Moving to Thailand was an exciting and at the same time stressful experience for me and my family. It was exciting because it had been the culmination of a seven-year plan; stressful because we had a six-month-old baby in tow.
And to make matters worse, our flight from New York to Hong Kong was delayed. So the airline put us on another flight, which first went to Seoul, then Hong Kong, then Bangkok.
My six month old was a champ. Me, not so much.
But before the last day I ever set foot on American soil in 2014, not only did we do some extensive planning, but there were a lot of loose ends we had to tie up before we left for Thailand.
This guide will give you a good idea of what it’s like moving from America to Thailand with a family. And even if you’re not coming to Thailand with your significant other or kids, most of what you’ll read here is applicable to anyone.
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- 1 About Me
- 2 Before You Move
- 3 Moving to Thailand
- 4 After You Move
- 5 Long-term Adjustment
- 6 Now, on to You
- 7 Support Us
- 8 What to Read Next
My love for Thailand started with Muay Thai. I first came here in 2007 to train at Kaewsamrit Gym in Talingchan for just over two weeks. But somewhere within those seventeen days I’d got bitten by the bug. It’s the same bug that gets most foreigners who visit Thailand, causing us to do things like, I don’t know, give up a $100,000, fifteen-year-long career in the comforts of corporate America for a more adventurous life in the mystical lands of Southeast Asia (the mystical part is temporary).
During those seventeen days at the gym I’d met a guy named Phil. He’d sold everything he owned back home to live the dream of becoming one of the best foreign Muay Thai fighters in Thailand. I met another guy named Travis who’d done the same thing. All these conversations I was having surrounded the idea of “living your dreams.” Even the bunk bed I slept on had “live your dreams” written on it. I couldn’t escape the idea.
When I got back to America and took my first warm shower in over two weeks, I started questioning my life. Was working for corporate America what I really wanted for myself? Did I want to slave away for the rest of my professional career, only to look back in regret?
I couldn’t go out like that. So I wrote down a plan. I would go back to school, get my degree in English, and then move to Thailand and teach English. So I put myself through school part-time while working for corporate America. And each year, I took another lengthy trip to Thailand. One month here. Two-and-half months there. Three weeks here.
Whenever I’d return home from those annual trips to Thailand, I’d go to the local Thai restaurant to get my fix of Thai food and culture. That’s where I met my future wife, who was originally from Thailand and wanted to move back. Five years later we married and had our first daughter.
Before You Move
It’s important to handle all the important stuff that you won’t be able to do once you’re in Thailand while you’re still in America. You’ll want to handle these before you buy airline tickets and get your visa. Here are a few of the more important things:
Paying Off Debt
Part of my seven-year plan included paying off all our debt. I wouldn’t say my wife and I had a lot of debt, just a car payment, two credit cards, and a mortgage, but I realized the monthly interest on those payments could’ve been going to our Thailand savings.
So we started paying off our bills with the highest interest first, which was my car payment (my wife’s car as paid for). I sent in extra payments every few months to speed up the process, and once that bill was gone I was able to put away an extra $500 a month for a few years.
At the same time, we began to use our credit cards only for emergencies. We had fallen into the habit of using our cards out of sheer laziness. And although we paid the bill in full each month, we didn’t want the payment lingering over our heads.
About a year before we moved to Thailand we cancelled our credit cards and cut them up. It was liberating. I know people will tell you to keep your cards so you can earn points and fly and eat for free. It sounds great. But in my opinion, debt is the devil. If I can’t afford something with cash, it’s going to have to wait. It’s one of the few financial rules we follow as a family, and one I’m not willing to bend.
The only debt we couldn’t get rid of before our move to Thailand was our mortgage.
Staying mostly debt free allowed us to save enough money to transition to life in Thailand. And honestly, looking back after all the years, staying out of debt was one of the greatest choices we’ve could’ve made for our family in the long run.
You have to remember that you’re coming to a new country and starting from scratch, and it may take a while to really get yourself established. The longer you’re here, the easier it gets and the more opportunities present themselves. But in the meantime you might face unexpected emergencies, lack of work, and so on.
