When you ask someone what it’s like to move abroad, you probably hear things like “It was the most amazing experience of my life” and “Everything in that country is sooooo sophisticated and the people are so much better than they are here, you just wouldn’t get it“. Let me tell you, those people are liars. Now I’m not saying that moving abroad isn’t life changing and eye opening and something that everyone should try if they’re inclined to do so, I’m saying that it’s freakin’ hard, and no one ever talks about it. Everyone just talks about their travels through rose-colored glasses and gives only the highlights of their trips and makes them sound absolutely amazing while purposefully forgetting the initial parts of how lonely they were, the struggles of adapting to a new culture, and the utter helplessness of having no idea what’s going on around you at all times. But there are also amazing, eye-opening, and mind-bending parts of experiencing a culture first-hand. In this blog I’d like to portray both sides accurately.
The Emotional Roller Coaster Before Moving
Moving to Thailand? Best Decision Ever
My Lengthy Move to Thailand
Is Thailand for You?
I won’t sell Thailand as perfect because, as with all countries, it has its flaws. 7/11s don’t sell alcohol in working hours, KFC just dropped their Thai green curry…. there’s no doubt more. For me however it is perfect and my lifestyle and happiness on moving to Thailand are tenfold. To be honest the worst for many moving to Thailand are the temptations; the nightlife, the affordable luxuries, the potential for hedonism and the inevitable nose dive into self loathing. This is often the norm for many as part of an ego boost or maybe a midlife crisis but few resurface with too many happy tales to tell. Best to avoid. So as I said I’m not here to sell moving to Thailand, we are each to our own, but I can’t imagine a better lifestyle on my current budget than here in Thailand.
I’ll not convince you to sell everything, jump on a plane and leave it all behind… life’s too short etc. I think this approach is nuts… but it does work for some. I am personally more risk averse, I always think long-term and am obsessive with planning. Therefore moving to Thailand for me follows a more lengthy route, a route I fully commit to and by doing so I can now say I am living my dream life. While I’ve spent shorter periods living in Thailand previous it wasn’t until 2011 when I finally committed on moving to Thailand permanently. The first time I visited Thailand was back in 2003 when I fell in love with the country only to skulk back home (UK) 6 months later with no money or income. From then on I was desperate on moving to Thailand and visited regularly for shorter periods. It wasn’t until 2007 when I pushed on moving to Thailand permanently and I did this through buying property in Bangkok (full story and guide here). Why didn’t I make the move earlier? Because of uncertainty, I didn’t want to ‘slum it’ and aimed to create a secure and comfortable lifestyle ahead before moving to Thailand. While buying property offered me security it also meant sacrifices and for four years I lived with my parents, worked hard, saved every penny and killed my social life. Moving to Thailand in 2011 was in no doubt worth it.
North, South, East or Central Thailand?
There are a number of options on moving to Thailand each with their own perks and downfalls. I’ll try quickly sum up each without stereotyping… too much. Starting central is Bangkok and big city life, exciting and convenient for almost everything (my choice on moving to Thailand). However Bangkok is expensive compared to elsewhere (Check here for living in Bangkok) so expats on smaller budgets moving to Thailand generally opt for the North of Thailand and Chiang Mai. This area is cool(er) with a mountainous backdrop and is littered with backpackers, hippies and travel bloggers. Working down the map we have the the islands and popular beach resorts in the south which again can be expensive. As a beach scrooge the south never really appealed to me. The cheapest option however is the North East of Thailand and the Isaan regions which are also undoubtedly the most boring. In Isaan there’s little more than rice paddies, moldy concrete sprawls, buffalo and Thai brides. Check here for living a Thai simple life in Isaan.
Moving to Thailand: A guide for expats
Idyllic beaches, vibrant cities, a cheap cost of living and a way of life so relaxed that it is practically horizontal. It’s no surprise that the Land of Smiles attracts thousands of expats every year who want to live and work in this delightful and fascinating part of South-East Asia.
Quick Facts About Thailand
- Population: 67.01 million
- Most popular city for expats: Bangkok and Chiang Mai
- Currency: Thai Baht
- Official language: Thai
- Main industries: Agriculture, forestry & fishing; Tourism; Manufacturing
What Visas and Paperwork Do You Need?
In order to work in Thailand you will first need a B Visa, which you can get if you have a letter of approval from the Thai Ministry of Labour (your prospective employer will need to get this for you) and a letter from your employer. Once you have this visa you can enter Thailand and apply for your work visa. Many people use this route in order to try and get work on arrival, especially as the length of the visa can effectively be extended by a “visa run” which involves travelling into a bordering country such as Laos and then re-entering Thailand. However this route to a working visa is much more difficult and less likely to be successful. Working without a visa can lead to deportation.
The Cost of Living
Thailand offers excellent quality of life for a very reasonable amount of money, especially to Western eyes. It is possible to live for very little money indeed, or you can live perfectly respectably in a northern city such as Chiang-Mai on £450 a month, or in Bangkok for £650 – a few hundred more a month and you will feel like royalty. To drill down into the detail of what day to day living costs look like in Thailand, check out the data-crunching website Numbeo.
Setting Up Your Finances
Some international banks have a presence in Bangkok – including HSBC, so if you bank with them in the U.S. you should speak to them about their international accounts. The biggest Thai banks are Bangkok Bank, Siam Commercial Bank and Krung Thai Bank. Any of those will offer you an account, as long as you have a work permit and the usual address and personal ID. Once you have opened your Thai account, make sure you register with TransferWise in order to transfer money between your American and Thai accounts. It is a safe, secure service that can save you on the fees your bank will charge you to move money internationally.
Finding And Getting Work
A few lucky expats move to Thailand with lucrative employment packages set up by their company, but that is rare. The biggest work areas for English-speaking non-Thai people are in tourism and teaching. The jobs market is highly competitive and difficult to break into – but it is possible. There are strict rules for Thai companies wanting to employ a non-Thai person – there must be a certain proportion of Thai workers for each non-Thai, and the company is liable for the administration fees involved in the visa, so it is also an expensive process. This blogpost from a British expat gives a good overview of the system, with some excellent job-hunting resources.
Finding Somewhere To Live
Most expats will rent their accommodation, as buying property in the country as a non-Thai can be an arduous and often impossible process. Many properties for sale are only, by law, allowed to be sold to Thai citizens. The expat rental market is therefore buoyant with many and varied properties available, especially in the larger towns and cities. Rental properties are advertised in English-speaking newspapers and websites, or you can engage the services of a local rental agent.
Education And Schools
Due to the language barrier, most expats who move with their families choose to send their children to one of Thailand’s international schools. The International Schools Association of Thailand website has information on what is available and where.
Thailand has seen huge improvement to its health service over the past few decades, but spending on healthcare is still far lower than in Western Europe. Thailand has a universal healthcare service, meaning that treatment is free for Thai citizens. Expats will need to get medical insurance. A major stumbling block in accessing treatment is the lack of GPs – there are far more specialists in Thailand, which is great for the hospitals but less so if you just want to speak to someone about a general health concern. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s comment on Thai healthcare is that many of Bangkok’s hospitals are up to Western European, but outside of the capital the standards can drop.
Other Useful Resources For Expats In Thailand
- Jobs: www.thailandjobs77.com
- Government: www.thaigov.go.th
- Internations Guide to Thailand: www.internations.org/thailand-expats/guide
Before moving abroad, take a look at our handy time-sensitive checklistto remind yourself of everything you need to do to get organised.