Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘Amity Treaty’

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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17th January 2010

In recent weeks there has been some speculation about new regulations with regard to Thai work permits. In February of 2010, the Ministry of Labour regulations regarding work permits are to be updated. These updated rules will likely result in more stringent measures with regard to foreign labor in Thailand. Recently, there has been some talk about liberalizing certain sections of the Foreign Business Act (FBA). This Act restricts the type of activities that foreign nationals are allowed to engage in while present in the Kingdom of Thailand.

Under the provisions of the FBA, there are three lists of restricted activities. List 1 is the most restricted and is unlikely to be liberalized anytime in the near future. List 2 is also unlikely to be opened up to foreign participation anytime soon, but this is more likely to happen when compared to list 1. Finally, list 3 lists those activities that are the most likely to be opened up to foreign competition. There have been those in the current government floating the idea of liberalizing list 3, but the upshot of this would be more stringent enforcement of current work permit rules.

This leads us to the point of this post: what will happen to those certified under the US-Thai Amity Treaty? Under the provisions of this Treaty, American Citizens are accorded certain privileges when it comes to operating a business in the Kingdom of Thailand. In most cases, changes to the Foreign Business Act have little impact upon those operating under the Treaty as Treaty companies are accorded “national treatment.” This means that once a company has an Amity Treaty Certificate they are viewed, in the eyes of Thai law, as a Thai company. However, work permit regulations are applied to Thai companies in the same way that they would be applied to foreign companies. Therefore, those operating under a Treaty Certificate must still adhere to relevant Ministry of Labour regulations. Consequently, although the work permit regulations will not effect an Amity Treaty Company per se, they have a collateral impact upon any foreigners working in said company as the provisions of the Treaty only apply to the juristic entity and not to any of the foreign nationals working for that entity.

At this time, the US-Thai Treaty of Amity is still the law of the land in both the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States of America. There are certain benefits enjoyed by nationals of both countries as Americans are entitled to Treaty of Amity protection when conducting most types of business in Thailand while Thais are granted Treaty Trader visas should they meet the requisite qualifications pursuant to the relevant provisions of the Treaty.

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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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24th November 2009

Thailand is one of the major trading centers in Southeast Asia. As a result, many foreign nationals wish to conduct business in the Kingdom of Thailand. However, the Thailand Foreign Business Act precludes foreign ownership of Thai companies. Strictly speaking, foreign ownership is not technically illegal, but operating such a company for profit is against the law.

When we say, “foreign ownership,” we mean foreign majority ownership as foreign nationals are allowed to own a minority stake in a Thai company, up to forty-nine percent. If a Thai owns fifty-one percent of a company in Thailand, then that company is considered to be a “Thai Company.”

There are some who incorporate “Thai companies” that utilize so-called “nominee shareholders.” A nominee is one who owns shares in a Thai company on behalf of another. A nominee is not an “active shareholder,” in a company. Under current Thai corporate law nominee shareholders are illegal. However, defining what constitutes a “nominee shareholder,” can be difficult.

Thai law does provide for a way around the restrictions imposed by the Foreign Business Act. There are ways to license a Thai Company, with majority foreign ownership, to conduct business in Thailand.

On method of facilitating a foreign company to conduct business in Thailand is through a Foreign Business License. These documents can be difficult to obtain and the process for obtaining a Thai foreign business license can be very time consuming. Once granted the license will specify the exact nature of the business and the company will be precluded from conducting any other type of activity, unless another license is obtained.

Another method of facilitating foreign ownership of a Thai company is through the US-Thai Amity Treaty. As the name suggests, the US-Thai Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations is a bilateral agreement between the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States of America. A company certified under the terms of the Treaty is given “national treatment,” allowing it to operate in the same way as a “Thai Company.” The major exception being that an Amity Treaty Company is precluded from owning real estate in Thailand. Other types of Thai property could be owned by an Amity Company, such as a Thai Condo. Also, the provisions of the Treaty grant the aforementioned benefits exclusively to United States Citizens. Therefore, this method of certification is not for everyone.

The Australia-Thai free trade agreement provides some special benefits to Australians in Thailand as Australian Citizen may be allowed to own a majority stake in certain types of Thai companies.

A final method of licensing a foreign company in Thailand is through the Board of Investment or BOI. A BOI company can receive special benefits in the form of rights to operate and some BOI companies can own land. That being said, BOI companies are very difficult to incorporate and require a great deal of legal expertise to set up. BOI Companies are generally not advisable for those thinking of establishing a small Thai business. For large enterprises, such a setup may be advisable due to the fact that a Thailand visa and/or work permit is generally easier to obtain for a BOI company.

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6th August 2009

On this blog and in other places on our site we have discussed the US-Thai Amity Treaty and how it can be beneficial for those doing business in the Kingdom of Thailand. However, most of these writings have made the assumption that one would be setting up a Thai Limited Company as an entity certified by the Foreign business office as protected under the Treaty.

One aspect Thai corporate law that is of some interest to American operators in Thailand is the notion of establishing a sole proprietorship and obtaining Amity Treaty certification. In theory, this is possible, although in practice it can be somewhat difficult to arrange and has some drawbacks from a legal viewpoint.

One positive aspect of Treaty Certification on a sole proprietorship is the fact that income garnered by the sole proprietor can be taxed as if it were personal income. Therefore, issues of so-called “double taxation” do not come into play when dealing with some sole proprietorships. Also, with regard to a sole proprietorship the paperwork necessary to establish the entity is far less substantial. In the case of proper Thai limited companies, it may be necessary to promulgate meeting minutes of shareholders and directors. Sole proprietorships generally do not require meeting minutes because the sole proprietor is the only person with authority to make decisions on behalf of the company.

One of the major warnings that any legal professional will give to one seeking to establish a sole proprietorship is to think about the ramifications of a lack of limited liability. Sole proprietorships do not have limited liability and therefore, should an adversely affected party wish to sue the sole proprietorship, then the sole proprietor’s personal assets could be placed in jeopardy. Thai limited companies do not have unlimited liability which means that should one sue the company, then the company would only be liable up to the amount of their registered capital.

Finally, from a practical standpoint there are some professions for which a foreigner cannot obtain a work permit to perform. Therefore, it may be possible to set up a sole proprietorship to engage in the entertainment business, but not be able to get a Thai work permit in order to perform the activities inherent to the business. In some ways setting up a limited company sidesteps this problem because the Thai company is viewed as a separate legal entity in the eyes of the law and therefore, the activities that the company engages in may not be the same as the foreigner’s actual job within the organization. Therefore, the Ministry of Labour might authorize the work permit for one working for a Thai Limited Company with Amity Treaty Certification.

(Nothing contained herein should be acted upon as legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created between author and reader.)

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