If you want to move to Thailand you’re going to need some savings. Unless you have a job lined up for when you arrive in Thailand, don’t expect any income for the first few months.
But how much should you save? This depends on how many of you are coming here and what kind of lifestyle you want to live.
I’d say a middle-of-the-road lifestyle in Thailand would cost you about 40,000 baht per month with some minor sacrifices. That’s about $1,300 a month. Going by the six-month emergency-fund rule in America, that means you’d need about $7,800 in savings. This will get you by in case you can’t find a job within six months. But I doubt you won’t be able to find a job in Thailand within six months.
If you’re coming here with your family, I’d say you should plan on budgeting for 70,000 baht per month, or $2,300. This means your six-month emergency fund would be upped to $13,800. Although I’d say $10,000 in emergency money should be enough.
You might hear different numbers from other people. But having gone through the process and having had a few emergencies while in Thailand, I’d say save an emergency fund–save, save, save.
Your savings strategy will depend on your financial situation. But I’d save at least the amount I’ve mentioned above—more if possible. Because you just don’t know what’s going to happen. And if something big happens, like it did for us when my wife had our second daughter in Thailand, you want to be sure you have the money to cover it.
What if you can’t save that much money? Looking back, it’s hard to imagine my family would’ve survived our transition to Thailand in the first few months to a year without adequate savings. But it is possible. If you keep your standards of living very low and show up to Thailand with a few thousand dollars, you could make it happen. But how?
Remember those days when you got your first apartment or went off to college? You lived off Ramen Noodles, right? Well in Thailand, we have Mama.
Breaking the News
Both my coworkers and managers knew I had Thailand in my radar. For seven straight years I used most of my vacation time to travel to Thailand. And when I had no vacation time left, I took an unpaid leave of absence to get my fix. I talked about my desire to move here plenty of times. And everyone knew it was just a matter of time. And one day, that time came.
When I handed my resignation letter in, I got mixed reactions. Most of my co-workers and managers were happy for me. Hell, for all I knew they probably had dreams of their own. And here I was, getting to live mine. So I got a lot of hugs and handshakes and good lucks and keep in touches—and even a few visits over the years.
My family also knew I wanted to move to Thailand, so I had no push-back from them. They were supportive of my decision and happy that I was following my heart. My mom had visited Thailand once in the late 1990s, when my cousin was shooting a movie in Bangkok. Now that I live here, it gives her a chance to experience Thailand all over again. And she’s been here at least once a year ever since my family has moved here.
My friends were also happy for me. I did get a lot of “I wish I could do that” type of remarks. And if you’re reading this now and thinking the same thing, I’m living proof that you can do it, no matter who you are. If you really want to make it happen, you’ll find a way.
But you might not get the same support I received. After all, Americans are fairly closed off from the happenings in Thailand. The only news about Thailand that makes its way to American soil pertains to Army coups and pedophiles and high-profile, bizarre deaths.
And because Thailand was America’s ally during the Vietnam War, when you bring up the country to anyone who’s served in Nam, their first comment is about the infamous fish bowls, those sex shops around Thailand where you can pick a girl from behind a glass window.
If Americans only knew that life in Thailand carries on like life in America, in that people go to work and school and go about the same mundane activities, then maybe they’d see things differently. But then again, if that was the case, maybe you wouldn’t want to move here.
So how do you convince your family that you’ll be okay in Thailand? How do you convince your significant other to drop their life in America for a life in Thailand? I’d say the only way to do this is to expose them to the things that make living in Thailand such a worthwhile pursuit.
The easiest way to convince your family that Thailand is a great place to move to is to show them the articles here on Thailand Starter Kit. But if that isn’t enough, you might need to go to extreme measures.
This means you may have to bring your family to Thailand so that they can experience the country firsthand. My mother, for example, has shown more and more interest in spending longer periods of time in Thailand, and has even looked at houses here. Her plan, she says, is to eventually spend six months in Thailand and then another six months in the US.
