The ultimate guide to Thai Permanent Residency
So, you’ve been in Thailand a few years now. You want to make Thailand your permanent home, but are not sure how. In addition the craziness of the TM30 forms, the repeated 90-day reporting and days wasted doing annual visa extensions are getting to you – and it would be good to know if there was a way for these irritants were done away with.
It’s not a bad question to ask – and fortunately the answer is that it probably isn’t as hard as you think. So how do you make you stay here permanent, and do away with these annoying visa hassles once and for all?
There are two main options – becoming a permanent resident or becoming a citizen. Each have their pro’s and con’s.
Thai Permanent Residency – is it for you?
There are a couple situations where Thai permanent residency is going to be the preferred option for those wishing to stay in Thailand indefinitely. These include:
- You are not married to a Thai citizen, so having PR is a necessary step before being eligible to apply for Thai citizenship*;
- Your current country of citizenship does not allow you to hold dual citizenship. While Thailand and most western countries have no issues on holding dual citizenship (see this article here on Thailand stance ) there a number of countries which won’t let you keep your original citizenship if you naturalize as a Thai. As such, if you want to stay in Thailand permanently, then PR is the best status for you to have.
*If you are already married to a Thai citizen, you can check out our article here on how you can skip PR and go directly to citizenship.
What are the benefits of holding Thai PR?
- Peace of mind. Your stay in Thailand is permanent. Your residency permit does not expire – and only in very rare circumstances – can it be revoked. As such, if you need to take a break between jobs or retire, you can do so without having to find another visa class to let you stay in Thailand;
- No need to do annual extensions of stay, 90-day reporting, TM 30’s or other visa related requirements needed for those on non-immigrant visas;
- You can be registered on the blue house registration ‘Tabieen Baan’ alongside of other Thai nationals, which makes it much easier to deal with government offices, banks, etc.;
- Thai banks are generally happy to lend money to PR’s on the same basis as locals;
- You are no longer required to bring in funds from overseas to purchase a condominium in Thailand;
- You can apply for extensions of stay for your non-Thai family members;
- You are eligible to use the e-Passport automatic gates and Thai passport lanes at all airports and international borders; and
- After 5 years of holding PR you are eligible to apply for Thai citizenship.
Key requirements (hint…you need to be working!)
So, you’ve gotten this far, and you are still interested. Before we go any further, if you aren’t currently working in Thailand, then you probably aren’t eligible. That rules out retiree’s, those here on educational visa’s or the Thai Elite visas. However if you are working, then read on…
While there are a number of different categories for applying for Thai PR most of the paths to PR require you to be working for a number of years before you apply.
The rules around PR applications are pretty straight forward, but at the very minimum you will need to be:
- A holder of work permit (and valid non-immigrant visa) for at least 3 consecutive years up to the date of application submission;
- Have been working in the current company for at least 1 year, up to the date of application submission;
- Earn an annual income at least Baht 80,000 per month for a period of at least 2 years, up to the date of application submission, or have been filing tax return for the amount of annual income of Baht 100,000 for at least 2 consecutive years, up to the date of application submission.
As said earlier, there are other categories you can apply under (including investment, supporting family, being a recognized expert in your field), the reality is these categories also require you to have consecutive back-to-back work permit and visa extensions and a minimum taxable income. Additionally – the paperwork requirements for these other categories will be higher, and as such most applicants for PR will take the path of least resistance, and apply for the simplest category – the one based on work.
We won’t bother outlining ALL the documentation needed for the application, as they are comprehensively included here on the announcement issued by immigration in July 2019. Needless to say, you will need to provide a range of documentation confirming your work, visa, tax and educational history, as well as other documents from your home country, such as criminal background checks.
When and where to apply for Thai PR?
Where to apply is easy – the immigration department handles applications, but like most things to do with PR and citizenship, Bangkok is the place to do it. The immigration office at Chaengwattana has a PR desk staffed year around and they are very helpful in advising potential applicants. This is a link to their website.
