Can a foreigner buy and own land on Phuket Island?
It is not possible for a foreigner to buy and own land in Thailand, at least not in the manner that ownership is generally understood.
What do you mean I can't own land in the generally understood sense of the word?
A foreigner may not have ownership of land recognized by the government, use the property as other owners use their property or give the land to others as a gift or inheritance.
But I know many foreigners that own land and houses!! How is this possible?
The laws about ownership of land and real property by foreigners are very specific. Many foreigners circumvent these laws but their acts are fraudulent.
Well, if the authorities just look the other way or are too stupid to catch me, why should I worry about that?
You should be very careful about what you do because the social and legal climate in Thailand has been getting more and more restrictive for foreigners since around 2000. It you try to own land, you are taking several gambles, one of which is that the authorities will continue to look the other way or be "stupid".
What is the number one way that foreigners try to circumvent the real property laws?
The number one way foreigners do this is by giving money to Thai friends, especially wives and girlfriends, who then buy property and register it in their own Thai names.
Is it illegal to give money to a girlfriend to buy land and house?
Well, it is illegal for the girlfriend or wife to use money you gave her to buy land. The giver becomes involved in something illegal even if it is done simply as human kindness and the giver has no intention or desire to own or use the land!! For those who do have such an intention, it is very foolish!! Your friend can simply take the property and deny you any use of it at all!! They can deny they ever knew you!! It happens with some frequency.
Well, if my girlfriend takes my house from me, can I go to the police and complain that I gave them a lot of money and they stole it from me?
Yes, you can go to the police, but you will not get your money back much less "your" house. You, like a drug dealer, have given someone money to commit a crime and you have no rights whatsoever to the money!! If you complain enough, your complaints might result in the authorities seizing the property from your friend - and this might give you some satisfaction - but you will not get any money back.
Well, at least I have some power. I can use the threat of going to the police to protect my investment, can't I?
Going to the police is the only power one has in this situation and it is sometimes effective but one must also bear in mind that foreigners in Thailand die under mysterious circumstances every year. And, in any event, you get some satisfaction through causing your friend some problems, you will never get your money back or be considered an owner of anything.
Okay...what other way can I get around the law to buy land and a house?
The only other way is to be a partial owner of a majority Thai owned company. The company can then nominate you as "owner". This is legal but you will never be a complete owner. It is extremely dangerous.
Why is it dangerous?
It is similar to the friendship situation. You have to worry about your Thai business partners being "honest". You are at their mercy. They can simply remove you from the company or take away your ownership.
Can I just set up my own company and get some Thai owners I can manipulate and control?
Well, it is theoretically possible, but if the Thai "owners" actually have legal control of the company, how can you be confident they will do what you want them to do?
Can I just set up a "dummy" company for purposes of buying land?
It has been done but the authorities are becoming more and more vigilant. They have begun to examine the financial records of suspicious companies more frequently. Authorities expect that businesses will make real money and have real customers. This loophole in the law might be rapidly closing. In the case of setting up a dummy company for purposes of circumventing the land ownership laws, penalties are severe, and include prison time.
Okay, if I can't own land, what can I own?
You can legally own a condominium, which means you can own an apartment in a condominium building. There are some qualifications but it is reasonably possible. See buying a condominium in Phuket guide
So, what are the qualifications for owning a condominium?
The two important legal qualifications are as follows: Fifty-one percent of the units in the building must be owned by Thai citizens, and the money used to purchase it must come from outside of the country. It must not have been earned in Thailand.
Isn't there any other way I can own real property in Thailand?
Well, it is possible to do long term rental of real property in Thailand. Many people find this as good as ownership. One can rent land and house for a thirty year period with an option of two additional thirty year periods. This can result in a 90 year rental. One can then build upon the land – respecting all of the local land use laws, of course – with reasonable certainty that one can enjoy what are usually considered privileges of ownership. A thirty year rental should be done with the assistance of an attorney.
If I do a thirty year rental, can I leave my property as an inheritance to my children or relatives?
I have heard that members of the Thai Elite Card program can own land? Can I join the Elite Card program?
Members of the Elite Card program have some but not all of the rights of land ownership. In any event, it is my understand that the Elite Card program, which was began by former Thai prime minister Thaskin Shinawatra, is being wound down by the government and is not accepting new members. When it was possible to join, membership cost between one and two million baht.
Wow, I am really depressed. What are the prospects that foreigners will be permitted to own land in the future?
This matter is discussed from time to time but the prospects for changes in the laws permitting foreigners ownership of land in Thailand are not promising. In fact, at least in the foreseeable future, one should expect more rigorous enforcement of the laws that now exist.