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Talk to enough Brits about what led them to up sticks and move to Thailand and the stories start to sound familiar.
I was fed-up with life in the UK. It was getting expensive for me. I’ve always been passionate about Muay Thai, so it seemed like a no-brainer.
A recurrent theme runs though all of these reasons. People were keen to move away from something, or were dead-set on moving to Thailand for something.
They had a plan, and it went like this: I’m not happy in the UK. I’ll be happy in Thailand.
My story wasn’t like that. I wasn’t unhappy in the UK. Nor did I desire to move to Thailand.
To be honest, I knew next to nothing about Thailand besides the hoary old stereotypes.
I was 23, not long out of university. I wanted to travel long-term—say six months or so—and I wanted to go somewhere different.
I decided to move to Thailand on a whim. There were paying jobs. It was sunny. There were beaches. I liked green curry. Done.
That was in 2010. I’m still here. Thailand’s funny like that.
This article shows you how to move to Thailand, survive the first year as a new teacher, and thrive in the Land of Smiles.
- Planning the Move
- Arriving in Thailand
- Staying in Thailand
- Looking Back
- Now, on to You
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Planning the Move
Unlike the expats I mentioned above, I didn’t worry about deciding to move to Thailand.
I wanted to travel since finishing university. I was young, had no property or dependents or anything that makes moving to a new country stressful.
I had a job I wasn’t happy in and was ready to leave if I had the chance.
Getting a TEFL
I got my TEFL through a local TEFL academy. It was a weekend-long workshop held in my home town of Cardiff.
While the course was fine, in retrospect I wouldn’t have bothered. No school in Thailand has asked me to show a TEFL, even when they said it in the job advert.
And it hasn’t given me any advantages with landing work. Schools need English teachers in Thailand and hire people with just a bachelor’s degree and a pulse.
Still, as a worrier there’s no way I would board the plane without a certificate to give me the edge when it came to landing a job.
In hindsight I’d have gone for the more rigorous and pricey CELTA course.
Of course, had I really put some planning in and known that I’d still be teaching, I’d have gotten a proper teaching qualification like the PGCE.
Researching Job Opportunities
Although the TEFL academy gave me a job through their program, if I had to do things over, chances are I’d look for a job myself.
As a teacher, I was essentially babysitting for almost no money. Still, it was nice getting my hand held for the first few months while I got acclimated to teaching.
As a potential expat you can pursue a few careers in Thailand:
And our book Working in Thailand: How to Ditch the Desk, Board the Flight, and Land the Job shows you how to work in careers like cooking or modeling.
A good website to look for teaching jobs is ajarn.com, one of Thailand’s largest jobs board for teaching positions.
It may sound obvious, but before picking a job make sure you do the research.
Facebook groups like Teaching Jobs in Thailand are a good source of info for how things look in Thailand.
As great as Thailand is, you will find no shortage of unscrupulous employers here. And we’ve all heard horror stories.
A simple Google search can do wonderful things for your peace of mind.
Of course, depending on your skill-set, you can book a flight to Thailand and look for work after landing.
You should always get a personal view of a potential employer before accepting a job.
Applying for Visas
The TEFL academy I went to had a partner in Thailand that helped me secure a visa.
They specialized in staffing out-of-the-way schools in rural Thailand with foreign teachers who were unlikely to head out that way by themselves.
They also handled the nitty-gritty of finding me an apartment to live in and sorting out my visa.
I had the paperwork required for my Non-Immigrant “B” visa sent to me at home. I had it processed at the Thai Consulate in Cardiff, which was painless.
If you have a job lined up in Thailand, your visa process should run smoothly.
Although Brits can get a visa exemption, this only guarantees you thirty days in-country. And you may need twenty days remaining on your visa to upgrade it.
Tourist visas come in two varieties:
An SETV guarantees you sixty days in the Kingdom, and you can the extend it for thirty-days at any immigration office.
The METV guarantees you the same, and it lets you leave the country and re-enter to get another sixty days, with the option to extend it.
What this means in real terms, then, is that you can stay in Thailand for three months or six months, giving you plenty of time to land a job and get settled in.
I would get the SETV, as ninety days should give you enough time to land a job.
You can apply for one of these visas at any Thai consulate in the UK. Here’s a full list of Thai consulates in the UK.
When you find work in Thailand, you can easily convert your tourist visa to a work visa.
Some jobs may require a criminal background check from your home country.
News reports from 2018 suggest that some immigration offices have made it a strict requirement, so you may prefer to get one just to be on the safe side.
Getting a criminal background check, known as a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), is fairly straightforward for citizens in England and Wales. You can apply online.
Now, I should point out that the following took place in April of 2010, an ominous date for anyone familiar with Thai history.
Politics in Thailand were tense as protests by supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had paralyzed many areas of the capital.
As my internship in May drew nearer, things in Thailand began spiraling out of control, so the TEFL academy offered me the chance to push back the start of my job until June.
I was nervous about starting work in a country I’d never visited and knew nothing about. And the horror stories on the news didn’t help.
