Integrity Legal

Archive for the ‘Thailand Real Estate’ Category

28th March 2010

For many Thai-American couples a prenuptial agreement is an effective method of ensuring that bot parties understand the rights, obligations, and responsibilities that marriage entails. The US Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand issues a large number of visas to the fiancees and spouses of American Citizens. As this is the case, one of the ancillary issues regarding US Immigration involves prenuptial agreements as many couples opt to have a Thai Prenuptial Agreement signed prior to a marriage which is used as a basis for a K3 Visa or a CR1 Visa or they opt to have a prenuptial agreement drafted prior to a Thai fiancee’s departure to the USA on a US fiance visa (also known as a K1 visa). That being said, having a prenuptial agreement properly drafted is extremely important as failure to properly draft such an important document could lead to unforeseen problems down the road.

In previous posting on this blog, this author has discussed the importance of having a licensed US attorney act as a representative in US Immigration matters as “visa companies,” “visa agents” and fly by night operations claiming to be either lawyers, attorneys, or both cannot represent clients before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). With regard to a Thai prenup, one should retain a licensed American attorney to draft a prenuptial agreement if for not other reason than the fact that they are trained in the working of United States law as well as the common law system in general. Unfortunately, those falsely claiming legal credentials are often drafting documents that are insufficient to ensure the security of one’s assets.

The obvious question that many people in Thailand have is: how can I be sure that the person drafting my prenuptial agreement is a lawyer? As with United States Immigration matters, the best way to verify an individual’s credentials is to ask for either a State Supreme Court License, a State Bar Association Membership Card, or a Federal license to practice law in a US Federal jurisdiction. After receiving the individual’s credentials, it may be necessary to check with the Supreme Court or Bar Association to be certain that the individual is an attorney in that jurisdiction.

Prenuptial Agreements are very important documents and they should be carefully drafted by someone with legal acumen. Entrusting something so important to those without credentials is a risky endeavor that will likely not be recognized until long after correspondence with the drafter has terminated.

For further information please see: Prenuptial Agreement Thailand.

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25th March 2010

This author recently came across a discussion of the forecast of the Thailand property market in 2010. For those who are not up to speed on the Thai property market, the year 2009 was not a particularly buoyant year for those in the Thailand real estate sector. This may be due to the fact that the overall economy around the world was not particularly vibrant. That being said, there are optimists who believe that 2010 will be a better year for Thai property.

There has been some talk in and around government circles about reforming Thailand property law. Some believe that a reform of Thailand real estate law would provide more economic efficiency and make foreign buyers (particularly commercial buyers) more amenable to purchasing land in Thailand or other forms of property in the form of Thai condos or houses.

To quote the website ThailandPropertyNews.com:

“The initiative of this government to reform property and land taxation with a view to creating fairness sounds positive, but it will only be possible to determine the effect on the property market once the details of the proposed legislation have been finalised. “So long as the new tax legislation is on a fair basis and the tax rate not so excessively high as to discourage investment, CBRE sees this reform as beneficial for the market,“ Ms. Aliwassa Pathnadabutr, Managing Director of CBRE Thailand said. An additional measure that CBRE urges the government to consider is the extension of the long lease term from the current 30 years up to a maximum of 90 years. This will help improve the market mechanism and make large-scale commercial projects viable which would not be feasible if such developments were freehold due to the high land cost or if they were on a 30-year lease due to the limits on lease terms. The extension of the lease term will also have a direct benefit for resort destinations such as Phuket and Samui where the property markets are primarily driven by foreign demand.”

It is interesting to note that some feel that an easing of the legal restrictions placed upon Thai leases would be a net benefit to the Thai real estate market. Currently, the Thai Civil and Commercial Code places restrictions upon the length of time that a Thai lease will remain enforceable in Thailand. There are exceptions, but currently, the enforceability period is 30 years or less. Providing foreign buyers with the option of obtaining a 90 or 100 year lease might cause an increase in demand for Thai property. It will be interesting to see how the government deals with these issues and what impact any legislative changes will have upon the Thai real estate market.

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3rd March 2010

As readers of this blog may recall from a previous post, the Thai authorities recently announced that the fee waiver for Thai tourist visas was ending in March of this year. However, ThaiVisa.com has recently reported that the tourist visa waiver program is to be re-instituted in April of this year. Apparently, the positive impact upon the tourism sector is one of the underlying reasons for the extension of this program:

“Less than one month after Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed Thaivisa.com that the free tourist visa scheme would end on March 5, 2010, the Thailand Government has announced the tourism stimulus package will continue for another year, including $US10,000 in free riot insurance for tourists. The extension of the tourism industry stimulus package was approved by the cabinet today, March 2, 2010 in response to a request from the Ministry of Tourism and Sports. The extension will be effective from April 1, 2010 and go through to March 31, 2011 and appears to leave a three and a half week window in which tourist visas for Thailand will be charged for.”

As some may recall from another previous post on this blog, many Royal Thai Embassies, Consulates, and  Honorary Consuls around the world were unhappy with the no-cost tourist visa scheme as the funds previously accrued from processing tourist visas were no longer being paid. How this recent announcement will impact the Honorary Consulates as well as the Embassies and Consulates-General remains to be seen.

Another interesting aspect of the recent announcement is the fact that foreign nationals are also to be provided with no-cost riot insurance as part of this new program to revitalize the Thai tourist industry. To further quote from ThaiVisa.com:

“The $10,000 free riot insurance coverage was introduced last year and initiated by the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT) in response to international insurance firms’ refusal to sell insurance coverage to visitors to Thailand following the 2008 closure of Thailand airports by members of the Peoples Alliance for Democracy (PAD). When the insurance coverage was first introduced last year, Kongkrit Hiranyakit, president of TCT, said the government had set aside Bt190.75 million ($US5.820 million) for the initial six month period covering May to October, 2009, with the Ministry of Tourism and Sports responsible for paying the insurance premium of $1 per visitor. The insurance policy provides for payments of up to $10,000 in the event of death, injury, and/or trip inconvenience, and appears to only cover people in possession of a 60-day tourist visa. Resident expatriates living and working in Thailand on non-immigrant visas do not appear to be covered for death, injury or inconvenience caused by riots.”

It will be interesting to see if the provision of this insurance will cause any stir among foreign residents as all of those who do not have Thai Permanent Residence are technically considered non-immigrants and therefore only “temporarily” staying in the Kingdom. This even applies to those with a Foreign Tabien Baan (also know as a Yellow Tabien Baan) as these registrations are specifically noted as “temporary.” Even though all non-residents are classified as non-immigrants, the category of the visa determines the privileges that will be extended to the visa holder. Therefore, those with a Thai business visa are entitled to file for a Thai work permit while those holding a tourist visa are not accorded that privilege. As a result, the provision of riot insurance could be viewed as as specific privilege that is only accorded to those holding certain types of Thai visas.

For further information about Thai Immigration please see: Thai visa.

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24th February 2010

A common method of land ownership in Thailand is through use of a Thai Limited Company. In many cases, a juristic person is incorporated to hold Thai property on behalf of the principal investors in the company.  Over the past three years the Thailand Real Estate market has been somewhat stagnant, but recently there seems to have been something of an upward trend in Real Estate transactions. This has resulted in the Ministry of the Interior raising the fees for land transactions, particularly with respect to land transactions executed on behalf of a corporation. To quote a Pattaya Times article promulgated on the website Thaivisa.com:

“‘A nationwide increase in land offices fees will go in effect on March 2,’ a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Interior announced in Bangkok. The fees for purchases and sales involving a Thai company limited which most foreigners use to buy land will go up from one percent to six and a half percent of appraised or contract value, whichever is higher. The head of the Chonburi Land Office, Director Vaiyavuth Surapruik, said, ‘In 2008 the fees were lowered to help the economy. This has stimulated the sale of properties. Since the fees were lowered almost two years ago there has been no slow-down in the number of transactions at the land office in Banglamung which services Pattaya so now fees will go back up in order to increase government revenues.’”

On the one hand, the recovery of the Thailand Property market is definitely a positive development, and hopefully a sign of an underlying upsurge in the overall Thai economy. This upswing in Thai property sales may also be indicative of an overall upward trend in the world wide economy. However, for those who are thinking of purchasing Thai property be it land or another form of Thai Real Estate such as a Thai Condo, this development will likely be viewed negatively as it will result in increased fees for the buyer or seller of Thai property.

This fee increase will also have an impact on individuals as the aforementioned article concluded:

“Property transfered between individuals will be charged three percent fees if owned for more than two years by the current owner. If owned less than two years the fee is higher, between five and six and a half percent.” [sic]

Property transfers between individual foreigners is probably as common, if not less common, than property transfer between corporations controlled by foreigners. That being said, under certain conditions a foreigner can own a Thai Condominium in freehold and therefore could be effected by these increased individual transfer fees.

For related information on this blog please see: Thailand Property Law.


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14th February 2010

The Treaty of Amity between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Thailand (US-Thai Treaty of Amity) allows American Citizens to own virtually one hundred percent of a Thai company. This can prove highly beneficial to American expatriates in Thailand who wish to conduct business. That being said, there are restrictions to the types of activity that an Amity Treaty Company can undertake. Most notable amongst the restricted activities are: land ownership, internal communications, internal transportation, fiduciary functions, and the liberal professions.

Under Thai law, there is a de facto prohibition placed upon foreigners when it comes to land ownership. This means that foreign nationals are not permitted to take freehold title to Thai property without first obtaining permission from the Thai Minister of the Interior. This prohibition is not all-encompassing as foreign nationals are permitted to take freehold title to Thai condominiums. However, the condominium complex must comport to the relevant provisions of the Thai Condominium Act. Most notable among the requirements in the Thai Condominium Act is the provision that a Thai condo complex must be primarily owned by Thai nationals, meaning that 51% of the Condo units must be owned by Thais while 49% percent of the units may be owned by foreigners.

In many cases, a condominium complex is owned by a company in Thailand. Some opt to own a condo in this way in order to make selling the condominium easier, while others initially purchase the condo indirectly through a corporate entity. In either case, the practice is technically legal. Although, use of so-called “nominee shareholders,” is illegal in Thailand and Thai authorities are increasingly on the lookout for corporate structures utilizing nominees. That being said, the definition of “nominee” is somewhat vague.

This leads us back to the issue of Amity Treaty Companies. Amity Companies are specifically precluded from ownership of Thai real estate pursuant to the provisions of the Treaty of Amity, while the Thai Condominium Act allows foreigners to own a Condominium outright. This begs the question: can an Amity Treaty Company own a Thai Condo in the same manner as a foreign natural person could? This author has not adequately settled this question in his own mind and welcomes any comments regarding this issue. The provisions of the Treaty of Amity preclude land ownership and although many believe that Condo ownership is simply ownership of a unit, the Chanote does pass title to an interest in the underlying land, so there would seem to be a compelling argument that a condo owner is something of a landowner and, if so, this practice would likely be precluded under the provisions of the Amity Treaty.

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26th January 2010

There are many foreign nationals who have opted to take up long term residence in the Kingdom of Thailand. For many expatriates, a pivotal question regarding residence in Thailand deals with the issue of Thai property law. Under the current laws in the Kingdom of Thailand foreign nationals are effectively barred from purchasing a Freehold Chanote (Title Deed) to land in the Kingdom. This being said, foreigners are allowed to take freehold title to Thai Condos provided certain legal requirements are met, but for many foreign nationals in Thailand actual home ownership is the preferred method of living in the Kingdom.

In the past, a Thai company could be used to own Thai Real Estate, but the company had to be structured in such a way that it comported to Thai law. In recent months there has been some discussion by Thai government officials about doing away with this system of property ownership. How this will play out remains to be seen, but some foreigners, who are still interested in enjoying Thai property, are looking at other ways of structuring their interests so as to properly comport with possible future restrictions.

One method involves the bifurcation of Thai title. What this means is that the land underneath a structure is owned by a Thai while any structures on the land are owned by a foreigner. This arrangement would be legal under current Thai law, but many are confused about how such an arrangement could be set up. This is where the Yellow Tabien Baan becomes an issue.

A Yellow Tabien Baan is used by foreign nationals who live in the Kingdom. However, they are very difficult to obtain and are usually only promulgated if the foreign national has bought a Thai condo. That being said, a foreign national who is on a Tabien Baan can obtain a building permit to build a structure in Thailand. Once the structure is built, it can be owned wholly by a foreign national. A foreigner could secure long term lease to the underlying property while maintaining ownership of the structure. Use of a Thailand usufruct or superficies would also strengthen the foreigner’s property interests without violating the de facto restriction placed upon land ownership for foreigners. This is not the only benefit that a Yellow Tabien Baan can confer upon a Foreigner in Thailand as there are other major benefits that foreign nationals can enjoy by being on a Foreign Tabien Baan.

