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From a new job to a new relationship, there are things that could draw you to live in Thailand, the Land of Smiles. This article aims to show you all the info you need to move to Thailand and avoid bumps along the way. Before going into detail I’ll outline the three main sections below.
This section will focus on personal and professional questions you must consider before moving to Thailand. These include things such as talking about your move with family to researching work and seeing what kind of visa you need to live here. We will look at potential dangers of being in Thailand and see if they affect the average expat here.
In this part I’ll focus on the practicalities of the move including what to bring, items to pack, and a list of important documents you must have when arriving in Thailand.
The final section looks at long and short term aspects of living in Thailand. From looking at what you need to do in your first few days, I’ll let you know key dos and don’ts and what you should do to ease yourself into life here. The second part of this section will look at long term challenges such as learning culture, making friends, and taking care of your physical and mental health.
Throughout these sections I’ll be providing my experiences as well as linking you to a large number of resources that will make a real difference in helping you move to Thailand. If you need a complete resource to help you set up here and avoid any pitfall causing you to easily lost thousands of USD while moving here, check out our Thailand Starter Kit – Save Cash, Land a Job, Avoid Pitfalls, and More.
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- 1 Before You Move
- 2 Moving To Thailand
- 3 After You Move
- 4 Timeline
- 5 Long-term Adjustment
- 6 Final Thoughts
- 7 Support Us
Before You Move
I felt a bit nervous talking to my family and friends about moving to Thailand and I faced a barrage of questions from concerned relatives. From security concerns to crime and losing touch to missing out on opportunities in my home country there were a wide variety of challenges I had to face.
When you move abroad you’re likely to see your family less than before. This is a concern but there are a couple of things you can do. The first is to teach your family how to use video chat programs like Skype or Google Hangouts. Secondly, something I did was reassure my family I’d come back and visit regularly.
In terms of crime, my family were aware of several recent army coups and a few years before I arrived there was the notorious incident at Bangkok Airport. I was here during the latest takeover of power and the Shutdown Bangkok situation. While I didn’t see any violence I did read about it and the sight of armed police enforcing curfews was a strange site and made me nervous.
The political system seems stable and it hardly affects my life as an expat in Thailand. There have been several small protests but they were shut down.
These crimes won’t affect you in day to day life so let’s focus more on crimes that could. There are arguments related to official statistics as police and independent agencies seem to deride each other’s figures.
The US State Department’s report into Thailand in 2016 is a good place to start. NationMaster also shows a number of crime statistics but figures aren’t up to date. You can also look on Wikipedia for an unconfirmed source of Thailand crime stats.
After General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s comments about foreign women in bikinis the spotlight turned on rape statistics in Thailand. Under the Ropes published a controversial article on rape culture in Thailand. It focuses on how TV and general attitudes towards rape are not the same as in the West. Official statistics show chances of rape happening to women as one in a thousand.
I feel safer here than when living in London. Walking around outside tourist areas I never feel in danger, even at night. You can avoid bad situations and crime isn’t a problem. But there are tourist scams that could affect you as an expat. Take a look at this good guide on our Thailand vacations article. We give a list of things to avoid, most of which are common sense. I have no problems living here.
I had no need to forward my post as any important documents, such as my student loans and banking, are now either done online or sent to my parent’s house. But, if you need this service check with your national mail company.
One of the biggest decisions you would have to make when considering moving to Thailand is whether to take your belongings with you or sell them and buy new things when you get here. If you decide to bring personal belongings with you, you may want to look into hiring a moving company, you can get a free quote from a reputable international moving company here.
If a Western company hires you to work in Thailand, your package will include some form of medical insurance. For those who find work or who retire here, you’ll need to arrange this yourself. Take a look at Thailand Starter Kit’s excellent article about health insurance for further advice.
Thailand is becoming more popular for medical tourism thanks to high quality care available and lower costs of treatment than western countries. This means as an expat you’ll have access to high levels of medical care when going to private hospitals such as Bumrungrad, Samitivej & Bangkok hospital here. Another benefit is that there are doctors who speak good English and material is available in English.
Prices range and there have been recent concerns over private hospitals putting extravagant markups on medicine of up to ten times the price in local pharmacies. Or go to local government hospitals where prices are lower. There doesn’t seem to be a price list available for government hospitals but I’ve found they are at least 25% cheaper than private and sometimes cheaper.
You can find pharmacies on almost every major street in Thailand that carry a wide range of medicine. Prices will be cheaper than private hospitals and, sometimes, government facilities too.
These days you see expats and tourists in Thailand setting up Go Fund Me pages because they can’t cover medical bills here. It isn’t uncommon for bills to reach several thousands of dollars within a couple of days in a private hospital. Therefore, you should at least get a travel insurance to prevent this type of situation.
The final choice is to use local clinics. They can help you with common ailments such as colds, food poisoning, and sprains. It may be hard to find English speakers in these clinics but you can find one doctor or nurse there who can help.
