Story: Thais

Page 1. Leaving Thailand

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Thailand is a tropical country in South-East Asia, bordered by Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Cambodia. Many Thais have moved to neighbouring countries such as Singapore, and further still to the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The main reasons people left were the large disparities between rich and poor, and a lack of good jobs. Thais found the space and quiet of New Zealand a far cry from the crowds and noise of their capital, Bangkok.

Settling in New Zealand

Prior to 1980 there were very few Thais living in New Zealand. Early arrivals were often Colombo Plan students. In 1981 there were only 303 resident Thais, but this figure rose to 2,838 in 1996, and by 2013 the population had reached 8,052.

In the early 2000s many arrivals were short-term visitors. Young Thais were part of an influx of Asian students, and some found the cities very slow and quiet after Bangkok. In 1999 the 1,741 Thai students generated $28.5 million in foreign exchange.

There have always been more Thai women than men in New Zealand, and they are more than twice as likely to be married as Thai men. Not all women immigrants have remained willingly. A number were lured to New Zealand with promises of employment in restaurants, only to be forced to work in the sex industry. Some who had been kept against their will were able to escape, alerting police to the problem. In 1999 the Human Rights Commission set up a safe house programme to help Thai women break out of prostitution.

Most Thais have settled in Auckland and Wellington. In 2013 over 80% lived in the North Island; just over half were in Auckland, with its warmer climate and greater employment opportunities. In 2013, 76% of New Zealand Thais were Buddhist, and many of the remainder were Christian.

In 2013 about half of Thais were employed in service and sales, agriculture and fisheries, and other manual occupations, but over 40% were office workers, technicians and professionals. 

How to cite this page:

Rosa Chhun, 'Thais - Leaving Thailand', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 May 2022)

Story by Rosa Chhun, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 25 Mar 2015