Many non-Thais foreigners resident in Thailand look to find a permanent abode. However, there are many misconceptions surrounding Thai property and real estate ownership in Thailand. Hopefully this list of the most frequently asked questions will clear up some of the ambiguities.
It's possible for a foreigner to own real estate in Thailand.
Although many restrictions are placed upon Real Estate ownership for foreigners, there are some very important exceptions under Thai law:
Non-Thais are allowed to own condos in freehold under certain circumstances.
A non-Thai may own one rai of land for the purpose of building a home provided the non-Thai invests 40 million baht in Thailand and receives official permission signed by the Minister of the Interior of Thailand.
Land can be owned by a Thai majority owned company that a non-Thai controls. This is possible under a Thai corporate structure in which a non-Thai owns a majority of the voting stock of a Thai company, but not the majority of the equity shares (which is currently a legal corporate structure under the laws of the Kingdom of Thailand). This allows a non-Thai to effectively control a Thai company without actually having a majority ownership stake.
I have a Thai lease for 10 years, but it was never registered at the local land office in Thailand. I was told it is completely invalid, is this true?
Under Thai law a Thai lease must be registered at the local Thai land office in which the property is located. Otherwise the Thai lease, of whatever duration, is only enforceable for 3 years in Thailand. Therefore, any valid Thai lease over Thai property regardless of duration is always enforceable for 3 years according to Thai law. For any amount of time over this initial 3 years, there is no legal enforceability of the lease under the laws of the Kingdom of Thailand.
I have heard that I can obtain a 99 year lease in Thailand, is this legal under Thai law?
There is a misconception that a non-Thai can have a 99 year lease upon Thai Real Estate. Strictly speaking, this is untrue. Under the laws of Thailand, a lease is only valid for 3 years at a maximum if it is unrecorded at the local Thai land office and for only 30 if recorded. It is possible to put renewal clause in the lease, but it is not “automatic,” but instead the lease must be re-recorded at the local land office in Thailand. It goes without saying that this is much different than an automatic renewal. Should the Thai landowner and non-Thai leaseholder have some sort of falling out, then it could be very difficult to force the Thai landlord to record the new lease. For this reason (albeit a worst case scenario) it is wise to think of a lease as exactly that: a lease upon Thai Real Estate for 30 years and possibly renewable for another 30 years.
I have heard that my lifetime Thai usufruct can be valid past my lifetime, is this true? I thought the Thai usufruct expired upon my death.
Generally, Thai lifetime usufructs are something akin to life estates under the common law, they usually extinguish upon the death of the Thai usufruct holder. However, the Supreme Court in Thailand has held that Thai 30 year leases made upon a Thai usufruct will remain valid past the lifetime of the Thai usufruct owner. Therefore it is possible for one to lease their Thai usufruct to another for 30 years, even if that duration should be past the original usufruct holder’s lifetime.
Once I have a company set up to control Thai property, that’s it, there’s nothing more I need to do with the Thai company, right?
Unfortunately for some, in Thailand, there is no such thing as a Thai “shelf company.” This means that one cannot set up a Thai company and then allow it to languish until such time as one either wishes to use the Thai company for business in Thailand or sell it to another. This issue arises in Thai Real Estate ownership situations because the Thai company must keep up with its taxes and financial reporting each year. Failure to do so could result in fines or dissolution of the Thai company by government officials in Thailand. Dissolution of the Thai company could result in loss of the Thai property owned by the company.
Many of the nuances and intricacies of Thai law laid out above seem simple, but can, in fact, cause many frustrations and problems for the non-Thai seeking to own property or Real Estate in Thailand. It is always wise to retain the counsel of a competent legal professional before embarking upon any endeavor involving Thai property. Contact Integrity Legal for more information about Thai Real Estate law.