Obtaining My Dual Thai-American Citizenship
This is for people who are seeking dual citizenship who were born in Thailand. If you are a foreigner looking to change citizenship, this is not for you. That is an entirely different process and from what I am aware takes about 4 years and is a point system. Also, this is from an American’s perspective. Certain countries do not allow you to have dual citizenship.
The US State Department says IF you are entitled to another citizenship you allowed to have dual citizenship, if desired. In my case I was a US naturalized citizen. In this case the US State Department says if I was naturalized before the age of 18 it was done without my adult consent and therefore I am entitled to choose dual citizenship. Though I was naturalized to the US, Thailand had always considered me a citizen. I never relinquished my citizenship with Thailand.
Disclaimer to Thai-Americans: If you posses dual citizenship you cannot get a security clearance. Meaning no work for military contractors who require clearance, no DOD jobs, no working at the US Embassy and such.
I am writing this in case someone else who was born in Thailand wishes to seek dual citizenship or maybe someone with a Thai born child wants dual citizenship for their children. I have read a dozen cases about people like myself going back to get citizenship and we all have different stories. It seemed to me the ones who had enough documentation, time, references and money (airfare) were able to achieve citizenship. That being said this is my story…
My birth certificate
I was born in Udorn Thani in 1970 during the Vietnam conflict. My father was in the US Air Force and stationed there during the time and my mother was pregnant with me when my father was already back in the US. In my father’s absence the eldest adopted son of my grandmother was put on to my birth certificate as ‘father” and I was given a Thai name. My grandmother convinced my mother to write a letter to my father. They were concerned that communism was setting in and that it would be a better opportunity for her in the US. Upon receiving the letter and pictures my father started the process to marry my mother and get me over to the US. Not registered as my legal father, he did the paperwork to be my legal guardian. I was already 5 years old by time by the time I reached the United States. Not a moment too soon either because I remember not being able to go anywhere alone for not being full blooded Thai. It wasn’t cool in that era unlike now where half the movie stars are mixed. I missed out.
My American naturalization
1985. I was 15 and my father thought it was time I become a naturalized US citizen before I turned 18 yrs. I wanted to join the service and we thought I needed to be American. I had a Thai passport and I was still a Thai citizen with a Thai name though I had adopted an American nickname of Robert. We went through the process of naturalization, name change, and official adoption from my dad. Adopting was easier than proving that he was my natural father which would have taken a trip to Thailand. I was sworn in by New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici. I swapped my green card for the American green card AKA social security card and had an American name and passport. No one would have guessed that I would have wanted dual citizenship down the road. I did eventually join the service and served during the Persian Gulf War.
The mind changing trip
Zoom to 2009. I was 39 years old and a successful computer engineer at a large corporation. American’s economy hit a low. People were getting laid off by the thousands and my company put me on the lay-off list after being with them a decade. Pow! I struggled for work but nothing. Hiring freezes everywhere. Missing the mortgage. I had just gotten over a divorce where my wife was banging her boss but the final blow was when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 17 hours drive from my mother. It made sense to move home for a while which I did. I put the house up for sale and moved home for a fresh start. My mother had her mastectomy and after a few months she fully recovered. The job market still sucked in January 2010 and after months of stressing over my mother and looking for work I was drained. Someone once told me that when you are out of work is the best time to take a trip. It made sense to me. Jamaica again? St. Thomas? A cruise? Those places were for couples. Bangkok!
Bangkok was as alien to me as any farang even though I was born there. I had been there several times before to visit family but I was always on an agenda. This trip I had nothing but time. I walked around aimlessly for 3 weeks. The last night before my flight home I sat in the hotel with my bags packed but I didn’t make the flight. I stared at the clock until it was too late for my flight and instead went to Hua Hin. Any expat reading this knows what happened. January turned to February, February to March, March to April. As any new farang, I hung out in tourist areas asking stupid questions like “what is a border run?” By the time Songkran came I didn’t feel like such an alien and I realized my stress had completely disappeared. Soaked in water for 3 days with a new way of thinking, I decided to give Thailand a real go. During my time there I heard experienced expats talk about owning property and how people have been screwed signing their houses or businesses to Thais. I decided that would be me. My Thai had gotten much better and I spoke with the locals. They said if I had my birth certificate all I had to do was show it to get my Thai ID. It should take only a week or so. Yeahhhhhh, right!
