Land area, titles, rights and ownership
The designing and building of a home in Thailand is the easier part of the process. Often, the more complicated part is finding a building plot and then understanding its Title Deed and associated legal rights. Even the units of measurement of area can be a little confusing as they are specific to Thailand, and therefore unfamiliar to most foreigners.
On this page, you will find information which, we hope, will clarify the issues of land area units, Land Titles and their associated legal rights.
You will also find information about the specific rights of foreigners relating to land and property in Thailand.
Units of area
There are three units of measurement commonly used for land in Thailand which are as follows:
1 Talang Wah (Square Wah) is equal to 4 sq.m.
1 Ngan is equal to 100 Talang Wah or 400 sq.m.
1 Rai is equal to 4 Ngan or 400 Talang Wah or 1,600 sq.m.
To put it in other, perhaps more familiar terms:
1 Acre is about 2.5 Rai.
1 Hectare is about 6.25 Rai.
Land titles and rights
Rights to land can be split into two types. The first is ownership by a person who has a title deed and documents relating to the land. The second is the right of possession (Possessory Right) under the Civil and Commercial Code. With the former, there are actually 12 different types of land titles, 7 of which are issued by the Land Department, the remaining 5 by other Government departments.
Nor Sor Si (Nor Sor 4) (Chanote)
This is the highest and strongest title deed and is the only one which can be considered to be a full Land Freehold Title as it conveys full ownership of the land by the named holder. This type of land has had its land area parcel points set by aerial survey. Its boundaries have been accurately surveyed using GPS and physically marked using numbered concrete posts set into the ground. Assuming that no planning or environmental rules are contravened, this type of land may be used for any purpose. The land may also be sold or leased. It is also possible to split this type of land into smaller plots, to sell or lease separately.
Nor Sor Sam Gor (Nor Sor 3 Gor)
This is the second strongest type of title. It signifies the land owner's right to possess the land, without conferring actual possession. As with Nor Sor 4, this type of land has had its land area parcel points set by aerial survey. Its boundaries have been accurately surveyed using GPS and physically marked using numbered concrete posts set into the ground. Assuming that no planning or environmental rules are contravened, this type of land may be used for any purpose. The land may also be sold or leased. It is also possible to split this type of land into smaller plots, to sell or lease separately. It is possible to file a request with the Land Department to change this type of land to a Nor Sor 4 (Chanote) title, usually without any problem.
Nor Sor Sam Khor (Nor Sor 3 Khor)
Nor Sor 3 Khor basically the same legal rights as Nor Sor 3 Gor, the main difference being that it is issued in areas where no aerial survey has taken place.
Nor Sor Sam (Nor Sor 3)
Nor Sor 3 is land which has not yet been accurately surveyed and has no physical boundary markers, which can lead to problems in verifying the land area. There may or may not be clear physical land boundaries, however, in either case the borders of the land must be confirmed by a full survey and by discussion and agreement with neighbours. Assuming that no planning or environmental rules are contravened, this type of land may be used for any purpose. The land may also be sold or leased. It is possible to file a request with the Land Department to change this type of land to a Nor Sor 3 Gor and then subsequently to Nor Sor 4, usually without any problem.
The above titles are all issued by the Land Department and are recommended types to consider when looking for land on which to build. They are in order of preference with Chanote being the most highly recommended.
The following are also titles issued by the Land Department though there can be complications associated with them.
Nor Sor Song (Nor Sor 2)
Nor Sor 2 is simply a consent letter issued by the Land department which entitles the holder to occupy and utilise the land for a temporary period. Occupation and utilisation of the land must commence within 6 months of the Nor Sor 2 document being issued. Nor Sor 2 land may not be sold or transferred except through inheritance. In some circumstances it may be possible to upgrade Nor Sor 2 land to Nor Sor 3, Nor Sor 3 Gor or Nor Sor 4. However, even if such an upgrade were to be possible, the prohibition of sale or transfer of the land would still apply.
Sor Kor Neung (Sor Kor 1)
Sor Kor 1 is a notification of possession of land. It is simply a paper that shows the person who has notified possession of the land. In actual fact, a person who occupies the land has a greater right to the land than the holder of a Sor Kor 1 document. Sor Kor 1 has not been issued since 1972 and although it should technically be possible to file a request to the Land Department to upgrade Sor Kor Neung to a better title such as Nor Sor 3 or Chanote, the time to do this expired in 2010. Currently, upgrading Sor Kor 1 to a better title is only possible through court procedure.
