Westerner Gets Thai Citizenship

Interview with David B | Thai Citizenship Process | Getting a Thai I. D. card | Advice for expats looking at Thailand

Thai Passport I have known about David B for a number of years, but recently he has accomplished what some feel is nearly impossible. So an interview seemed in order.

Coming to Thailand

Yaiban - I know that you have lived in Thailand or a number of years. What events lead up to your moving here? Where did you live in Thailand?
David B. - I am originally from England, and I was working in London in the pharmaceutical industry as a laboratory technician. One of my friends had just come back from a year traveling around the world, and she was my main inspiration for doing what was my first trip by myself abroad, save for the occasional booze cruise to France with my mates to get cheap duty frees. I didn't have much money, so I got a working holiday visa for Australia, thinking that I would travel through Asia, then spend some time in Oz, then go back home to England via the USA.

On my first visit to Thailand, in 1988 on my way to Australia, I fell in love with the place. People who have been there will know what I mean. I was only 23 at the time and traveled all over the country over a period of around two months. I was overwhelmed at how friendly the place seemed, I loved the hot climate, the food and how easy and cheap it was to travel around. I really didn’t want to leave, but my money was running out, so I traveled through Malaysia and Indonesia to spend a great year in Australia.

Once my one year Working Holiday visa in Australia was up, I decided to change my plan and go back to England via Thailand rather than though the US. I had saved some money in Australia and figured that I could spend around six months in Thailand before going home. At the time, 1989, there was a severe recession in the UK and I was not eager to get back there, so I thought I would take it easy in Thailand for a while, teaching English to supplement my income.

Yaiban - How long did it take for you to reach a comfort level?
David B. - Around a year. Once my money ran out, I found myself living off a rather meager income teaching English. You can survive on it, but only just and I was planning to leave. The turning point for me came when I started teaching some expatriate Japanese housewives, businessmen and their kids freelance. The money was better, and I got a name for myself as a good teacher, even though I probably wasn’t.

The Japanese are a very close knit community, and soon I was getting lots of referrals for students that I had no time to teach. I then started farming out work to other teachers, making commission in the process, and for the first time in my life felt wealthy. The problem was, at that time there was no way that I could regularise the business that had started around me and make it legal, or at the time I didn’t see a way, so I gave it up and went into selling heavy machinery for European manufacturers.

This enabled me to register a company, which in turn allowed me to get a work permit and visa extensions without having to leave the country. I suppose only then did I feel comfortable.

Yaiban - What aspects of living in Thailand do you find most pleasant?
David B. - Thailand has a feel to it that is impossible to describe. I love the place. In particular, when you look at how expatriates are treated in other parts of the world, you realise how tolerant that Thais are.

Yaiban - What aspects of living in Thailand do you find unpleasant?
David B. - Doing business in Thailand can be frustrating – political uncertainly and the penchant to procrastinate can make it hard to get things done.

Yaiban - What is your profession?
David B. - The financial crisis in 1997 meant that I could no longer sell machinery, so I went into the IT industry where I have been ever since. Good money, but I miss working for myself and am looking for a way to get back there.

Yaiban - Did you have to organize your own work permit, and what level of difficulty did you experience in getting it?
David B. - I had a lawyer do it for me. The paperwork necessary to support the work permit and visa applications was too complicated, and he didn’t charge much for a very good level of service.

Yaiban - What rate of tax are you required to pay on your salary? Are you required to pay a certain level of tax on your income regardless of your salary?
David B. - Thai Personal Income Tax is scaled according to income. For a higher level of income, you pay tax at similar rates as in the west.

Yaiban - How does your salary compare to the Thais that your work with? Do / did you experience much jealousy from your Thai co-workers?
David B. - I was always in managerial positions, and positions where I had technical or business expertise that commanded a premium, so my level of pay was higher. There is a consensus that foreigners earn more than a Thai for a similar position, but this difference is narrowing now that Thais are getting more experienced and capable. I did not disclose my salary, but in any case I never got the feeling that Thais were jealous. We all worked happily together.

Yaiban - Did you apply for a Residency Permit as soon as you were eligible? What were the requirements? How was your interview? What was that experience like?
David B. - I was on yearly visas and never bothered looking into residency until a friend of mine got his. I then decided to apply, more as a safeguard against the rule changes that cause yearly visa holders so much uncertainty. The experience was easier than I thought. I applied at the end of 1997, just as Thailand was being bailed out by the IMF. I got the checklist from immigration and prepared my documents in advance.

The officer who took my application asked me a few questions, and then asked me very pointedly what I thought about the IMF, and how Thailand was the victim of a foreign conspiracy. I replied that I was in full agreement, and asked him what were my chances of success in my PR application. He told me that I was the seventeenth UK applicant that year, and that based on my application I had around a 90% probability of success. I was called for interview a few months later, that proved to be no more than showing my face, getting fingerprinted and signing some documents. I got my PR a few more months after that. The process is harder now, so I believe.

Yaiban - When did you apply for Thai citizenship? What were the requirements? How was your interview? What was that experience like?