Even though the words condominium and apartment and often used interchangeably, in Thailand, freehold condominiums and apartments have totally different ownership structures for foreign buyers. Freehold condominiums also offer buyers co-ownership of the common areas.
Freehold Condominiums
In Thailand, a freehold condominium development has a special condominium licence which means that the developer can sell up to 49% of the total floor space of all the units to foreign buyers on a freehold basis. A foreign investor who buys a unit which is part of the 49% foreign freehold quota can register the freehold of their unit directly in their own name and own it forever.
When the 49% foreign freehold quota has been sold, any new foreign buyers are not allowed to register the freehold of their property directly in their own name. Instead, the ownership options are either have to either take out a 30-year lease on their unit or, alternatively, hold the freehold of the unit in a Thai company which they control.
With a condominium development, along with ownership of your unit, you will also have co-ownership of the common property (car parking zones, utilities, swimming pools, gyms, gardens etc). In other words, you have the title to your own personal property as well as co-ownership of the common property.
For an apartment development with no condominium licence, foreign buyers are not allowed to buy the freehold of their unit. Instead, the unit is acquired by a 30-year lease. Two lease renewals of 30 years each are also normally offered by the developer. So, the total lease period, including the renewals, would be 90 years. To make the process of the lease renewals more secure, apartment buyers may be given shares in the land holding company of the development. This set up is often referred to as a protected leasehold structure - see and as examples with this ownership type currenty on the Koh Samui property market.
Buying a freehold condominium may seem like a better choice due to the more secure ownership. However, even purely from an investment standpoint, and setting aside personal preferences, buyers need to weigh up the pros and cons of all aspects of the property development in question. In Koh Samui, unlike Pattaya or Phuket, there is only a very small supply of freehold condominiums. This is largely because, in Samui, there is only a small amount of land that is within the require zone needed to be granted a condominium licence. Therefore, if you decide to solely focus on freehold condominiums, you will severely limit the number of property options available to you. In Koh Samui, there are far more ‘regular’ apartments  for sale than freehold condominiums. Many of these will offer a protected leasehold structure, the next most secure ownership type behind freehold. Along with the ownership type, buyers need to consider factors such as location, views, rental returns and potential for capital gain.