South-East Asia is changing and some of that which initially attracted many expats to the region is disappearing. In Thailand, some expat residents wonder how welcome they are as visa regulations tighten up. In Vietnam, English teachers face increasingly stringent requirements that many have little chance of meeting. In the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, western business owners are coming to grips with the enforcement of existing but long-neglected laws. And over in Angeles City, barfining prostitutes has become a game of cat and mouse as the authorities take a greater interest in the bar industry. Is it any coincidence this is all happening at the same time?
The first wave of Westerners to arrive in Thailand was the US military in the '60s who used the country as a base. They made a positive impression, pumping serious money in to the country, building roads and airports and improving infrastructure.
Two generations later and the impression modern day Thais have of Westerners in Thailand is shaped by reports showing outsiders less favourably. Just yesterday the front page of Thai Rath, the nation's biggest daily, featured a mentally disturbed Swiss citizen who put a bullet in his Western-educated, high-society Thai wife's head before turning the gun on himself.
Parts of late-night downtown Bangkok are an open air whorehouse as white men carouse with country girls in makeshift streetside bars, all in breach of various laws.
Once seen by Thais as wealthy, worldly and sophisticated, today whitey is viewed in a different light. Depraved, uncouth, argumentative and with little regard for his personal reputation, many Thais see the armies of white men in the country as barbarians out of control. Farang fatigue has well and truly set in.
Some recent law amendments are distinctly anti-foreigner, from the tightening up of company registration laws, to onerous labour laws and now an increasingly restrictive immigration policy.
Vietnam is attracting more foreigners, especially the teaching industry.
Vietnam's farang ghetto of Pham Ngu Lao may not be the hustle and bustle of Khao San Road, but the backpacker crowd is every bit as disrespectful to the local culture in Vietnam as they are in Khao San and elsewhere across the region.
Foreigners are flocking to Vietnam and amongst them are many English teachers. For those not on the international school circuit, US dollar denominated salaries in Vietnam exceed the pittance many language institutes get away with paying in Thailand. The Vietnamese government, however, does not make things easy for prospective teachers and the requirements have been beefed up with minimum qualifications and a minimum number of years experience. Even foreign university lecturers might not meet the requirements, which has some asking whether the powers that be in Vietnam really want foreign teachers at all. At the same time there is huge demand for native-speaking English teachers from a populace eager to learn.
Some policies in Vietnam make one wonder how much they want foreigners involved in the country as the government tries to bring Viet Q (overseas-born Vietnamese or returnees) back to Vietnam, to reduce the reliance on foreigners. However, talented Vietnamese doing well abroad often don't want to return as opportunities are greater elsewhere.
There is the odd rumour that things might tighten up in Cambodia.
Cambodia with its laid-back and friendly people is attracting more and more Westerners, particularly those fed up with Thailand, its endless crackdowns and visa rules which are increasingly difficult to get around.
With fewer employment opportunities and lower salaries for foreigners than its neighbours, some choose to start up a business in Cambodia. The compliance issues which are such a headache for foreign operators in Thailand are much less of an issue in Cambodia. Work permit, what's that? Slip the tax man $100 – $200 every 6 months and he'll leave with a smile large even by Cambodian standards. And a 1-year visa is as simple as completing a form, handing over a photo and paying $300. Expats in Thailand are hugely envious.
As shiny modern office towers soar above the temple spires, government departments have greater expectations to perform. It has been mooted that the day is coming when foreigners employed in Cambodia might actually be required to hold a work permit, and foreign business owners in Phnom Penh report that the tax office is taking a closer look and is hungrier with foreign-run businesses.
And let's not forget that it's just a few years since Cambodia put in place the rule where foreigners aged 50+ may not be allowed to marry a Cambodian, and foreigners aged below 50 can only marry a local if they can show an income in excess of $2,500 per month. The policy may be waived in instances where the age gap is small or the gentleman concerned is working in Cambodia – where such a monthly income requirement seems unnecessarily high.