Taking Care of Property
Do you have property in America? Then you’re going to have to decide what you’re going to do with it before you move to Thailand. Are you going to sell it or rent it out?
In the spring and summer, who’s going to cut the grass? In the fall, who’s going to rake the leaves? When it snows, who’s going to shovel the property? And that’s only the outside. On the inside, things are bound to go wrong too.
A house is a big responsibility, and if you aren’t close by to help when things go wrong, or if you don’t have anyone you trust to look after the house for you, the property could cause major problems and liabilities.
I don’t want to discourage anyone with property from trying to rent it out, but it may turn out to be more of a headache than it’s worth, especially if you’re trying to manage the property while living on the other side of the world.
My wife and I tried a short stint at renting our property. But after six months of living in Thailand and having no way to quickly deal with problems with the house and tenants, we decided to sell it.
At the same time, I know people from America who do very well for themselves by renting out their property while living in Thailand. If you could make it work for you, hats off.
Moving to Thailand
Now that all the planning and preparing is out of the way, it’s time to start the actual move. And the move starts with the flight.
I’m a fan of Cathay Pacific. Always have been. Always will be. Six of my seven trips to Thailand I’ve flown on Cathay Pacific. In the past, I usually booked through Expedia. But for this trip, because we had strict requirements, I called Cathay and booked directly over the phone.
I knew I wanted a one-way ticket for myself and my family because we had no plans to return to America in the near future. I knew my daughter and wife would be able to get one-way tickets since they had Thai passports. But I heard mixed things about one-way tickets for non-Thais.
When I called Cathay, they said it wouldn’t be an issue. Since I was planning on getting a one-year Thai visa in New York, I could buy a one-way ticket. The Cathay rep on the phone told me to show my visa at the gate if anyone asked about a return ticket.
I booked my wife and myself a ticket, booked a drop-down bed for an extra $200 for our daughter (which was priceless), and that was that. It was early February, and we were all set to leave on April 4, 2014.
Visas and Passports
With our tickets booked, we decided to start working on our visas and passports. Although my wife lived in America, she was born in Thailand so she didn’t need a visa. But my daughter needed her Thai and American passports, and I needed my Thai visa.
We tried getting my daughter’s Thai passport first, but in 2014, the year we moved to Thailand, the Thai government had been shutdown during “Bangkok Shutdown.” So the Thai Embassy in New York City couldn’t send my daughter’s documents over to Thailand for approval. Instead, they gave my daughter a paper passport and told us to get the real passport when we got to Thailand.
But in any case, we had to give the Thai Embassy the following documents:
- a copy of my wife’s Thai passport
- a copy of my wife’s Thai birth certificate
- a copy of my daughter’s US birth certificate
- a certified copy of my daughter’s US birth certificate translated into Thai*
- a certified copy of our American marriage certificate
- a certified copy of our American marriage certificate translated to Thai*
*My wife was not allowed to translate my daughter’s birth certificate herself. She had to hire a professional Thai translator in America.
My daughter’s Thai passport costed $35.
For myself, I thought it was best to apply for a non-immigrant O visa based on marriage from the Thai Embassy in New York City. So that’s what I did.
And here are the documents I had to submit:
- my passport
- a copy of my wife’s Thai passport
- a copy of my wife’s Thai birth certificate
- a certified copy of our American marriage certificate
- a certified copy of our American marriage certificate translated to Thai*
*My wife was not allowed to translate our marriage certificate herself. She had to hire a professional Thai translator in America.
The one-year, multi-entry visa costed $180.
About one week later the embassy gave me a one-year multiple-entry visa. With it, I’d be allowed to stay in Thailand for up to one year.
Shipping Your Stuff
You’ve paid off your debt and saved enough money to move to Thailand. You’ve broken the news to everyone and made the big decision about what to do with your property. You got your visa and you’ve even bought your airline tickets.
This means your big move is getting closer and you’re going to have to start thinking about the finer aspects of your life—like what to keep and what to get rid of, and how you’re going to ship your stuff to Thailand.
I’m a bit of a minimalist so I despise having too much “stuff.” And to be honest, if I moved to Thailand by myself, I would’ve shown up with my backpack and flip flops.
