One thing that is crucial for all visitors wishing to stay a bit longer or regularly in the Kingdom of Thailand is that you must get your head around the visa rules and regulations and make sure that you follow these rules at all times. This is because if you are found to be on the wrong type of visa, or are on an expired visa (known as overstay), not only will you be fined, but also possibly detained immediately and deported from the country. However, the scariest repercussion for failing to adhere to the rules is the possibility of being blacklisted, essentially being banned from entering the country under any circumstances for periods ranging from one to ten years, without any recourse to appeal the decision. And even after your blacklist period has expired, you will still pique the interest of the immigration officials at the airport as your record will be on their computer. Obviously, if you are an ex-pat with family, friends, property, and possessions in the country, this could prove to be absolutely disastrous and doesn’t even bear thinking about, and even the most genuine and astute traveler can occasionally make an honest mistake or miscalculation.
So I know what you’re thinking; just get the right visa and be careful not to overstay, right? Well, there are a couple of potential issues here. If you’re over 50, you can apply for the Non-O visa then yearly extensions based on retirement, or if you’re married to a Thai national, you can get the yearly extensions based on marriage. But even these two categories require you to turn up to your local immigration office with reams of paperwork, deal with opening a Thai bank account (often they will refuse you unless you have a work permit), then you have to deposit and not touch a sizeable chunk of cash to qualify for your extension, on which you could be earning a decent chunk of interest somewhere else. On your first application, you may well end up having to visit the office several times to get everything just how they like it, for matters such as using a black pen on any of the forms, having any folded documents, or printing out your photos the wrong size or on the wrong quality paper (yes they will want multiple photos of you in your home). You are then required to wait for several weeks whilst your application is “under consideration”, not knowing if you will have to leave the country or not, and not knowing if you need to make a contingency plan or not, and then having to entertain several immigration officers who will pay a visit to you at your residence to ensure that you really live there.
These measures may seem harsh, but it’s the government’s way of protecting Thai citizens and the country from undesirable foreigners wanting to reside in the country, and in general, they do a very good job. Thais are very patriotic people who love their country and Thailand arguably does a much better job at keeping unsavory characters out than many western countries. But jumping through these hoops every year can be very draining and it’s quite understandable that many genuine people who want to stay in Thailand will get tired and frustrated with these requirements, particularly people of advancing years trying to make the most of their retirement.
So, as you can see, the process of getting your visa and subsequent extensions can be quite stressful and unsettling, and to make matters worse, the rules seem to be constantly changing. For example, they recently introduced a requirement for retired ex-pats to hold a significant medical insurance policy whilst in the country, which most ex-pats will have already but that won’t be good enough because they insist that you to purchase a policy from their list of approved insurers (Thai companies or subsidiaries). The marriage extension, in particular, can require over a hundred sheets of paper to be provided, then all stamped and signed, but expect any creased, marked or smudged documents to be rejected requiring you to go home and try again the next day (which might seem fine until you consider that some ex-pats may live over 100km from their nearest immigration office). To avoid this hassle, some ex-pats use the services of a visa agent to ensure that their application is approved, however, this is a legal grey area and you can expect to be charged 10,000-20,000 baht ($330-$660) per time with no actual guarantee that your visa will be granted.
In addition to these issues, some people who want to effectively live in Thailand, but are under 50 years old and don’t want to marry with a Thai will find themselves in a bit of a “visa void” where they are not eligible for any long term visa, and after a using a few tourist visas with extensions they find that they are getting grilled at the airport. This is a precarious situation as tourist visas are not intended to be used for long stays in the country and you will end up being turned back at the airport eventually, it’s only a matter of time. Sometimes, people in this category may end up going to a visa agent or “fixer” who can secure them a long term visa based on some supposed volunteer work or them attending an educational program in the country, however, if you are not participating in these activities then this is highly illegal, not to mention the agent fees will be very steep, in the region of 50k baht ($1650). Even as a last resort, using options such as these is highly unwise and you can expect to be caught out eventually, and ultimately, deported and blacklisted.
The Solution: The Thailand Elite Visa
Luckily, for people who don’t qualify for retirement or marriage extensions, or people who don’t want the grief and uncertainty of having to do yearly extensions with protracted visits to immigration offices, there is another option, which, once granted, will allow you to stay in Thailand for long periods; The Thailand Elite Visa.
There is one catch, the cost for some may be prohibitive, with the most basic, 5-year visa coming in at 600k baht, up from 500k last year (600k baht is $19900). It looks like a lot, but is only $4000 per year for peace of mind and not having to run around getting dozens of documents, not having to deal with agents, not having to travel to your local immigration office twice a year and wait in a queue, and not having to travel to an embassy in a neighbouring country to get the initial Non-O visa (which will involve more visa fees, travel costs, a stay in a hotel, taxi fares, more documents etc.).
In general, holding a Thailand Elite visa is a much more preferable option than having to deal with the ever-changing and convoluted bureaucracy of the Thai immigration department, and once granted, you can be sure that you’ll be able to stay in Thailand for 5, 10 or 20 years depending on which option you go for. Besides, holders of the visa also receive many other great benefits.
What are The Benefits?
In addition to being able to stay hassle-free in Thailand, the Elite Visa also offers many other benefits. These include but are not limited to the following:
Even though the initial outlay may appear steep, there are many travellers for whom the Thailand Elite Visa offers a very good deal. Once you break it down and realise all the costs and hassles that you can avoid with these visas, plus the additional benefits and discounts that you will become eligible for, just under $4000 a year is not a lot and can save you a great deal of stress and aggravation and give you peace of mind when travelling to the Kingdom. Especially when you consider that you will not need to spend thousands of dollars per year on an additional medical insurance policy if you were intending to retire in Thailand (which many people don’t need as they will have comprehensive medical insurance from their home country already), for many the Elite visa will be an incredibly compelling option.
The Thailand Elite Visa is an excellent choice for people who: