Registering Your Thai Marriage: A Step-by-Step Guide for Foreigners

Thai registered marriage certificate

For many reasons these days more foreigners are getting married to Thais or at least contemplating it. So if you get married to a Thai national how can you get your country to recognize the marriage?

Because I am American I am more familiar with the USA’s requirements. But most countries require the same procedures.

BTW if you haven’t seen my post on marriage in Thailand you might want to check it out as well.

Guide to Thailand Marriage Laws and Rights: Everything You Need to Know

Love and Relationships in Thailand – Thai Marriage

Contents:
Advantages and Disadvantages of Registering a Thai Marriage
Considerations If You Are a Foreigner Marrying a Thai Woman
Legal Requirements To Register a Thai Marriage
An American Registering a Thai Marriage
Issues to Consider Before Getting a Legal Registered Marriage in Thailand
Social Security Benefits

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Registering a Thai Marriage

So are there any distinct advantages to marrying in Thailand vs marriage in the USA?

This answer is only in reference to legal marriages which are carried out at the local Amphur’s in Thailand. This does not concern the traditional Thai wedding ceremony which you will also have back in your Thai fiancée's hometown. The traditional Thai wedding is not legally recognized in Thailand or anywhere else.

Thai marriages are recognized as legal in the U.S. so there is not much difference between getting married in Thailand and getting married in the U.S. But there is an advantage and maybe two disadvantages to getting married in Thailand.

Advantages of a legal Thai marriage: If you end up getting divorced you’ll be going by Thai laws which require splitting of assets, but only those that have been gained since the marriage. Any assets you had prior to the marriage are not included. In addition, I have never heard nor read of any assets outside of Thailand being garnered. So, if you have your assets outside Thailand there is little chance they will be at risk if you get divorced.

Disadvantages of a legal Thai marriage: As you will see below, the process for getting married requires a bit of paperwork and probably about 2 days of running around Bangkok to get these documents, translations and approvals. The second disadvantage is if you want to get divorced you will have to return to Thailand to do so. Of course if you live in Thailand this isn’t a problem at all.

Considerations If You Are a Foreigner Marrying a Thai Woman

Thai culture requires that a man pay his fiancé's family a dowry, or Sim Sod, to demonstrate his financial capacity to take care of their daughter. Although this may seem strange to foreigners, it makes more sense in Thai culture, because property is often passed down through a families daughters. Dowries are still an important part of Thai culture today. The higher your Thai fiance’s education and income, the higher the dowry will be expected to be. Dowry amounts vary widely, but 100,000 – 300,000 Baht is an approximate dowry for an educated middle class woman with a good job. If your fiancé has been previously married or has children already, you will probably not be expected to pay a dowry.

Although no one wants to prepare for the possibility their marriage may fail, it is strongly advisable to negotiate a prenuptial agreement before you get married to make sure your assets will be protected if the marriage sours. Have a knowledgeable attorney draw up the prenuptial agreement to make sure it complies with applicable laws in Thailand and your home country.

You must be 18 to get married in Thailand. Thai law prohibits insane and mentally retarded persons from getting married. Marriage candidates must show that they are single, and prove that any previous marriage(s) they entered are over. Women may not remarry for 310 days from the end of their previous marriage unless they can show they are not pregnant or have given birth since their last marriage ended. Thai law prohibits close blood or adopted relatives from marrying one another.

An American Registering a Thai Marriage

In some countries like the USA, the Thai spouse could be eligible for benefits under the Social Security program but also might be liable for taxes. So we will discuss those further below. But first let’s see what it takes to register a marriage in Thailand so that it will be recognized both in Thailand and abroad.

No matter what country you are from a legal marriage in Thailand consists of both parties registering their marriage in person with the local Thai Amphur (Civil Registry Office). The United States does recognize the validity of such a marriage as do most other countries. For American citizens marrying either Thai citizens or another American citizen, the procedure is the same. For Americans marrying a third-country national, their prospective spouse must also follow a similar procedure with their own embassy.

