Fewer British tourists and expats are coming to Thailand

Bit by bit, Thailand seems to be losing its appeal to the Brits.

The highpoint of the British addiction to Thailand was the year 2011 when there were almost 900,000 entries by British passport holders. The information was from the Thai immigration bureau, though it was likely a slight overestimate as it counted re-entries by the same person as additional individuals. These days the bureau sadly does not publish data in the same detailed way country by country. Meanwhile, another useful statistical source, the UK government’s shock annual report British Behaviour Abroad, was discontinued several years ago. Maybe it provided too many salacious stories about sex, drugs and awful traffic accidents.

The number of Brits declined in the mid-2020s to about half the 2011 totals. In spite of the covid pandemic, the international tourist numbers in Thailand are now approaching the 2019 figure of almost 40 million according to the Tourist Authority of Thailand. However, the principal recruiting grounds are now China, Russia and India whose nationals are no longer required to obtain prior visas. According to the Board of Investment, Brits have shown little interest in longstay visas such as the newish 10-year Long Term Residence which encourages the well-heeled to make a base in Thailand.

The decline in British tourist numbers to Thailand has several roots. There’s stiff competition from eastern Europe and sun-baked rivals in south east Asia. The rising cost of international air fares and immigration bureaucracy, notably the TM30 residence form which can carry a financial penalty if ignored may also be factors. Almost daily reports of Brits being arrested and jailed in Thailand and disturbing stories about the non-insured facing huge bills after a traffic accident surely play a role. The notion that Thailand is the Wild West where anything goes, assuming it was once true, is now buried six feet under.

The 2011 statistics showed there were around 60,000 Brits living in Thailand for most or all of the year. The UK Institute for Public Policy recently estimated the number at only 41,000 in 2024. For working expats, the opportunities in traditional industries such as oil and gas are smaller, whilst the Japanese and the Chinese are the dominant foreign presence in newer industries such as car manufacture and industrial estates. Working without a permit and using illegal Thai nominees in businesses these days are risky lifestyles with ongoing surveillance by police and employment officials.

British retirees have long been a feature of the expat population in Thailand, but their numbers are also in decline. Inflationary pressures, not to mention the high cost of inpatient hospital care, are significant issues especially as some British pensions – including the state one – are frozen from annual increases. Expat clubs in Phuket, Pattaya and Chiang Mai have been dominated of late by talk of the Thai Revenue policy to tax “assessable” foreign income with complaining British voices being amongst the loudest. Social media is abundant with English-speaking expats threatening to leave Thailand for pastures new in Cambodia, Vietnam or the Philippines where the tax authorities are, it is hoped, more indulgent. It certainly does look like the British love affair with Thailand is losing its magic.