By John Le Fevre, written exclusively for TEN Thai Estate Network
One of the great annoyances for foreigners who settle in Thailand are the restrictions placed on property ownership and the various hoops they need to jump through if they want to own anything more than a condominium.
While similar conditions exist throughout Southeast Asia, in neighbouring Malaysia foreigners are able to purchase and own land without being resident, while in Indonesia recent changes to the immigration regulations are inching towards a point where foreigners might soon be able to purchase and own land there also.
In Thailand house and land ownership is possible, though use of the word “ownership” needs to be interpreted fairly loosely. For condominiums different rules apply.
The easiest way for a foreigner to “own” a house in Thailand is the nominee method, where a foreigner will purchase a house and land in the name of a spouse, or a trusted friend.
There are a variety of other nominee methods available, with each making creative use of fictitious mortgages in order to obtain the necessary stamps and approvals. Another method is to form a Thai registered company and the company will purchase the land and property.
At the end of the day though the property and land remains registered in another name, though for all intents and proposes the foreigner has control over the property.
Condominiums on the other hand are regulated under the Condominium Act (No. 3) B.E. 2542 (A.D. 1999) and allow foreigners to own up to 49 per cent of the units in a condominium building.
In neighbouring Malaysia land tenure is based on the Australian system of land ownership, with only small areas of land, mostly in rural areas, reserved for Bumiputras (Malay Reserve land).
In Malaysia the minimum value of a property a foreigner can purchase is RM 250,000 (about Bt 2.5 million, $US83,000), though in Sarawak the figure is RM300,000.
A system similar to the Malaysian one has been proposed in Indonesia, where changes to the Citizenship Act in 2006 enabled foreigners to gain Indonesian citizenship (and any children they might have), while changes to the Immigration Act early this year saw foreigners married to an Indonesian granted the right to work in the country and have permanent residency granted after two years of marriage and maintain that status if they divorce or their spouse dies, provided they have been married for 10 years of more.
While changes to foreign property ownership in Indonesia are likely to still be some time down the track, the world’s largest Muslim country is steadily moving down the path to abolish xenophobic laws relating to property, that Thailand hasn’t even started to address, nor has shown any inclination to broach.
Though visitors to Thailand who contemplate relocating to the kingdom view the laws as somewhat of a hindrance, especially after visiting picturesque white-sand beaches and relaxed communities such as those found at northeast Nakhon Si Thammarat, they need not be.
The looming One Asean (Association of South East Asian Nations) community scheduled to come into operation in 2015 will see countries in the region propelled into making significant changes to business and trading regulations, as well as free up the movement of labor, money and services across the 10-member association. Easing of property ownership is a logical extension of these other initiatives to make Asean member states a powerful, unified, global trading bloc.
With neighbouring countries already addressing the matter of foreign property ownership, residency rights and working eligibility for foreign spouses, any refusal by Thailand to go with the flow and to also begin addressing these issues would at the least be extremely foolish.
In the meantime those who fall in love with the palm trees, sandy beaches and turquoise-colored water of Khanom Beach and surrounds can always consider using a local nominee with a 30+30+30 lease and an option to buy in the meantime, with a 90-year lease tending to be adequate for most people in their 40s, 50s or 60s.
Who is John Le Fevre:
** John Le Fevre is an Australian national with more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer and copy editor in Africa and Southeast Asia and has held a number senior editorial staff positions over the years.
He has covered major world events including the 1991 pillage riots in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009 Songkran riots in Bangkok. and the 2010 red-shirt protest and battle for Bangkok military crackdown.
In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.