90 year old expat leaves Thailand as compatriots deride immigration unfairness

Published:  29 Apr at 6 PM
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As a result of negative changes in attitude towards Western expats in Thailand over the past decades, as well as the toughening up of visa requirements, a 90-year old invalid expatriate is leaving for an overseas city with a warm climate.

Donald Graber chose Thailand as his retirement haven when the Southeast Asian country was the promised’ Land of Smiles’, genuinely welcoming strangers from the West and making them feel they’d found their forever home. Over the years, Donald still saw Thailand as the place he loved, but began to realise the welcomes were less genuine and were usually based on getting money, with immigration requirements becoming more and more difficult and unreliable. Finally, he felt he had to ask the immigration authorities why expats over 75 years of age couldn’t be allowed to spend their last years in a place they now called home, but neither the Phuket nor the Bangkok immigration chiefs bothered to reply.

At that point, he began searching the world and writing to city authorities asking whether they had a place for him. Finally, one city with a warm climate replied positively and he’s leaving early in the morning on May 2, having received his long-stay visa. Before he left, he closed his one Thai bank account, with the Thai clerk asking him why a man of his age was leaving. He told her the banks would become far richer once the new retirement visa rules kicked in due to the extra number of Bht800,000 deposits, but she shook her head and said old people should be allowed an exception to the new rule and allowed to stay.

Donald’s story made it into Bangkok’s English language newspaper, resulting in replies sympathising with the 90-year old as well as describing other Western expats’ dilemmas about the unfairness of the recent retirement visa changes. One respondent pointed out the vast majority of elderly expats had always kept in line with retirement visa rules as regards the keeping of Bht800,000 in a Thai bank for at least three months before their annual visa renewal. Those who used this method were usually professionals who’d worked for a number of overseas companies and therefore had no work-related pensions although they had health insurance, owned condos and may well have had savings in offshore accounts. The new rules about the Bht 800,000 Thai bank deposit now require the cash to be kept for two months before the visa extension date and three months after, with Bht 400,000 to be kept in permanently.

The alternative to the above is a provable transfer of Bht65,000 per month from an overseas pension or other account, all of which can be spent. No minimum cash requirement is imposed. One respondent pointed out he owned a Bangkok apartment worth millions of baht, adding his cash was invested in various deposits paying basic interest which combined to give him his monthly needs. Should he be forced to regularly draw on the amounts in order to make up the Bht65,000 a month, the financial penalties would be considerable. Since the changes were announced, many Western expat retirees have decided to follow the same path as Mr Graber and are planning to leave or have already left. Comments suggest immigration bosses either don’t know, don’t care or are happy to see western expats leave.
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