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11th January 2010

In recent days there has been speculation about Thai authorities cracking down on any Thai Company which was formed solely for the purpose of facilitating foreign ownership of Real Estate in Thailand. Unfortunately for foreign nationals, the Thai government restricts land ownership and will not allow foreign nationals to own land without Ministry of Interior approval. As a practical matter, this approval is nearly impossible to obtain so the Kingdom essentially has a De Facto ban on Real Estate ownership by foreigners. This being said, foreign nationals are still permitted to own Thailand property in the form of condominiums. A foreign national may own a Thai condo in freehold provided the condominium complex adheres to the provisions of the Thai Condominium Act.

In a journal written about the Thai housing market this author found the following quotation:

“[O]n May 15, 2006, the Ministry of Interior issued a policy to all provincial governors regarding the avoidance of foreign land ownership laws. The policy sought to prevent the purchase of land for the benefit of a foreigner in accordance with Section 74 of the Land Code. It directs officials to be more vigilant in scrutinizing land purchases of land by entities with foreign shareholders or directors, or where reasonable grounds exist to believe that a Thai is a nominee shareholder on behalf of a foreigner. The policy requires competent officials to carefully scrutinize the supporting evidence submitted for consideration, while paying particular attention to the occupation, duration of work and the monthly income of the Thai shareholder. If, following the investigation, the competent official’s opinion is that the transfer registration represents an avoidance of law or that a Thai is trying to purchase land for a foreigner’s benefit, he should investigate further and submit the case to the Land Department for ministerial advice.”

As can be gathered from the above quote, the Thai government places a great deal of administrative discretion in the hands of local land office personnel when it comes to the issue of foreign ownership of Thai property. It would appear that these administrative prerogatives will be brought to bear against those that use nominee shareholders to own land or Real Estate in Thailand. In this legal environment, it may be wise for foreign nationals to carefully assess their options in order to ensure that the best decisions are made with regard to property investment. In any case, it would be wise for anyone thinking of investing in the Kingdom of Thailand to consult an attorney in order to come up with a coherent strategy.

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24th December 2009

Many people in Thailand, both foreign and Thai, choose to incorporate Thai businesses. Thailand is one of Southeast Asia’s major trading locales and as a result many individuals and business concerns need a corporate presence in the Kingdom of Thailand. In many cases, companies are incorporated with substantially similar articles of incorporation. That being said, some companies opt to incorporate with unique provisions regarding different types of shareholder rights in the corporate charter. These different types of rights can have a major impact upon the running of the business because these rights can have a collateral impact upon employee compensation, shareholder vote tabulation, and banking issues. Therefore, an understanding of share classification can be helpful to those who are thinking of incorporating a Thai company.

In the articles of association (also known as articles of incorporation) of a Thai limited company, one could denote the rights associated with different share classifications. Therefore, some shares could simply hold an equity interest in the company while not having any voting rights at shareholder meetings. Other types of shares could hold little or no equity in the company, but maintain voting rights regarding the Directors of the company. If a company owns Thai property, there could be specific shares that have certain rights in relation to the Thai property concerned. For example, a Thai company that owns Thai real estate could place special rights in the hands of certain shareholders with regard to said real estate. If a Thai company owns a Thai Condo, then share classification could be used to delineate the rights of individuals with regard to the Condo premises.

For those who are interested in Thai limited companies certified under the US-Thai Amity Treaty, these same principals could apply to an Amity Company. One shareholder could retain a sizable equity holding while another holds certain voting rights. The same could be said about a Thai limited company that has obtained a Foreign Business License. A company such as this could incorporate special shareholder rights in the provisions of the articles of association or incorporation.

These issues bleed into the realm of Thai Immigration because the shareholder in a Thai company could apply for a Thai business visa. The basis for such an application could be an impending shareholder’s meeting that the foreign national must attend. The approval of such an application would depend upon the Thai Embassy or Consulate concerned. If present in the Kingdom on another type of visa, an O visa, for example, it may be possible for the shareholder to attend a meeting in order to vote his or her shares.