Cambodia still retains its charm and laid-back ways, but Western residents say things are changing.
In Laos, foreigners keen to tie the knot may have to pay thousands of dollars under the table.
Anti-foreigner marriage rules are nothing new in the region. Foreigners marrying a Laotian girl quickly discover help is required with an unwritten rule / policy making it difficult – read: expensive – for a foreigner to tie the knot with a Laotian.
Over in Angeles City in the Philippines, the city's long-running and much respected commentator Harry The Horse has reported in recent months of a crackdown on the city's bars. In the Philippines' equivalent of Pattaya, barfining has become an issue and in some bars you might not be able to pay a barfine and take a lady out of the bar if you are not known in that venue.
Some say these changes in rules, law and the enforcement of laws across the region are due to a shift in power in the region. Where those in power in Thailand were once tight with the US, these days they seem to be cosying up more with China. China's economic emergence and America's relative decline have seen the Thais perhaps not switch allegiance, but they do seem more comfortable with the idea of being closer to China.
But not everyone in South-East Asia has great relationships with China. The Philippines is no great friend of the Chinese and relations between China and Vietnam have recently been strained.
Have we brought the changes in attitudes and regulations upon ourselves?
Is there a connection between the anti-foreigner legislation and declining attitudes towards foreigners sweeping across the region, or is it just a natural part of a country's development?
Have these changes come about because of the way some of us behave? Is it our combined number which is no longer significant? Or is it that we're not as economically dominant as we once were and they just don't need us? Whatever the case, there's a decent argument that in South-East Asia white men are not held in the same regard we once were.
If you're planning on relocating to, or retiring in these parts, things might be a little different to when you first made the decision to move here. You might not be the hansum man you thought you were.
There's a feeling amongst some expats in South-East Asia that their homelands, the West, is open and offers much to outsiders, whereas here it's the opposite with more anti-foreigner rules and legislation. We've always known that across South-East Asia – Singapore aside – countries are protective, petrified that they will not be able to compete in their own backyard if outsiders were granted the same rights as locals and the playing field was level. There's a growing feeling that these countries take more from expats than they give in return. The rights given to and the opportunities available to those from South-East Asia moving to the West are not even close to being reciprocated when foreigners relocate to South-East Asia.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken from the Mochit BTS station with the large car park on the eastern side and the sleeping quarters for the skytrains where they rest at night. What is the building in the centre of this week's photo and if you're really clever, where exactly was this photo taken from?
FROM STICK'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick.) Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week's column.
EMAIL OF THE WEEK – Cracking down on dodgy geezers.
I understand why Thailand finally decided to clamp down on back-to-back visa abuse. I'm sympathetic towards guys who've taken up residence here, and the arbitrary nature of Thai immigration laws is not laudable. But consider the bigger picture: how many countries simply allow people of many different countries to de facto emigrate without any bona fides other than a passport? How many of these back-to-back visa-runners are guys teaching English to scrape by, how many are die-hard sexpats, how many have criminal records and are scamming other foreigners to get by? I don't know, and I don't mean to generalise, but anyone who has spent time kicking around the farang ghettos of Bangkok and Pattaya has found plenty of Western expats who are simply dodgy characters. Yet they've been allowed de facto emigration as Thai Immigration has turned a blind eye to their popping across the nearest border whenever a visa expires, or paying a “fine” if they overstay. This is no longer a policy – and just in time for the relaxed inter-ASEAN visa regulations slated for 2015.
Immigration system needs an overhaul.
Remote working is common among tech workers. I worked for a well-known software company called MySQL (their database powers most of the world's websites) – they were interesting in that *everyone* who worked for the company was a remote worker. They are not that unusual. I would have stayed more in Thailand, and spent a lot more, if I could have got an appropriate visa. It's not like I would be a benefit sponger – especially as there are no social welfare systems of substance that one could take advantage of in Thailand anyway! Thailand needs to get its visa situation sorted. They seem to mess it up every time though (they've had a few goes now). This shambles has been going on for far too long, has cost Thailand a fortune, and just keeps getting worse. Well done on giving the issue prominent coverage.
