Is Thailand seeing an expat exodus to Vietnam?

Published:  27 Aug at 6 PM
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For more than a decade, Thailand has been a favourite destination for Western expats looking to enjoy better weather than in the home country, a more laid-back lifestyle and a lower cost of living.

For expat retirees in particular, Thailand was the top choice for many years, but a recent change in attitude by the military-run government and its immigration department has caused a good number to consider relocating to friendlier shores. Another reason for this decision is the combined effect of inflation and the overly strong baht on their pension payments. For example, a long-stay British pensioner who arrived in 2006 would have received around 72 baht per pound sterling as against today’s rate of around 39 baht. International media reports that Thailand is no longer an economic destination of choice for the average expat retiree are telling it like it is, especially for expats from the USA and UK.

A year ago, a well-known Thailand-based expat forum conducted a survey on the effects of the exchange rate and inflation on expat lives in the country. Out of the 1,400 respondents, 40 per cent admitted they were considering moving on due to economic hardship. At that time, Brits were getting 42 baht to the pound and, since then, the cost of living has increased still more. Murky demographics as regards the actual number of expatriate pensioners in Thailand were clarified recently by the United Nations Migration report, which stated around 75,000 expat retirees were living in the kingdom, rather less than had been estimated earlier.

Over the past months, online forums and English-language media outlets have been reporting increasing discontent amongst Thailand’s expat retirement community, spurred by unpopular changes to visa regulations as well as what’s seen by many in both the expat retirement and business sectors as an insulting imposition – the now infamous TM30 reporting law. At the same time, one major company specialising in insurance for expatriates is reporting around 20 requests per month for transfers of private health insurance policies to Vietnam. Taking into account that some 33 per cent of expats are uninsured, should all six such companies be receiving the same amount of requests, that’s almost 2,000 expats leaving the country for its near neighbour every year.

Another small survey in which, out of just 400 responses, 64 per cent of expats who took part said they would consider moving from Thailand to Vietnam. If the admittedly tiny study is representative of foreign nationals’ genuine feelings about staying or leaving, and is expanded to include the expat business sector, the loss to Thailand’s economy and the gain to Vietnam would be considerable. In addition, social and international media reports on such an exodus could also affect international tourist numbers, thus also benefiting Vietnam as a more traditional, less controversial and less expensive unspoiled holiday destination. Expats need to make choices which are best for their own individuality, but it seems increasing numbers of Western pensioners now living in Thailand are opting for Vietnam.
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