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Russian invasion spreads to Thailand’s paradise islands

Ukraine isn’t the only nation suffering from a Russian invasion, Thailand is facing it too. Since Russia took exception to Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO and the European Union thousands of Russian citizens have fled to avoid conscription to set up camp in Thailand.

Russian roubles may have been welcomed by Thai businesses as the Covid-19 ravaged kingdom looks to get back on its economic feet but not everyone is happy with the Russian invasion.

According to data from Phuket International Airport, between November 1, 2022, and January 21, 2023, more than 233,000 Russians arrived in Phuket, making them the biggest group of visitors by far.

Many are purchasing off-plan condos for US$500,000 or more, to relocate when they may feel forced to leave their homeland, reported Aljazeera.

The surge in property sales is likely due to President Vladimir Putin’s order for Moscow’s first wartime mobilization since World War Two, suggesting that many arrivals are planning to stay for an extended period.

Russian invasion spreads to Thailand's paradise islands | News by Thaiger

Sofia Malygaevareal, a real estate agent in Phuket who originally hails from Russia, revealed that most of her clients are wealthy people aged between 30-35.

“A lot of people have decided to move to Phuket from three to six months to one year.”

Obtaining long-term residency rights in Thailand can be difficult, which can be a challenge for Russian arrivals who require homes, schools, jobs, and visas to stay on the idyllic island. However, for those determined to swap a home on a war footing for a life in the Thai sunshine, money is not an issue. As a result of the growing realization that the war has no end in sight as it enters its second year, an influx of wealthy visitors, predominantly Russians, has driven prices up to record levels in Russian-dominated areas of the island, according to local realtors.

Luxury condos that were previously available for rent for approximately US$1,000 a month can now be rented for three times that amount. Additionally, extravagant villas that are listed for US$6,000 or more are often booked out up to a year in advance.

Russian buyers are dominating the market, representing nearly 40% of all condominiums sold to foreigners in Phuket in 2022, according to the Thai Real Estate Information Center (REIC). Their purchases amounted to US$25 million in sales, several times more than the next largest group of buyers, the Chinese nationals, according to the REIC.

A Russian travel agent in Phuket said some Russians have arrived on one-way tickets and tourist visas.

“[They] just do not go home… they are here to get away from conscription.”

The mass influx of Russians is also reflected in other popular tourist areas such as Koh Samui, Thailand’s second-biggest island, and Pattaya.

Russian invasion spreads to Thailand's paradise islands | News by Thaiger

The effects of Putin’s invasion are not one-sided.

Dar, a Thai masseuse in her 40s, decided to leave her job at a high-end spa in Moscow when the value of the rouble declined, causing her generous salary by Thai standards to decrease significantly.

She now works in Jomtien and her ability to speak Russian has helped her gain repeat Russian clients. According to Dar, the women she works with often express their desire for their partners or family members to come to Thailand and join them. They typically come over first to find homes and arrange visas for their loved ones.

Obtaining visas is no longer as straightforward as it once was due to a major scandal that came to light in November, involving Thai immigration police assisting the Chinese mafia in bringing thousands of people into Thailand through fake work and volunteer schemes. As a result, affluent Russians are having to apply for costly property ownership visas, known as the “Elite Card,” which allows a family to stay long-term for around US$25,000.

The influx of Russians and their money into Thailand is also causing some resentment among the locals. In Phuket, some local tourism businesses are angry about Russians allegedly taking away their jobs. Tourism operators are upset about Russian taxi drivers shuttling their compatriots around the island and leading tour groups around Phuket’s historic Old Town, frequently without the necessary permits or visas.

Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, the president of the Phuket Tourist Association, expressed his displeasure about the possibility of Russians taking away the livelihoods of the locals. Ruktaengam wrote on Facebook…

“If it’s true they’re taking our jobs in our own home, we can’t allow this to happen.”

Russian invasion spreads to Thailand's paradise islands | News by Thaiger

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Bob Scott

Bob Scott is an experienced writer and editor with a passion for travel. Born and raised in Newcastle, England, he spent more than 10 years in Asia, mostly in China. He worked as a sports writer in the north of England and London before relocating to Asia. Now he resides in Bangkok, Thailand, where he is the Editor-in-Chief for The Thaiger English News. With a vast amount of experience from living and writing abroad, Bob Scott is an expert on all things related to Asian culture and lifestyle.