“Over 9,000 granted long-stay visas since the start of 2023.”
Phuket is experiencing a significant transformation due to an influx of Russian tourists, driving up property prices and sparking local resentment. While Western countries impose sanctions on Russia, Thailand continues to welcome Russian visitors in an effort to revive its tourism industry post-COVID.
The Thai government has even extended Russian tourist visas from 30 to 90 days, resulting in almost half a million Russians arriving in Phuket in the first half of the year. Over 9,000 granted long-stay visas.
The extension to 90 days for the Russian visa-waiver has not been offered to any other country leaving many westerners to wonder why Russian visitors are being give special preferential visa stays at the moment.
The appeal of Phuket for Russians lies in its warm weather, beautiful landscapes, friendly people and diverse cuisine. There’s also a history of Russian visitors spending u big in local real estate, a pattern that seems to be repeating itself now.
Russians have become the leading foreign buyers on the island over the past 12 months, constituting 40-60% of condominium sales to foreigners. This surge in demand has driven property prices up by 10-20% on the western side of the island, far exceeding the typical annual increase of 5%.
The real estate boom has also affected rental prices, with luxury condominium rentals rising by up to 300%, necessitating bookings a year in advance. Some properties in locations like Bang Tao and Cherng Talay have increased more than 500% during that same period.
While the property market benefits from Russian investment, concerns are emerging among locals. The Sole Mio complex, for example, has 80% of its owners being Russian. Local businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, report challenges as Russians tend to patronise establishments run by their compatriots, limiting the economic benefits for the broader local community – the language barrier has a lot to do with that.
Additionally, there are worries about Russians working illegally or engaging in criminal activities, though official statistics show that only 12% of foreigners charged with offenses on the island between January and August were Russian nationals.
Local politicians express a desire for a more equitable economic relationship with Russian visitors and some are suggesting a more radical solution to Russians working illegally – make it legal!
Move Forward Party MP Thitikan Thitipruethikul highlights complaints from constituents about Russians working illegally in prohibited jobs, such as hair salons and taxi driving. But he says, rather than cracking down on illegal businesses, the Move Forward Party proposes updating immigration laws to make it easier for Russians to work legally in Thailand, enabling them to contribute to the economy through taxes and employment.
That would be a radical departure to labour and immigration laws over recent decades which has precluded most foreigners from working, except with a work permit, and only in a restricted range of professions. Taxi driver and property sales jobs are NOT able to be done by foreigners.
Real estate agent Kristina Kamysheva denies tensions between Russians and locals, emphasising the positive impact of Russian tourists on the local economy. However, concerns persist among some locals who feel that the economic benefits are not evenly distributed.
Despite these issues, the anticipation is high for a continued influx of Russian tourists, especially during the winter months, as they seek refuge from the cold in their home country. The evolving dynamic between Russian visitors and the local community in Phuket underscores the complex interplay between tourism, economic interests and cultural integration.
Over the past month, October, Russian arrivals have again led the way with passengers landing at the Phuket Airport. This from Phuket Immigration for the Month of October…