May 06, 2023
Chinese seek Thai housing for outbreak risk offset
May 08, 2023
Shanghai resident Daniel Byun lounges on a lounge chair by the pool on the 19th floor of his luxury condominium, taking in the sweeping views of the Thai capital.
"I feel alive. I feel free," exclaims Bian, wearing tinted sunglasses, a flat-topped navy blue hat and a drawstring tunic with his hair hanging loosely over his shoulders. "This is my dream."
Quarantined in China for three years under the world's toughest COVID-19 curbs, Bian is one of many mainland Chinese who have flocked to the Southeast Asian country since Beijing opened its borders this year.
Many Chinese are eager to invest in property overseas, keen for security in the event of a similar disease outbreak and to hedge their economic risks at home.
According to Trip.com, Thailand was the most popular outbound destination for Chinese tourists during the May Day holiday, followed by Japan and South Korea.
The Southeast Asian country's excellent international schools and quality medical facilities are attracting a growing number of people eager for a second home.
Thailand expects at least 5 million Chinese tourists this year, some ready to buy property. However, that number is far from the pre-COVID era, when Chinese tourists accounted for nearly a third of the 40 million visitors.
"There is a demand from China for property in Thailand," said Mesa Chonharachoo, president of the Real Estate Association of Thailand.
He added that topping the buyer's list are locations in major cities such as Bangkok, the mountainous northern region of Chiang Mai, the east coast beach resort of Pattaya and the northeastern part of Isan.
"The Chinese are buying houses to send their children to international schools and for their parents to stay in Thailand to care for their grandchildren."
Nearly 270,000 Chinese tourists visited Thailand in March, a three-year high. Still, well below the 980,000 who saw it before the pandemic broke out in March 2019, government data showed.
Earlier this year, the proportion of Chinese students at the Singapore International School in Bangkok rose to 12 to 13 per cent - 400 out of 3,100 students across four campuses - up from 6 per cent before the 2019 pandemic.
"In China, when everything shuts down - it's overnight - no one can go out," Kelvin Koh, the school's chief executive, told Reuters. "That affects the behaviour of Chinese families."
Despite Thai rules that limit foreign ownership to 49 per cent in any condominium development, potential buyers are still pouring in, bringing business to real estate brokers targeting Chinese buyers.
One such broker is Owen Chu, who accompanies Sian, 50, and his 70-year-old mother. The mother, dressed in a sleek, form-fitting white dress with a matching hat and veil on her head, toured three upscale condominiums in Bangkok.
"After the epidemic, things have changed a lot. Most Chinese are choosing to buy luxury condominiums to live in," Zhu said.
He added that many clients who previously bought the property for investment purposes have now set their sights on properties typically worth more than 2 million yuan ($290,000).
"That budget will only buy a modest house in a first-tier Chinese city, and it may not be in a good location," Zhu said.
"But they can buy a luxury apartment in downtown Bangkok with that money. Therefore, some people will sell a house in China and buy a property here for retirement."
Bian, who organizes cultural exchanges between China and other countries, also sees fewer restrictions in Thailand.
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