The Thai Elite Visa for Nomads: Is It Worth It?

Written by Andrew Henderson
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Last Updated July 27, 2020

Dateline: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Just over a year ago, I talked about how people who want to stay in Thailand on a longer-term basis can get different types of Thai visas. We covered almost every visa available to tourists.

Understanding Thai visa laws is more important than you may suspect. Thailand is notoriously strict about visas and allows citizens from very few countries visa-free access. On top of that, Thailand has cracked down on visa runs in the last few years, as well.

Because of Thailand’s strict stance on visas, former US citizens and folks considering renouncing should also note that renouncing US citizenship is almost always equivalent to giving up the right to live in Thailand without a visa.

Now, while you can get one of the tourist visas I mentioned in the first Thai visa article without much difficulty, I am aware that most Nomad Capitalists are higher-net-worth individuals looking for abundance wherever it can be found. For these folks, a regular ´ole tourist visa may not provide the access and services they expect.

Now, my personal expectations lead me to skip Thailand almost completely. I don’t prefer Thailand and feel it’s a bit overrated, but that is my personal opinion. I know that there are folks who enjoy the lifestyle available in Thailand and I am dedicated to providing the best solutions for each individual’s Plan B.

That is why I want to talk today about something I’ve been getting a lot of questions about lately: the Thai Elite Visa.

The Thai Elite Visa is a special visa program offered by the Thai government that gives all members the privilege to reside in Thailand on a long-term basis with some additional benefits thrown in. There are several different options available within the Elite Visa program that vary in terms of the length of the permitted residence as well as the kind of benefits they add in.

I’m going to tell you right off the bat that, in my opinion, the Thai visa is an awkward combination of all the wrong ingredients.

Now, this is said by someone who doesn’t want to live in Thailand. If I did want to live in Thailand and I didn’t want the hassle of renewing my visa or getting tourist visas or waiting at embassies or going to Thai classes or starting some Thai board of investment company or jumping through any of the other hoops you need to pass through to get one of Thailand’s many different tourist visas, then maybe I would consider the Thai Elite Visa.

Is There A Better Option?

Thai elite visa for nomads

There might be a better alternative to Thai Elite Visa and it’s definitely worth looking into.

There is, however, one other residence program I would consider first: the Thai real estate investment residency.

The reality is that there are really only two paths toward being able to live in Thailand long-term. One is the Thai Elite Visa which requires that you pay a fee that you will never recover. The other option is to invest in Thai real estate. The investment amount is much higher than the fee you will pay for the Elite Visa, but you will own your property.

If you plan to live in Thailand long-term and would prefer to own your own home, I would recommend that you consider the investment visa first. You will need to invest 10 million baht (300,000+ USD) in Thai real estate to qualify.

There are also restrictions on which type of real estate you can buy. Generally, it has to be new real estate, so if you are willing to buy new and want to live in a home worth a little over $300,000 USD or more, then this visa may be a better deal for you.

I recently did a real estate residency program like this in Malaysia (more details in my video). While Malaysia doesn’t have the same visa policy, I have chosen to use KL as one of my bases and figured that I wanted the certainty of owning my own home there so getting a residency out of it would be ideal.

I decided to invest the money (which is similar to the amount required in Thailand) and I made the property just the way I want it and now I’m done with it. I can stay in Malaysia as a permanent resident in my very own home.

The same is true of the 10-million-baht real estate visa, you get a long-term visa and you’re done. You can basically stay forever.

The Basics of the Thai Elite Visa

Thai elite visa for nomads

If you decide to give Thai Elite Visa a try, here’s an overview of cards that are offered to help you make an informed decision. Source: http://www.thai-elite.com/

If you’d rather rent your property, you can go with the option that basically allows you to rent your Thai visa as well.

The Thai Elite Visa allows you to come and go just as a renter without needing to commit money to real estate. This is an especially good option if you don’t want to buy the kind of real estate that they want you to buy. Just like rent, you’re going to throw away some money every year, but you’re going to get some cool services out of the deal, plus the right to live in Thailand.

The Thai Elite Visa is like a government visa meets an airport lounge card. They sell it in a sexy way in that there are so many different options and extra perks that you get. It’s kind of like a lifestyle card/airport lounge pass that happens to include immigration and allows you to stay in the country as well.