But as a family, there were some things we had to ship or we’d pay more than double the price for them over here. And even the cost of shipping those things was still cheaper than buying the things again in Thailand.
So to help us decide what we should ship to Thailand, we considered one thing: Would it cost more to buy this thing again in Thailand? If it did, we shipped it.
Things that we shipped to Thailand were car seats and other necessary things to safely raise a baby. I shipped my road bikes, which would’ve costed almost double the price in Thailand, books, and my camera gear: tripods, sliders, and so on. And my wife shipped her baking equipment. These things alone made the price of shipping worth it.
We used Lanna Shipping in NYC. My wife used them quite a few times over the years to send stuff back to her family in Thailand. So she trusted them. For a pallet-and-a-half worth of stuff, a pallet being forty-eight inches high and forty-two inches long, they charged us $1,400. This price included the pick up, shipping, and delivery of sixty-two boxes worth of stuff in Bangkok.
To ship our things, it would take six weeks. Two weeks before we left Lanna came to our house, inventoried all sixty-two boxes, and then took everything away in a van. If all went well, we’d see our things six weeks from then at my mother-in-laws house in Bangkok. And that we did. Four weeks after we arrived in Thailand, all sixty-two of our boxes were delivered, unopened and intact.
Bringing Important Documents
You’ll also want to bring with you your important personal documents. I’d suggest keeping these with you on your carry-on luggage. These are your:
- driving licenses
- birth certificates
- house ownership deeds
- proof of income or pay slips
- medical certificates or reports
- marriage or divorce certificates
- degrees, diplomas, certificates, and transcripts
- taxes, social security cards, or insurance numbers
Closing and Notifying Important Accounts
One of the very last things my wife and I did in America was close our bank accounts. We then took our savings and put it in a new TD Bank checking account. With a TD Bank checking account, we’d get all our overseas ATM fees reimbursed each month. And with the amount we deposited, there would be no monthly fees.
The only stipulation was that we had to use the account at least three times per month. This wouldn’t be a problem since I usually buy books for my Kindle on Amazon and enroll in various online writing courses like this one from Malcolm Gladwell I just took.
I also listed a trusted family member on our bank account so they could handle any banking issues that might come up while we were in Thailand.
We then notified our brokerage accounts that we were moving and changed the addresses on those accounts to a family member’s address.
I can’t emphasize this enough, but make sure your bank puts a note on your account that you’re living in Thailand long term. Over the past four years, even with a note on our account, we’ve had our ATM cards deactivated at least once a year—almost always at the most inconvenient time.
Nowadays our means of getting money has changed just a bit. We no longer use our ATM cards unless it’s an absolute emergency.
We now use Transferwise to send money from America to Thailand, and it saves us hundreds of dollars a year. I’ve used a few different online money transfer providers, but they are by far the cheapest and quickest.
There have been times when I received my transfer in less than twenty-four hours. And for the times when the transfers took longer than promised, Transferwise gave me my next transfer free.
If you’re giving up your job of fifteen years like I did, then you’re probably going to lose some perks, like health insurance for you and your family. I knew healthcare in Thailand was a lot cheaper than it was in America, so we opted not to get health insurance.
Although there are different schools of thought on whether you should have health insurance or not, choosing to go without it hasn’t been the worst decision. I do miss the peace of mind that comes with having health insurance, but so far our annual healthcare expenses when visiting hospitals in Thailand have been cheaper than the cost of health insurance for my family.
However–and this is a big HOWEVER–if it wasn’t for my wife, who is excellent at dealing with hospitals in Thailand, I’d get myself health insurance. If I was a single foreigner in Thailand, I’d feel much better with it than without it.
Now that my daughters are old enough to enjoy traveling, we are planning more overseas trips. In this case, we will certainly get travel insurance.
Somewhere along the way, you’ll have to consider where you’re going to live in Thailand. We already knew we’d be living in Bangkok with my in-laws before we got on our feet and went on our own. So the decision on where to live didn’t take much energy or planning on our part.