One reason people decide to move to Thailand is for the low cost of living. But it won’t be dirt cheap to move here. I often hear of people who don’t budget anywhere near enough for their move. This puts them in trouble from the get go.
I arrived here with around $5,000. This proved about enough to get set up in a cheap condo and cover my living expenses for the first 3 months before I got a paycheck. Below is a brief outline of what I spent during this time.
- Accommodation – $1,250 – a serviced apartment for six weeks followed by hotels around Thailand for two weeks and then the first months rent, $150, for a studio apartment in Pathum Thani for my first job.
- Food and drink – $1,750 – as with people who arrive in Thailand I spent a fair amount on eating and drinking in my first few months. From shopping malls to drinking beers on beaches my bills added up.
- Clothes – $300 – I bought some expensive work clothes and shoes from an international chain in a shopping mall. Also new t-shirts and casual shoes contributed to costs in this section.
- Apartment Items – $200 – my first apartment was furnished and I needed to buy several items such as bedding, kitchen utensils, and hangers.
- Visa run – $450 – after getting my first job I had to leave Thailand, get a new visa, and return. Total costs of this was around when you include the travel, accommodation, and visa fees.
- Tourist attractions – $300 – I visited a number of must-see sights around Thailand during my first few weeks. From famous temples to national parks I spent money to visit these places.
An important part to remember is during your first few months you’ll spend money on tourist attractions and will overpay for things. There are various cost of living surveys out there showing people surviving here on 30–40k a month but this isn’t realistic for most new arrivals who need to pay for things to set up home here.
Depending on your visa type you’ll also need to show a certain amount of money in a Thai bank account. Take a look in the visa section below to see what you’ll need.
For those thinking of retiring here you may be thinking about how much you need per month to live. There are videos and reports saying it’s possible on less than $1,000 per month, and while true for some, make sure you do your research to see what kind of life this gives you.
In terms of costs of living you should have a look at Ajarn.com’s cost of living page. It gives a good account of how much teachers in Thailand make and types of lifestyle they live. This was a great resource I used before moving here.
Looking outside the teaching sphere have a look at:
- Karsten’s cost of living for a single entrepreneur in Bangkok
- the cost of living four a family of four in Thailand
- the cost of living in Chiang Mai
- the cost of living for retirees in Chiang Mai
These articles give you a detailed rundown of the cost of living throughout Thailand for different people.
If you’re looking for something more specific to your needs, use our Thailand Cost of Living Calculator and come up with an estimated monthly budget on rent, food, transportation, and more.
Finally, you should ignore anyone who says Thai people live here on $300-$500 a month so foreigners should be fine living on $700-$800 a month if you live like a Thai. Sure some Thai people do live on $300-$500 a month but in reality they would all like more and miss out on things. Living on a budget is something I wouldn’t like to do, hell Thai people don’t like it either. Eating street food three times a day, traveling by bus and living in a twenty-two square meter studio without AC isn’t my idea of living. Some people will often share these small studios with family or friends to help save costs. I once moved out of a condo because it was too small to find out my neighbor, who had the same size room, shared it with his wife, two daughters, and a mother. Five people in a thirty square meter studio!
A quick look at different visa options in Thailand is enough to make you feel dizzy with confusion. To make it a bit easier, take a look at our article on different visas in Thailand.
In short, you’ll need different visas depending upon the reason you’re moving to Thailand. Tourist visas will cover you for thirty or sixty days, but if you plan to be here long term you’ll need the right documents. Leaving the country and returning with a new tourist visa, often called a visa run, is no longer reliable.
Getting the right visa such as business, marriage, and retirement, isn’t too hard as long as you have the right paperwork as mentioned in the link in the last paragraph.
If you need help with getting a visa arranged then have a look at visa guide with references for visa agencies in Thailand.
Do you want to be on beaches everyday? Do you want to live on rolling farmlands? or in a big city? These are questions you have to ask yourself before you move here.
For those moving to Thailand based on a job offer then you’re set on where you’re going to be living. Likewise if you’re moving to live with a partner or their family. For the rest of us there’s a fair bit of flexibility and choice.
Arrive in Bangkok first and then try out a few other locations before committing to an area. When I arrived here I planned on spending a month in Bangkok and then seeing where the wind would take me. After finishing a training course in Bangkok I headed to the islands with dreams of working next to the beach, but I realized the novelty of being in this area would wear out. Prices were higher and there was so much more to spend money on. There were also fewer job opportunities and salaries offered were much lower than I had seen in the city. The lure of money and more job opportunities tied me down to Bangkok.
If you’re planning to buy property then this is even more important. Below I’ve put a few locations that might be of interest and several links for each that will give you some useful reading.
The city most people first see when they arrive in Thailand is Bangkok. It’s also where I’ve chosen to live. There are a couple of reasons why I’m here. First, this is the area where you can find the best paying jobs. I’d love to work in a different area but would find it hard to find somewhere paying what I now make. Second, Bangkok has good facilities such as restaurants, malls, and leisure opportunities.
The final reason is because it’s the hub of Thailand–you can travel to anywhere via bus, train, or plane. There are a few downsides to being in the capital. It lacks that certain something that I’ve felt in other major cities such as London, Tokyo, or Berlin. People also talk about the traffic here and that is undeniable.
The spiritual home for digital nomads, long-term travelers and retirees, Chiang Mai has long been a popular choice for foreigners in Thailand. I’ve visited Chiang Mai a couple of times and have a few friends living there and they have told me the good and bad sides to the city. But there’s much to do: temples, sports facilities, and amazing restaurants will all be on your doorstep. It’s starting to feel touristy and traffic jams are now common though.
Naughty nightlife and a hub of expats makes Pattaya a popular destination for people arriving in Thailand. PattayaUnlimited has a good link to local blogs. They showcase everything Pattaya has to offer.
Isan is famous for farming in Thailand and tends to be a common place for foreigners to relocate to. Most expats have Thai partners from this region of Thailand.
Other notable areas that deserve a shoutout are Hua Hin and Cha-am and Koh Samui which both have flourishing expat communities.
Wherever you travel in Thailand it’s not too uncommon to see foreigners so you need to travel around a bit to see where you most want to be. My one piece of advice is to consider if an area is going to be good for living in, not just vacationing. I’ve been to a number of beautiful places, especially the islands. Although amazing, they would drive me crazy if I had to live there all year round.
Moving To Thailand
Check here a for a full list of useful services you’ll need when moving and living in Thailand.
These days you can get international flights into several key cities in Thailand including Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket. The easiest way to find the cheapest flight is to book through a comparison site such as Expedia. Once inside the country it’s easy to get anywhere with a direct flight.
You can also read further from this article on how to land a good flight deal to Bangkok.
Thai Airways is the national carrier but these days every major airline flies into Thailand or has a code share with another company to do so. I fly with Emirates as they seem to have the best connections and availability linked with a reasonable price. They also fly A380s which is an added bonus.
For internal flights within Thailand there are choices. Thai Airways offer routes but tend to be the most expensive. Lion, Nok Air, Air Asia and Thai Smile (Thai Airways low cost option) are the main low cost choices and they are close in prices. If you book early you can get one way flights from as little as 800 baht including taxes. I budget between 2,500 baht to 3,000 baht for a return flight if booking a few months ahead.
Bangkok Airways flies out of Samui but has a limited selection of international flights. Flights are expensive in comparison to other destinations. People choose to fly to nearby Surat Thani airport and take a Ferry to the island. Operators will offer a plane + bus/boat ticket on their website for Samui and other popular islands. To give a real life example a midweek return flight, booked three months ahead to Samui costs 7,350 baht. But a flight+bus+boat ticket to Samui via Surat Thani airport costs 1,955 baht on the same dates.
For those thinking of moving to Pattaya there’s the new U-Tapo airport. They have opened but is still building up flights. I expect within a couple of years there will be more internal and international flights to this airport.
It’s possible to bring your furry friend with you to Thailand but be sensitive to the climate and suitability of your pet beforehand. There’s a trend of buying Siberian Huskies in Thailand and whilst this breed may love cold weather in your hometown they might not be able to adapt to the tropics of Thailand.
For full info on how to bring your pet to Thailand check out our Thailand pet important guide.
After a couple of trips between the UK and Thailand I’ve got everything I need. Although this isn’t the most efficient way it seems to be common among people I know. For those with an allowance via a job offer you can bring more across with you and others may choose to pay for this if retiring or settling in Thailand. Read on our shipping to Thailand article to find out more information.
If you decide to bring your belongings to Thailand then check out Siam Relocation. They offer flexible packages designed to meet your budget. And they have door-to-door service, which means they pack, insure, export, import, and unpack your belongings so you can enjoy your transition to Thailand. They’ll even help you send your pet to Thailand.
Or you could follow in the footsteps of TielandtoThailand, who sold everything before coming to Thailand and started fresh.
There are certain items that are cheap and accessible here in Thailand. This means you don’t need to bring them with you from your home country. These include:
- basic furniture
- toiletries and cleaning supplies
- unbranded clothes and accessories
Some items are not cheaper in Thailand than your home country like below:
- specialist food items
- electronic products
- car seats, high chairs, etc.
- vitamins and supplements
- branded clothes and shoes
If you are ready to pack your bags and ‘your bags’ includes more than you can carry yourself, you can enter your details in the form on this page to get a free quote for moving your belongings to Thailand
Checking Important Documents
One thing you’ll learn about Thailand is they love paperwork here. I dread how many copies of my driving license, passport and degree certificate there are floating around various government offices. Below I’ve put a list of important documents you must bring. If possible, bring original copies with you.
- driving license
- birth certificate
- list of contact numbers
- house ownership deeds
- proof of income or pay slips
- medical certificates or reports
- marriage or divorce certificate
- degree certificate and transcript
- tax, social security, national insurance numbers and documents
There’s also the chance you’ll need these documents either translated into Thai or verified by your embassy. The Thai government doesn’t accept civil partnerships or gay marriage certificates. This may change in the future so keep updated on this via media or your embassy.
You should sign, date, and double-line strikethrough any photocopied documents. Write a sentence stating what this signed copy is for as well. This way if there are any dishonest people who get hold of these copies they will be unable to use them.
After You Move
To make your move easier, we include a full list of useful services you’ll need after moving here.
Finding House, Condo, or Apartment
I wouldn’t agree to take up a long-term rental property before you arrive in Thailand unless it’s a part of a job offer. Even then I’d still ask if it’s possible to arrange a viewing first when you arrive before accepting the place (unless it’s some sort of mansion with private pool and 360 degree balcony then you should take it!) This means you should plan to spend at least the first few days in a hotel or short term apartment.
These days there are more international flights arriving in Phuket and Chiang Mai but most people will still arrive in Bangkok. I recommend booking at least a few nights in a Bangkok hotel to get your bearings and figure out the lie of the land.
To speed up the process of finding a long-term rental, contact a real estate agent. It’s basically free for you. You’ll get a list of properties based on your requirements. And you’ll have someone to get in touch with when searching for your ideal neighborhood.
And if you do happen to find a long-term rental, and you plan on shipping your things to Thailand, then consider reaching out to Siam Relocation. They’ll help get your belongings or pets to Thailand and handle everything from packing to exporting and importing to unpacking.
If you’re looking for somewhere cheap then look at hostelworld.com but this won’t give you a room with enough for all your belongings if you’re moving here. I also met a few people who arrived in Thailand and stayed in a hostel while looking for a job, and they all commented the lack of privacy and facilities made things hard for them.
Most people spend at least a few days or weeks in a hotel to start with before looking at more permanent accommodation. There are some great guides on this site to look at so I wont go into too much detail here. First, take a look at our Bangkok Apartments guide. It shows how to rent a place and potential pitfalls during the process. For those looking for something more long term we also have a guide for buying a condo.
If you’re looking at buying a house in Thailand then you’re limited as laws are against foreigners owning land. The best choice is leasing a land and house for thirty or sixty years. Sure there are a couple of ways around this but the risk, hassle and potential downsides outweigh these in my opinion. Renting a house is simple. Property websites list rental houses. DDProperty is a great example and also in tourist locations there will be real estate agents out there who can help.
Finding a Job
Should you get a job before you get to Thailand? Or should you get a job after you’ve arrived in Thailand? This is what you, as a future Thailand expat, have to weight out.
If you are a digital nomad that already have your own clients, you should take a look at Iglu. They have a visa assistant that allow you to work legally in Thailand without having to get a new job here.
But if you still need to find a job, check out Working in Thailand for Kindle on Amazon. It’s the complete guide for working in Thailand and it’ll help you land a job and get set up in Thailand. You’ll read about nineteen different professionals from nineteen different fields on how they landed their dream job in Thailand.
You can also read our Getting a Job In Thailand article. It shows useful ways to get a job and the opportunities available here.
I’ve found my jobs in Thailand after I arrived on a tourist visa. Then I changed visas after getting hired. The type of work I’ve taken up isn’t offered to candidates applying from outside Thailand. Schools look for teachers among the field of expats residing in Thailand.
Working online in Thailand is illegal and although there has been talk of finding ways around it there’s always the chance of a crackdown by immigration on this matter. In the future there may become ways to work online in Thailand under new Smart Visa plans.
In general taxes in Thailand are low. It’s good but can cause some problems. The main problem I have with Thailand is the lack of tax income means they cannot invest in facilities which would make the country a better place. But I’m not here to talk about that side of things but more about what you should expect to pay tax wise whilst living and working here. As with all these types of financial sections I’m not an accountant or qualified taxman so make sure to also do your own research, talk about things with an accountant if necessary and remember taxes do change overtime.
Along with the 7% VAT, you’ll pay 750 baht per month for Social Security. You’ll pay personal taxes based on your income as shown in the chart below.
|Personal Taxable Income||Tax Rate|
|300,000 – 500,000 baht||10%|
|500,000 – 750,000 baht||15%|
|750,000 – 1,000,000 baht||20%|
|1,000,000 – 2,000,000 baht||25%|
|2,000,000 – 4,000,000 baht||30%|
|Over 4,000,000 baht||35%|
Like other countries, you can take advantage of taxable deductions in Thailand. Popular choices include buying LTFs, paying for life insurance, and purchasing a condo. Foreign workers and Thais get the same deductions. This includes a temporary 2017 tax deduction on purchases in malls, hotels, and restaurants registered with VAT. You could claim any purchase with a value of up to 15,000 Baht. Please check the revenue department website for more info.
To give a quick overview of how I deal with my taxes in Thailand. My income varies each month depending on the amount of work I do. But when I first arrived in Thailand I had a three-month job paying 34,000 baht a month. That meant I paid 750 baht social security and zero taxes on the income as my yearly amount was 102,000 baht. My next job had a salary of 55,000 baht a month and after social security and tax I received around 50,050 baht. Now I earn between 68,000 to 102,000 baht and the amount I receive is around 6,000 to 8,000 baht less after paying tax and social security. My employer takes care of my taxes. I have to sign a yearly form declaring my earnings are true and if I’d like to claim any tax back based on whether I’m married, have children, or have any tax incentive savings accounts.
There’s a double taxation treaty in place between the UK–where I’m from–and Thailand. That would cover me if I was doing more freelance work or was making money on renting out properties. It’s important to see how tax affects you depending on which country you’re from and where you make your money.
If you spend more than 180 days a year in Thailand then you’re considered a tax resident and must pay tax in Thailand. If you work you’ll receive a work permit and tax ID in order to facilities income tax and social security payments. If you’re not employed then you can apply for a Tax ID from your local tax office. Thailand does have double tax treaties with many countries, you should check with your own tax department to check on this. The Thai tax year runs from 1st January to 31st December.
As a US citizen one of the editors here at Thailand Starter Kit, handles his taxes differently. For all income made from companies outside of Thailand, he sends all his invoices to his tax service, who handles his taxes at the end of the year. For income made in Thailand as a freelance teacher, the companies he’s contracted to work for deduct taxes from his monthly pay. Some companies deduct 3% tax, others 5% tax. He’s not taxed by the American government on his Thai salary because his Thai income is less than $103,000 a year. Since tax filing between each person is vastly different, I would recommend you to get in touch with an expert such as Olivier from 1040 Abroad.
Thinking about Living in Thailand?
What you need to know to land a job, stay long-term, and save $1000s on rent, money transfers, insurance, and utilites!
When visiting on a tourist visa things life is easy in Thailand. You get stamped in and out by immigration at the airport or border. On the other hand, when you’re here on a different visa type things get more confusing, time consuming and hard.
Our visa article covers 90-day reporting, so I won’t go over it again. You’ll have to visit immigration at least a couple of times a year and perhaps more if you don’t travel out of Thailand often. You must go to the immigration center where you live. If there’s a closer center but it isn’t in your district then you can’t go there.
Different immigration centers have different standards and policies. For example, I now report in Nonthanburi and they insist on a filled in TM30 form, or house registration and landlord declaration of foreign guest. But immigration for Bangkok in Chaengwattana doesn’t need this. It makes things confusing but you have to go with the flow and get through it the best you can.
Immigration offices send a shiver of fear through expats as there are long queues, impatient people and paperwork which must be 100% right. To get around this you can use an agent to go for you / do all the paperwork. If working for a mid-large sized company they should offer this service for you free of charge and I tell you it makes the experience so much better. If you’re not working then you can pay for such a service. This can save you time and hassle if you don’t want to do it yourself.
For my yearly visa I need a health check up and the doctor asked me how often I travel by bus which seemed a weird question. She told me from my lung x-ray she saw deterioration due to pollution—most likely traffic related. I used to travel by bus twice a day and it scared me to see how bus travel affected my lungs.
Travel insurance only works when you just only move here for a short period of time. After that, you need to get a health insurance which is different between expats. Those from backgrounds where healthcare is free tend to think less about purchasing health insurance. But other expats treat it like a usual expense. Working in Thailand will give you access to some kind of health insurance but the quality and coverage varies.
With all the food and excitement Thailand has to offer, it’s challenging to live a healthy lifestyle. So you should get a health checkup every year. It’s better to have the peace of mind knowing you’re not sick, or that you’ve caught a potential problem early on, than it is to be sick in a foreign country with little familiar support.
You can get a checkup at any hospital, really. But I recommend Bumrungrad. They have all the latest medical equipment. Their staff speaks English. And they have a very short wait time. You can even schedule your health checkup before you get to Thailand.
Basic Thai social security covers treatment in government hospitals and often huge waiting lists. This treatment will not be free and you’ll still be liable for some expense.
Many lower paying jobs offer accident insurance. This will cover you for 2,000 baht a day in a hospital, 2,000 baht a year for dental, and around 5,000 baht for other procedures. Using this in a private hospital means you’ll still have a huge medical bill and it isn’t enough if you have a serious accident or illness. To give you an idea, a teacher I worked with got food poisoning and spent three days in a famous city center hospital, her bill was 90,000 baht. Her work insurance covered 9,000 baht of it leaving her to make up the rest.
Working in higher paid jobs or as an international hire you’ll get a policy to cover you and other family members. I recently took a new job. They offered me this even though the pay was a little higher than the last position. The value of my healthcare plan is around 35,000 baht so it’s a good perk if you can get an international loaded health plan.
If your job do not provide any health insurance at all, you can look up ACS. It’s the offshore insurance company that lots of my friends, including Karsten, have been insured with.
Pollution can affect you, especially when living in the city centers. There are so many cars on the road in Bangkok and Chiang Mai so it isn’t the best place to find fresh air. Also in Chiang Mai in the winter you’ll get hit with smoke from farm lands. Something I miss doing is walking around as, with the poor quality of sidewalks, the pollution makes it an unbearable situation to be by the road for longer than necessary.
While Thai food is good it isn’t always healthy. Cooks add sugar to everything. I’ve seen people adding three or four spoonfuls to noodle dishes. My girlfriend drinks tea and coffee with at least four spoonfuls and this isn’t too uncommon among her friends. Cooks also use preservatives and MSG. You’ll have access to lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and it’s easy to eat healthily if you want.
Thailand has a terrible record of road safety and after a few days of being here you’ll see why. Over the Thai new year week there are often multiple accidents leading to deaths and year on year these continue despite action to reduce drink driving. Be careful when driving and make sure to wear a seat belt even if others don’t.
My social life revolves around eating and drinking as these are two of my favorite things to do in Thailand. I loved a cold pint when in London but it sure does taste better here in the evening after a hot day! I’ve cut back on the booze in the last year or so but in my first couple of years it wasn’t uncommon for me to drink four or more big bottles of beer a day. People I speak to still do this due to the low alcohol prices and tempting year long warm evenings. This isn’t so good for your health so make sure you keep things in check.
Mental health is a serious concern for expats here. Being so far away from family and friends does affect you at times. Every expat has those days when they miss home or wish they could pop out and see someone they miss. For some there are even worse troubles and it’s not too uncommon to see stories of expats committing suicide in Thailand.
There are fitness choices in Thailand. From facilities in your condo / housing estate through to international gym chains there are options to suit everyone. Take a look at our Fitness in Bangkok article and know the same choices are available around the country. I cycled everywhere in London and it was a great method of transport and good for fitness – here in Thailand though I fear I’d be dead and full of pollution if I continued riding everywhere.
One thing people want to do when arriving is to set up their phone and internet. There are three main phone companies in Thailand DTAC, AIS and TRUE. They are all the same and offer a variety of plans based on whether the internet or calls are more important for you. Thai people don’t call as much as western people and rely on messaging apps such as Line or Facebook Messenger. For around 300 baht a month you can get a package with a decent amount of internet data and a hundred or so minutes of call time.
Home internet is more dependent on where you live and the services offered in the region. Most internet companies try to sell you an internet and TV package. It works out at around 800 baht a month but this will include a few English channels. The internet speeds are increasing and for your 799 baht a month you should expect at least 50 MB connection speeds, simple TV package, and phone internet for 4 GB.
If TV is your thing then prepare to pay what you would back home to get movies and live premium TV (sports, western channels etc). If English Premier League football is a must for you then TRUE now have exclusive rights so you must go through them, if it isn’t then AIS have some useful packages and sole rights to show HBO ( Game of Thrones etc). Premium tv and internet bundles cost up to 3,000 baht a month so it isn’t the cheapest way.
You can also get Netflix Thailand. It starts around 250 baht a month up to 440 baht for the 4K version. I use this instead of expensive cable TV choices. I go to the pub if there’s a sports event I want to see.
In my first few weeks there were surprises and things I needed to adapt to. I did have a bit of culture shock and to be honest it wasn’t until after around three months that I began to feel comfortable in my new environment. I didn’t know where to go to do simple things and lacked knowledge of how to do important tasks. I had been to Thailand a couple of times before for vacation and my last job at a travel company but now I was here for the long term and I felt a little lost at the start.
My first job shocked me. I had read Thai people were friendly and I thought as much about the employees at the first company I worked for, they seemed happy with me and helpful. After a month working there I realized it isn’t always easy to understand when a Thai person is lying or hiding things from you. There were little signs I didn’t pick up but now I understand. They would not say no to my requests but they had no intention of following through or would deny me via email or Line rather than face to face. This was frustrating and I lasted three months in that job; ever since I’ve worked for international companies in Thailand. This part of Thai culture, not always saying what you mean, still catches me out from time to time and you have to be aware that the famous Thai smile is sometimes there to hide another emotion.
My first few weeks in Thailand were a vacation but after a while I had to settle into working life and this process proved hard for me. To this day I meet foreigners here who have arrived in the last six months who haven’t made the change. One colleague I worked with called in sick at least once a week and as his calls were after midday it was obvious he was out partying all night. At my first job people treated their position as an excuse to get a long term visa and, in honesty, the main reason I took that job was so I could have another 6 months in the country, get paid a little bit and then travel at weekends. My decision to move to an international company changed my mindset and allowed me to focus more on work and, after around five months, feel I was here to work rather than on a vacation.
The first Thai word I learned was mai bpen rai, or never mind. I found there was a never mind attitude from lots of people here in Thailand, both locals, and foreigners. This frustrated me as it seemed people didn’t care and would do little work. For example if there isn’t a bin then people throw garbage on the floor or in the river – never mind. If you come an hour late – never mind. A workman comes to fix something in your condo and leaves everything dirty and messy – never mind. I still find this frustrating but rather than getting angry as I did in the past I now accept this.
Finally adapting to living in a developing country was hard. Sure when you visit the tourist regions you do get good facilities and environments but outside of these it can be shocking to see the poverty and poor quality facilities in some parts of Thailand. Moving to Pathum Thani, an hour from central Bangkok, I began to see how Thai people lived, not those with fancy condos in central Bangkok. It was shocking dealing with people living in metal huts whilst Ferraris drove past. There were also a lack of decent facilities and for those first few months I’d book hotels in Bangkok on Friday and Saturday nights to get back to civilization. My first salary in Thailand was $1000 and I reckon I spent 75% of it on coming to Bangkok on the weekends to avoid the mind numbing experience of Pathum Thani. There are some who move here for the quiet rural experience but I couldn’t hack it.
There were also pleasant things I experienced in my first few months like food, climate, and sports to name but a few. And after working through the above challenges I was happier with life here in Thailand.
A friend of mine started planning his move to Thailand five years in advance. Because he had a house in America, a long-term career, and other loose ends to tie up, it took him longer to make the leap. From the beginning though, he researched the different kinds of work he could do in Thailand; he thought about where he’d live; and he saved as much money as possible.
As the time to move to Thailand neared, he started making small steps. Below is a list of things he did. You’ll notice he applied for a Non-immigrant O Visa and not a Tourist Visa. This is because his wife is Thai, so he’s entitled to a Non-immigrant O Visa, even at a Thai Embassy outside of Thailand.
Two Months Out
- Bought airline tickets
One Month Out
- Packed and shipped all his family’s belongings using Lanna Shipping in New York City
- Applied for a Non-immigrant O Visa at the Thai Embassy in New York City
- Applied for a Thai passport for his daughter
- Submitted a resignation letter at work
- Moved all his money into a TD Bank account, which reimburses all ATM fees—even in Thailand
- Sold the family cars
- Winterized his house until he could find renters
When it came time for the move, he didn’t have to worry about a place to live. His wife had family in Thailand. So they lived with them for the first four months. During those four months, he found work and adapted to living in Thailand full time.
If you want to apply for health insurance, you’ll need a health checkup first. Health checkups in Thailand are a lot cheaper than they are in the West. But the low price doesn’t take away from the quality of service you get in Thailand. At Bumrungrad Hospital, for example, you won’t even have to wait in long lines. You’re in and out in a matter of minutes.
“Bumrungrad has the shortest wait times I’ve ever experienced at any hospital, anywhere” – Karsten Aichholz, Founder of Thailand Starter Kit
Having been here for over four years I understand a fair amount about Thai culture but not everything. There are still things which happen that surprise me.
From your first days you’ll pick things up and over time become more understanding of how and why things happen as they do in Thailand. I can’t cover everything related to Thai culture in this section but I’ve put a few basic points below.
Thais respect their elders in all situations. This means the social order may be different than from your own country. Young people will greet their elders with a wai, the traditional Thai greeting, which elders return. Older people get to make decisions and give advice to the younger people in the family. It seems to me some Thai people do things to please the older members of their families such as when choosing degree subjects or thinking about career moves.
One aspect of Thai culture which is hard to understand is people don’t like to say “no.” Even the Thai word mai-chai, meaning “no,” translates “not yes.” This creates confusion as people will say yes when they have no intention of doing what they have agreed to. Often there are certain visual or situational clues they give. They hope you’ll pick up to understand they meant no. I’ve had workmen not turn up, services not provided, and drama caused over this left me frustrated although I’ve begun to pick up these little clues to know when yes is no.
It’s common for Thai people to live with their family until married. Many families are conservative, but this is changing with the younger generation. Asking a partner to move in before marriage might prove hard, especially among traditional families. I’ve even met couples who live in different provinces due to work problems or supporting a child through university/school in a different region.
In general Thai people are accepting of foreigners and you’ll have positive experiences. But, as in every country, there are certain people who will try and take advantage of you as they will see you as a tourist. I linked to an article about potential travel scams in Thailand. It includes things like overcharging for transport or problems with damage to jet skis and these could affect your as an expat. Be careful with bar girls and prostitutes, who can cause trouble for tourists and expats. Thai people are open to you and your culture as long as you respect there’s too.
The Thais love the royal family. Pictures of kings and queens grace buildings and roads. When you go into the cinema you must stand in respect for the King before the movie starts. Whatever your views on monarchies you should keep them to yourself unless they are 100% positive as it’s a criminal offense to say anything negative. Authorities have convicted people for liking Facebook posts with negative opinions of the royal family. As a foreigner stay out of this topic and keep any thoughts to yourself even if a Thai person brings this topic up themselves.
I’ve never got the bug to learn Thai but there are different ways you can approach language learning here. There are also arguments about how necessary learning Thai is but there are benefits to at least getting to a conversational level.
I’m below conversational, and although I can do day-to-day tasks in Thai, I struggle in certain situations where I wish I could do better. The main example is talking to my girlfriend’s mother and some of my Thai friends. Beyond basic pleasantries and simple topics I struggle and can’t keep a conversation going for more than five or ten minutes. I also fall back on my Thai partner who translates and helps. It’s an easy way for me to avoid learning the language.
As a foreigner you should make at least an effort to learn the basics to greet people and say please and thank you. The good thing is there are ways to learn as you can see below.
I learned my first Thai phrase at the restaurant in the apartment where I stayed for my first few months in Thailand. Thais would approach and talk to me while I ate. I got to learn numbers and prices, food, greetings, and how to say a few important words such as delicious and spicy.
What I didn’t realize though is some people taught me Thai and others taught me the Isan, or Northeast Thailand, dialect. This meant for a few months I was combining the two. This method of learning is the best for me as I enjoy seeing things and talking about them rather than book or audio methods.
Dating in Thailand will also give you the chance to learn the language. Thais find it cute when they get a foreigner to speak Thai. I learned the words for cute, beautiful, and fun through dating and it also led to learning new words by visiting different places.
I picked up a couple of language books while here with mixed outcomes. I like 100 Thai Words That Make You Sound Thai by Stephen Saad. I picked up in Asia Books as it gave useful phrases and words. It’s also a bit of a reference book and shows how to use the words in context. It’s not suitable for beginners but for those with a little experience I recommend it. Other books felt more like grammar reference manuals and never caught my imagination.
Work is the other main place where people can learn Thai. I’ve always worked in international companies and schools. It isn’t okay to speak Thai when everyone speaks English. You may work where people speak Thai, so you could get a chance to practice.
As an online teacher myself I know there are benefits to learning a language online. You can find a native Thai speaker online using sites such as Italki and Verbling. These sites allow you to find a native speaker at a time and price acceptable for you.
Something I’ve done is to find a language exchange partner to meet up on Skype a couple of times a week. I’ve found my language partners on Craigslist Bangkok and it has helped a little bit. The major downside to this is you spend half the time teaching them your language. This limits the amount of Thai you can learn.
My Facebook feed often comes up with an advert for Learn Thai From a White Guy. I’ve never tried this but it gets good reviews. It might be worth a look but it wouldn’t be my first choice.
One service I used for 6 months was Thaipod101. They gave a mix of online audio classes and written PDFs with instructions and the transcripts. I enjoyed the beginner section but the level jumped. They also encourage you to learn the alphabet–written and spoken. I wasn’t keen on this.
Finally you can look at YouTube where there are Thai language videos.
This part is interesting and is something I struggle with at times. Foreigners around my age (late 20’s) are not committed to the country and tend to stay a year or two and then head off. This makes long lasting friendships more hard. Younger people seem more interested in partying. This isn’t my thing anymore and those here longer tend to be a bit older and can make things hard to strike up a real connection. I’ve managed to make some good friends here though and they have all come through work.
When it comes to Thai friends it’s even harder in my opinion. I have one good Thai friend but as he got married last year he has had to move to another province so we don’t see each other often.
In tourist areas it’s true there are foreigners but it isn’t always obvious who is here in holiday and who is long term. The bigger bars set up clubs and societies so it could be worth asking around when you arrive.
There are also societies and clubs not linked to bars. From golf societies to football teams you’ll find one with a common interest. Be careful not to run afoul of the law like a group of elderly bridge players in Pattaya did in 2016. Your best bet to find these is to simple look on either Google or Facebook and search for the club that interests you.
It’s more than possible you’ll make good friends with people through random interactions. Living in my condo has helped me to meet several other foreigners and I still meet up with some even though we have all moved across the country. In a local restaurant I met someone who has been my friend for over two years now. In general I don’t go looking for friends but I’ve been lucky to bump into people or meet them through work.
The final way is making friends through a partner. Most of my girlfriend’s friends are Thai and female so I’m not good friends with them but I’ll say hello and have a quick chat. My girlfriend has one brother and doesn’t see cousins often so I haven’t made friends with them but I’m sure it’s possible for expats to do this.
A final point I’d like to add here is maintaining friendships with those in your home country. After 4 years here I’ve lost contact with some and other friendships aren’t the same. You need to work on things to keep strong links to people back home.
Hopefully the above has covered major concerns you have in regards to moving to Thailand. If there’s anything else, or you have further questions then please feel free to leave a comment below and either myself or one of our experienced staff will get back to you asap.
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