More visa run victims.
Another category of foreigner who will be badly affected by the visa crackdown is the partners of people with visas. At many international schools there are teachers working legally with work permit and visa who brought a partner with them. These unmarried partners do not qualify for visas and often the couples are young with no thought of such a commitment. There were many at my school in Bangkok, and often no-one knew about them before they arrived. They sometimes qualified for TEFL work and were in Thai schools but still had to do visa runs. What will they do now? Will they get married or will the teachers leave the country when their partners have to leave? Or will they be refused entry when they exit the country and try to come back in? I suppose it could become criteria for selection – anyone with an unmarried partner will be unable to get a job! I suspect that given the recruitment cycle there are already couples where one has a job offer who will not turn up in August for the start of the school year because of this.
Different consulate, different border crossing, different rules.
So there is to be another visa crackdown. It seems this happens, or is supposed to happen, every other year. The pet hate of the authorities has been the back to back 30 days on arrival stamps. Without the abuse of this by so many for so long, I don't think we would see so much of these crackdowns. When things change with visas, a major issue is the rules. What are they, exactly? And how will they be enforced? We have always had to relate to such different practices, depending on where we go. Consulates have often been more liberal in issuing visas than embassies. Some border crossings have been preferred over others. Up in Mae Sai they had a rule that said you needed 20,000 baht in cash to re-enter on a back-to-back stamp. But there's no such rule if you arrive by air. Whatever changes are made this time around, there is one thing I do not think we will see – clear and consistently enforced rules.
When a problem is left to fester.
Legislation is created and passed in to law with good faith. The intention of the law is clear but there is either an error in phrasing or an omission and somebody finds it. The error is used to subvert the intent of the law and you have your quintessential loophole. Logic would dictate that you go back and fix the problem right away. The problem is that you are dealing with politicians who believe in their own infallibility and refuse to see even simple errors. The problem is ignored, in this case for years, until the pain to the government becomes unbearable. At this point the intent is enforced in a draconian manner, so as to hurt the maximum number of people and cause the maximum amount of embarrassment to the officials, when all it would have taken was a small amendment years ago to prevent all this. If the Immigration Department is serious about this crackdown, there should be provisions made to make it easier for individuals who have been here for years and have not been a drain on Thailand to get a type of visa that would allow them to stay or loosen the provisions of an existing visa category. They have proved themselves to be good citizens after years living in country. I think that is wishful thinking though, and I expect this to turn into a total nightmare where even tourists get caught in the crossfire of an overzealous border officer. Surely the country is running out of toes by now. It has shot itself in the foot so often.
What the bargirls worry about.
A few female bar staff I have known well for a few years confide that when they return from work in the early hours the first thing they do is to telephone each other to ensure they made it home safely after their taxi journeys. On a similar theme I was speaking to a gogo dancer of my acquaintance (in my hotel room) and I asked why she was seemingly wearing spanx (quite large body forming underwear) and she told me that they were a last line of defence against any would be taxi driver attack.
A great night out.
For a great night out, I am surprised more people don't go to Spasso's. Sure, it is more expensive than Cowboy or Nana, and it is not a place you would go all the time. But every 6 months or so it makes for a welcome change. I went there last might with my girlfriend and a visiting mate. We weren't looking for any action, but it was great fun watching the mating ritual, listening to the band, and just generally relaxing. Definitely my favourite place in town.
Did you hear about the 68-year old Farang who came into Starbucks with his hot 19-year old gogo girl wife? His friends asked, "How did you get this fox to marry an old 68-year old like you?" Easy, I told her I was 88!
Girl of the week
August, Bangkok-based escort
Escort exclusive with BangkokEscort.com
The return of Nanapong-branded dance contests is official with August 14th the date of their comeback. The legendary Nanapong dance contests were special and something I thought we'd never see again, but one of the main organisers has come out of retirement to put at least 2 together. If you have even a passing interest in the gogo bars, do yourself a favour and keep Thursday, August 14th free. Full details on location, time and which bars will be competing in next week's column.
