Explainer: Why does it take so long to get Thai nationality?
National taekwondo coach Choi Young-seok finally achieved his dream of becoming a full Thai national this year, after leading Thailand to Olympic glory. But people are still confused over why he had to wait 20 years to get Thai citizenship despite being a hero in his adopted country.
The Nation explains why it takes so long for foreigners like Choi to become fully Thai and enjoy all the benefits that come with citizenship.
2002: Coach Choi begins work in Thailand
The Taekwondo Association of Thailand employs Coach Choi on February 1, 2002.
Choi fits the job description as a former South Korean national taekwondo athlete with experience as coach of the Bahrain squad.
2004: First Olympic medal
Coach Choi takes over a national team that barely registers in international competitions, as taekwondo is not popular in Thailand. All that changes after just two years, when he leads Thailand to its first Olympic taekwondo medal as Yaowapa Boorapolchai wins bronze at the 2004 Athens Games.
Like many expats, Choi begins falling in love with Thai life, but he remains reluctant to renounce his South Korean citizenship.
The love is reciprocated by Thai people as Choi leads his athletes to medal success at every Olympics, culminating in Panipak Wongpattanakit winning Thailand’s first Olympic taekwondo gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Apart from this, Thailand also won so many goal medals in the Asian Games that the origin country South Korea had to keep an eye on Thailand and Coach Choi.
2011: Submits application for Thai citizenship
After 10 years living and working in Thailand, Coach Choi finally takes the big step and notifies authorities of his desire to become a Thai citizen. He and his employer, the Taekwondo Association of Thailand, send in applications in 2011. But there's a catch...
2021: Gives up South Korean citizenship
Like many people living overseas, Choi has deep family ties back in his birth country. He knows that renouncing his South Korean citizenship would hurt the feelings of his grandmother. The law mandates South Koreans cannot hold dual citizenship.
But after his grandmother passes away, Choi takes the plunge and gives up Korean citizenship.
"I have stayed in Thailand for almost 20 years and I want to create a life in Thailand as my family lives here. My son is also happy here,” he said.
“My athletes and students are like my sons and daughters. When I am a Thai citizen, [I] will help develop taekwondo in Thailand.”
Choi says it will also be easier to set up a foundation for taekwondo when he becomes Thai.
“I have already decided that I want Thai nationality, I want to become a Thai person who earns a gold medal for Thailand, not a Korean who leads Thai athletes to the Olympic gold medal.”
Requirements for Thai nationality:
One of the reasons for the delay in getting Thai nationality was his refusal to renounce his original citizenship while he was travelling back and forth to South Korea to take care of his sick grandmother.
Once she passes away, he is free to get on with meeting the requirements for Thai citizenship under the Nationality Act.
The Nationality Act lists five requirements for people applying for naturalisation as Thai citizens:
- Must be at least 18 years old
- Well-behaved with a clean criminal record
- Minimum income of 80,000 baht per month (or 40,000 if married to a Thai citizen) with three years of unbroken work permits from Thai employer
- A minimum of 5 years permanent residency in Thailand
- Knowledge of the Thai language
The government can revoke Thai citizenship if there is evidence that the naturalised person is still using their former nationality.
February 3, 2022: Coach Choi finally becomes a Thai citizen
After passing all the requirements and having his application processed, the Royal Gazette finally announces that Choi Young-seok – now known by his chosen Thai name of Chatchai Choi – is a Thai national.
“I feel more relaxed now that I am completely Thai,” he said. “[I] do not have to apply for a visa, do not have to apply for a work permit in Thailand anymore.
“Now, I will buy a house for myself and my family,” Choi said, adding that he was looking forward to voting just like other Thais.
As well as owning property and ditching the work permit and visas, naturalised Thais like Choi can also start a business and hold over 49% of shares in a Thai company.