I would argue that it leans more on the lifestyle card attraction for folks who want to live in Thailand and isn’t as good of an option for working the residency into a tax planning strategy. 

Since Thailand uses a territorial tax system, you could create a basic tax strategy that would allow you to legally reduce your taxes.

However, how much of a benefit you’re going to see is really going to depend on your situation. Factors like where you’re from, how much time you’re going to spend in Thailand, and how you plan to live there will change how much of a benefit you’ll get.

For instance, the Thai Elite Visa will not automatically make Thailand your tax residence. You will still need to spend a minimum of 180 days in the country and apply for tax residence at the Ministry of Finance. 

If you’re hoping to use the Thai Elite Visa as a part of your tax strategy, the best idea is to talk to someone who can help you understand how (if at all) you can use this program in your offshore strategy.

You should also know that there are many different options within the Elite Visa program, from the white gold card to the rose gold to the diamond card and the family plans. There are singles cards, elite versions, extensions, and more.

It’s confusing, to be honest. This is just another reason why it’s worth talking to someone to know which is best for you.

It’s kind of like going to McDonald’s where they sell burgers… and salads and shamrock shakes and parfaits and fries and fruit and ten million other things. I’m more of an In-n-Out kind of guy where the only option is a burger or a cheeseburger and I know either option will be great.

That said, here are five basic points you should understand about the Thai Elite Visa:

1. The Time Limit

Thai Elite Visa cards are good for anywhere from five to ten to twenty years. The more basic Thai Elite Visa cards – the Elite Family Excursion and the Elite Easy Access – are good for five years.

The mid-range cards – including the Elite Privilege Access and Elite Family Alternative – are both good for ten years. And the higher-end cards – both the Elite Ultimate Privilege and the Elite Superiority Extension – are good for twenty years.

No matter which card you get, you will need to renew the visa that comes with it every five years. It is important to note that the card membership that you pay for upfront is separate from the visa, although you are entitled to the visa if you purchase the card.

Once you have both the card and the visa, you can spend as much time as you want (or none at all) in Thailand for the duration of your card membership as long as you renew the visa every five years.

2. The Cost

Thai elite visa for nomads

If you want to get one of the advanced Elite programs, you will have to pay a lot of money upfront solely for the chance to live in Thailand with very few other perks.

At the lowest end, you will need to pay 500,000 Thai baht (THB) for a five-year card. So, for roughly $15,700 you get some airport transfers and you get the priority line service at the airport. But you don’t get much else except for the government concierge.

The prices go all the way up to the 20-year card which is more than four times the price with an upfront cost of two million THB ($62,800 USD) plus an annual fee of 20,000 THB (about $630) plus VAT.

Some of the programs allow you to add family members for a certain price as well, like the Elite Access card. You can usually add a family member for around $10-15,000 USD.

The way I look at it, you are paying $3,000-$5,000 a year for the ability to live in Thailand and you’re getting a few other perks to go with it. On the lower end with the very basic one and the smaller commitment, you’re not getting that many perks beyond the airport transfers.

When you pay for the full 20 years upfront, you are paying $60,000 up front just to live in Thailand. I don’t think Thailand is going to screw their foreigners on this one. There’s not much in it for them to screw you. I think you’ll get the full twenty years, but that’s a lot of money to spend to live in Thailand for 20 years.

And, quite frankly, it’s 1/5 the price of the real estate you have to buy to get the real estate visa that never expires. Even if you buy the real estate poorly, you’re not going to overpay by $60,000! Obviously, there’s an opportunity cost for that money if you’re buying Bitcoin or something and don’t want it sitting in a property. If so, then stick with the Thai Elite Visa.

3. Grandfather Laws

Unlike most second residence programs (including the Thai real estate residence program) you’re not going to be grandfathered into the program.

For example, the real estate residence program used to be a lot cheaper in the late 1990s. Back then, instead of 10 million baht, investors were only required to purchase real estate worth at least 3 million baht (about ($94,000 USD). When the investment amount went up, those investors were grandfathered in, meaning that they were not required to make a larger investment to maintain their eligibility.

Many residence programs work this way, but the Thai Elite Visa does not operate like this. Again, you’re basically buying an airport lounge card. If the company that provides your lounge access goes out of business at the end of this year, they just say that once your card expires you will no longer get lounge access.

