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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212 Responses

  1. Xavier says:

    Hi, 19 years old male who was born in Thailand holding Dual nationalities ; British. I am going to university very soon, believing that I was able to avoid military conscription as I can’t waste a year delay to university (UK), but according to this article I could only delay the conscription.

    I was advised by my friends to use ‘under the table method’ but was told I could not work for the government services or state owned enterprises in the future. I plan to work with private firms but I am worried if the private firm is working with/for the government, does this mean I am unable to work at all in Thailand? Additionally, I was planning to join the UK marines or airforce with the table method to count for my Thai military training but I do not know if this works.

    Best Regards

    • Hi there,

      Thanks for the email and appreciate the conflicting information you are getting.

      With respect to employers, many (but not all) Thai based private sector employers don’t ask for evidence of military service/release from conscription. However it is still generally a requirement for working in government.

      Moving out of thailand for study generally means you can ask for a deferment from the Thai embassy in the Uk upon showing evidence of your university enrollment.

      You should also search through previous answers I’ve given here to others about moving your name to the central house registration while living overseas.

      I take it you never did Ror Dor during high school either which means there are no credits for deferral there.

      With respect to joining a foreign armed services and that service counting towards Thai service, as I say in the article there is nothing clearly written HOW this translates over.

      Finally (also look at previous Q&A’s here) there is an issue of the UK armed services requiring evidence from Thai/UK dual citizens that they have either been granted an exemption or have fulfilled their Thai military obligations.

      The process for this is not entirely clear either so I suggest you email the British defense attaché at the UK embassy here in Bangkok to ask for guidance. The current person in that position is Colonel Anthony Stern.

  2. David Reed says:

    Hi Chris
    My 16-year-old daughter has applied to join the British army. They have told her that she has to get a public liability letter from the Thai Embassy, in London. If this is correct could you point me in the right direction ie who do I contact. I am the Father (British ) her mum is Thai My Daughter does have a Thai passport and UK passport She was born in England and registered as British. We all live in the UK London. I have contacted the Thai Embassy but always told to ring other numbers in the Embassy, and after 2 hours nothing sorted.

    • Hi David,

      Thanks for your message. I’ve gotten this question a few times of late, and unfortunately, I don’t have any ‘good’ answer for you. The issue as I understand it is the British army requires anyone who is a dual citizen to show evidence that they are not liable for military service in Thailand. This is normally an issue for males, who are from the age of 20, unless they have been exempted. Given your child is female, there is no requirement she serve in the Thai forces.

      Now, while this may be so, you are also dealing with two bureaucracies, in the UK and Thailand. I don’t have any clear idea what type of document the British army require to satisfy them that Thai females aren’t required to serve in the Thai armed forces. So you are going to have to ask the recruitment people on that point.

      The second issue is once they tell you what they want, how do you get it out of the Thai military? This is something that I have not seen any offical guidance for from the Thai side, so you are going to have to ask the military attache at the Thai embassy what they can provide (and I do note your difficulty in getting in touch with them).

      One idea which may or may not work is to ask the UK military if an English translation of Thailand’s conscription legislation (which I have linked in this article) will satisfy them? It makes clear that only males are required. It may not work, but I’m just trying to think out of the box here.

      The other obvious thing, and unfortunately is in the realms of diplomacy and international relations, is to concurrently raise the issue with your MP and the UK Military Attache to the British embassy in Bangkok, essentially calling for them to formally liase with the Thai military, so that young Thai/UK dual citizens who wish to join the British army have clearer guidance and procedures so as to get these clearances required by the British army.

      I’m really sorry I can’t be of more help on this, but hopefully in your daughters case, given she isn’t liable for service in Thailand, the route maybe somewhat easier than for males in the same boat.

      All the best, Chris

  3. tristan says:

    Hello Chris, I have a question I hope you can answer. I’m a 22 year old male who has been living in the U.S. ever since I was a kid and am a green card holder. My Thai passport has been expired for some time, and I have not had a chance to renew it yet after my 18th. My first question is, is it possible to renew my passport in the U.S without reporting for the Thai conscription? If so, and if I decided to visit my family in Thailand, will there be any consequences when I go through airport security in Thailand? Does visiting my family for under a month constitute living there, and thus I have to self-report? Thank you for taking your time to read this!

    • Hi Tristian,

      Thanks for your message. So you should be able to renew your passport in the US in normal circumstances, but given you are over 15 now there is an expectation that you should have a Thai ID card when you apply.

      You say you’ve been in the US since you were a child, so I’m guessing that you probably don’t have a valid Thai ID. Given this, I’d check with the consulate/embassy whether they will be able to give you a full passport without a Thai ID card. It may be the case that they only give you a temporary passport, good for a one way trip to Thailand. At which point you will need to head to your district office and get a new ID card, and apply for a full passport in Thailand.

      You also don’t mention if your family back in Thailand has received any call up notices, so its hard to tell where your name is in the process.

      Going through immigration won’t trigger any thing conscription wise, unless (and this is VERY VERY unlikely) that a court has ordered a warrant be put out on you. Looking at it another way, you’d probably know if you had a warrant out for you for skipping the draft.

      So all in all I’d say it would be okay to go back for a short time, but just realising that MAY have to get a Thai ID card in the process and deal with the district office, which may in turn put you on the list to be notified by call up (assuming you haven’t received any notification yet).

      This may also just be a good catalyst for you just to naturalise as a US citizen at this point and use the US passport to travel to Thailand until you turn 30.

    • Hui says:

      If you do not have a Thai ID and you did not renew your passport before its expiration, then you will only be issued a “certificate of identity” which is only valid for a one way trip. (Based on experience)

  4. James Depotter says:

    Hello Chris, Hope you can help me with some advice. I am 19 years old and have a Belgian nationality. As my mother is Thai, I want to apply for dual nationality. I also plan to join the Belgian Armed Forces in September 2021. If later on, I want to become resident in Thailand, do I have to do military services in Thailand? If yes, what are my options. If no, is there any procedure to follow. Thanks in advance.

    • Hi James,

      Thanks for your message. The thing to remember is that technically, given you are born to a Thai citizen parent, you are already a Thai citizen, so all you are doing is you are applying for the birth certificate which is one of the key documents you need for being put on the house registration, getting an ID card and a passport.

      In terms of military obligations, if you are overseas – as per the article above – essentially the answer is ‘no’. You only come on the radar if you decide to register on the house book and get an ID card and be living in Thailand between ages 20 and 30.

      So long as Belgian army doesn’t have an issue with you holding dual nationality, you could apply for a birth certificate at least from the Thai embassy in Brussels, and at the same time you should be able to apply for your first Thai passport which should be valid for 10 years. This will be fine for travel to/from Thailand, but for your second passport you’ll need to be registered on a house registration. Given your age, you won’t need to do this until you are 30 at least, by which point you’ll be exempt from military service. Please be aware though that if you do decide to live in Thailand before 30, then obviously you will need to report for the lottery.

  5. Anders says:

    Hello Chris. Thank you so much for this insightful article. I am a 31 year old Danish citizen with a Thai parent and currently in the process of applying for Thai citizenship. About the automatic exemption from conscription/military service once past 30 years of age, would you be able to provide a link to the specific regulations/rules where this is stated? It would be great to be able to review the exact “chapter and verse” in original Thai form. Thank you so much!

    • Hi Anders,

      The legislation is HERE. Section 39 is the relevant section which says that above age of 30 you will be assigned to be a type 2 reserve soldier which for all intents and purposes is an inactive list which all thai males find themselves on.

      I hope this clears things up.

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