Land Ownership by Foreigners

I was married to a Thai lady for seven years. We are now separated. We own a house in Phuket, which is in my wife’s name. We also own two rai of land near Rawai beach. I was going to sell the land with the help of my ex – fortunately we are still friends – but I have been informed that the law is changing and foreigners may own one rai. Is this the case?

  • Asked on Friday, June 8, 2001 | 06:58 AM
    Dennis Lonsdale, Phuket Villa California.

Technically speaking, the law does allow a foreigner to own up to a rai of land. An amendment was made to the Land Code by the government of Chuan Leekpai, allowing foreigners to own land in certain circumstances. That amendment was gazetted on May 18, 1999. However, the ministerial regulations – which set out how the amended law will be administered by civil servants – have not been issued. Until they are, the amendment cannot be applied, and no foreigner will be able to own land, except under certain special circumstances applying to investors in projects approved by the Board of Investment. The main points of the amendment are as follows: - The foreigner must invest at least 40 million baht in Thailand. He may then acquire one rai of land for residence. The Minister of Interior must approve the purchase. - The 40-million-baht investment must be in a business deemed beneficial to the economics and social wellbeing of Thailand. - The investment must remain in Thailand for at least three years. - The foreigner may own land in the Bangkok Metropolitan area or within the Pattaya city limits, but the amended law is murky when it comes to other parts of Thailand. Clarification will probably have to await the issuing of the ministerial regulations. - If the investor contravenes the rules, he may be ordered to sell the land within a specified period, which will be a minimum of 180 days and a maximum of a year. If the land is unsold at the end of that period, the government has the authority to dispose of it. - If the foreigner buys land but fails to use it for residence within two years of the registration of the acquisition, the government has the authority to dispose of the land. There are ways that foreigners may become part-owners of land, through registered Thai companies. Legally speaking, a Thai company is a “juristic Thai person” and may therefore own land. However, Land Department regulations stipulate that a Thai company, in order to register land ownership, may not have a foreign shareholding of more than 30%. Once the land is registered in the name of the company, however, there is nothing to stop the company from changing its foreign shareholding to as much as 49%, which is the maximum allowed by civil and commercial law for a company to be registered as a Thai company.

  • Answered on Friday, June 8, 2001 | 06:58 AM
    Sam Fauma, International Law Office.
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