It works basically the same way with the Thai Elite Visa.

As alluded to in the last section, the Elite “Visa” is not really a visa, per se. The right to the visa comes with the program, but it is not just about the visa and you cannot renew it indefinitely. If the Thai Elite Visa program is shut down, then at the end of the five or ten or twenty years that you paid for upfront, you’ll no longer be able to renew it.

And even if the program isn’t canceled, if the price has gone up 10x by the time you need to renew, you pay the higher price. You cannot argue that you got in at the lower price and should be grandfathered in. You have to pay for the membership at the current price as if you are a new customer, no argument.

So, there’s really no kind of guarantee as to the future of the program. If you’re like most people who I work with who are younger, don’t plan on retiring and being old and gray in Thailand, even if you get the 20-year card.

4. Government Concierge

Thai elite visa for nomads

This privilege gives you access to priority queues whenever you’ve got government business to attend to and you get priority boarding too.

One of the key things about the card is the government concierge service that comes with it.

Again, this seems like a solution in search of a problem. It sounds like the Thai government is saying that they are generally inefficient, but you can pay extra so you can get efficient service. Why not just find a country that is efficient to begin with and go there?

Perhaps they simply assume that everyone is inefficient and so charging extra for it not to be that way is a real added value… But, you do get a government concierge.

Mainly, you get a special line at the airport and at government buildings. This is mainly for people who are in Bangkok, so if you’re planning on living somewhere else, you’re not going to get the full benefits. But if you are planning on living in Bangkok, you’ll get special treatment at government buildings.

5. The Country Club Benefits

The country club benefits are the benefits that make the card seem like an airport lounge card. You get an airport departure and arrival lounge, which – depending on your airline status and which credit cards you have, or if you have a priority pass – may not be that interesting to you (although arrival lounges are harder to come by).

You also get the airport service, which includes priority immigration (which is actually a part of the government concierge service). You also get a limo service depending on which card you buy.

Several of the cards provide Short Haul service to and from the airport within Bangkok. The Elite Family Excursion card also includes six Long Haul excursions up to 275 kilometers per trip per year, but only for international flights.

If you’re doing a lot of travel within Thailand, that’s not really going to help, but if you’re regularly traveling internationally or doing what my friend Reid does flying from his home in Bangkok to his future home in Amsterdam nonstop on KLM, then the airport transfer service may be worth it.

Some of the cards also have golf privileges and spa privileges, and a couple of the cards include an annual health check as well.

Why the Benefits?

The basic function of the Thai Elite Visa is to pay a fee to live in Thailand and get some extra benefits added on top. When people add in these other benefits, I never entirely get it.

Each year, I go to St. Prince Medical in Kuala Lumpur – which I’ve said is probably the best hospital in the world – and pay a grand total of 600 ringgits (about $150 USD) to get the basic “guy-in-his-30s health exam.”

Thailand has some good hospitals as well, many of which are up in the top tier, like Bumrungrad. But if I can go to the best hospital in the world located next-door in Malaysia and get an annual checkup for $150 USD, why would I buy into an entire residency/lifestyle card that costs thousands and thousands of dollars more?

If you get one of these Elite Visas, the annual health check only comes with one of the more expensive exams that can cost more than $30,000 THB (about $1000+/-). So, after ten or twenty years of free health checks, that means that you will get at least ten percent of your money back – money that you would have spent anyway.

But even with the health check (which only comes with two of the card options), it just seems like they are adding on a lot of stuff that makes it appear like you’re getting a good deal when that may not necessarily be the case.

Even if you got the Diamond card that has all the benefits and is good for ten years, you’d get the health checks that cover 10% of the fees, but then the spa and the golf and the limos and lounge access couldn’t possibly make up for the rest.

Despite all the benefits, you’re mainly paying for the government concierge and the right to live in Thailand.

Do You Plan to Live in Thailand?

Thai elite visa for nomads

There’s not much use in perks if you’re not around to use them, so you need to know for sure whether you plan on living in Thailand long-term or not.

The key issue you need to figure out to determine if the Thai Elite Visa is really worth your money is if you plan to actually live in Thailand long-term.

