Long-term residency visas are sought after as people search for pandemic ‘safe havens’, Thailand and Malaysia being the top picks among the Chinese and Japanese.
Rising xenophobia might be rearing its ugly head worldwide but that doesn’t deter determined people from obtaining residencies in other countries perceived as being a ‘safe haven’ from the pandemic. Both Thailand and Malaysia are two countries receiving a lot of attention lately from well-heeled foreigners as both emerged out of the pandemic with declining new infections and have been lauded worldwide for their successful battle against the virus.
Top of the pick is Thailand’s Elite visa which has attracted hordes of applicants from China. Not surprisingly since Thailand is the number one destination for real estate buyers from China in 2020, according to Juwai IQI enquiry data.
Explains Juwai IQI Executive Chairman Georg Chmiel: “The coronavirus has led to many Chinese applying for long-term residency in Thailand. The Southeast Asian country is respected for having handled the outbreak very well. The June and July resurgence of cases in Beijing was especially powerful as a demand driver.“COVID-19 has made everyone think again about how and where they live; you spend so much time in your home when you are on lockdown or working from home. People want to be prepared in case something like COVID-19 happens again.
“Not a few have decided to move overseas to Thailand, which seems safe and pleasant. It’s true that Thailand was the second country to confirm a COVID-19 case back in January, but managed to avoid a large-scale outbreak. Thailand has not seen a case of domestically transmitted COVID-19 in two months.”
Elite + Health Visa
Seeing such a deluge of applications and in view of the ongoing pandemic, the Thai government now plans to bundle health insurance into the Elite visa offering.
In the past, Thailand had attracted lower-income retirees but found that sometimes they could not pay for their own health care if they fell severely ill. The new healthcare package will include a complete COVID-19 test and a range of other health services. Thailand has an excellent low-cost healthcare system, which makes it especially appealing.
“Chinese citizens hold the largest share of Thai Elite visas, at 31% of the total. Japanese hold 8% of all of the visas, and the British, Americans, and French each account for 6% of the total.
“The Elite visa has grown in popularity very rapidly. In 2014, only 152 visas were issued. By contrast, last year more than 2,100 were issued. Despite or rather because of the global crisis this year, the number might be even higher by the end of 2020.
“There are several categories of visa on offer under the programme. The most popular category is Elite Easy Access, which costs THB 800,000. The next most popular category is Elite Superiority Extension, at THB 1 million. The third most popular category is Elite Family Excursion, also costing THB 800,000.
“People want to be prepared in case something like COVID-19 happens again.”
“According to estimates, Thailand raises about US$15,000 per individual visa. The Thai government would have earned about US$31.5 million from Elite visa applicants last year. It may earn more this year.
“The Elite visa is not just for retirees. One of the most important target markets for the government is young tech workers from China, Japan, Australia and other parts of Asia-Pacific who want to live in Thailand full time or part-time.”
“The Elite membership comes in several different packages, but essentially there are 6 core packages. The Elite visa is like the American Express card of visas. You get a special membership card that gives you benefits at the airport, immigration, with limo services, and at spas, golf clubs, and premium retail stores.
“The most important benefit is permission to live in Thailand for as many as 20 years. You are not supposed to work while in Thailand, but it is the easiest visa for anyone who wants to live in Thailand for a long period of time. Another important benefit is that Elite lets you avoid much of the otherwise onerous paperwork required to navigate the visa bureaucracy in Thailand.
“Costs start at THB 500,000 baht, so this visa is aimed only at people who can afford to pay for convenience. This is not an investment visa. The cost is a fee that you will not get back. You are paying for privilege.
“The visa is open to almost anyone who can afford it. It is prohibited if you have been imprisoned in another country or gone bankrupt, and you must be in good mental and physical health.”
MM2H – A hidden gem
Compare this with the Malaysia My 2nd Home (MM2H) programme which is currently under review by the Malaysian government. It is expected to be tightened in future to take into account the pandemic’s global effects.
The low-key programme costs more but the bank deposit required is at least refundable unlike the Thai Elite Visa. The benefit to the Malaysian economy has been nothing short of tremendous, according to Kashif Ansari, Group CEO for Juwai IQI subsidiary IQI Global.
“Every single MM2H participant generates RM1 million on average in economic benefits for Malaysia. Each year, MM2H generates as much as RM4.9 billion for the economy, according to official statistics.
“At the moment, the programme is frozen to give the government a chance to conduct a review and implement reforms. Applicants cannot file paperwork until the programme is restarted. If the government unfreezes the programme in 2021 and reassures applicants about the viability of MM2H, we foresee reasonably strong demand for new visas.
“MM2H has been one of Malaysia’s best job-creating economic stimulus programmes, so it could be very important in 2021 to help the economy return to rapid growth. MM2H pays for itself, so it has a positive impact on the national budget. At this difficult time, we all know the government is making hard decisions to help the country do well.
“MM2H is part of the solution to the housing affordability problem. Foreign residents under the programme often buy property, which reduces the overhang of unsold, expensive new homes and gives developers the capital they need to build affordable homes for Malaysians.
“Participants of the MM2H scheme are great economic boosters in the sectors of tourism, property, retail, education, and medicine. China is again the top participant country followed by Japan and Bangladesh. Trailing behind the top 3 are the UK, South Korea and Singapore.