But if I had to offer any advice on the subject, I’d say don’t commit to a place until you’ve traveled around or secured a job. You’re going to want to live somewhere that makes you happy. After all, no use leaving one unhappy environment for another.
And once you find a secure job, you’re probably going to want to live close to work, especially if you work in Bangkok. The morning and evening rush hours put New York City gridlock to shame.
In the end, you’re probably going to live someplace you’ve never expected to live anyway. Sometimes it’s all about where the wind takes you—at least in my family’s case.
After You Move
You’ve handled all the planning and arrived in Thailand. Congratulations. It might seem like all the hard work is over and you’re going to live out the rest of your life in paradise. But this is hardly the case. Getting to Thailand is only half the battle. The other half now awaits.
Finding a Place to Live
As I mentioned earlier, we had a place to live as soon as we got to Thailand. So we never had to worry about that part. But after three months of living with my wife’s family, we felt it was time to get a place of our own.
As we quickly learned, Thai and American family values and family structure differ significantly. Not that either society is better than the other. It was just that we had our way of doing things, and my wife’s family had their way of doing things. And often times our styles didn’t blend well.
My wife is Thai, as I said, but her mindset is more American than Thai. So she didn’t always see eye-to-eye with her mother or sister or brother.
Since she was the youngest of her brothers and sisters, she was expected to take care of all the stuff no one else wanted to do or didn’t have time to do. Her family expected her to run errands and help take care of her brother’s kids, and meanwhile she had our six-month old to take care of.
She was feeling the pressures of adjusting to Thailand and being a new parent. But she couldn’t get her family to understand her. She’d been experiencing, in my opinion, re-entry shock.
So we started looking for places to live. At the time, we had no idea about all the websites available for renting condos in Bangkok. So my wife asked her Thai friend from America, who was now living in Thailand, for ideas.
Her friend was living in a condo at The Parkland Srinakarin. So my wife went onto Prakard.com and started looking for condos there. We found one, looked at it, and moved in a few weeks later.
It wasn’t easy moving again so quickly after just settling into Thailand, and my mother-in-law was very upset that we wouldn’t be living with her. But in the end it turned out better for everyone. And our relationships are a lot more stable.
Finding a Job
I decided before we moved to Thailand that for the first few months in the country, I wouldn’t work. I’d just come from a fifteen-year bid of what felt like indentured servitude in corporate America. So I gave myself some much needed time off to spend with my wife and our new baby.
But when we rented the condo in Bangkok I knew my vacation was over and I had to get established in Thailand. I also knew I’d be teaching English. It was all part of the plan. So I got my TEFL Certificate from Text & Talk Academy and went on to teach in corporations throughout Bangkok, Samut Prakan, and Chonburi.
The longer you’re in Thailand, the more opportunities come up. And I started seeing a lot more opportunities for work other than teaching English. So I slowly started taking less and less teaching contracts at corporations and started picking up other work.
If you’re a freelancer, there’s also Iglu, which hires freelancers as employees and bills their customers. In return, freelancers can get themselves a visa and work permit. It’s a legal service and a better choice than working illegally in Thailand.
Once you have a job, you’re going to have to pay taxes as well. As an American in Thailand, there’s no escaping Uncle Sam. You can learn about US taxes for American expats in this article and learn more about Thai taxes here.
One of the hassles of living in Thailand is the immigration system. Actually, after four years of living here, I don’t see it as a hassle anymore. Most things I have to go through to stay in Thailand don’t bother me anymore. I’ve come to accept that it’s just the way it is. And to be inconvenienced four days a year to live in Thailand year round is well worth the hassle.
If you arrive with a multi-entry non-immigrant O visa like me, then you’ll have to check in every ninety days. Once a year you’ll have to re-apply for your visa.
It’s more of a ritual than anything else. Each year you show up with your sacrificial paperwork and hope to appease the Thai immigration Gods. If your sacrifice isn’t enough, you’ll be damned to detainment.
