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.

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.

What commonly happens is a university educated volunteer will do the required 10 weeks of basic training, with the remainder of their service being in office based administrative jobs.

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. At this point, according to section 39 of the Military Service Act  (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.

Thai military exemption letter for those who are aged over 30.

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.

Thai citizenship

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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364 Responses

  1. Annabel Greenan says:

    Hello,

    Me and my boyfriend are going travelling around Thailand in a few months.

    My boyfriend is 25 and was born in Thailand, he moved over when he was 3 years old and has been back 3 times.

    He visited Thailand when he was 19 years old, and had to register for an ID card and on the house register, as he needed to do so due to him changing his name.

    He needed to legally change is name in Thailand as this was changed when he came over to England. This was a whole process for sorting out his passport.

    When doing so he did not register for conscription as this was not mentioned by any officials and at the time he was enrolled in university and was not planning on staying in Thailand. No proof or evidence was given regarding this as at the time he didn’t even realise he needed to register for this.

    We are now planning to go to Thailand for 3 weeks, he will be using his UK passport.

    I just want to understand the risk we are taking by visiting, as we both find it all very confusing.

    This information on here as really helped, however as we are in such a unique situation we want to understand this.

    My boyfriends mum is Thai, however she also has limited understanding on this.

    Please can you advise on if it will have mattered that he visited and was issued an ID card at 19?

    And also if we travel around Thailand on an English passport the risk of this?

    Thanks for all the help and information:)

    • Hi Annabel,

      Thanks for your question. So a couple of things to unpack/understand here. First is that your boyfriend will be fine travelling here on either a UK or a Thai passport.

      There is a whole process of actually of actually putting yourself in the system at age 16/17 before you go for the conscription lottery at 20. Without doing that, he isn’t even on the radar and he has done nothing wrong to not be on that as he literally wasn’t in Thailand at the time and without an ID card (without which, you can’t even start the process). If he returns to LIVE in Thailand before the age of 30 then he has the obligation to report but that is about it really. Given he was without an ID at age 16 I doubt they even sent him preliminary call up papers and since then probably haven’t bothered to follow up.

      So all in all he will be fine.
      Hope this helps
      TC

  2. CM says:

    Hi, I am an NZ-born Thai national and live in NZ full-time. I have both a Thai passport and a National ID card with a tabien baan from 16 years old. However, I have not been back to Thailand since I was 16 and am now turning 27. I did not report at 17 and have not gone for conscription. Is it safe to say that it would be best to return to Thailand at 30 to voluntarily report and pay a fine? or does having a national ID card and tabien baan complicate the situation? I hope to one day return to Thailand to buy a house and build a business, I am hoping my situation does not ruin my future plans

    • It’s unlikely to ruin anything given you’ve been out of the country and unable to report. The process requires you to send initial registration forms for military service a couple of years before you actually turn 20, so in your case it’s highly likely the military wouldn’t have followed up if you did not respond and if was obviously not in the country.

      Like many in your situation when you do return at some stage in the future they find that the issue has been (from an administrative perspective) effectively put on hold and give you’ll be past 30 effectively forgotten about.

  3. Ivan says:

    I’m 40 years old and I just received my Thai birth certificate this month. I was born, raised, and have lived in the US my whole life- and I’m a US Air Force veteran. I’m planning to move my family to Thailand for a few years sometime in the next couple of years. Will I have to pay the fine still when I report?

    • Hi Ivan

      To be honest unless you need the exemption certificate for some administrative purpose (eg so you can apply for Thai citizenship for your wife) then there is really no need to report. If you do however you will need to pay the fine but it will be no more than the equivalent of $10/15.

  4. My sons are aged 18 and 21 and are both born in the uk . They have lived in the uk all their lives and only visit Thailand once a Year for a couple of weeks for holidays and see family.Their mum is Thai but moved to the uk 21 years ago. She has Thai passport and id card and property still . The kids have Thai passport but no id card . Do they still have to register for army service ? Older son last year of degree and 18 year old just started university

    • Hi there

      No need to register unless they decide to move back to Thailand permanently back to Thailand. In fact it is only really possible to register (as per the article above) when one is on the tabieen Baan and has an ID card issued.

      Hope this helps.

  5. John says:

    Hi. My step sons are both 100% Thai. Born in Thailand, registered, ID and passport are current. They are dual citizens with US citizenship as well. Both are attending universities in the US but want to at least do the 6-month program to serve their country of birth. I’m a US veteran so I encourage them to fulfill their responsibility. Can you give me more information on that program? Where can we go to learn more about it, including how to volunteer? Anything else you think they need to know as well. Thank you so much!

    • Hi John,

      The best bet is to simply to speak to the recruitment office attached to the district office (ie town hall) where your sons are registered. They won’t be eligible to do the 6-month stint until they graduate from university. As outlined in the article, its most likely they get a simple desk job after they’ve been through their basic training. I can’t point you to anything per se, but there are a number of articles in Reddit where mixed english speaking Thai’s have outlined their experience so it might be worth looking there.

      Sorry I can’t be of more help.
      Cheers
      TC

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