Procedure

  1. Complete an affidavit at the U.S. Embassy. The affidavit form, available in our office or you may download a copy of the form here (PDF 42KB), includes all of the information required by relevant Thai law. The form must be completed and notarized at the Embassy. The notarial fee is $50 per seal.  Make an appointment for a notary service.
  2. Have the notarized affidavit translated.  List of translators in the Bangkok area (PDF 50KB).
  3. Take the affidavit and translation to:
    Legalization Division
    Department of Consular Affairs
    Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    3rd Floor, 123 Chaeng Wattana Road
    Tung Song Hong, Laksi District, Bangkok
    Tel: 02-575-1057-8, Fax: 02-575-1054
    NOTE: this office is located in a northern suburb of Bangkok, approximately 30 minutes’ drive from the Embassy.
  4. Take the affidavit and supporting documents to a local Amphur and register yourselves as married. The Amphur will also require the following documents:
    • Your U.S. passport;
    • Identification for the other party, such as a Thai citizen’s identification card; If either party is under the age of twenty, written permission from the parents with Thai translation);
    • If either you or your fiancé have been previously married the Amphur will want to see proof that prior marriages have been terminated. Divorce or death certificates should suffice. These documents, if available, should be translated into Thai prior to presentation at the Amphur.
  5. The Amphur’s office will provide a marriage certificate. Have the marriage certificate translated and take it for legalization at: Legalization Division
    Department of Consular Affairs
    Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    3rd Floor, 123 Chaeng Wattana Road
    Tung Song Hong, Laksi District, Bangkok
    Tel: 02-575-1057-8, Fax: 02-575-1054
  6. Bring the legalized marriage certificate to the Embassy for authentication. Make an appointment for a notarial to authenticate the marriage certificate. The notarial fee is $50 per
    seal. This last step is important if you wish to register your marriage in the United States. NOTE: The U.S. Embassy DOES NOT register marriages and neither do they keep copies of individuals’ marriage certificates. To register your marriage in the United States, you need to contact the office of the Attorney General of your state of residence in the United States.

Issues to Consider

So should you register a legal marriage in Thailand if you are an American? Here are some issues to consider with such a marriage. Two common ones include how best to shelter income from U.S. taxes when marrying a foreigner, and understanding the rules regarding whether foreign spouses qualify for Social Security spousal benefits.

Here are some things to keep in mind with both:

Legally Sheltering Income
For U.S. expats married to a foreigner (Non-Resident Alien, or NRA), there are strategies that can be used to help legally shelter income from U.S. taxes. These start with selecting the most advantageous tax filing status for your specific situation, since choosing among Married Filing Jointly (MFJ), Married Filing Separately (MFS), or Head of Household (HoH) can make a material difference in how much U.S. tax you pay. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of each choice.

Spouse as a Resident Alien for U.S. Tax Purposes
Your first consideration is whether you should treat your Non-Resident Alien spouse as a Resident Alien (RA) for U.S. income tax purposes. To do this, you must choose Married Filing Jointly as your U.S. tax filing status. Even though you both live outside of the United States, the MFJ status makes your spouse a Resident Alien for U.S. income tax purposes, as long as you remain married and continue to choose this filing status. To choose this filing status, your spouse will need to apply for a U.S. Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer ID Number (ITIN), and you’ll need to include a letter indicating your choice in your next filing.

Benefits of Married Filing Jointly
You can claim an increased standard deduction and an additional personal exemption with MFJ status. If you have earned income that is not excluded (such as under the foreign-earned income exclusion), you may also be able to make contributions to U.S. tax-advantaged accounts such as an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) on behalf of your foreign spouse.

Disadvantages
Probably the biggest disadvantage with Married Filing Jointly is that your foreign non-resident spouse’s global income and assets become subject to U.S. income tax (although not necessarily to U.S. estate tax). This may not matter if your spouse has little income or net assets of his or her own. However, if he or she is highly paid, wealthy, or just not interested in disclosing income or assets to the IRS, the MFJ status may not make much sense for you.

Another factor to be aware of is that MFJ provides a temporary Resident Alien status, which is good only as long as you’re alive and the two of you are married and continue to use the MFJ status. It does not grant Permanent Residency Alien status in the same way as a U.S. green card, which requires a formal application and approval process.

