go to the thai embassy and delay his conscription when he is 17, if we have not registered him in a house and aquired an id, then attempt to register him for conscription. My wife thinks we cannot get a birth certificate without him being registered. Any advice on this matter would be greatly appreciated thanks for your time!

    • Hi Kyle,

      The key to understanding conscription is that they look at those who are registered on the house register in Thailand (tabieen baan). While children born in Thailand are expected to be registered at an address within 15 days of birth, there is no similar expectation for overseas born Thai.

      In essence, not being on the tabieen baan effectively means you are off the radar for military service (it also means you can’t get an ID card, and passports etc in Thailand). If your son remains in the US until he is at least 30, he won’t be conscripted.

      To be clear as well, your son CAN NOT get a birth certificate in Thailand. He can only get one from the Thai embassy in DC given he was born in the US. It is the way the system works. You have to then physically then go back to Thailand to register him on the house book – it isn’t done automatically. You can be registered at any time in life. I for instance wasn’t registered on a house book till age 30. I’ve been contacted by other overseas born Thai’s who weren’t registered till they were 45. As long as you are a Thai citizen (proven by the overseas BC) you can register back in Thailand at any time.

      As said however, the birth certificate from the embassy is the first (and most important) step in ensuring your son has proof of an entitlement to Thai citizenship. It isn’t linked however to military conscription.

      Hope this clears things up for you.

  4. Dave says:

    Hi Chris,

    Your articles are incredibly detailed and informative. I have a question regarding my personal situation.

    My mother is Thai, and I am born in the EU to an EU father. When I was 14, I applied for, and received, both Thai citizenship and my first Thai passport from our local Thai embassy. I am currently 28, due to be 29 later this year.

    As it was my parents who applied for me roughly 15 years ago, I was unaware of the process and documents required at the time. My passport has long since expired.

    I travel to Thailand on a relatively frequent basis, always entering on my EU passport. As far as I’m aware, I have never been registered on the tabien baan. I have never served any conscription service.

    Am I still a Thai citizen?

    May I, according to your article, place my name on the inactive register from the 1st of January 2022 (as I am due to turn 30 next year) ?

    If so, what would be required for me to get a new Thai passport and a Thai national ID?

    Presumably, a Thai birth certificate would have already been created for myself before, is it a matter of getting this? What is the process for getting a copy of my Thai birth certificate?

    Apologies for hitting you with so much, you seem to be the only source with a comprehensive knowledge of the matter.

    Best regards,
    Dave.

    • Hi Dave,

      So first things first, you still are a Thai citizen, and unless you renounce it, you always will be. The process that your parents would have gone through for you to get your first Thai passport would have been along the lines of what you see in THIS article.

      For you, the important piece of paper you need to find is your Thai birth certificate which would have been issued by the Thai embassy in the country you were born in. So either finding it with your parents or approaching the embassy and asking for a document to replace it (they won’t issue you a new BC per se). I’m not sure what form that will be, but that will be the first step for you.

      The second step will be to enter Thailand. The embassy will probably tell you they can’t issue you a replacement passport which generally you need an ID for. They should be able to issue you a temp passport which you can enter Thailand on. Then you can get your name on a tabieen baan. This generally requires:

      – your Thai BC from the embassy
      – your Thai PP if you have one, if not your EU passport
      – copies of your mum’s thai ID and house registration
      – copies of your fathers EU passport
      – two Thai witnesses to vouch for you
      – head of the house book to allow you to entered on

      Once you get the house registration then the ID is a formality. At that point you can then get a new Thai passport.

      As for military conscription, you understanding of the timings are correct, so from the start of next year you will be fine.

  5. Jan says:

    Hi Chris

    My son is a dual citizen of Thailand and Denmark, 17yo and raised in both countries, and having a Thai ID-card and is registered in Tabien Baan. He will be moving to Denmark at 18yo to further his education. Not that it matters in Thailand, but he is a military conscientious objector by heart and as such he will be serving his military duty by enlisting in the Danish Emergency Management Agency. The enlistment is 9 month and can be extended. Is there any way to seek more information about whether or how the enlisted oversea service can or will reduce Thai conscription?

    Best regards

    • Hi Jan,

      Thanks for your message. To be honest I haven’t seen much about the issues you talk about. Anecdotally I have been told bringing details of overseas military duty to the conscription office at the Thai district office has helped someone having their name taken off by being called up. However I can’t tell you about the legal or procedural mechanisms behind it, so take please take the information at face value and that it is one persons experience and I can’t tell you whether it will have any benefit in your son’s case. To that extent, the broader advice given in the article is about as much as I can genuinely commit too.

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