Six months in the 3rd wave of COVID-19 which brought the whole economy to its knees and devastated the tourism industry, Thailand has finally begun to reopen its economy and announced a significant loosening of travel restrictions. What do we know about the reopening schedule? Is it time for expats to return to Bangkok?

1. Summer 2021 saw a temporary exodus of expatriates

According to surveys by Chulalongkorn and Mahidol universities, 250,000 westerners (Europeans, north-Americans, Australians and New-Zealanders) were registered as foreign residents in 2020, as well as 85,000 Japanese citizens, more than 80% of this population living in the Bangkok metropolis. It is estimated that the foreign population in Bangkok was about 400,000 before COVID-19 – including low-skilled workers.

However, between June and August 2021, due to i) hardly any available vaccines for foreigners, ii) large job losses among expats and iii) long school closures, a large number of expats went back to their home country during the summer. Higher vacancy rates and decreasing rental prices in some apartment buildings and condos tend to show that 10 to 20% have left for good.

Another group of Bangkok-based expats have moved to domestic locations, mostly Phuket, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Hua Hin, allowing them to escape the city and enjoy cheap holiday rentals. Some of them having experienced a new way of life based on remote work with short weekly or bi-weekly visits to Bangkok may decide not come back eventually.

In total, between summer trips back to home countries, relocations in other parts of Thailand and some expats leaving the country, we estimate a drop of 30-35% in numbers Bangkok expats between May and September 2021. Their return will depend chiefly on the reopening of borders, businesses and schools.

2. Borders are reopening as vaccination rollout is going full steam

Before October, 14 days’ quarantine in a hotel certified under the ASQ (for “Alternative State Quarantine”) program was the norm for all visitors vaccinated or not, at a high daily cost and with administrative cumbersomeness.

A “sandbox” program was implemented in Phuket on July 1st, allowing vaccinated tourists and expats to skip quarantine and move freely on the island as long as they performed several antigen tests but the program fell short of expectations, and same scheme in Koh Samui has been a failure. At a national level, the loss has been catastrophic, with fewer than 100,000 visitors in 2021 Vs 40 millions in 2019, wiping out millions of jobs.

The worse seems behind us. Thanks to months of efforts in getting its population vaccinated – 20 million jabs in September only – 50% of the country is now vaccinated and a clear reopening plan has been unveiled:

1.Starting October 1st all fully-vaccinated tourists or residents entering the country will go through a shortened 7 days’ quarantine in one of the 500+ SHA (for “Safety and Health Administration”) certified hotels, while non-fully-vaccinated visitors still do 14 days.
2.More decisively, starting November 1st travelers from 46 “low-risk” countries will be allowed to enter Thailand without quarantine, including the US, Canada, most of Europe, China, Singapore, Hong-Kong, Malaysia, Australia, etc.
3.The government has also communicated on the end of quarantine for all fully-vaccinated travelers on January 1st, 2022.

3/ Schools and businesses reopening plan

Back in April 2021, the 3rd wave of the pandemic forced the authorities to close all public spaces indefinitely, i.e. all restaurants and entertainment places, malls, non-essential shops, schools, sports facilities including in expat apartments and condos and even public parks, and a curfew was implemented.

Among all restrictions, the number-1 issue for the expat community has been the extended closure of schools. Since beginning of 2021, schools have been opened for less than 2 months, following many months of closure in 2020 already. For kids of all ages, e-learning has many drawbacks, among them the absence of social life and individualized support from teachers.

Fortunately, 64 international schools, kindergartens and nurseries in Bangkok and its suburbs have been authorized by the Bangkok Metropolis Authority to reopen on November 1st, having managed to vaccinate all their staff and students households (helper, nannies, etc.). A few have already reopened, such as International School of Bangkok (ISB).

Besides, malls, restaurants and sports facilities have progressively reopened since September 1st, and this should be followed by the end of the curfew and of the ban on alcoholic beverages by December 1st, allowing both tourists and expats to fully enjoy the Bangkok way-of-life again.

…. In our next article we’ll discuss the measures mulled by the authorities to attract more expats in Thailand….


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