If you’re paying a fee for the privilege of living in Thailand and they’re sweetening the pot with a few extra benefits, that’s great, but don’t base your decision on the benefits. Base it on whether or not you’re going to be around to use them.

I am not a fan of Thailand, but I will say that I respect the fact that they understand the needs of the higher-end consumer who wants to have the pot sweetened. They understand the individual who wants to skip the line and be treated with luxury. I love that and I respect it and, quite frankly, I wish more places would do it.

But I cannot emphasize this question enough: Do you want to live in Thailand?\

If you’re not going to be in Thailand to use the spa, the golf, the airport transfers for all your flights, the health check, the discounts at shops (which are usually worthless), the government concierge, etc., you don’t need the Thai Elite Visa. You need to be in Thailand and using the services for it to be worth it.

Even if you go there for just a month, I don’t think you would really get the benefits. That’s the question you have to ask yourself: how much time do you really want to spend in the Land of Smiles?

If you only want to live there a few months out of every year, go for a tourist visa. It’s not that hard. It costs about $36 anywhere in the world and they don’t usually make you go back to your own country in order to get one.

Personally, I think it’s an interesting program. I respect Thailand for doing it. Thailand is not my place, but if you really wanted to live there and you’re a high-end person who would consider this program, I would only consider the Elite Visa once I had the $300,000 that I could use to buy real estate.

Once you have that money, you can decide where it will be best invested. If you don’t really want that money to be tied up in Bitcoin or cash or stocks and you just have $300,000 you want to commit to living in Thailand, go for the real estate investment visa.

That’s my personal preference. I don’t find the Elite card that interesting.

That said, there may come a time where I just go out and test it for fun. But it’s just kind of a weird thing to do. You’ve really got to want to live in Thailand to make it worth the costs.

Andrew Henderson
Last updated: Jul 30, 2020 at 3:45PM

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17 Comments

  1. Derek

    Hi, Thailand has a permanent residency visa that allows you to invest 10 million baht as a main criteria for acceptance. Although you have to be on one specific type of visa for three years in a row. There’s a basic knowledge of Thai needed too. I know that the quota per country is 100 a year. It’s should be called a limit really because a quota implies that they actually fill that amount per citizenship allowed which they don’t. There are people that do obtain PR and also there are people who do get citizenship albeit it’s really not easy, but I have know some people who have obtain PR. The investment of 10 million can be not only in real estate but it can be bonds or stock on the SET too and you must keep the investment for three years. Thanks

    Reply
    • Scott R Johnson

      Can you give some more link to information on this particular Visa?

      Reply
  2. Jacob

    Hi Andrew. Great article. But there’s just one aspect I’m having a bit of trouble understanding. I also agree Thailand is not the place I’d want to spend most of my time. But it obviously has a great taxation system in that foreign sourced income is not taxed if not remitted in the same year it was acquired. What I would truly like to know about this Thai Elite Visa is does it automatically make you a tax resident of Thailand? Or do you still only get that by staying 180 days a year, and this Thai Elite Visa is only the bells and whistles that makes it easier to do so. I have some plans to have international trading and other companies operating out of Malaysia (Labuan maybe?) + Singapore, and possibly Indonesia for my future. No business plans at all in Thailand. If I was simply allowed to get tax residency in Thailand with this method then wouldn’t it allow me to receive all of my income from these foreign companies, 1 year after it’s generated, tax free for the next 20 years? Or am I missing something here? That would seem to be the greatest benefit of all. But if the Thai Elite Visa still makes you a slave to the 180 day time count then it doesn’t seem so good afterall.

    Reply
    • Pankaj Malhotra

      Hi Jacob,

      Did you manage to get a reply on your query? I am in the same boat as well trying to figure out what to do.

      Regards

      Pankaj

      Reply
  3. Mikkel Thorup

    Very interesting points on a really unique plan. It really is a very different way they have structured this. Like golf club membership with your visa… very random…

    Reply
  4. Derrick

    If you going to live on a fixed income investing $300,000 USD on real estate sounds like a terrible idea:

    1) You don’t earn any interest or have any access the the cash unless you sell the investment.
    2) You have upkeep cost, every home I have owned has anyway, plus Tax/Insurance/Bills…..
    3) If its a primary residence you may choose to move which will no doubt be a major hassle.
    4) I was under the impression you cannot own land in the Kingdom of Thailand – even if you can this seems risky.
    5) I believe they have restriction on AirBnB in Thailand.

