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Chinese Escaping China’s Big Cities and Moving to Thailand

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Chinese Escaping China's Big Cities and Moving to Thailand

Living in Thailand is becoming an appealing option for well-to-do Chinese, as it is accessible via a relatively short flight and has property available at a fraction of the price of what is available in Chinese mega-cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

According to Thailand’s Real Estate Information Center, the Chinese are already the largest group of foreign buyers of property in Thailand, with over 3,500 units sold at an average price of $150,000 in 2022.

As China’s borders reopen, more people are expected to come looking for a good deal. According to realtors in Phuket and Pattaya, Chinese buyers are purchasing 25-30% of new development condos in prime beach-side areas.

The benefits of emigrating to Thailand are trending on Xiaohongshu, China’s answer to Instagram.

Chinese social media influencers paint a picture of paradise in videos on the popular social media and e-commerce platform, promising something for everyone.

Cheap international schools and the possibility of remote work in an exotic location await stressed-out parents. There is affordable healthcare just a stone’s throw from the beach for retirees.

“We don’t need our kids to ‘win’ before they reach the finish line,” a Chinese woman says over footage of an idyllic-looking Finnish school in Phuket, where English is widely spoken and students come from all over the world.

“Our children do not need to have the best grades or be the most disciplined. We simply want them to have fun and be happy.”

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Chinese preparing to leave China permanently

The excitement surrounding Xiaohongshu, which translates as “Little Red Book,” comes as China prepares to reopen its borders after three years of the world’s most stringent pandemic controls.

Chinese authorities will resume passport renewals on Sunday and eliminate quarantine on arrival, which has prevented all but a small number of Chinese citizens from traveling outside the country since early 2020.

Over the next few weeks and months, tens of millions of Chinese people are expected to book flights for overseas vacations.

Others, however, are preparing to leave China permanently, according to posts on social media platforms such as Xiaohongshu, because they are fed up with a country that they say is becoming increasingly expensive, authoritarian, competitive, and difficult to raise a family or retire in.

While it is unknown how many Chinese people have emigrated or are seriously considering doing so, social media posts about a growing “run philosophy,” or “run xue,” have been viewed millions of times.

Xiaohongshu has also become a meeting place for investors.

In one post, Mei Ren, a businesswoman who relocated to Bangkok, recounted the advice she received from other users as she struggled to get her restaurant off the ground in the Thai capital.

“With a little help from my foreign friends, all this hard work is about to pay off,” she wrote.

Thai tourism officials anticipate 300,000 Chinese visitors in the first three months of 2023, and five million overall, as flights to smaller cities are gradually restored and airports reopen.

Before COVID-19 caused unprecedented damage to the global travel industry, Thailand received 10 million Chinese visitors in 2019, accounting for one in every four arrivals.

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Low costs and international schools

The collapse of international travel hit the kingdom especially hard, as tourism accounts for up to one-fifth of its gross domestic product. Thailand’s economy contracted by 6.1 percent in 2020, one of the steepest drops in the region, before expanding by 1.5 percent in 2021.

Thailand’s economy has rebounded strongly since its borders were fully reopened in mid-2022.

Tourism and other sectors that rely on foreign investment, such as real estate, have welcomed China’s abrupt shift away from its strict “zero-COVID” policy.

“There are two reasons for Chinese coming here,” said Ting Ye, a property manager in Shenzhen who sells real estate in Chonburi on Thailand’s eastern coast.

“The first is for investment purposes: they buy condos and houses to rent and resell. The second is for survival. Many people want to live in Thailand because of its low costs and international schools, and some retirees are also coming here.”

Thailand may provide an antidote to the frustrations encapsulated by popular social media phrases such as “lying flat” and “involution,” which describe the pains of relentless hard work for little reward in China’s big cities.

Chinese emigrants to Thailand describe a carefree, even lavish lifestyle on Xiaohongshu.

In one video, a woman named Cindy gives a tour of an elderly care home in the northern city of Chiang Mai, which she claims has 24-hour nursing and charges only $1,600 per month.

In another, Alex from Beijing describes the pleasures of a leisurely work life as a digital nomad hopping between cafés in the same city, which is known for its laid-back, slow pace of life.

Many posts feature mothers exchanging stories about the advantages of raising their children in Southeast Asia’s less hectic environment.

Sudarat Phakdee, a teacher at One Day Esthetic art school in Pattaya, believes that the intimacy of her small classes has an impact on the personalities of her young Chinese students.

“They love it here, they seem to be having a great time because we have so much space for them to run around,” Phakdee told Al Jazeera.

“They appear to be very relaxed and playful.”

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