Can a foreigner own land in Thailand?
Question: I am a foreigner who has retired in Thailand and I have recently married a Thai woman. We are currently considering the purchase of 1 rai of land in Phuket where we build our marital home. I will actually be paying for the full purchase price of the land with my own personal funds, which I received before marriage. I am aware of the legal restrictions in Thailand against foreign ownership of land and would like to ask what is the safest legal method for me to invest in land? My primary concern is that I do not want to lose my investment in the scenario where the marriage ends. What is safer between the options of owning the land in the name of my Thai or registering a dormant Thai company to own the land?
Answer: From a strictly legal point-of-view, it is a criminal offense to have a Thai national, whether that be one’s Thai or a Thai company. Therefore, neither option is particularly safe in light of consideration. Nevertheless, in such cases it is often difficult for the authorities to prove intention and therefore prosecution for Thai nominee landownership is unlikely except in a most exceptional case. As for the options you suggested, we will address that below.
The option of having your Thai wife own the land on your behalf is generally safe in terms of prosecution for nominee landownership. When your wife appears at the Land Office to register the transfer of ownership of the land, she will be presented with a declaration which you must both sign acknowledging that the money used to purchased the land was the separate property of the wife and consequently the land itself is then the separate property of your wife. By signing this form, it is unlikely that you or your wife could be prosecuted for nominee landownership. As for your concern about protecting your investment in the event that the marriage ends, I would say that at least half of your investment is likely to be safe as long as you keep evidence that you actually paid for the property. The Divorce Court, as a matter of fairness, will treat the property as marital property despite the Land Department form signed.
The option of having your wife own the land is safer than registering a dormant Thai company. Registering a dormant Thai company could be a safe option to invest in the land as long as the company complies with tax and accounting requirements. However, the dormant Thai company is a liability in itself since it can be audited by the government, especially where its financial statements repeatedly indicate that it is not generating revenue.
Thai property law is complex. Foreign investors are advised to consult with competent Thailand Lawyers.
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