Nor Sor Ha (Nor Sor 5)
Nor Sor 5 is a document verifying the right of the holder to the land. It is possible to be issued with a utilisation certificate from the local district office confirming utilisation of the land. If the holder of Nor Sor 5 land also has been issued with a utilisation certificate, it is possible for the land to be sold or transferred by registration at the Land Office. Without a utilisation certificate or any other supporting evidence Nor Sor 5 land may not be sold or transferred, except for inheritance. Note that having both Nor Sor 5 and Sor Kor Neung documents is also not sufficient to confirm utilisation of the land.
In addition to the titles issued by the Land Office, given above, there are also 5 further types of titles issued by other government departments as follows.
Sor Por Gor
This is an allotment of land issued by the Land Reformative Committee. These are true title deeds with the land having been accurately surveyed and their boundaries physically marked out, as with Nor Sor 3 Gor and Chanote land. However, this type of land cannot be sold, leased or otherwise transferred, except through inheritance. Land usage is generally limited to agriculture, though it is possible to build a dwelling on Sor Por Gor land. It may not, however, be used for commercial purposes.
Sor Tor Gor
This is a document issued by the Forest Department and only issued for land within a national reserved forest. It gives the holder the right to reside and live on the land. This type of land can not be sold, leased or otherwise transferred, except through inheritance.
Por Bor Tor Ha (Por Bor Tor 5)
A Por Bor Tor 5 document is issued to prove that the occupier of a plot of land has been paying taxes for the use of the land. This document does not confer any right to the land but was formerly used to establish that the holder was occupying the land and could apply for Sor Kor 1.
Nor Kor Sam (Nor Kor 3)
Nor Kor 3 is a utilisation certificate issued under the Act of Land Allocation for Living B.E. 2511. This document is issued only for members of a self-help settlement.
Gor Sor Nor Ha (Gor Sor Nor 5)
Gor Sor Nor 5 is a utilisation certificate issued under the Act of Land Allocation for Living B.E. 2511. This document issued only for member of cooperative settlement.
This is one of the weakest land rights. It is usually inherited land and possession is not recognised by the land department but is only proven by tax payments made at the Local Administrative Office.
Just to be absolutely clear, the only types that should seriously be considered when looking for land on which to build a home are, in order of preference, Nor Sor 4 (Chanote), Nor Sor 3 Gor, Nor Sor 3 Khor or Nor Sor 3. You may also encounter Sor Por Gor land though inheritance which is fine to build on as long as you have no intention of selling the property in the future.
Owning property in Thailand
Foreigners are prohibited from buying land or property in Thailand under Thai law, in general, though there are some exceptions to this rule. There are also methods by which a foreigner may establish rights to land and property legally.
Apart from a few very uncommon exceptions, a condominium is the only type of property that a foreigner may own outright, in his or her own name. The only restriction being that in any given condominium block, the total foreign ownership of units can not exceed 49% of the total floor area.
Thai company ownership
A foreigner may be part of a Thai company, though a single foreigner can not hold more than a 39% stake in the company. Also, the total foreign ownership of a company can not exceed 49%. A company can own property such as land and a house, and therefore if bought through a company, a foreigner can have rights to the land. In the past, this loophole was exploited by foreigners setting up companies solely as a means to own land. Currently, however, the government is clamping down on such practices unless the company is legitimate and operational.
Ownership by Thai spouse
Obviously, if you have a Thai spouse, they have full rights to buy land as a Thai citizen. It is important to be aware though that in this case, as a foreigner, you still have no actual rights to the land. In the event of divorce from or death of a spouse, you may not make any claim on the land.
Long term lease
A foreigner may lease a plot of land, initially for up to 30 years, with two possible renewals, each of a further 30 years, so a total of 90 Years. A long term lease (of three years or more) must be registered with the Land Office and it is reassuring to know that a lease such as this is guaranteed and remains valid even if the underlying land is sold.
However, be aware that renewals beyond the initial period of the lease must be registered at the Land office, are taxable, and can be contested.
Within the terms of the lease, there can be an option to transfer the lease to another person so that technically the lease can be sold. You may also include terms allowing the leased land to be subleased.
It is wise to ensure that there is an option to purchase written into the lease to cover the eventuality that Thai law changes within the term of the lease to allow free-hold land ownership by foreigners.
If a foreigner has a lease on a plot of land, they may apply for a construction permit to build a house in their name. In this way, the foreigner owns the house and has a secured long term lease on the land. This is by far the most secure and most highly recommended method of 'ownership' of property in Thailand.
Help and advice
Contact us if you have any questions relating to land types, options for ownership or ways to move forward with purchasing land. We would be happy to give you the benefit of our experience and give impartial advice without obligation. You can also find further information relating to buying land, our our "Buying Land in Thailand" page.