Thailand – sometimes known as the “land of smiles” – is a tropical paradise known for its scenic beaches, lush countryside, exotic cuisine and friendly people. It also has one of the lowest costs of living in the world, and all these factors (and more) make Thailand an attractive option for older adults seeking an alternative retirement overseas. (For more, see 7 Reasons Why Americans Retire in Thailand.)
For short visits U.S. citizens can enter Thailand without a visa, under the tourist visa exemption scheme. You’ll have to show proof of adequate finances for the length of your stay, plus an air, train, bus or boat ticket proving you’ll leave Thailand within 30 days of your arrival. To stay a bit longer, you can apply for a tourist visa, which is valid for up to 60 days and can be extended for another 60. If you want to remain in Thailand for a lengthy period without working – say, to retire – you can obtain a retirement visa. Here’s how to get one.
Before you can apply for a retirement visa, you’ll first need a 90-day non-immigrant visa. This type of visa differs from the tourist visa and is issued to applicants who want to enter Thailand for purposes including study, business, investment and retirement. To be eligible you must have a passport good for at least six months from the date of your intended arrival and show proof of adequate finances. You can apply for the visa while you’re still in the U.S., either in person at the Royal Thai Embassy (Washington, D.C.) or a Consulate-General (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles), or by mail.
The next step is to get a non-immigrant O-A visa, commonly called a long-stay or retirement visa. You must apply for this while your current visa has at least 30 days remaining. Retirement visas are valid for one year, are renewable every year and can be renewed from within Thailand – make sure to submit the renewal application before the current one expires. It’s worth noting that employment of any kind is strictly prohibited with this type of visa. To be eligible for a retirement visa, you must:
You can apply for the visa while you’re in the U.S., either in person at the Royal Thai Embassy or at one of the Consulate-General offices or by mail. You’ll need multiple copies (the exact number depends on where you apply) of numerous documents, including:
For more information, visit the Royal Thai Embassy’s website.
If you plan on traveling into and out of Thailand at any point during the year your retirement visa is valid, you’ll need a single or multiple re-entry permit before departure; otherwise, your one-year visa will become void. If you plan on staying in Thailand the entire time, you won’t need a re-entry permit; however, if your plans change you can apply for the permit at the closest immigration office or at the international airport before you leave the country.
As a holder of a retirement visa, you are required to notify the immigration office every 90 days regarding your address. You can do this in person by checking in at your local immigration office (or the local police station, if there is no immigration office in your residence area); by mail (documents must be submitted at least seven days before the end of each 90-day period); or by hiring an agent who can act on your behalf through a power of attorney. If you are out of the country when the 90-day reporting is due, you’ll trigger a new “90-day countdown” as soon as you re-enter the country. If you move to a new area of Thailand (e.g., a new province), you must notify the immigration office.
In addition to the retirement visa, you may have other visa options that would allow you to stay in Thailand for an extended period of time. A marriage visa, for example, may be issued to a foreign national who is married to a Thai citizen. This visa is valid for one year and renewable every year. If you have a marriage visa, you may also be able to obtain a Thai work permit. There’s also a one-year multiple-entry visa, which can be extended for three months on or before its one-year expiration date. Unlike with a retirement visa, you’ll have to exit and re-enter Thailand every 90 days.
If you have questions about Thai visas or need assistance with any part of the process, it’s recommended that you work with a reputable firm that specializes in visa services (try a Google search for “Thailand visa service”).