The ID obsession
After hiding out in Buriram for a couple weeks during the red shirt invasion, I flew to my parent's home mainly to get my documents but also because my visa had run out again. While there I did my research. With my expired Thai passport from when I was a kid I could get a temporary passport outside of Thailand. This rule is for any Thai national stranded outside the country to be able to get a temp to fly back home. I sent the application into the Thai consulate in Los Angeles.
In Thailand if you’re not already in the system to get your ID you need a document named “tabian baan’ which lists all the people at the family home. I was able to get a copy of this from the Thai Embassy in Washington DC for the house we lived at in 1975. This was a very old version of the tabian baan. My house in Udorn was demolished and replaced by the new Central mall in Udorn. But at least it showed an address with my name on a house in Udorn. Right after I got my temporary Thai passport I flew back to Thailand. Documents in hand:
* Temporary passport, Copy of old tabian baan, birth certificate.
* Expired Thai passport from when I was younger.
* All American passports I had kept to date and my current.
* Family pictures from every age of my life that I could find.
* Mother’s expired Thai ID and passport, parents' marriage certificate.
* US naturalization papers, adoptions papers with my name change.
* Many other documents not listed.
I made 5 photocopies of everything and put it all into a folder. This ended up saving lots of time and made things painless for the Thai official. I had read on other posts that they had been sent home purely because the official didn’t feel like doing his work that day or more importantly didn’t want to put his name on the line for you.
July 2010 – Back in Bangkok. Normally for a Thai once you have a Thai ID you can renew your ID anywhere in the country once you are in the computer system. Being this is my first Thai ID I would have to go back to my amphur (home town where I am registered) which is Udorn. My only surviving family members that I could locate are my mother’s younger brother and his son who was raising chickens in Bangkok (mostly for rooster fights). I flew myself and my first time flyer cousin to Udorn and was at the government office by 8 AM. After being passed around from person to person we met up with an official who didn’t really want anything to do with us. He looked at all my documents, spoke with my mother back in the US on the phone then disappeared to lunch without letting us know. He came back from lunch and showed obvious disappointment that I was still sitting on the bench outside the building. He asked if I had relatives and I mentioned my cousin but he mentioned we hadn’t grown up together and wanted my uncle there. To his disappointment I said my uncle would be there tomorrow. I got a hotel and my uncle was driven from Kalasin, 5 hours away.
The next day my uncle showed up in a tiny Toyota with a driver and a bunch of villagers in the back of the truck. It was a mess. My uncle tried to bribe the official and all these villagers were saying they were my relatives which they weren’t. Ultimately the official got frustrated and I started doing the talking. I spoke a little Lao to my uncle so the official was a little impressed by that and started talking to me. With all my documents he was pretty convinced I was telling the truth. What really helped was my photo passport from when I was 8 years old and a mess of pictures showing my face from 8 years to now. Eventually he said “Ok, ok” and filed all my paperwork, typed up a case and had me uncle, cousin and villagers sign the documents. Yes, the 3 guys I didn’t even know signed too. The official said come back tomorrow and walked out the door. I set everyone up in a hotel, fed them, bought beers and had a good time catching up with my uncle. Victory! Picking up my ID the next day.