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14th December 2009

Thailand has become a major epicenter of trade in Southeast Asia. The Kingdom also remains one of the most important trading partners of the United States of America, the European Union, and the United Kingdom. Many businesspeople who do business in Thailand must deal with restrictions imposed upon foreigners under the Thai Foreign Business Act. American Citizens enjoy some benefits under the provisions of the US-Thai Amity Treaty. This Treaty was promulgated in the mid-60′s. In Thailand, Treaties are considered the “law of the land,” and are considered superior to locally drafted legislation (this notion is similar to many of the ideas codified in the American Constitution, specifically the Supremacy Clause).  As the Amity Treaty is the “law of the land,” it supersedes the Foreign Business Act.

A Thai Limited Company certified under the provisions of the Treaty of Amity is a good vehicle for conducting business in Thailand, but the Treaty does have caveats and Companies conducting certain types of business cannot obtain Treaty Certification. Most importantly for some, Amity Treaty Companies cannot own land. Even though an Amity Company is accorded “National Treatment,” the company is barred from holding property in the form of Thai Real Estate. Although, technically it may be possible for an Amity company to purchase a Condo in Thailand.

Aside from ownership of Thai property, there are other activities which an Amity Company cannot engage in, such as: Inland Transportation, Communications, Fiduciary Functions, and the Practice of Professions. Each of these types of activity are reserved to Thai nationals and/or Thai Companies. Even still, the Amity Treaty provides American Citizens with the opportunity to own virtually 100% of a Thai company. For many types of businesses the Amity Treaty is a perfect solution to the problems imposed upon foreigners by the Foreign Business Act.

Some have postulated regarding the possibility of using American Citizens as nominees in order to obtain Amity Treaty benefits. This is basically impossible as nominee shareholders are illegal under current Thai law. That being said, delineating whether or not an American Company is “American,” could be difficult. The relevant agencies of the Thai Ministry of Commerce adjudicate Amity Treaty Certification applications on a case by case basis and come to a decision based upon the makeup of the corporate shareholders in question.

An Amity Treaty Certificate is somewhat similar to a Foreign Business License. However, the two documents are issued based upon different legal foundations. There are some US Immigration benefits accorded to Thai nationals under the US-Thai Treaty of Amity in the form of E visas, but there is not a direct counterpart found under Thai Immigration law.

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9th December 2009

Wills are testamentary instruments used to state one’s intentions after one’s death. Generally Wills come up in the context of property distribution following an individual’s death. In Thailand, both foreign nationals and Thai Citizens die, leaving Thai property in the form of Thai Real Estate and/or assets. In many cases, the family of the deceased will read the Will, have it process through probate, and have the assets distributed in the manner set forth in the codicils of the Will.

A Living Will is a slightly different instrument. To quote Wikipedia:

“[The Living Will] was first proposed by an Illinois attorney, Louis Kutner, in a law journal in 1969. Kutner drew from existing estate law, by which an individual can control property affairs after death (i.e., when no longer available to speak for themselves) and devised a way for an individual to speak to his or her health care desires when no longer able to express current health care wishes. Because this form of ‘will’ was to be used while an individual was still alive (but no longer able to make decisions) it was dubbed the ‘living will.’

A Living Will usually provides specific directives about the course of treatment that is to be followed by health care providers and caregivers. In some cases a living will may forbid the use of various kinds of burdensome medical treatment. It may also be used to express wishes about the use or foregoing of food and water, if supplied via tubes or other medical devices. The living will is only used if the individual has become unable to give informed consent or refusal due to incapacity. A living will can be very specific or very general. An example of a statement sometimes found in a living will is: ‘If I suffer an incurable, irreversible illness, disease, or condition and my attending physician determines that my condition is terminal, I direct that life-sustaining measures that would serve only to prolong my dying be withheld or discontinued.’”

The website Thaivisa.com, in conjunction with The Nation Newspaper, are reporting that the Thai government has preliminarily approved a proposal to allow living wills in Thailand:

“The Cabinet Tuesday gave the green light to living wills. Under the draft decree, health professionals will honour a dying patient’s wish to forego treatment during the terminal stage if it can only prolong life. The draft prepared by the National Health Commission Office will now go to the Council of State for review.”

It will be interesting to see how this legislation progresses through the various official agencies. Living Wills can provide a means and method for transmitting one’s wishes in the event of misfortune. This author hopes that this legislation will receive positive treatment by those with authority to change the law.

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