I accepted their offer and spent the next few weeks waiting in the UK, monitoring the situation, burning through my savings, and learning about life in Thailand.
What does all this mean for you and your safety?
Large-scale civil unrest is unlikely to happen during your trip to Thailand, although smaller skirmishes are possible.
The lesson is:
- keep informed
- stay away from anything resembling a troubled hotspot
- don’t express your thoughts on politics with strangers
You should be fine if you follow these three guidelines.
You can also keep an eye on the British Embassy’s Travel Advice.
They can at times be a little hysterical, but it should give you a good baseline for where to avoid.
Among the things I did while I waited to move to Thailand was buy health insurance.
Unlike some countries, Thailand and the UK don’t have reciprocal healthcare arrangements. If something goes wrong, you pay for it out of pocket.
Still figuring I’d stay for six months, I settled on a basic—and now discontinued—travel insurance package from Swiftcover.
Nowadays the school I work for gives me insurance. I’m covered by Aetna.
If you don’t have a guaranteed job lined up or you plan on becoming self-employed, you should take out a policy just in case.
There are a number of well-regarded travel insurance policies currently available. Check out our travel insurance guide for more info.
You can also get insurance through Luma Health. They offer comprehensive coverage at competitive rates.
I booked my flight through Skyscanner. I had plenty left in savings, so I splurged on a direct overnight flight from London to Bangkok with British Airways.
The last thing I wanted during a big move was to deal with airport transfers.
Of course, it helped that prices had slumped due to politics in Thailand.
I packed my bags, and within a few days I was on a plane leaving Heathrow Airport, sipping a free glass of wine, and listening to my iPod—hey, it was 2010.
After a long and sleepless flight, the plane burst through a cluster of gray clouds and I got my first good look at Thailand.
From the air it looked exotic. A dense green layer of jungle blanketed humps and ridges of mountains. Strands of mist clung to the peaks.
We descended and within an hour I was walking through the cavernous expanse of Suvarnabhumi Airport, in Thailand for the first time.
I took the recommended Thailand vaccines, including rabies and Japanese Encephalitis—all of which the NHS covered—and took anti-malaria tablets.
I bought a stack of adapters and a whole new wardrobe for Thailand’s climate.
And I converted my pounds into Thai Baht in case I needed emergency cash. It’s a miracle I wasn’t mugged walking out of the currency exchange.
For a safer option, you can use your UK debit card while living in Thailand, at least until you get set-up with a Thai bank account and salary.
Almost all banks in the UK charge astronomical fees for doing so, with the exception of the Cumberland Building Society and recent start-up banks Monzo and Starling.
Credit cards may be a better choice. Here’s a breakdown of all the available options.
For a more in-depth look at using cash in Thailand, check out our guide on how to send money into the Thailand.
Arriving in Thailand
The visa assistance company sent some staff to meet me at the airport. I found my contact, introduced myself, and jumped in a minivan and watched the Bangkok skyline pass me.
I was put up in a basic-but-comfortable studio apartment in the suburban Bang Sue area of Bangkok.
As politics were tense, the visa company figured it was best to keep us outside of the city center.
You might need help at the airport when getting to Thailand. If you do, check out our guide on Bangkok airport transfers.
If you fly into another part of Thailand, check out our guide on Thailand airport transfers.
Both of these guides help you find cheap and convenient ways to get from the airport to your hotel or guesthouse.
I spent my first week in Thailand moving from office to office, signing documents, and meeting people.
I signed my contract, which detailed things like work hours, sick leave, holidays, and so on.
Being young and naive, I signed without question. But in retrospect I’d dispute a few parts of the contract now that I’m better-informed.
The contract lasted only six months, which wasn’t a problem for me as I planned on leaving at that time anyway.
But in taking on later jobs I’ve insisted that the contract be twelve months so I could keep my work permit.
Some less trustworthy employers in teaching jobs try to force eleven-month contracts on their staff. This means they don’t have to pay a full month’s salary.
And it means you have to do a visa run at the end of each contract before you can apply for a work permit when starting a second contract.
Grab a copy of Working in Thailand to find out what you should look for in your work contract, as well as other Thailand labor laws.
Opening a Bank Account
The visa assistance company also helped me open a Thai bank account. They took me to a branch of Bangkok Bank, where I hand over our passports and a 200-baht deposit.
But don’t expect opening a bank account in Thailand to run as smoothly if you try to do things yourself.
Different branches have different policies when it comes to the paperwork needed to open an account.
For example, many banks want foreigners to have work permits before opening accounts.
But contrary to popular belief, it is possible to open a Thai bank account on a tourist visa.
I taught English in a school called Anuban Kalasin, or Kalasin Kindergarten.
It was a government kindergarten and primary school a short hop from my apartment.
I thought the school would let me observe a few classes or write some lesson plans before setting me loose on a class full of students.
Imagine my horror, then, after a brief tour of the school on my first day as I was led into a classroom of wide-eyed upper-primary students and abandoned.
To say it was a baptism of fire would be an understatement. My only experience at teaching was the few short demos with my peers at the TEFL course.
I can’t stress this enough—I was massively under prepared to teach English in Thailand.