What came first – Randy or Goldfinger? No-one can quite figure that one out but what is known is that Randy's 28 years in Patpong are coming to an end. August 14th will be Randy's last day in the Goldfinger, the Patpong soi 1 gogo bar with the most laid-back atmosphere and a following amongst long-termers. Randy will leave Goldfinger to take on a new challenge managing a cigar bar.
Voodoo Bar in Nana Plaza might have seemed like just another ladyboy bar to those not in to cocks in frocks, but to ladyboy aficionados it was entirely different to all the other ladyboy bars and the cocks in frocks moniker was in fact not accurate at all. All of the ladyboys in Voodoo were post-op i.e. they had had the chop. They will be looking for a new place to shake their silicone watermelons as Voodoo becomes the latest Nana Group to be sold. The buyer, I believe, is a Singaporean and the bar has already closed for refurbishing. Word is that it will go back to its roots and be a girly bar, meaning the number of ladyboy bars in Nana drops by one. Voodoo is one of the oldest bar names in the plaza and in the '90s was widely regarded as the best bar in the plaza. Turning Voodoo in to a ladyboy bar damaged the brand so a new name and concept might help.
And the Nana Group have finally offloaded the empty bar spaces on the top floor of the plaza, directly opposite Billboard. They may have been empty for a year, but rent was being paid all that time so I bet they are thrilled to be out. The last bar to operate in that space was Lone Star which was featured on Thai TV when it was busted for having dancers not of legal age and ordered closed. The bar was stripped and is but a shell so expect it to be some time before a new bar opens. It has been secured by the same fellow who bought Angelwitch 2 which will be renamed to London Calling in the next 2 weeks and will drop the agency coyotes girls and have just a handful of their own.
The Nana Group now just needs to offload Wild Thing, a bar they have long tried hard to make work but which has failed to develop a following under 3 guises – Las Vegas, Tokyo Player and now Wild Thing.
Still in the plaza, Hot Lips is listed for sale on Craigslist for 12 million baht.
Business in the bars and restaurants of Sukhumvit may be better than a few weeks ago but it's down on last week when many reported an upturn. Was increased trade last week an aberration?
The going rate for coyotes in many bars on Soi Cowboy is 3,000 baht. Doesn't sound like such a bad deal, does it? The thing is, that's just the barfine – and she is going to want at least that to stare at the ceiling for a few minutes, perhaps twice that to stay the night.
Is The Game, the sports bar under the Nana BTS station and beside Sukhumvit soi 9, planning on competing with soi 7's Biergarten? It seems that way as washed-up available crones hang from the front ledge during the day, chain-smoking and cat-calling out to passersby. If The Game is looking at competing with the Biergarten then so be it, otherwise these old ducks ought to be sent packing because their carry on puts off the typical sports-following customer The Game appeals to.
Speaking of Sukhumvit soi 7, the entire corner of Sukhumvit Road and soi 7 including all of the vendors which peddled tourist junk souvenirs has been levelled, all the way up to and including where the popular outdoor food centre was, and the space cleared and fenced off in preparation for construction. The pavement of that section of Sukhumvit Road is now free of vendors making it much easier to walk past than it has been in years.
On the pedestrian overbridge near Sukhumvit soi 7, someone clearly doesn't like corruption!
Popular Sukhumvit soi 23 British pub Crossbar will close for renovations from 11 PM next Saturday, August 2nd. In an effort to clear stock, it will be 80 baht all day for bottled beer, small draught beer and house spirits. It is hoped Crossbar will reopen the following Saturday after the changes have been completed. A reopening party will be organised, the date to be announced.