When to apply is the tricky bit. For applications to be accepted, the immigration department has to make an official announcement that applications are being accepted for that year – and this is largely at the discretion of the minister of interior.
Up until the mid-2000’s, it was common practice for applications to be accepted for a good portion of the year. However, after that point, the window for applications changed to being mainly in December, and very often in the last two weeks of December. In some years, no applications were accepted at all, which caught out applicants who became eligible that year.
At the time of writing (2019), the current government has been pretty good at giving applications a large window, and in the case of 2019, applications have been open since July. This doesn’t guarantee that the same will happen in subsequent years, but so long as the current Minister of Interior stays in place (Gen. Anupong Paochinda), then based on his track record since 2014, applications will be accepted and processed with some level of predictable regularity.
- There is a non-refundable application fee for 7,600 baht, when you formally submit your application.
- If successful, you’ll be required to pay 191,400 baht. However for those with a Thai spouse, or applicants under 20 who has a parent with Thai citizenship or PR, then the fee is 95,700 baht.
nb: now you know the fees, for those who are married to a Thai spouse, at this point you may want to reconsider PR and instead apply directly for citizenship which only costs 5,000 baht and can be done all year round.
So I want to put in an application, what now?
Very similar to citizenship, we strongly recommend that before you apply, you go down to the PR desk at your immigration office and discuss your case with them. They are generally less busy that other immigration officials and by all accounts are very helpful in guiding applicants on putting in a successful application and organizing all the right documentation to support it.
Be warned however that these officials will be very hesitant to accept an application which they know will have little chance of being accepted by the consideration committee. Its unlikely they will be rude about it, but they will certainly counsel you about perhaps holding off your application until a subsequent year.
The upside of this is that, for the most part, if an application is accepted, then you can feel confident, other things being equal, that so long as your bonafides check out, then PR for you is a likely outcome.
A few months after your successful application lodgment, you’ll receive notice to attend a formal interview at immigration. The format is fairly standard year to year, and will consist of a panel of 7-10 officials from various related ministries, who will make recommendations to the Minister of Interior who ultimately signs off on each application.
The format largely consists of semi-formal chit-chat (all in Thai) around your background and why you want to remain in Thailand. For anyone who has spent a few years in Thailand, this stage won’t be daunting. The whole process is as much a Thai language skill check as it is to let the officials take the opportunity to ask you about any lingering questions they may have about your application, though by this stage, there shouldn’t be many questions as the people at the PR desk are generally quite thorough in ensuring your application is self-explanatory.
The whole meeting will be filmed, and with any luck, will only take 5-10 minutes if they don’t have too many questions (which is generally a good sign that the paperwork speaks for itself!). Following that, you’ll need to wait for the formal approval from the minister.
The Ministry of Interior Black Hole
Once the application is accepted by immigration, and your interview has been completed, it will be sent off to the Ministry of Interior. At this point, like Thai citizenship applications, the approval process becomes more obscure, given that it is totally at the discretion of the minister of the day to sign Thai Permanent Residency approvals. In the mid 2000s till about 2013, approvals took years, sometimes up to 5 or 6 years. Since the coup however, the military government has been pretty good at making things happen. The backlog of PR and Citizenship approvals has been dealt with, and we know based on anecdotal evidence that approvals are coming through about 18-20 months following your first application. So long as the current minister remains in place, then we don’t expect this to change.
The one upside from the blackhole…
Despite the uncertainty which comes from not knowing when your application will finally be approved, there is one huge upside. While you wait, you will automatically be given an extension of stay every 6 months while you await the outcome of your PR application.
The picture on the left is an example of the 6 monthly extension, and while you are waiting for you PR to be approved, you will need to keep getting this extension of stay stamped in your passport every half year. Based on the current rate of approval, this shouldn’t be too long. However, even if the government or minister changes and they are less forthcoming in granting PR on a regular basis, your stay in Thailand won’t be affected until a decision is finally made.
So really, are they going to accept me?
The honest answer is probably ‘yes’, so long as you’ve done the things migrants normally do when they move to a new country – work in a decent job, contributed though paying taxes, and picked up enough of the language.
