Thailand is chasing talent, capital and ‘digital nomads’ from Hong Kong EJINSIGHT

During this wave of emigration, many countries are seeking talent and capital from Hong Kong – and Thailand is one of them.

His cabinet approved a new visa regime that will come into effect on September 1 this year – the Long-Term Resident (LTR) visa which will be offered to four types of foreign nationals – wealthy global citizens, wealthy retirees, professionals working from Thailand and highly qualified professionals.

“Internet in Bangkok and many major cities is very fast,” Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said. “Thailand offers service and atmosphere and a relatively low cost of living. We do not tax digital nomads. Their income is generated abroad.

These are people who work remotely from their computers and can therefore live anywhere. Their criteria for deciding where to live are different from those who have to go to an office, school, factory or institution on a regular basis and are therefore tied to a single location.

For Hong Kongers, the preferred emigration destinations are Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom. But many find aspects of life in these countries unappealing – climate, cuisine, dominant Anglo-Saxon culture and permanent minority status.

Southeast Asian countries and Taiwan offer a lifestyle, cuisine, climate, and racial makeup closer to that of Hong Kong, as well as the ease of coming back here to see family and friends. As ties between Beijing and Taipei deteriorate, Taiwan is increasingly restricting applicants from Hong Kong, especially those born in or with ties to the mainland.

“Among Southeast Asian countries, Thailand is the most welcoming to foreigners,” said Jason Yu Wai-lung, founder of Smart2Go, a company that advises Hong Kong where to emigrate.

“This is a long-term policy that has been in place for many years. The government wants to attract three million foreign residents,” he said.

Thailand has long been popular with Western retirees, who appreciate the warm climate, low cost of living, availability of domestic help, widespread use of English in Bangkok and other major cities and the high quality of private medical care. There are large and well-established communities of foreigners that people can join.

One of the main reasons for the launch of the LRT visa is the Covid-19 outbreak, which has decimated Thailand’s booming tourism industry and a large number of digital nomads. Before the pandemic, the country attracted 40 million visitors a year, spending more than US$55 billion. In 2021, that number fell to just 400,000, a 99% drop from the 2019 level.

Before Covid-19, the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand was one of the most popular digital nomad capitals in the world. It is the second largest city in the country, with 1.2 million inhabitants, located in a mountainous area to the north.

It has an international airport with connections throughout Asia, a milder climate than that of Bangkok, an old town, fast internet connection, a diverse cuisine and many cafes and coworking spaces. A digital nomad can live there for less than US$1,000 per month. They used a 60-day tourist visa which they could extend for 30 days, then fly to a neighboring country, usually Malaysia, and then apply for another visa for 90 days.

But the pandemic and quarantine rules in Thailand and other countries have made this lifestyle impossible. The new LRT visa regime aims to boost economic growth by easing and reducing bureaucracy for foreigners moving there.

For “work from Thailand” professionals, the requirements are that remote workers be employed by “well-established” foreign companies or have a personal income of at least $80,000 per year in the previous two years. They must have a health insurance policy with coverage of at least USD 50,000, social security benefits providing treatment in Thailand, or a deposit of at least USD 100,000.

David Leung, an emigration consultant in Hong Kong, said migrants to Thailand should use the private medical system and work for foreign companies in the country or abroad.

“It offers excellent medical care, like Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok. Many of its employees have been trained abroad and speak English. Mandarin interpretation is also available. Medical tourism is well developed in Thailand. There are two dozen schools that offer the International Baccalaureate program,” he said.

“There is already a Hong Kong migrant community. Some are retirees and others are professionals who live in Bangkok or other major cities. In the current atmosphere, I expect there will be more,” he said.

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