While many Russians have been investing in villas and homes in Thailand, there are also thousands of Russians and Ukrainians who are stranded in the country due to the ongoing war following the invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine.
Around 7,000 Russians and Ukrainians are currently stranded in Thailand, with many of them currently in Phuket. The island used to attract 8 – 9 million overseas visitors in the years up to 2019, but the pandemic has caused a significant drop in tourism.
While the island is welcoming back tourism, the situation with stranded Russian and Ukrainian tourists looms in the background with a constant 3 – 4,000 new Russian arrivals each day since last November. Most are tourists but many are looking at Thailand as either a medium or long term stay and have taken up the slack in the rental market and buying the available condo stock.
The Russians have become the largest group of foreign visitors in Phuket, by far, with around 17,000 arriving in December alone, with no signs of the rate of arrivals slowing down. Nationally, since January 2023, over 370,000 Russian tourists have visited the country, according to the Immigration Bureau, an enormous and sudden surge compared to last year, which only saw about 435,000 Russians visit the country over the entire year.
And at the start of March Phuket Immigration reported that nearly 7,600 Russian nationals have sought to extend their stay in the province since January.
Signs in Russian language and restaurants serving traditional Russian dishes are now common sights in the area to cater for the Russian tourists. But not all of the Russians in Phuket are there by choice.
The conflict in Ukraine has left many Russians stranded, with airlines cancelling flights home. Many of the new expats don’t support Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions and fear persecution if they return home. Some have resorted to using Western Union or cryptocurrency to get cash, as they cannot withdraw money from ATMs or use their credit cards due to sanctions on Russia.
Businesses in Phuket are welcoming piles of baht landing on their desks for everything from a new sofa, to visa services, a new car or upfront villa rental for a year or more.
Local Russian businesses in Phuket were initially busy with the influx of Russians, but as money access worsened, their shops and restaurants lost clientele as they were unable to pay. Some are offering payments through transfers within their home country, from one Russian bank account to another. Some hotels and hostels have also stepped in to offer discounted long-stay rooms and free hostel beds to stranded Russians when their funds run out.