So far, I’ve only faced two major problems with immigration. Once the fault fell on immigration and the other time the fault fell on me. Both times they were very accommodating. So for all the slack they get, if walk in with a smile (even if you don’t get one in return) and put your best foot forward, you’ll be treated fairly—most of the time.
Mental and Physical Health
It’s important to maintain your health back home. But when you’re living as an expat, it’s even more important. Expats face a lot of challenges and those challenges could lead to stress, anxiety, depression, or worse.
Leaving your home country for the unknown in Thailand takes courage. But there comes with it a bit of uncertainty.
Many expats are faced with some serious questions: Did I make the right decision? What will life be like in ten years? Will I be stuck in Thailand forever? Am I missing out on important relationships back home? And social media doesn’t help. It always appears we’re missing the best of times back home.
Even I struggle with the question of whether or not I’ve made the right decision for my daughters (now we have two). I gave up a stable, economic-proof career in America that would’ve set my daughters up for a secure future.
And then there’s the value differences. Thailand tends to place a lot of emphasis on appearance and dependability and censorship. And I’m trying to raise two secure, independent, young ladies who will hopefully one day be able to speak up for what they believe in.
I also wonder whether or not they’ll have a prosperous future in Thailand.
But then I see the state of affairs in America and I realize it’s the same thing there. America is splitting at the seams, people are losing the right to free speech, and kids are raised on instant gratification.
So I think my worries are parental worries that we face all over the world. But when you have fewer people to relate to in Thailand, fewer people to share your concerns with, your well-being suffers.
Luckily I have my wife and a few close friends who I keep in touch with through regular Skype calls. But for some people I know, they have no one. And I’ve seen them lose themselves in Thailand. They overeat, don’t exercise, and break down mentally.
Getting mental health help is taboo in the US, but even more so in Thailand. People will think you’re really crazy if you tell them you visit a psychologist. And the laid back, mai pen lai, or never mind, way of life sometimes makes you feel like the raging, red-faced foreigner you’ll sometimes see on Thai TV.
But if you need the help, don’t be afraid to seek help. Hell, you could even send me a message personally (email@example.com) and we can set up a Skype call and I’ll lend you my ear. People have done it for me in the past, and I don’t mind paying that favor forward.
To maintain your health, you can visit any of Thailand’s beautiful parks. You’ll see people of all ages exercising everyday. It’s very impressive. I’ve never seen so many people out and about, exercising in the morning, as I see in Bangkok parks.
Temples are also open to foreigners who want to meditate.
Taking care of your body and mind will make your life much easier in Thailand. And when things do come up, you’ll be able to smile–and say mai pen lai.
Unless you’re Martin Wheeler, who sacrificed all Western ways for the Thai way, you’re going to want to live a balanced life in Thailand. You’ll want the benefits of living in the country along with some of the conveniences of America.
Thai Culture and Society
After four years of raising a family and being fully immersed in Thai society, very little surprises me anymore. Not in a good or bad way, it’s just that life here has become, well, life.
I wake up to an alarm clock at 5:00 AM, exercise and read, help get the kids ready for the day, eat breakfast, work, and then spend the evenings with my family. Some nights I work a second job. Before bed I might read or watch a movie with my wife.
Sounds exciting, huh?
Sure, the scenery and temperature are a lot better than New Jersey’s, but the newness of living in Thailand wore off long ago. That’s not to say I still don’t get a lot from living in Thailand, or that I’ve stopped learning about the culture or even myself for that matter.
One thing that never ceases to amaze me, for example, is how much Thais love kids. You can talk about the temples and beaches and food all you want, but for me this is the most significant difference between America and Thailand.
In America you’re made to feel as if you’re inconveniencing people with your kids. But in Thailand, kids are welcome almost everywhere, including work. We have one day back home called Bring Your Kids to Work Day, but here in Thailand, if you’re having trouble finding someone to take care of your kid(s), you can bring them to work. And they’re usually welcomed with open arms.
At coffee shops where I regularly visit, my daughters are given free food and drinks, the staff buy them small toys or stickers, and the patrons don’t mind them running around and being silly.
