The French are reputed to be one of the most inclined to settle outside the borders of their own country. And at l’Atelier An Phu, we can’t say otherwise!
Since 2010, we have seen hundreds and hundreds of French students of all ages pass through our walls, engaging in our activities, learning new languages, preparing for exams…
But what exactly is the French community in Vietnam like, and more broadly, in Asia? How many French people live in this corner of the world? What are the current trends of expatriation in Asia?
Today, we are going to learn more about French people living abroad!
Asia, one of the favorite destinations for French expatriates
According to Capital.fr and an ADP study, Asia is the 8th favorite destination for French ex-pats. While the French generally prefers Europe and North America, and although Africa concentrates a larger share of the expatriate population (nearly double that of the Asian continent), Asia does indeed seem to arouse keen interest among the more adventurous.
If Asia, despite its size, only welcomes 15% of French people from abroad, it is less of a lack of interest from the French than for practical reasons. Indeed, compared to the destinations mentioned above, namely Europe, North America, and Africa, Asia is less easily accessible, for the following reasons:
- Outside the Schengen area, and with fewer historical and diplomatic ties, Visa and settlement conditions are less easy in Asia than in these other regions mentioned above. This is all the more true since the migration policies of Asian countries are often quite harsh, and their populations are very homogeneous.
- Geographical distance, quite simply: when it takes 2 to 3 hours by plane maximum to cover all of Europe and the Maghreb from Paris or 7 hours to reach New York, it takes almost double the time (13h) for Singapore, Tokyo, or Beijing. Family reunions are therefore less frequent due to distances and costs, which is why expatriates in Asia often come up as being the “adventurers” of the bunch.
- Language barrier: if in North America (and in particular Quebec), in Europe (Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg), and in Africa French language is quite common, there are no destinations in Asia where speaking French is possible daily. Even English or other European languages (Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese) which are often mastered by French people abroad will not always be useful to you in Asia.
Despite these difficulties, professional opportunities and the desire to discover other ways of life make the Asian continent a source of dreams and fascination.
Also, of course, depending on the expatriate profile, the destinations in Asia change. If countries such as Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and more generally, Southeast Asia will particularly attract retirees, the destinations of finance and globalized economy (Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo) will attract populations of young workers who are often highly qualified. India and China are naturally among the top 5 destinations in Asia, due to their demographic weights and sizes in the world.
Expatriate populations by Asian country
But where in Asia will the French live? According to 2021 figures from consular registers, the most popular destinations are:
- China : 24 092 Registered
- Thailand: 13 117 Registered
- Singapore: 12 776 Registered
- Japan: 9 952 Registered
- India: 7 236 Registered
- Vietnam: 7 162 Registered
- Cambodia: 4 945 Registered
- Indonesia: 3 732 Registered
- South Korea: 2942 Registered
- Philippines: 2 743 Registered
- Malaysia: 2 758 Registered
- Taiwan: 2 190 Registered
- Laos: 1 927 Registered
- Sri Lanka: 610 Registered
- Burma (Myanmar): 399 Registered
- Nepal: 198 Registered
- Bangladesh: 196 Registered
That’s almost 100,000 people in total!
It should be noted that these Asian countries are part of the 11th Circumscription of the French abroad, a much larger constituency, spanning from Belarus to the Pacific Islands.
This number of 100,000 only concerns individuals that took the initiative of registering their presence at their local embassy/consulate.
To put this into perspective, it should be considered that on January 1, 2022, the number of people registered in the Register of French people established outside France was 1,614,772, whereas the actual number was estimated at 2,500,000 expatriates.
In light of this element, all other things being equal, more than 150,000 French people would then reside in Asia in 2022. Which, for example in Vietnam, would give a population of around 10,000 people.
What are the current trends?
If you live in Asia (or even elsewhere), you surely came across some news articles stating the departure of expatriates from their adopted country and return to France due to the global pandemic of Covid-19.
But in what proportions exactly were these departures made?
While expatriation experienced an increase until 2019, the years of Covid were marked by a decline in the number of French people living abroad, since, between 2022 and 2021, the register of French people living abroad is reduced by 4.2%. Between 2020 and 2021 already, this figure contracted by 5.1%.
Thus, in the space of 2 years, the expatriate population has gone from 1,775,875 to 1,614,772, a decrease of 9%. Covid has therefore greatly reduced desires for expatriation and has even prompted a large number of expatriates to return to France: in 2022, the number of expatriates is barely above that of 2012, 10 years earlier.
Between 2020 and 2021, the Asian countries that have experienced the greatest upheavals are:
- Burma (Myanmar), at -50%: but local political unrest also largely explains this figure.
- China, unsurprisingly, at -11.5%
- Bangladesh, at -11.3%
- Indonesia, at -10.5%
- The Philippines, at -10%
- Singapore, at -9.7%
- India, at -8.8%
- Malaysia, at -8.2%
All these countries have therefore experienced exit movements much higher than the global trend, since then again, worldwide, between 2020 and 2021, the number of expatriates contracted by around 5%.
We can conclude that the health or social situations have on average deteriorated more in Asia than elsewhere during the Covid crisis: very harsh restrictions, delays in vaccination, and the scale of the epidemic, therefore, explain this strong downward trend.
However, this is not the case for all Asian countries.
Indeed, between 2020 and 2021 Thailand got a +1.5% increase, and Laos +1%. Other countries show a fairly modest decline. This is particularly the case for Cambodia, at -2.5%, Vietnam at -2.7%, Japan at -2.9%, Korea at -3.6%, and countries all affected less severely.
Today, most countries on the planet (with the very notable exception of China), seem to have reached a situation where the authorities have decided to live with Covid, with the proportions of vaccination of the population quite variable admittedly, but still to a remarkable extent. Rare today are the countries that do not have 50 to 70% of their population vaccinated.
In 2022, Asian countries are reopening tourism one after the other and reducing or even eliminating their entry conditions, a sign that things are returning to normal.
Asia remains more than ever one of the most attractive continents for expatriate workers, with very good economic conditions, growth prospects, and an often secure living environment. There is no doubt that soon, the trend will be reversed again, and that the French community in Asia and elsewhere will find a new lease of life!