Thailand Real Estate Law shares many similar concepts to the Land Law in Western Jurisdictions. However, there are some important practical differences including the following:
- Official government land records are not public records and therefore express legal authority to search deeds and records of the Land Department is normally required.
- Real estate agents assisting purchasers and sellers are not licensed by the Thai government. There are no specific qualifications for persons representing themselves as "real estate agents" in Thailand. Similarly, Thailand real estate agents often act on behalf of both the seller and buyer in land transactions without regard to the conflicts of interest.
- There is a general prohibition on land ownership by non-Thai nationals. However, in practice, there are a number of legal mechanisms used to allow foreigners to obtain legal rights to land in Thailand (that do not qualify as legal ownership).
The most significant issue for non-Thai nationals when seeking to acquire legal rights to land in Thailand is normally the general prohibition on foreigners owning freehold land in Thailand. However, there are some basic legal exceptions to this rule which include special rights granted by the Thai Board of Investment and special rights granted to non-Thai citizen heirs who receive land pursuant to an inheritance from a Thai relative.
Both of these expressly granted rights are limited, however. Moreover, the vast majority of foreign persons seeking land in Thailand do not, unfortunately, qualify for these two exceptions to the legal prohibition on foreign persons owning land in Thailand.
The following are the more generally used methods for a non-Thai person to acquire a legal right to land in Thailand that are not prohibited by the general ban on foreigners owning land in Thailand:
- Land Leases: Foreigners may to hold a 100% interest in a Thailand land lease. Thailand lease law allows a 30-year maximum lease period, with the possibility of renewing the lease for additional 30 year periods.
- Company Ownership: Thailand registered companies with majority Thai ownership may be able to purchase and own land in Thailand.
In recent years, the Thailand Land Department has become stricter in investigating limited companies for the use of the "nominee" Thai shareholders (Thai persons who do not possess a legitimate interest in the company owning the land but who are used as "strawmen" to make a company appear to be majority Thai are defined as "nominees".)
Nevertheless, in spite of the increased government scrutiny, the Thai law still provides methods for a non-Thai shareholder to lawfully secure his real estate investment through a Thai limited company through legal means and procedures.
- Thai Spouse: Thai real estate law allows a Thai spouse of a foreigner to buy land or property in Thailand in his or her own name provided the funds used are the Thai spouse's separate property. The married couple may be asked to sign declarations at the Land Department to state that the funds used are the separate property of the Thai spouse.
- Usufruct Habitation and Superficies: A non-Thai may acquire a fixed term interest or a life term interest in certain types of property rights in Thailand. One example, a usufruct, is a right to use (and profit from) land and is similar to a leasehold but is non-transferable with some important differences.
- Mortgage: Foreign lenders to a Thai person for a land purchase may register a mortgage on the Debtor's land to secure the debt and protect from default.
- Building Ownership: Although non-Thai nationals are prohibited from owning land in Thailand, foreigners may own buildings in Thailand under some circumstances.
Chaninat and Leeds specializes in Thailand real estate law and structuring land and real estate purchases and acquisitions in Thailand since 1997. Our senior lawyers have been handling complex and routine real estate transactions for more than 40 years.
We specialize in real estate transactions for Thai people as well as foreigners. In regard to foreign investors, we have vast experience in structuring real estate transactions for non-Thais that comply with Thai law and also secure the rights of non-Thai real estate investors. Our services include: due diligence, contract drafting, consultation on real estate law, and executing land transfers and transactions.
Chaninat and Leeds is the publisher and editor of the Thai Land Law Act English language translation published in 2009. The text is available in major bookstores in Thailand and is used by major law schools in Thailand as part of their curriculum.