A few bars benefited this week from what is probably the largest sex tour group ever to run through Bangkok. Some months ago Bangkok bar bosses and Bangkok nightlife website webmasters were contacted by the self-described high-end, luxury sex tour and swinger group operators who were looking for partners to show their clients Bangkok by night. There was much talk of how this was a group of high rollers with the participants described as professionals by day and perverts by night. Bar bosses scrambled to get involved and this past Wednesday, Thursday and Friday bar bosses across Bangkok's 3 foreigner bar areas rolled out the red carpet as 60 bona fide sex tour tourists filled bars. The sex tourist group is sailing around the region, wife-swapping at sea and sex spot sightseeing on land. The 5-star tour promised participants swinging and wild orgies on a luxury yacht along with guided tours of the nightlife industry in Bangkok, Singapore and elsewhere, at a cost of 5 figures USD.
For those who prefer more conventional travel, the latest Lonely Planet Guide to Thailand appeared on the shelves of Asia Books stores this week. Browsing through the July 2014 edition, the city's naughty nightlife gets the briefest of mentions. At 800 pages it seems smaller than previous editions and is priced at 995 baht.
I notice that bottles of Beer Lao are finally available in supermarkets in Bangkok – it might have been available for a while but I long ago gave up looking for the region's best beer outside of the bars. 49 baht gets you the lager at Foodland, and it's 52 baht for the dark.
Stumble Inn, Soi Nana's best beer bar, has a new specials board featuring Australian steak, New Zealand lamb shanks and American-style hot dogs. All dishes are served all day, every day and draught lager is only 100 baht a pint from 9 AM – 6 PM.
TAT (The Tourism Authority of Thailand) has confirmed details of the travel insurance policies it is offering to travellers who may not be able to get travel insurance valid for Thailand at home. Rates start at just 650 baht and appear significantly lower than what you would pay for a travel insurance policy at home. There are no exclusion clauses related to martial law. Being unable to take out travel insurance is no longer a valid reason to hold off traveling to Thailand. For more details, go to: www.tourismthailand.org/thailandtravelshield.
The new overstay rules have NOT become law yet and anyone on a long-term overstay should heed the warnings and get themselves sorted now i.e. leave the country immediately via the airport, pay the 20,000 baht fine, get a valid visa and return if you so wish. Once the new rules come in to effect, anyone in Thailand whose permission to stay has expired who is picked up by police or immigration authorities will be deported and barred from entering the country for a period, irrespective of the length of the overstay. Anyone who has overstayed their visa by less than 90 days who exits the country of their own volition (i.e. without being picked up by the authorities first) may return to the country without having to sit out a minimum stand-down period. And to those on long-term overstay who think they can just stick it out, presumably until death, remember that if you so much as come across a police checkpoint where your passport is demanded, or you happen to be the victim of a crime, your status will likely be discovered…and the inevitable will happen. Get it sorted out now!
I have to admit ignorance at the extent of the overstay situation, both the number of people who have overstayed and the length of time some of these people have overstayed. A friend at a law firm told me of two clients they helped this week to get out of the country with nothing more than a 20,000 baht fine, and presumably a good telling off. One had overstayed 11 years and the other 14!
Several months back the Thai Consulate in Hull in the UK tightened up on the issuance of visas and put in place a new policy requiring visa applicants to apply at the consulate in person. The consulate would no long issue multiple-entry non-immigrant B visas and the paperwork for any non-immigrant visa now has to be forwarded to the embassy in London for processing. Amongst Brits in the know, Hull was long known as a soft touch. It's not just the UK where the issuance of visas for Thailand has been tightened up as three more consulates also known as being a soft touch are no longer issuing visas with the ease they used to. The nearest mission known to issue triple-entry tourist visas (which if used correctly allow the holder to stay in Thailand for 9 months) was the Thai consulate in Bali. However, that consulate no longer issues triple tourist visas and neither will it issue a new tourist visa to anyone who has just flown in from Thailand and recently used a tourist visa. And further south in Australia, the Thai consulates in Brisbane and Melbourne – each been known for excellent service – are now required to forward the paperwork for non-immigrant visa applications to the Thai embassy in Canberra. What was once a quick process is now quoted as taking 2 weeks and word is that's the end of back to back multiple entry non-immigrant visas for Aussies.