Unlike citizenship, there is no publicly available points system which you can check your skills and background against. Having said that, we do understand there is an internal points system that the immigration officials do use, which give preference to higher income/tax payments, time spend in Thailand and language skills.
If you are interested in understanding what the officials look for when you are applying for a permeant visa however, you could do worse that checking out what they look for when applying for citizenship (see here). We stress though, only use this as a guide, as it isn’t the criteria immigration use to assess your PR eligibility.
Based on lots of anecdotal information however, you stand a pretty good chance of being accepted for PR if the following apply to you:
- Meet the basic income, tax and visa thresholds outlined above;
- Have a decent educational background and/or have a reasonable skill set;
- Speak, at a minimum, polite and passable Thai for the interviews with the immigration department and be able to explain your background and current situation with them;
- Have shown a reasonable commitment to Thailand in terms of work history, family or other activities;
- To be able to show that you genuinely intend to make Thailand your home.
I work for myself, do I have a chance?
If you are working as an employee for a midsized to larger company, Thai or foreign, your chances of gaining Thai PR will be pretty good.
However, we understand that many people work for themselves, via their own companies which are essentially small businesses.This need not be a hinderance.
We understand unofficially that immigration will consider self-employed applicants whose company’s have a paid up capital exceeding 2 million baht, though some reports say this is 5 million baht. It is also fair to say that they will be looking applicants who’s own companies are legitimately trading profitably, with a good track record over a number of years. Immigration officials will want to examine your company documents, and will see through (and reject) applicants who have set up a company simply to get the work permit, PR and citizenship.
If successful, what happens next?
Once the Minister of Interior signs off on your Thai permanent residency application, immigration will invite you back where you will receive your approval letter. After paying your fee, you’ll receive detailed instructions on how to obtain a blue ‘Certificate of Residence’ book. Once you have obtained this, you will be directed to your local police station where you’ll be given a red ‘Alien Registration’ book which only needs to be renewed every 5 years for a minimal fee at the police station. From then, you’ll be allowed to register on a Blue Tabieen Baan at your local district office.
Travelling as a Thai Permanent Resident
One of the peculiar aspects of having Thai PR is that while your permission to stay in Thailand never expires – this is only the case if you never leave the Kingdom.
To travel, you must apply for what is known as a 1 year ‘non-quota Immigrant’ re-entry visa. These come in single trip (1,900 baht) and multiple trip (3,800 baht) and is stamped into your passport. In additon, you’ll need to apply for a one year endoresement of your Residency Book (1,900 baht). Without these, your PR will lapse upon exit and there is absolutely no way to get it back again without going through the whole application process again. Similarly, if you stay outside of Thailand for more than 1 year (364 days to be precise) and arrive back after the expiry of your re-entry permit, you will not be allowed to enter Thailand as a PR, and your status is lost in this case as well.
While this isn’t ideal, and a legacy of a law which was written in 1979, most PR holders simply automatically renew the re-entry permit and residency book annually to take into account any potential travel and minimize any hassles.
Myths, Misunderstandings and Misconceptions
Myth: PR isn’t really ‘PR’ as you need to reapply for a visa each year.
Reality: Not true. Once granted PR, you never have to apply for another visa if you never leave the country again. A re-entry permit is all that is required so you can travel in and out of Thailand without losing your PR.
Myth: The limit of 100 successful applicants per nationality per year means that you’ll never be eligible.
Reality: While it is true that there is a cap of 100 applicants per year, the reality is that most nationalities will never have that number of applicants for PR. The only nationalities that we are aware of which may get close to hitting that number are Chinese and Indian applicants.
Myth: You need to be fluent in Thai, and a well connected high flier.
Reality: Far from it. In the nicest possible way, many people who have PR are normal people you’d meet back home who have pretty normal jobs but who have decided that Thailand is going to be their home.
The level of Thai needed to pass the PR interview is a basic conversational level of Thai. If you are confident in talking about yourself for 10 minutes to government officials, then you’ll be fine.