Married Filing Separately or Head of Household
The other option is to keep your foreign non-resident spouse as a Non-Resident Alien (NRA) for U.S. income tax purposes and thus keep their income and assets outside of U.S. tax jurisdiction. To do this, choose either Married Filing Separately, or Head of Household if you have dependent children, when filing U.S. income taxes. If you choose HoH, you’re considered “unmarried” in the eyes of the IRS, and can use a higher standard deduction than with MFS. However, to use HoH, you must both have children for whom you can claim U.S. tax exemptions as well as pay for more than half of your household’s costs.

U.S. Tax Benefits
Depending on your situation, the tax benefits from choosing the MFS or HoH filing status can be considerable. Neither your spouse’s non-U.S. salary nor investment earnings are taxable by the United States. In addition, you have the option of gifting your foreign spouse a sizeable amount each year ($145,000 in 2014) without having to file a gift tax return. You may still also be able to claim a personal exemption for your NRA spouse, as long as he or she has no income for U.S. tax purposes and is not a dependent of another U.S. taxpayer.

If you’re a resident in a country that has low tax rates or does not tax offshore investment earnings, the advantages to gifting assets to your NRA spouse could be significant. In that case, your spouse might invest the gifted amount in a low-cost, low-tax investment portfolio held either in your country of residence or in an offshore account with a discount broker. The income from these assets would no longer be subject to U.S. tax, and these assets would no longer be in your U.S. taxable estate.

Disadvantages
One disadvantage is you’ll have to claim a lower standard deduction than MFJ. Also, if your country of residence has higher investment tax rates than the United States, there may be no overall tax advantage to gifting amounts to your spouse. And depending on your situation, you may need to consider the personal consequences of permanently transferring ownership of large sums or assets to your spouse.

Social Security Benefits

As an American citizen living outside the U.S., you can still receive Social Security benefits if you are either a U.S. citizen or green card holder and have contributed to Social Security for at least 10 years. (Exception: if you live in certain countries, such as Cuba or North Korea, you won’t receive benefits.)

Social Security for Foreign Spouse: Depending on your situation, spousal Social Security benefits may be paid to your foreign spouse. Your foreign spouse must be of full retirement age and you, the retired U.S. worker, must be receiving Social Security benefits.

The general rule is that for any spouse who is not a U.S. citizen or green-card holder, Social Security payments must stop if the spouse has been outside of the U.S. for six consecutive calendar months. However, there are a number of exceptions that allow payments outside to the U.S. to continue, mostly based on either the receiver’s country of citizenship or residence.

For example, there are no further requirements for spousal benefits beyond reaching retirement age and you qualifying for Social Security benefits if your spouse is a citizen (not necessarily a resident) of one of the following countries:

Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea (South), Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Note that these countries change, so check with the Social Security Administration about your spouse’s country.

Alternatively, if your foreign spouse is a resident (not necessarily a citizen) of one of the following countries with which the U.S. has a Social Security agreement, there are also no further requirements and he or she may receive Social Security spousal benefits:

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea (South), Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Five-Year Resident Requirement: If your foreign spouse is neither a citizen nor resident of the countries listed above, he or she may still may be able to collect ongoing spousal Social Security benefits if the two of you lived together in the U.S. for at least five years while married, though not necessarily continuously.

Survivor Benefits: Generally, your foreign widow or widower can receive Social Security survivor benefits if they meet the requirements for spousal benefits listed above and have not remarried. If they do not initially meet the five-year U.S. residency requirement, they can choose to relocate to the U.S. after being widowed to complete the residency requirement and then qualify for Social Security benefits.

Ex-spouse with Survivor Benefits: Generally, a current foreign spouse will still qualify for benefits if you die and have an ex-spouse who is already entitled to spousal or survivor benefits. Provided your current foreign spouse meets the requirements to receive either spousal or survivor benefits as listed above, it does not matter if an ex-spouse also qualifies for benefits based on their former relationship with you.

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Additional Resources

IRS Publication 54 – Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad

American Expats with Foreign Spouses: Choosing Your U.S. Tax Filing Status
Eight U.S. Tax Saving Tips for American Expats
What Expat Americans with Foreign Spouses Need to Know About Social Security
Your Social Security Payments While You Are Outside the U.S.
Social Security Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool (BEST)

Note with some government or Social Security websites your ip address must show you are originating your inquiry from within the USA. So you might need a proxy or VPN service to do so.