    I do appreciate your article, however if your doing the real estate thing I think its best you have plenty of extra investments or income.

    D

    Reply
  5. Dingus Flinch

    Great article. This is complete lunacy. Anyone who opts in should understand that Thailand is a third world country blanketed in smoke six months a year and hot and humid and rainy at least eleven of twelve months would offer this is insane.

    All western goods are highly tariffed, too. Cars are minimally 100% to 200% that of the US.

    Thai know how to milk westerners, and, quite honestly, it is not a good long term option–even without the ridiculous, new immigration laws (if one is clever enough to figure them out) and the cheap hotels and food. It’s noisy, too.

    The people can be friendly. (They like their customers.) But it is in so many other ways not a welcoming place.

    Reply
    • Steven

      You seem to have a wrong impression of the target group for this product.

      Those who spend $300 a month to get their residential affairs in order aren’t in Thailand for cheap food or cheap hotels. And neither are they new to Thailand so for sure know both the climate as well as the other conditions.

      It’s called Elite Visa not Cheapskare Visa. You don’t need to figure out any immigration laws with this, you get the visa and you’re done.

      Btw after 7 years in Bangkok I have yet to notice the six months of smoke you’re talking about. Go back to Thai Visa dude!

      Reply
  6. Poyel

    @Jacob @Pankaj I have the Thai Elite Visa and yes, it gives the opportunity to have tax residency in Thailand without working in the kingdom. You will need to spend, however, a minimum of 180 days in Thailand and apply at the Ministry of Finance.

    Reply
    • Ulrike

      @Poyel
      Wow, that’s interesting. So u r able to tax ur foreign income as long as u r not working in Thailand?
      I would love to know more about this because I am considering Thai Elite Visa for my whole family.
      Can we link through E-Mail so I can ask u a little bit more about this? Would be so grateful!
      Pls contact me at woyzero.ulrike(at)gmail.com or let me know ur E-Mail.

      Reply
  7. Exiled

    Can you work while there one those elite visas? Get jobs and or run a business freely?

    Reply
    • Matt

      You can but that would require a Work Permit that doesn’t come with the Elite Visa.
      The Thai Elite Visa is a good option if you want to work from Thailand, but not in Thailand. If you run a business there or get a job, it will come with a Non-B visa and a work permit.

      Reply
  8. Steven

    These little extra gimmicks are attached to the membership to camouflage that Thailand is essentially selling residency for very little money (and yes, for someone with a decent job 3k per year is little money).

    They just want to make it appear you’re actually getting some services for the membership. The transfers are a joke, I can order a Camry to the airport for 400 THB via GrabCar and Golf/Massages are irrelevant to me.

    Not sure if investing $300k in Thai real estate is really a sensible idea considering the poor building quality here. IMHO the 5-10 year option if the best solution because a lot can happen during that time. One might get into poor health/die, lose interest in Thailand, maybe (need to) start working locally in which case you need a different visa/wp anyway or after that much time many folks actually get married to a local so no more need for the Elite Visa.

    Reply
  9. Mickey Rooney

    You are far off the mark on the tax benefits, perfect set up.
    3k a year for a visa cheap and living if not in city.
    Zero Tax if remit after year earned.
    Can get a Tax number straight away
    Dont need to be there to maintain it

    Reply
  10. Mike Rooney

    Cambodia can get for $50K fee (Agent) or thru $310K investment (3 to 5 year high interest account 6.5%) and you get interest every 12 weeks plus principal back after the deposit term So its like getting paid to get a passport.

    Citizenship after 3 to 6 months.
    Or get married can get after 3 years.

    Angelina Jolin has citizenship and she us single (food for thought)
    Can even change your name

    Reply
    • Ulrike

      @Poyel
      Wow, that’s interesting. So u r able to tax ur foreign income as long as u r not working in Thailand?
      I would love to know more about this because I am considering Thai Elite Visa for my whole family.
      Can we link through E-Mail so I can ask u a little bit more about this? Would be so grateful!
      Pls contact me at woyzero.ulrike(at)gmail.com or let me know ur E-Mail.

      Reply

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