The natural way to citizenship

In the years since we opened Phuket’s first international law office, one of the most common queries we’ve received from our foreign clients is regarding owning property. The truth is that as foreigner, except as a minor shareholder in a Thai company or in a foreigner-permitted condominium project (which means less than 51% of the units are foreign held), you cannot. But there is an alternative. Many foreigners are eligible to be naturalised and become Thai citizens and with certain exceptions (such has holding office in the Senate or House of Representatives and voting ability until five years after citizenship is granted) enjoy the same rights, benefits and obligations as a person born Thai.

First and foremost any child born in Thailand is automatically a Thai citizen even though the parents may be foreign. So is a child born to at least one Thai parent, regardless of place of birth. It is a common misbelief that a Thai spouse or child is required to obtain Thai citizenship, or that you must give up your original citizenship (Thailand allows dual citizenship), provided that you meet the basic requirements. A foreign person may acquire citizenship under the following conditions:

1) He or she has reached legal age both in Thailand (20 years old) and their home country.

2) Must be of good character and without major criminal or drug convictions in any country.

3) Must have lived continuously in Thailand and held permanent residence for a minimum of five years. This maybe evidenced by the house registration (blue TR14 or yellow TR13) book listing the applicant’s name. Note that having changed location of residence during the required period is permitted.

4) Must have worked continuously in Thailand for a minimum of three years and worked (and paid taxes) the three years prior to the application date with a minimum monthly salary of 80,000 baht. The salary requirement is reduced to 40,000 baht per month if the applicant has a Thai spouse. Work permits, expired or valid, may be used as evidence.

5) The applicant must show that they have made various contributions to Thai charities. These don’t need to be large amounts but must be to registered charities in order to demonstrate compassion to the Kingdom.

6) The applicant must be interviewed by an immigration office and demonstrate a basic knowledge of Thailand, its culture and a basic understanding of the language — spoken, reading and written (we can assist you in this). You may also be required to attend a court hearing and/or committee to testify to your desire to be naturalised.

7) Women applicants with Thai husbands have similar requirements except, by policy (not law), they do not have employment or language proficiency requirements so long as their spouse can demonstrate a minimum monthly salary of no less than 15,000 baht. While this seems to contradict the constitution clause regarding sexual discrimination, we’ve found no court cases challenging the policy.

8) The applicant must submit character references from two Thai citizens. These do not need to be prominent society members (though it certainly doesn’t hurt!)

9) The applicant must be able to sing both the national anthem and Sanserm Phra Baramee (the anthem to the King sung at cinemas and public events).

The basic procedure starts with a submission of the required documents together with identification at the Special Branch Police Station closest to where the applicant resides. The officer there may interview the applicant and administer a test in Thai to evaluate the applicant’s knowledge of Thai language, culture and basic geography. Examples might include: What date is the King’s birthday? In what part of Thailand is Chiang Mai? Or you could be asked to identify objects in various photographs.

The applicant may also be required to appear in court and before a committee of civil servants to give statements regarding their reasons for applying and to clarify any issues in their application education certificates, resume and/or application documents.

Once completed, the waiting game begins. The application requires approval by the Minister of Interior. Government agencies in any country are notoriously slow and Thailand is no exception. The wait for approval can be up to five years. During this period the applicant must maintain the status quo with regard to working, paying taxes and keeping their immigration status up to date. There are no special visa provisions for a foreigner while they are in the application process.

After the approval of the Interior Ministry the applicant will be summoned to the Special Branch Police to be finger printed, photographed and swear an oath to King and country. He or she must present their census registration, foreigner registration book and residence book. The Special Branch Police will send the application package back to the Ministry of Interior who publishes an announcement in the Government Gazette.

The final step requires the ministry to issue the official letter to the Special Branch Police to make a report and send an approval letter to the applicant. Once received, the applicant is required to pay a 1,000 baht fee and may then acquire an ID card and a passport. Once naturalised, existing children (up to 18 years old) are entitled to naturalisation. Spouses may apply under the spousal provisions. n


If you have any issues you would like Expat Counsel to look at, contact Tutchakorn McEvily at info@legalthai.com.

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