Inspection of foreigners' bank accounts in Thailand
There has been a marked increase in the past 10-20 years in the number of foreigners of retirement age spending their lives in Asian countries such as India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and especially in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.
These foreigners, mostly Americans and Europeans, have chosen to spend their retirement years in these countries because there is still countryside to enjoy, fresh air, and the local people are friendly and generous. Most such foreigners who reside in these countries use money from their retirement savings or pensions, living on 2,000 to 3,000 US dollars or euros per month.
Such amounts are not much in the US or Europe. However, if the amounts are spent in such countries as Thailand, the purchasing power for foreign retirees is increased, and they can live very comfortably.
For Thailand, many foreign residents initially enter the country as tourists, and become so entranced that they decide to reside in Thailand permanently. They prefer to live in big cities such as Bangkok, or in other provinces such as Phuket and Koh Samui, as well as northeastern provinces such as Ubon Ratchathani, where many foreigners have settled and married Thais.
Foreigners who wish to retire in Thailand must first obtain permission from the authorities before they can reside here, through obtaining a retirement visa, but the conditions for obtaining such permission are different.
An important condition for issuing a retirement visa to a foreign retiree, in addition that he/she must be 50 or over, is that he or she has to furnish financial evidence in Thailand either of money deposited with any bank in Thailand, whether in a fixed deposit or savings account, at a minimum amount of 800,000 baht, on the date of filing the application, or evidence that he or she has income from abroad with a pension or social security of at least 65,000 baht per month, or to have both money deposited and income from abroad of at least 800,000 baht altogether.
The applicant must furnish such evidence every year when the application for an extension of their stay is made.
For foreigners with Thai spouses, such conditions remain unchanged, but the amount required is reduced to 400,000 baht.
Foreign retirees who are permitted to reside here not only enable the country to receive the minimum amount of money set by the authorities for visa issuance, but also to obtain their savings remitted from abroad if they reside in Thailand, and are satisfied to stay for their retirement lifetime.
A problem arises when such foreigners die in Thailand and their families or relatives abroad want to administer their estates in Thailand, then they must deal with the bank account of the deceased person. The problem is caused by the rules of the Bank of Thailand and local commercial banks, which deem that the information on any bank account of any Thai or foreigner is confidential and cannot be revealed to other parties.
With regard to the general practice of the banks, the heirs who may want to access the bank account must first file a motion with a Thai court requesting it appoint an administrator of the estate. After the court has appointed an administrator of the estate, such persons can take the court's order to show to the bank and arrange closure of the account and repatriation of whatever amount is in the account.
Although the Bank of Thailand and commercial banks have the same criteria to manage the bank accounts of both Thais and foreigners, which is a good thing, in practice this may cause difficulties for the relatives of the deceased, who may have to travel to Thailand to administer the properties of the deceased because they may not know in advance the value of the properties, and thus cannot estimate whether it is worth appointing a lawyer and/or travelling to Thailand to administer any such property.
The above problems can be resolved. All commercial banks should collaborate to provide the necessary information to the relatives and families of foreigners who have passed away in Thailand. For example, banks should be able to divulge the number of digits in the amount, such as six or seven digits, or any similar information so that the relatives can decide whether it is worthwhile to proceed with the case.
Such foreigners who stay in Thailand are good for the Thai economy, because there is a massive influx of money flowing into the country. Moreover, there is circulation of income within the country due to daily spending. Also, families or relatives of the deceased who journey to Thailand, and experience the kind assistance provided, would also be favourably impressed. If foreigners know of these facts, they will be more interested in residing in Thailand.
Rujira Bunnag is a managing director of Marut Bunnag International Law Office and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter @ RujiraBunnag.