The next day I woke up a hungover uncle and newly acquired family members and carted them to the government building. The official handed me a folder with a copy off all the documents I had photocopied when I was in the US. They kept one copy for themselves. I’m looking around to see where I need to get a photo taken and he says I need to be put onto my uncle’s tabian baan. I asked why. He said my house didn’t exist anymore in Udorn and my tabian baan was invalid and I needed to be put into a family’s house. What he did yesterday was type up the case to be transferred to Kalasin where my uncle owns his home. We load up the truck. Me, my cousin, my uncle, the villagers and some newly acquired chicken squeezed into the truck for the 5-hour drive to Kalasin. Paid the driver and stayed in my uncle’s farm house. I didn’t get a wink of sleep. I was on the floor staring through the wooden planks at roosters under the house who wouldn’t shut up.
Morning came. I rounded the troops and show up with the folder to the Kalasin official. The same process of interrogation started all over again and another day of the same as Udorn. I paid for lunch for the whole office. This was a very small rural office. After lunch they scanned my thumbprint on a thumb scanner and FINALLY I was standing in front of a camera with a girl powdering my face and I got my picture taken. They said I was the first farang to ever get their ID at that office. I was so happy and relieved. But instead of getting my ID they handed me a yellow piece of paper with my picture on it and said, “This is your temporary ID. Come back in 4 months for your hard ID”. What? Can you send it? “No” They needed my thumb print to release the ID. After my initial disappointment, I was happy. At least I was officially in the Thai system and I had real documentation saying I was a Thai citizen.
I said goodbye to my uncle and gave him some money. The villagers lined up as if they were in the military. I went down the row and handed out cash. After all, they did sign for me even though they weren't asked to. Lots of smiles and hugs saying ‘pee nong’ meaning family. My cousin and I had to get back to Udorn to catch our flight back to Bangkok. At the airport I surprised my cousin by walking him to the gate and sending him home alone. I had just gotten my citizenship and was at the place of my birth. He could sense I wanted to stay. I gave my cousin some money for his children’s schooling. I checked into the nearest hotel and washed all the dirt, bugs, and chicken shit off myself and crashed hard.
The next afternoon I went to the passport office by myself in Udorn with my temporary yellow piece of paper and within 20 minutes had my official Thai passport. That was a cool feeling. I stayed for a few days and visited my grandmother’s ashes. I also found familiar markets and railroad tracks from when I was a child and traced my way back to my old home. Sure enough there was a mall where my house used to be.
Back at Bangkok I had a decision. Fly back to the US for 4 months while waiting for my hard ID? I already screwed up my career for being away from work for 6 months. Why not 4 more and get this ID business behind me? Besides, why pay for another $1500 round trip flight. During the 4 months I completed a TEFL course and a Thai culture class. I started teaching Business Computing English for a company to clients around Bangkok. 4 months had gone by and I called the Kalasin office. More bad news, this time political. Yellow shirts and red shirts were fighting over an emblem on the new Thai ID and they quit printing them causing a delay. By this time I landed a job with the United Nations as their IT representative so I wasn’t as worried. The next year in July 2011, one year after I started this whole ordeal, I called again and they had my ID. I was already in the system working as a Thai national so I put it off a few months.
Around the rainy season I made a solo trip by bus to Kalasin, spent a night with my uncle and went to do my thumb scan the next day. They handed me my ID and played it off like it was no big deal and thanked everyone.
On the bus ride back I had the ID clutched in my hand most of the way. I kept peeking at it. I was smiling and shaking my head, laughing inside. Such a trivial thing to everyone else on the bus. I just remember the countryside was so beautiful and knowing this was also my country now!
Back in Bangkok I showed the ID off to anyone who would listen calling it my $1000 ID because that’s what it cost for all the travel, tips, hotels and food from the time I left Bangkok until I got back. In retrospect it cost a lot more than that. The ID was a joke to everyone saying “why a farang have ID haha”. I think only my mother understood the significance of the accomplishment.
Realistically you can fly to your hometown, do the paperwork and fly back 4 months later to receive the ID. If anyone needs help going through this process I'd be glad help: [email protected]
Congratulations on getting what was rightfully yours and seeing it through to the end.