After I nervously introduced myself all hell broke loose. The room fell into anarchy. Children threw pencils and firecrackers, wrestled, and swung from the ceilings.
I ran out of the room to get help from a Thai teacher in the neighboring classroom. She strode in, gave the kids a severe dressing-down and left me to it.
Although the kids were half-settled, the class was still a disaster. My planned lesson fell flat, as most of the kids could barely read or write.
I doubt half of them understood a single word I said.
This sort of thing would become a regular feature of my first teaching job in Thailand.
Staying in Thailand
As my internship drew to an end, I began to get used to life in Thailand.
I could comfortably order food at restaurants, or haggle with clothes vendors at the Plaza, or buy bus tickets.
It seemed a shame to leave so quickly, so I agreed to stay another term.
I re-signed on a full contract, which meant I’d work on full salary.
As there were no non-intern positions in Kalasin, I was assigned to the town of Kantharalak, on the Cambodian border in the province of Si Sa Ket.
I worked a year at a high school in Kantharalak before deciding enough was enough and I wanted to go back home.
But, as so often happens, things didn’t work out back in the UK. I was unhappy in my work and had yet to fully excise the traveling bug.
I needed to get back to Thailand, and soon.
After a year in the UK, in late 2012 I returned to Thailand. I again signed up for the TEFL program. This time I was assigned to the province of Phayao in the North.
Once again I worked out my contract, but I was getting bored with rural Thailand. I felt the lure of the big city and I wanted to make more money.
It was time to move to Bangkok.
Finding Work in Bangkok
In February 2013 I started searching for work. Using my school’s clunky old desktop, I scoured ajarn.com for postings in Bangkok and blitzed schools with my CV.
The next few months I spent every weekend taking eight-hour bus rides to and from the city for interviews before returning to work in Phayao on Mondays.
I had a few promising leads with some better-paying agency work, private schools, and lower-tier international schools in Bangkok.
So I made a go of it. When my contract expired at the end of March, I decided to move to Bangkok.
At worst, if none of the jobs I interviewed for contacted me I could’ve applied for work at a language school.
I landed my current job at a private school in the Sukhumvit area through an old colleague who jumped ship shortly after I arrived in Bangkok.
Since then, I’ve landed all sorts of side-jobs through friends of friends I’ve met through work: private classes, proofreading, and writing gigs.
You can make money in Thailand by networking.
Living in Bangkok
I moved to Bangkok in 2013. It stuns and horrifies me every time I think about it.
I’ve come a long way since the morning I arrived at Mo Chit Bus Terminal with my suitcase, jobless and unsure of how I’d afford to survive until the end of the month.
I teach English at a private school where most of the kids speak English. And I’m working towards gaining a recognized postgraduate teaching qualification.
I am firmly and comfortably ensconced within the expat bubble I always felt slightly smug about not being a part of.
I’ve also piled on the pounds living a life where I’m ferried around by BTS and bike taxis from the moment I leave my front door.
I’m pretty sure the 23-year-old me would think I suck.
But I’m also proud of the life I’ve carved out here. I’ve started pursuing my lifelong goal of becoming a writer and co-authored a book, Working In Thailand.
I’m also busy turning what had once been a means to an end—teaching—into something resembling a professional career.
And whereas I used to teach to stay in Thailand, these days I find my work so rewarding I now stay in Thailand to teach.
I’m still unsure whether or not I want to spend the rest of my life in Thailand. There’s a big wide world out there.
I’m keen to see a lot more of it, so for the time being I rent.
But many expats who’ve committed themselves to staying in Thailand long-term buy a condo in Thailand.
Officially, in the eyes of the law you can’t own land in Thailand.
When it comes to being the outright owner, we’re limited to condos. And we can’t own more than 49% of the units in the building.
On the bright side, condos are cheaper compared to their Western counterparts and are more than plentiful in over-developed Bangkok.
You can read more about the process in a case study submitted by one of our readers: Steve’s experience with buying a condo in Bangkok.
If you own property in the UK, you may have felt a little reluctant to sell it prior to the big move.
I’ve had a long and strange journey from a wide-eyed, fresh-out-of-university traveler to Bangkok expat. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s what not to do.
I’ve had plenty of unique experiences doing Thailand the long way round.
I brought in the new year with fiery lanterns on the shore of a lake in the North.
I watched missiles zip across the sky with folks from the BBC and Al-Jazeera during the 2011 Thailand-Cambodia Border Dispute.
Having experience is good, but having the paperwork to back you up is useful when it comes to landing the well-paying international school jobs.
I used to see work here as a means to an end. But since landing a job I find rewarding, I no longer spend my life watching the clock and wishing I was somewhere else.
Put the effort in. Enjoy yourself.
And you’ve got all the world-class beaches, gorgeous mountain vistas, and great food right on your doorstep in your downtime.
What could be better than that?
Now, on to You
If you want to move from the UK to Thailand to teach English make sure you prepare yourself by taking a reputable TEFL course.
SEE TEFL has courses throughout the year that’ll prepare you for teaching English in Thailand.