It's not all bad news from the Immigration Department. If you arrive in the country on a visa waiver stamp – that's the 30 days permission to stay that holders of passports issued by Western countries arriving in Thailand get automatically – you can now extend it for 30 days in country at any branch of Immigration, for 1,900 baht, starting August 29th. Prior to this, you could extend a visa waiver stamp for 7 days only.
It is not only Westerners affected by the new visa rules crackdown, but Thais too, at least indirectly. A report ran on the gory late-night news show "Reung Jing Parn Jaw" this past Thursday where a Thai man threatened to kill himself because his Lao girlfriend who had been making frequent visa runs was refused entry back in to Thailand. The Thai man climbed high up a mobile phone tower and threatened to jump. Fortunately, some 4 hours later, the authorities coaxed him down to safety.
MANY foreigners are talking of relocating and moving on from the country after being burned by the visa rules. Looking for somewhere that is an easy touch visa-wise, the obvious choice is Cambodia. To all those foreigners considering heading east, I say think again. Cambodia, Phnom Penh in particular, is a great place for a break from Bangkok, but I imagine living there is very different to living in Bangkok. Yes, the people are nicer and the cost of living much lower, but jobs pay much less there. Think long and hard before you make a move.
For those on ED visas, some of the agents / fixers who were previously able to assist people get an ED visa may no longer be able to. Getting an ED visa through the back door has become problematic.
One Thai language school which promoted language courses to the sizeable Filipino community in Bangkok and provided the paperwork to get a visa charged just 12,000 baht. When it became clear that this visa crackdown was real and demand for visas increased, so too did the price which shot up to 20,000 baht. When there was no drop-off in demand at the price it went up again, to 29,000 baht. The demand for ED visas is huge as some are desperate to stay in Thailand legally. I wonder if the days of 1-year Thai language courses priced at 25,000 odd baht will soon be behind us. Thai language schools could probably add 10,000 baht to their prices and I bet there'd be no drop in demand.
Reports have reached me of Immigration visiting Thai language schools, enquiring about students' attendance and following up with those who have not attended class. They are checking whether students really can speak Thai – or whether they are merely signing up for a language course to get a visa – and if this is found to be the case the visa will be cancelled. At one school a student who had not attended class was invited to the local police station where both Immigration and police spoke to him in Thai. His Thai was non-existent despite being a student for some time. His visa was cancelled.
In another case at Don Meuang Airport, Immigration police stopped those getting off a flight from a neighbouring country who had an ED visa and they were asked questions in Thai to check their proficiency in the language. I don't know what happened to those whose Thai was poor, but one can guess. Whether these are isolated cases or such checks are being carried out in a more systematic manner isn't known, but it suggests that use of the ED visa to remain in Thailand is being cracked down on by the authorities – which is exactly what pretty much everyone who has been following the visa crackdown saga predicted would happen. I don't wish to scaremonger, but next will likely be the widespread abuse of those on retirement visas who make fake declarations about their income or who don't have the requisite 800K bank balance.
Quote of the week comes from Pattaya Gary, "Many of us enjoyed how the Thais tolerated what we were doing, but now they seem to act as if they are superior to promiscuity."
Reader's story of the week comes from Codefreeze, "Night Flight to Singapore".
Irish citizen Matthew Boyle has attracted interest in the Irish press as he is currently missing in Bangkok.
Boganism erupts on a Thai Airways flight from Sydney to Bangkok with Jack Daniels making a special guest appearance.
A Dutchman is arrested in Pattaya and charged with cultivating and selling marijuana back in Holland without a licence.
Roles are reversed as 2 Thai women are swindled for millions of baht by Nigerians they think are a Canadian general.
A Thai student uses coarse, crass language to describe a foreign female teacher in a school classroom.
Ghostwriting applications for Thai students applying to prestigious US universities has become big business.
Ask Sunbelt Asia Legal
Sunbelt Asia's legal department is here to answer your questions relating to legal issues and the law in Thailand. Send any legal questions you may have to me and I will pass them on to Sunbelt Legal and their response will run in a future column. You can contact Sunbelt's legal department directly for all of your legal needs.
