Elite Visa Versus Thai Permanent Residence, What You Need to Know

8 Jun 2022

Many people want to live in Thailand permanently. It's one of the most sought-after destinations in South East Asia. Foreigners who frequently visit the Land of Smiles will eventually seek out options for a long-term stay. They wonder if there are long-term visas or if they can apply for Thai Permanent Resident status. If this sounds like you, we are about to answer all your questions. 

Both a long-term visa option called the Elite Card Membership, and a long-term residency option exist. However, they are not the same thing. In Thailand, the legal permanent residence has different criteria to apply for and maintain than the Elite Card membership. 

 

What is the Elite Card Program?

Individuals can enroll in Thailand's Elite Card program and receive a long-term visa in 5, 10, 15, or 20-year increments. It starts at 500,000 baht for five years and goes up to 2 million for 20 years. There are eight membership programs available, each with unique benefits. 

Officially known as a 'Privilege Entry Visa,' this 5-year multiple entrance visa permits the visa holder to go in and out of the country without re-entry permission. Each visa entry enables a one-year stay. Visa holders who don't want to leave Thailand within a year can extend their stay at the Thai immigration office. 

This visa is helpful for those who don't fit a particular category yet want to stay in Thailand long-term. For example, they don't have commercial interests in Thailand, aren't married to a Thai, don't want to go to school in Thailand, and don't qualify for a retirement visa. The Elite card helps these people. Thailand Elite Visa permits the user to enjoy a long-term stay in Thailand without worrying about additional fees like traveling back and forth to prolong visa validity or applying for a visa upon every arrival. 

Thailand Elite was created to offer foreign visitors the best country membership program. It is the only country membership program offering immigration, leisure, and business incentives. Thailand Elite is a state-owned organization and part of the Tourism Authority of Thailand; thus can provide conveniences for members the moment they arrive in Thailand. 

As a Thailand Elite member, you'll receive VIP services and perks from the moment you arrive. Thailand Elite members get these privileges:

  • Elite Personal Assistant service for airports
  • Exclusive fast track immigration lanes for arrival and departure
  • Exclusive arrival/departure lounge
  • Elite Personal Liaison to handle government requirements like the 90-day report and driver's license submission and processing
  • Opening bank accounts assistance
  • 24/7 Elite Member Contact Center to help Thailand Elite members with service bookings, questions, and emergency contacts
  • Legal, insurance, real estate assistant
  • Discounts and booking at Thailand Elite partner hospitals, spas, restaurants, golf courses, and department stores, including King Power duty-free

 

Additional Elite Visa Information 

THe Elite Flexible Plus program offers work permits for Thailand Elite.

Thailand Elite's New Flexible Plus Program is for Elite members interested in investing and working in Thailand. The participant must be at least a Thailand Privilege Card member with a 10-year membership validity and a 1 million Baht membership fee. 

 

Thailand Permanent Residence: Residing in Thailand Long-Term

After a set time in visa and work permit status, one can seek permanent residence in Thailand. Once awarded permanent residency, one doesn't need to worry about visa extensions. (Through the non-immigrant visa system, you have to renew your visa annually. Such visas include business visas, marriage visas, education visas, and retirement visas.)

Despite being permanent, it does not confer work authorization. Even if you have permanent residency, you still need a work permit for any new job. However, the permanent residence does have more relaxed work permit rules.

The Residency Permit does not expire. It can, however, be revoked. 

You must apply for a re-entry permit (endorsement) to leave and return to Thailand.

After ten years as a Permanent Resident, you can apply for Thai citizenship.

Permanent residency in Thailand provides various benefits, including:  

  • You can live in Thailand permanently without applying for an extension. 
  • You can use your name on house registration paperwork and acquire a condo without a bank transfer. 
  • Permanent residency status makes getting a work visa easier.
  • You can become a Thai public business director. 
  • You can become a naturalized Thai citizen. 
  • You can even apply for a stay extension and permanent residency for non-Thai family members.

Under Thailand's current permanent residency system, a quota caps the number of applicants per year from each nationality. Each country is allowed 100 permanent residents each year in Thailand. Also, there is a "window" of time where they accept permanent residence applications, and then it closes until the following year. The Thai public residence application period is October through December.

You must meet these requirements to become a Thai permanent resident:

  • Before applying, you must have possessed a Thai non-immigrant visa for three years. In addition, three consecutive annual extensions are required. (consecutive being the key word!)
  • You must fit one of these categories:
    • Working/Business: Investment (minimum 3-10M Baht in Thailand).
    • Humanity Reasons or support a family category: You must be related to a Thai citizen or immigrant who already has a residence visa as a husband, wife, father, mother, or guardian of a Thai kid under 20.
    • Academic/Expert category: Those who want to work in Thai state universities, government research institutes, or state training institutes. To qualify as a foreign specialist (expert), the applicant must provide a Thai or foreign employment contract. In addition, before applying for a long-term visa, they must also have worked in "designated industries" for at least five to ten years.

Application documents required vary depending on the category.

After your Thai permanent residency application is granted, you'll receive a blue book. Next, register your Thai residence at the local Amphur to get a house card. Then, after a week, you can apply for an alien book (red book), the Thai national ID card equivalent, at the local police station. There's an annual re-registration mandate for this ID.

 

Recent News About Long-Term Resident Updates

Thailand's cabinet halved the long-term residency visa fee to 50,000 baht. The visa is for "very capable" foreigners who want to live in Thailand for ten years. Thus, highly skilled foreigners can now apply for a visa and pay 50,000 THB to reside in Thailand for ten years. This includes their partners and up to four children (under 20). 

To qualify as a high-income earner, one must have proof of $80,000 in yearly income for at least two years before application.

Those included in the scheme must carry at least US$50,000 in medical insurance valid for at least ten months. They may also provide a social security certificate covering their medical expenses in Thailand. Instead, the applicant may also use a $100k cash deposit kept for 12 months in a domestic or overseas bank account. 

 

The Main Differences Between the Thai Permanent Residence and the Elite Card 

In Thailand, the legal permanent residence has different criteria to apply for and maintain than the Elite Card membership. 

Once a person acquires permanent residence, they never need to leave the country and have few legal obligations. That is not the case with the Elite card. Permanent residency doesn't expire, but  Elite cards do. However, permanent residence is revocable.

The Elite Card is like a long tourist visa. Elite status can last long, but it's not a legal permanent residence in Thailand. 

Permanent Residence status is not a visa. One needs to possess a visa already to attain it. 

Permanent residency can be a springboard for applying for naturalization to Thai citizenship; Elite card status is not. Because it is effectively a very long tourist visa, it is not considered residence and thus one of the prerequisites to apply for naturalization to Thai citizenship.

Work authorization while in Elite status depends on the circumstances and will require dealing with immigration again. Under permanent residency, work authorization is also needed, but the process is much easier. 

One must do certain things to leave the country with permanent residency, whereas Elite status is a little more flexible since you don't need a re-entry permit (endorsement) to leave the country and return.