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The mystery of exactly how many expats live in Thailand

Over the last twenty or so years, Thailand has become increasingly popular with foreigners who decide to make the country their home.

But exactly how many expats live in Thailand has always remained somewhat of a mystery.

At various points over the last decade, informal and unofficial figures given to Thaivisa from various government agencies have estimated the expat population in Thailand to be anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million.

The discrepancy in these estimates, Thaivisa was told, is due to the different ways in which various government departments and agencies class foreigners as ‘expats’ – i.e a foreigner who lives in Thailand permanently – with many ‘long stay’ foreigners actually still officially classed as being tourists.

But figures released earlier this year by the United Nations, citing Thailand’s Immigration Bureau, reveal that Thailand’s expat population is considerably smaller than even those vague estimates. 

According to figures in the 2019 Thailand Migration Report, there are just 150,707 expats residing in Thailand, of those 72,969 are retirees.

According to the report the figures are based on “visas issued in 2017” by the Thai Immigration Bureau.

However, it isn’t clear if by “visas” the figures actually refer to extensions of stay issued by Immigration in Thailand or if it also includes actual visas issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Thai embassies and consulates around the world – or both. 

Citing the Office of Foreign Workers Administration, Department of Employment and Ministry of Labour, the report says there are also 112,834 “Professional and Skilled” foreigners working in Thailand.

It’s also not clear if there is a crossover in the figures between those working and those classed as residing in Thailand.

Even if there is no crossover, the figures would still put Thailand’s expat population at around 263,000 – well below previous estimates.

However, previous studies carried out in Thailand have estimated the number of expats to be higher.

A study carried out by the Institute for Population and Social Research at Mahidol University using data from 2010, suggested that there were approximately 440,000 expats living in Thailand, which included 141,000 Chinese, 85,000 Brits, 80,000 Japanese, 46,000 Indians, 40,000 Americans, 24,000 Germans and 23,000 French nationals.

Of course it could be that Thailand’s expat community is in massive decline, with 2010 studies estimating the number of expats in Thailand to be closer to 500,000 while the more recent data estimates that figure to be between 150,000 and 263,000.

Whether or not previous data sets are even comparable, the reality is that the mystery of exactly how many expats are living in Thailand remains.

Thai Visa

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