The PR Option
For those foreigners who do qualify, maybe it's worth it to apply for a Thai Permanent Resident.
As background I have lived in Thailand for about 10 years. After living here for a long time I decided last year to apply for a Thai Permanent Residence. There are several benefits to getting a PR, though the most prominent is not having to go through the annual/bi-annual Non-Immigrant visa renewal process. From start to finish the PR process can take up to two years. PR is an extremely time consuming, burdensome, and expensive process, but if you receive a PR one is allowed to stay in Thailand permanently and is considered "almost" the same as Thai citizen except not being able to buy land and to vote.
Even though I have a work permit, I wanted to have the additionally security and benefits of potentially getting a Thai PR. I enjoy living and making a living in Thailand and I wanted to maintain my freedom to stay in Thailand, maintain some rights for "just in case" something happens to my job or personal relationships. It's never good to be beholden to another person or organization.
Giving my initial compliance in meeting the Thailand work experience, education, salary, and language skill requirements I knew I wanted to start the process. Also in consideration was I had the ability to afford a PR. Depending on your filing status for the PR, the PR cost is between 91,000 (married to a Thai) and 195,000 Thai Baht (not married to a Thai), if successful. Definitely not an insignificant sum. Additionally, given my work commitments and the massive amount of paperwork that Immigration requires (corporate documents, personal documents, notaries, and other paperwork) I knew that I could just not handle it on my own. So, I did some research on Immigration law firms among my social group and decided to hire a firm that handled previous PR cases to and take care of the entire application, deal with Immigration, and oversee the process on my behalf. The legal fees are approximately 200,000 baht. Of the reputable firms that I contacted this seemed to be in the general range of quotes. So, all in, the costs are probably close to 600,000 Thai baht. Additionally, in my research I did find people who received their PR without hiring a law firm. So, it is possible, if one has the time and ability to do it on their own.
I started the process in September 2009 knowing that my application was due during the last two weeks of December. I won't go into all of the documents required, you can get them online, but given all of the documents and certification/signatures required by various entities (i.e., Thai Revenue Department, Royal Thai Police, Immigration, Thai Ministry of Commerce, your home country law enforcement agencies, universities, hospitals, and embassy) you need to plan a couple of months in advance. I submitted my application in December. According to the regulations only 100 foreigners from each nationality are approved for a PR. Judging by the people at Immigration and from my conversation with the Immigration officers it seems that many of the foreigners applying for Thai Permanent Residents are Chinese, Indian, and Japanese. I was somewhat surprised by this, but in thinking more about it its probably a recognition of broader tourism trends of less European and American foreigners coming to Thailand in favor of other nationalities.
So for almost the past year I have been going through the process. Once my application was accepted by Immigration, I was offered an automatic 180 day visa extension pending a final decision by the Immigration Commission. If no decision is reached after 180 days, then the visa is automatically extended until a decision is issued. Since I have a work permit it's not an issue. However, for example, if I lost my job, Immigration would give me a 180 day extension pending the final decision on my application. After the application was submitted periodically I would be contacted by Immigration, via my lawyers, to supply additional documentation/signatures/certifications. There are a lot of long stretches of in activity. So, don't expect to get quick results from Immigration and/or your representatives. Patience is the key and act as a Thai would….jai yen!
As part of the application process, two interviews are required with Immigration to test my Thai language capabilities. These were supposed be held starting in May/June of '09. However, due to the political situation at that time, the PR process was more or less stopped. Last month I had my first Thai interview. The interview in Thai went well, as I knew it would given my Thai language ability. Feedback on my application was quite positive. So, I have another interview to go. Given the feedback I am hopeful of receiving my PR within the next 12 months, hopefully sooner.
For those that are interested and have the wherewithal to afford it and time to invest in the process getting a PR may be a good alternative. If interested now is the time to start getting everything together to apply. As a note, I have two (2) other friends who applied at the same time. Their experiences are similar to mine.
I looked at the PR option a few years back and my feelings were that the cost as well as the hassle just weren't worth it. With the hassles of time and energy as well as the cost, I am not sure that the benefits of PR in Thailand are worth the hassle.
At the time I was not sure how long I planned to stay in Thailand but now that I know it is not where I want to be long-term, for me personally it was not the way to go.
Good luck and I hope the application is approved!