Out of all the benefits of living in Thailand, this amazes me most. I just don’t know what’s going to happen if we go back to America and my daughters are actually going to have to keep their shoes on at restaurants and sit at tables while everyone finishes their meals.
Another aspect of Thai culture that always gets me is the amount of trust that Thai people show. Of course I don’t want to overgeneralize as you will always have a few rotten bananas in the bunch. But take restaurants, for example.
At least once a month I find myself getting the bill at a restaurant or eatery in the mall and come to find out they only accept debit cards unless you spend a minimum amount. When I ask the staff if I can go to the ATM to get some cash, they always say yes. They have complete trust in me that I’m going to come back, even if the ATM is far away.
If I ever tried this in America, I’m sure I’d be asked to leave something of value as collateral, like my phone or laptop or wallet or something.
These aspects and more are what I find most likable about Thai society.
But if you want to blend into society, you can’t let the differences in Thailand bother you. Thailand is not America. And Thailand is not like any other neighboring Asian country. Thailand has never been colonized. And because of that, Thailand is still very much Thai—as you would expect it to be.
The most important advice I can give anyone looking to stay in Thailand long term is this: stay off the forums. They are a haven for the most negative and bitter expats in Thailand. And they will convince you that Thailand is the worst place in existence, even if they themselves have moved here. I’ve also written about this in detail on What’s On Sukhumvit.
Instead of scouring the internet for anonymous stories about Thailand, ask people who you know will give you a fair representation of Thailand. Read blogs that provide objective and subjective views. Read Thailand Starter Kit regularly.
I’ve slowly been learning how to read, write, and speak Thai. Once a year I sign myself up for a Thai course, just to keep up with what I know and add a few new tricks to my routine. I’m not happy with my level, as I feel I should be an expert after traveling to and living in Thailand for eleven years. But my wife speaks English, so we use English at home, and outside of the house, she’s my go-to for help with more advanced communication.
I am, however, convinced that the creators of Thai have played some evil game on me. How else do you explain why “near” and “far” are almost the same exact word in Thai? “Near,” with a falling tone is , or glâi. And “far,” with a middle tone is , or glai. Although the two words are spelled differently in Thai, if you can’t pick up the subtle nuance in tone when spoken, you might be traveling further than you thought.
Then there are the Thai classifiers. Almost every noun in Thai has a classifier. I’ve come to learn this the hard way as well. I used to translate everything I wanted to say in Thai directly from English.
“I have two kids/mee song luk,” I used to say in Thai. And Thais would look at me funny. I didn’t know however, that “luk” is not only the word for kids, but also for balls.
“Jorn, Jorn,” you mean “mee luk song kon, maiiiii?/have children two people?”
“Yeah, that’s what I meant,” I’d say. “But if I have two kids, then I must have two balls also!”
To find yourself in similar predicaments, learn Thai the hard way. To avoid unknowingly boasting about your genitals, then study Thai in a formal setting. Right now I’m going to Pro Language in Chonburi once a week, and I’ve been quite happy with my teacher. But you can find out what works for you by reading our guide to learning Thai.
When you move to Thailand, you’ll want to surround yourself with some familiars: Western food, Western entertainment, and Western people. As much as I love living in Thai society, if I didn’t have a taste of my own culture to fall back on, I’d go crazy.
For this reason, it’s important to make friends. I usually find it’s easiest to make friends with people who you have something in common with me—just like back home. So I tend to meet friends through activities like cycling or muay Thai.
But there are plenty of places to make friends with Westerners in Thailand. You can start in your own neighborhood. I’ve met some long-term friends at the condo we first lived in. And although we’ve moved into a new area, we’ve kept in touch and regularly meet for dinner or get the families together.
Then there’s the countless Facebook groups and networking events in Thailand. Most of those groups have regular meetups at bars and restaurants, where you can surely make some friends. But as for me, I’m a bit old school. I prefer to meet people by random chance.
Now, on to You
If you’re interested in moving to Thailand from America check out our ebook, Thailand Starter Kit. It’s jam-packed with expat tricks and tips to save you thousands of dollars a year in Thailand.
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