Ownership of land is governed by the Land Code BE 2497 (1954), the Civil and Commercial Code, Land Reform for Agriculture Act BE 2518 (1975) and the regulations set forth by the Ministry of the Interior. Although Thai law prohibits foreigners from owning land in Thailand, there are various ways in which you can structure your affairs so that you can own land, and still comply with existing Thai laws:
- Nominee with Lease and Option to Buy – you can use a Thai Nominee to purchase the house/land and have a 30 year lease with a 30 by 30 year option from the nominee. In order to be enforceable, any lease for a period of longer than three years must be registered, which involves payment of a registration fee and stamp duty based on a percentage of the rental fee for the whole lease term. The original registered lease remains in force and effect even if the property is sold. The drawbacks to a lease include the fact that the parties can contractually agree to renewals, but this right cannot be registered and is not effective against a purchaser of the property, and that the lessee cannot (without the lessor’s consent) sublease, sell or transfer his or her interest.
- Nominee with Mortgage – you can use a Nominee to purchase the house/land and have a mortgage (registered with the appropriate land department office) on the property in your favour. However, in some circumstances the Thai courts have ruled that this was not a bona fide mortgage, but rather it was a mortgage contrived to circumvent the existing laws of Thailand prohibiting foreign ownership of land. It is important to note that only the owner of the land is entitled to mortgage the land; the lessee of land does not have the same privilege.
- Usufruct Interest (Sidhi-kep-kin) – gives you temporary ownership rights to things on or arising from the land. In practice, a usufruct is limited to a 30 year maximum period; like leases, the agreement can be successively renewed. In contrast to a lease, a usufructury interest can be sold or transferred, although it expires upon the death of the holder of the usufruct and therefore cannot be inherited.
- Limited Liability Company – this form of purchasing property is the most popular with foreign investors as the Articles of Association can be varied to allow greater protection for foreign minority shareholders where majority Thai ownership is required under the Alien Business Law. Thai law requires that 51% of the shares be held by Thai juristic persons, however, any company with more than 40% foreign interest that purchases land will be investigated by the Central Land Office in Bangkok (under Section 74 of the Land Code) to ensure that the company has not been organized in an attempt to circumvent the prohibition against foreign ownership of land.
This results in the foreign ownership of the company being limited at 39%, but with the recommended changes to the Articles of Association, the foreigner can be the only director of the company, and the only officer of the company who can commit or bind the company in any contractual dealings – effectively giving the minority shareholder control over the company.