Thailand woos elderly, sick and wealthy foreigners with new visa

Published:  29 Nov at 6 PM
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Thailand’s ruling military government last week approved the issuing of a new 10-year visa aimed at wealthy expats with heathcare needs.

The requirements for the new 10-year visa have created controversy amongst Thailand’s large expat community, many of whom are retirees from Europe and the USA at present on the so-called annual ‘retirement visa’ extension. The new visa is to be offered to foreigners over 50 years of age, and requires either monthly earnings of 100,000 baht (£2,261, $2,810) or a deposit in a Thai bank account of 3 million baht (£67,900, $84.300). A further requirement likely to undermine the visa’s take-ups by wealthy westerners is an expensive level of private health insurance.

Although details of the new visa apparently haven’t been finalised yet, media reports state the bank deposit must not be touched for the visa’s first year, whilst just half the full amount can be subsequently withdrawn, all of which must be spent in Thailand. Other stipulations include immigration office attendance for the unpopular 90-day report, and holders of the visa will not be able to own land or houses in the country, although they can purchase a condo for personal use. It’s unsure as yet whether permission to volunteer or work will be included in the visa.

Another problem with the plan is that Thai banks only protect one million baht of each deposit, unlike most first-world banks. Generally, the news is causing concern amongst Westerners already living in Thailand, the majority of whom are retirees from the USA living on pensions giving a comfortable standard of living. However, these pension payments, unless supplemented by savings, would not total the monthly amount required for the new visa. State pensioners from Europe and especially from the UK would likely be excluded, although most have savings backing up their pension payments.

Strong expat reactions to the news are mostly fear that the existing annually extendable one-year retirement visa may be cancelled once the new visa is introduced. Many foreigners have lived in Thailand for a decade or longer by showing either a pension of 60,000 baht a month or a permanent deposit in a Thai bank of 800,000 baht. The vast majority own their condos and many self-finance their medical treatments from their savings, as health insurance is almost impossible to get after the age of 65.

Should the present retirement visa be cancelled, thousands of long-stay retirees would have little or no time to prepare for a traumatic move back to their home countries.
It’s been reported the visa is aimed at the medical tourism market, although the logic behind this idea is unclear. No date for the visa’s introduction has yet been revealed, with most expats in the country hoping it will simply disappear, leaving them to get on with their lives.
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