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With its warm climate and low cost of living, Thailand has become a popular destination for expats from all over the world, with the number of foreigners in the country estimated to be anywhere between 500,000 and 1m. The reasons to send money to Thailand are many, but beyond trade, private flows from the UK are dominated by property purchases, pensions, and medical tourism. A 2010 study by a UK think tank, the Institute of Public Policy Research, put the number of UK passport holders residing in Thailand at nearly 46,500, of whom some 2,200 were pensioners who will be sending money to Thailand from the UK to fund their retirement.
In general, non-Thai businesses and citizens are not permitted to own land in Thailand unless the land is on government-approved industrial estates. The 1999 amendment to the Land Code Act permits foreigners investing a minimum of THB40m (around US$1.2m) to buy up to 1,600 sq metres of land for residential use with the permission of the Ministry of Interior. The ministry has the authority to sell the land if it is not used as a residence within two years of the date of acquisition and registration.
Rather than purchasing, many foreign businesses instead sign long-term leases, and then construct buildings on the leased land. Previously, non-Thais were allowed to own up to 100% of a condominium building if the unit was purchased between April 1999 and April 2004, but since 2007, total foreign ownership in a condominium building has been limited to 49% of the total space of all units in the building, except for those purchased between 1999 and 2004. Financing this purchase is not necessarily easy, as many Thai banks will not lend to foreigners. We recommend taking specialist advice if you are looking to purchase any property and before you transfer money to Thailand to pay for the purchase.
Foreigners holding non-immigrant visas who have lived in Thailand for at least three consecutive years may apply for permanent residence in Thailand if they meet strict criteria regarding investment or professional skills.
Thailand in recent years has become one of the top international destinations for overseas medical tourism by revenue and by numbers, particularly for elective procedures, given the country's very developed healthcare system and low costs relative to private care in the US and Europe. Thailands Ministry of Health put the number of medical tourist visits (not the number of unique patients) in 2012 at 2.53m, up from 1.98m in 2010. Of the visits in 2012, 26.6% were medical tourists, 41.4% resident expats, and the rest travellers who did not come specifically for medical procedures. The UK was the third largest single source of patients, after Japan and the US. The Tourism Authority of Thailand puts the number of health and wellness (including spas) tourism trips to Thailand between April 2012 and March 2013 at 858,340, generating earnings of some THB31.12bn (US$997m).
There are nearly 40 institutions in Thailand accredited by Joint Commission International, a US-based body that is the world leader in healthcare accreditation. Bangkoks JCI-accredited Bumrungrad International Hospital, for example, is one of the largest and most respected hospitals in Asia. Savings can be up to around 85% for some procedures.
Non-resident investors are not permitted to hold more than a 25% stake in domestic financial institutions, and no more than a 49% stake in other domestic companies. However, the Bank of Thailand may give permission, in some cases, for greater foreign ownership and the Ministry of Finance can authorise up to100% foreign ownership of some domestic companies. Residents in Thailand are permitted to invest or lend up to US$50m a year to non-affiliated companies. There are no limits on resident lending to affiliated companies.
The Board of Investment (BOI) is Thailand's central investment promotion authority, offering investment incentives uniformly to both qualified domestic and foreign investors. Majority or total foreign ownership is permitted for BOI-approved investment projects in the manufacturing sector; but in agriculture, animal husbandry, fishery, mineral exploration and mining, and service businesses, Thai nationals must hold at least 51% of a companys registered equity
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