Question 1: Recently there have been media reports on enforcement of the 10,000 Baht duty free limit on personal goods. The reporting seems to refer to people bringing goods into Thailand from overseas for re-sale. I have seen this referring to new watches, even if worn. My question relates to an old watch (specifically 2½ years old) I own. I purchased this premium Swiss watch in a gold case in early 2011 in the Middle East while working there. It retails for about 1.3 million baht in Thailand. It shows signs of wear (some scratches etc) and I have full documentation on purchase (receipts, manufacturer's paperwork etc.). The watch is currently in Europe. I live in Thailand under an ED Visa and have done so for 2 years. I will be 50 next year and likely switch to a retirement visa. My question relates to whether I can bring this watch into Thailand on my wrist either under an ED Visa or a retirement visa without paying any duty? Also, what do I need to do regarding any Customs declaration or other actions, regardless of whether I have to pay duty or not? I will never sell this watch so it is a personal possession and will not be resold, but obviously I can only offer my word on this.
As an aside, what would happen and what should I do if I arrive wearing this watch on a visa on arrival, or tourist visa, for a short visit where I would leave the country soon after arrival. I actually did this several times in 2011 when passing through Thailand on the way to Singapore and KL on business and taking a long weekend in Bangkok on the way through. There were no issues with the watch then (at least I was not stopped or questioned), but I wouldn't want to risk any potential problems.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: According to a July 2 report in the Bangkok Post, the new Director General of the Customs Department has denied that visitors bringing new personal items valued at more than 10,000 baht would be required to pay the full duty. It is important to note that duty is applied to new items in general and according to this report only spot checks will be continued as per usual procedure. If you do bring in a new personal item intended for re-sale then it is advised to declare it as well as any alcohol or tobacco you may have. In case you are stopped and do have a new personal item valued over 10,000 baht that the Customs agent would want to charge duty on then you would need to pay the full tax on it or it would be confiscated.
Question 2: I want to buy a condo in Thailand through an offshore company (British Virgin Islands with no bi-lateral tax agreement in place with Thailand). Will this attract any additional purchase fees compared to me purchasing it in my own name? Also, if I live in this condo having purchased it as a company property, does it attract, in theory, a taxable liability (as I suppose I would be gaining benefit by living there either paying a rent or not to the company) and would any tax on this real or theoretical income be paid in Thailand or the country the company is registered in? Consequently, is there then a tax liability to someone living in a condo / house purchased by way of a Thai company (for which I see numerous properties advertised in this way)?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: In order for a foreign entity (whether they are an individual or a juristic entity) to acquire a condominium in Thailand the following conditions must be met:
1. The purchasing funds must be transferred from overseas into their bank account in Thailand.
2. There must be sufficient foreign ownership quota in the condo building (not to exceed 49% of the total area owned by foreign owners).
If you choose to use an offshore company to purchase a condominium, you will need to provide additional information including minutes of meetings as well as certified company registration documents (e.g. affidavit, shareholders list, memorandum of associations, etc.).
If the company that owns the condo decides to collect rent and the money is paid directly to the company offshore then the tax responsibility will lie with the country where the company is registered.
Each condominium has a residence policy in collecting the common property area fee and sinking funds. But generally there would be no other fees if the owner of the unit resided in his / her own unit. But if you are leasing a property, the Thai government may impose a household tax using the rent rate as a calculation which is usually around 12.5%. Sunbelt Asia can assist you in the purchase procedure, checking that the condo quota is valid and can also review the purchase contract to ensure that it contains no loopholes that may cause problems further down the line.
This column is read by a large and varied audience and I know that info which interests some may be of little interest to others. I know that for those holidaying in Thailand coverage and ongoing news reports of the visa crackdown may not interest you and as such I ask you to bear with me. In bars, restaurants, online and across expat society, the visa situation is the topic and as such I am giving it plenty of coverage.
Your Bangkok commentator,