Real estate agents and property data from Australia to Singapore suggest that the end of China’s strict COVID-19 border controls is prompting pent-up cash to begin flowing abroad. Chinese demand is helping to boost Singapore property prices, and Chinese students are buying apartments in Sydney and Melbourne. 

Chinese interest is also ticking up in Thailand. While data on the early trickle of outflows is scarce, the signs suggest new demand get capital out of China. The Chinese government’s tax rules and criticism of wealth accumulation make investing abroad more attractive to Chinese investors.

Enquiries from regional Asia property investors, particularly Chinese, have doubled since the borders opened, according to Ian Chen, founder, and CEO of Jalin Realty. Most of the investors who are buying now are those who just need to get some money out. 

The trend indicates that, in the wake of the pandemic, Chinese families are looking to relocate assets and even themselves overseas, although the restrictions on moving money abroad will likely prevent a flood of outflows or a significant impact on the world’s second-biggest economy.

Recent foreign interest has helped stabilize property prices and push clearance rates in Sydney to a one-year high in February, and Singapore is seeing families and money flowing in. 

Singapore’s Chinese population is the top foreign buyers of real estate. Home purchases in Singapore cooled early in 2023 from last year’s torrid pace but only slightly, despite a steep rise in real estate stamp duties. 

The Singapore American School has seen significant interest from Chinese families looking to enroll.

Foreign-currency deposits at China’s commercial banks fell 16.2% in the year through February, though it is unclear whether that suggests flows abroad. 

One measurement of disguised capital flight is persistent net capital outflows through tourism but for other purposes, analysts at French bank Natixis said in a note, referring to larger capital transfers that accompany travel.

Sales enquiries from China are starting to pick up in Thailand, while Canada, another real estate market popular with Chinese investors, has put a two-year ban on foreign purchasers. 

According to Jenny Yan, a marketing manager at a Shenzhen company that specializes in buying overseas properties, “a lot of people have been traveling to Thailand since reopening and they will look at the property market.”

“Properties in Thailand or Malaysia are pretty cheap, even cheaper than those in a third-tier Chinese city,” she said, with a luxury house costing about 2 million yuan ($300,000) and an apartment a quarter of that.

“With this many people traveling, there will be demand for buying.”


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