Thailand, for decades, has been a bucket list destination for backpackers, retirees and long-term travelers. Yet in terms of its long-term visa options, the choices used to be limited. Fortunately, the arrival of the Thailand Elite visa program in 2003 changed all of that. Let’s have a look at the program’s pros and cons below…
Thailand Elite Visa: Is it worth it in 2023?
Thailand is renowned as one of the world’s top travel destinations. The country’s islands and beaches are world renowned, and Chiang Mai, in the interior, is a hub for remote workers.
In 2019, the country welcomed over 39 million tourists, and its capital, Bangkok, won the title of “Most Popular City Destination – 2017” in the Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index.
Plus, given the country’s low cost of living, it is an obvious option for long-term, budget conscious travelers – like digital nomads, as well as retirees. (We gave the country a score of “3/7 – Inexpensive” in our Sovereign Cost of Living Index.)
Yet as in many other parts of Asia, the Thai authorities would love you to come visit – but generally not to stay there permanently.
The Thailand Elite Visa program passed the 20,000 membership milestone in 2022. The pandemic saw the program’s popularity surge, especially among Chinese nationals, who were trying to escape the draconian lockdowns in their home country.
But whether the program will work for you – or not – will mostly depend on what your objectives are.
And while none of Team Sovereign Research have had the need to apply for the program, we’ve had some friends and associates who use (and love) the program, and are now living the good life in the Land of Smiles.
How the program works
The Thai Elite program is essentially a VIP membership club that entitles you to the so-called Privileged Entry (PE) Tourist Visa.
It’s worth highlighting that the Thailand Elite Visa is NOT a classical residency program like the D7 or the Non-Lucrative Visa. All it buys you is time-limited access to the country. It will expire, and at that point you will have to pay again if you wish to continue staying in Thailand.
The program has a variety of membership tiers – valid for 5 years, 10 years, and 20 years, respectively – and each tier has differing benefits. Technically, each visa lasts only five years, but in the higher membership tiers, at least one renewal is included in your application fee. On the top tier, for example, you become eligible to stay in Thailand for as long as 20 years.
But keep in mind that on any membership tier you will only be able to stay in Thailand uninterruptedly for one year, after which you will have to leave the country – or apply for an extension.
The membership tiering at a glance
|Program Tier||Membership Validity||Cost||Cost per Year|
|Elite Easy Access||5 Years||THB 600 000|
(~$18,238) per member
(~$3,647) per member
|Family Excursion||5 Years||THB 800 000|
(~$24,323) for 2 members
THB 300 000
(~$4,875) for 2 main members
|Elite Privilege Access||10 Years|
(2 x 5-Year Visas)
(~$30,402) for 1 member
(~$3,046) per main member
|Elite Alternative||10 Years|
(2 x 5-Year Visas)
(~$24,323) for 1 member
(~$2,436) per main member
|Elite Superiority Extension||20 Years|
(4 x 5-Year Visas)
(~$30,402) for 1 member
(~$1,553) for 1 member
|Elite Ultimate Privileges||20 Years|
(4 x 5-Year Visas)
(~$60,804) for 1 member.
(There is also a THB 20,000 (~$609) annual fee)
(~$3,046) for 1 member
(Plus THB 20,000 (~$609) annual fee)
Pros and cons of the Thailand Elite Visa program
Is the Thai Elite Visa worth it? We let you decide below – starting with the cons…
IT’S NOT A RESIDENCY PROGRAM: The key “shortcoming” of the program is that it does not lead to any sort of permanent legal status in Thailand (i.e. permanent residency or citizenship). The program is essentially what one critic called a “glorified tourist visa” – albeit one that allows you to spend up to 20 years in the country.
So if your plan is to gain permanent residency, or to naturalize outside of your home country, then Thailand is a non-starter.
IT’S EXPENSIVE: With a base program pricing of $18,238 for a single applicant – that’s $3,647 per year, or $304 per month – the Thailand Elite Visa is pretty pricey.
Only you can decide if it’s worth it, BUT… Considering that accommodation is over 40% higher in a city like Lisbon than in Bangkok… and that restaurant meals are over 90% higher in Lisbon than in the Thai capital… you can see how the overall cost of living in Thailand could be significantly more affordable.
YOU CAN’T GET A JOB THERE: You need a work permit to get a job in Thailand, and the Thailand Elite Visa does not offer this as a perk. (Remember, you’re technically a tourist.)
THERE’S STILL RECURRING VISA ADMIN INVOLVED: Even though you’re on a VIP tourist visa package, you still have to report to the Thai immigration authorities every three months. Or, to be precise, your passport does…
But rather than going down to the immigration authorities offices and standing in line with regular visa holders in that signature Thai humidity, you can simply drop your passport off at a Thailand Elite Visa office – they’ll complete this step for you.
(Thailand Elite have offices in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai.)
Alternatively, you can also do it yourself online, by mail or in person at your nearest Thai immigration office.
But now, let’s look at the program’s benefits…
A SIMPLE ONLINE APPLICATION PROCESS: Unlike with various other digital nomad visas and residency programs, you won’t need to visit a Thai embassy to apply for your Elite Visa. You can simply complete the process online here.
FAST VISA PROCESSING: Once you’ve submitted your application online, you can expect to get approved in around four to six weeks.
AMPLE LIFESTYLE PERKS: Apart from the visa itself, you can look forward to a VIP airport meet-and-greet service, exclusive airport lounge access, fast-track airport security checks, as well as access to a 24 Program Concierge line and up to 24 limousine rides per year from your hotel or residence to the airport.
Moreover, some of the higher program tiers – such as the Elite Ultimate Privilege Membership – offers some very exclusive perks, including complimentary golf green fees (24 vouchers per calendar year), 24 spa treatments per calendar year, as well as a complimentary annual health check-up.
SPECIAL MEMBERSHIP DISCOUNTS: Visa holders also benefit from exclusive discounts at King Power Duty-Free branches, select hotels, dining establishments, leading department stores, shopping malls, and more.
Many commentators in the investment migration industry are quick to point out the Thailand Elite Visa program’s shortcomings – most notably the fact that it won’t lead to Thai PR or a passport.
But if you’re simply looking to enjoy long-term stints in Thailand – without the usual visa hassles, and sweetened by some convenient lifestyle perks – then the Thailand Elite program could be well worth considering.