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Can foreigners buy land in Thailand?

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Thailand is a popular tourist destination – rich in natural beauty, tasty yet unique food experience, cultural diversity and history – and has long been a popular destination for many foreigners to migrate and even retire.

Many tourists, who were just planning in visiting, fell in love with the country and wish to live in Thailand permanently. There are a couple of ways to do this – marriage, retirement and property purchase.

You might be thinking that one of the most basic steps is the purchase of a plot of land. But, is this possible at all? Can any foreigner buy a piece of land in Thailand?

Can foreigners buy land in Thailand?

The Land Code Act of Thailand states that only Thai nationals are allowed to own land or have a confirmed right of possession of the land. Any foreigners who violate foreign land ownership laws and hold land without proper documentation face penalties which may include fines and imprisonment.

In general, it is not possible for foreigners to buy land in Thailand unless they are Thai citizens or married to a Thai citizen (we will talk about this later) – and even then it depends on their residential status.

Non-Thai citizens can only own condos, apartments, and houses but not a piece of land.

Foreigners looking to take advantage of the dream of retiring in Thailand are often concerned about whether they can buy land. But there is no problem with foreigners buying land as long as it is through a Thai company or corporation.

The most common way for foreigners who wish to buy land in Thailand is to do so via a Thai-registered limited company. As long as there are majority Thai shareholders, foreigners may legally own land through this company.

Up to the May 2006 Land Office guidelines, it was common practice for foreigners to purchase land or condominium beyond the foreign ownership quota through a majority Thai-owned but foreign-controlled Thai limited company.

As long as the company had majority Thai shareholdings, there were no restrictions when purchasing a property and the partly foreign-owned company was treated like any other Thai company.

So you can have the land under the Thai company name, but the majority shareholder must be Thai nationals.

Land ownership of a foreigner under the Land Code Act

The Land Code Act section 96 bis states that a foreigner may be allowed to own up to 1600 square meters of land for residential purposes in specified areas.

Foreign land ownership under section 96 bis among others requires an investment of not less than 40 million baht in the BOI-approved Thai bonds and assets which must be beneficial to the Thai economy, and, a must here – requires approval by the Ministry of Interior.

If granted, foreign land ownership under this exemption is limited to the life of the person granted the right to own the land – this means that the land is not transferable nor inheritable.

However, the permission to own land as foreign ownership under section 96 bis Land Code Act is rarely applied for or granted.

Land acquisition by a Thai married to a foreigner

Thailand’s Land Registry allows a Thai national married to a foreigner to own land after a joint statement “letter of confirmation” by the couple stating that the money used to buy the property was a personal property of the Thai spouse.

The foreigner can’t own the land, but the Land Department can transfer the land ownership to their Thai spouse.

This means that the Thai spouse has the sole management of the property and the foreigner has no rights to it at all – the land is not a marital and jointly owned property between husband and wife. Moreover, the Thai spouse has the right to sell the property if he or she chooses to.

In the past, when a foreigner wanted to buy land in Thailand, it was common that a Thai partner would buy the land from them and then sell it to them at a later stage.

The foreigner would receive their ownership document and write in the contract for the wife that she owned 50% of it. Then, they would leave Thailand with their half of the share in the property.

Foreigners owning condo apartment

According to Thaiembassy.com, “There is no prohibition on nationality, and any foreigner legally admitted to entering Thai territory can purchase a condominium which is generally a freehold property.”

Foreigners can purchase condominiums as long as the buildings are owned by a Thai company or corporation – up to 49% of shares may be held by foreigners.

In some parts of the country, particularly in Phuket, Pattaya, Hua Hin and other popular tourist hotspots there are numerous condo projects where the majority shareholders are foreigners. The Thai companies buying these condos have Thai partners who hold at least 51% of the shares.

In the past, foreigners could buy a condo when they could show that they had enough money to pay for it, but these days most units are sold through banks using an investment trust system or through an international real estate agent.

Right of superficies in Thailand

Right of superficies are buildings and properties constructed on land which are not owned by the owner of the property – there is a cession of ownership from the land owner to another person who then has a right to use it – in short, a superficies right.

A person granted the right of superficies can possess, enjoy and profit from the property derived from it. The person possessing the right of superficies has no title to the land or property itself.

Right of superficies is typically granted by a property developer to a company that helps them build their project. The rights will be transferred to the buyer – typically a foreigner – at the closing.

Leasehold rights are essentially limited in Thailand to those granted under a royal warrant and say that a landlord may lease part of his or her land to others. The right expires after 40 years, but, it can be renewed.

A superficies in Thailand may be granted to a non-Thai national if it is wholly used by the non-Thai and only in the context of building a new building.

Types of visas while staying in Thailand

Initially, most tourists come to Thailand with a tourist visa which is valid for 30 days. This can be extended up to 60 days.

Most people choose to extend their stay, and an extension of 60 days is possible once within a 360-day period. Additionally, a yearly multiple entry tourist visa is possible once in a 1-year period after the expiration of your last visa.

However, if a foreigner wishes to stay longer, they will be required to apply for a separate visa which is a non-immigrant visa.

This visa is issued for foreigners who wish to live in Thailand and work in Thailand, or who wish to purchase a property and stay in Thailand. It is possible to apply for a non-immigrant visa after the expiration of your tourist visa if you have the documentation required to prove your right to stay in Thailand.

Other long-term visas are education visa – for those who wish to study Thai language or a specific activity in Thailand, and retirement visa – for those who choose to settle in Thailand and stay there permanently.

Any person who stays in Thailand for more than 90 days must register with the Immigration Bureau within 14 working days of arrival – this process must be repeated after each consecutive 60-day period.

Non-immigrant visas are valid for 90 days; however, the holder can apply for an extension or change the type of visa if required.

Final thoughts

Thailand is certainly one of the most desirable countries in South East Asia and offers a tropical paradise, with a warm climate year-round, friendly people, good food and great shopping.

There are many special privileges that are offered to foreigners without having to apply for them – it’s relatively easy to get a work permit visa (as long as you have enough money), and you’ll probably be able to rent property without having to pay one year’s worth of rent upfront, and owning property is possible with little formality.

But before you decide to move to Thailand, there are some steps that you should take. Know your options and find out what works for you.

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