Moving To Thailand: A Guide for Expats to Live Here

A women with roller luggage and the title: Moving to Thailand: A Guide for Expats to Live Here

Moving to Thailand is exciting and nerve wracking all at the same time.

Because there’s so much involved with the major life change, we’ve put together this guide to help you prepare for and adjust to your new life in Thailand.

That said, if you’re interested in further resources that will help you master your move to Thailand, avoid timely and expensive pitfalls, and save thousands of dollars, check out our premium subscription.

Crime and Safety

As of April 18, 2022, the U.S. State Department reports Thailand as a safe place to travel to. In fact, the website lists the country as:

Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions.U.S. State Department, April 18, 2022.

In terms of crime, police and independent agencies tend to disagree over each other’s statistics. While I haven’t experience any violence, I do occasionally read about it.

When I first moved here years ago, there were army coups, and a few years before I arrived there was the notorious incident at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Although the sight of police and army officials enforcing curfews made me nervous, life carried on as usual.

I was also here during the takeover of power and the Shutdown Bangkok situation but, again, I never experienced any violence.

I feel safer here than when living in London. In fact, I never feel in danger while walking around tourist areas, even at night. However, there are tourist scams that could affect you as an expat, so always be mindful of those.

Check out our guide on Thailand vacations for info on tourist scams to avoid.

Overall, the political system seems stable and it hardly affects my life as an expat in Thailand. Although there are still protests in the country today, they are small and don’t impact daily life in the kingdom.

Air Pollution and PM2.5

Thailand’s air quality has been in headlines over the recent years. From about December to April of each year, PM2.5 levels reach hazardous numbers, raising a lot of concern about long-term health effects.

Unfortunately, because farmers in Thailand and the surrounding countries practice slash-and-burn methods of removing old crops, air pollution is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

There are ways to minimize your exposure to PM2.5. In fact, we’ve created a guide to Thailand’s air pollution to show you how.

Thailand Cost of Living

People often move to Thailand because of the low cost of living, but it’s not always an inexpensive place to live.

I hear too many stories of people who don’t budget enough for their move, and this sets them up for failure from the start.

As for me, I arrived in Thailand with around US$5,000. This was enough to rent an apartment in Bangkok and cover my living expenses for the first three months, before I got a paycheck.

Here were my costs during that time:

  • Accommodation (US$1,250): a serviced apartment for six weeks followed by hotels around Thailand for two weeks. Then, the first months rent, US$150, for a studio apartment.
  • Food and drink (US$1,750): I spent a fair amount on eating and drinking during my first few months. From shopping malls to drinking beers on beaches, my bills added up.
  • Clothes (US$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 these costs.
  • Household items (US$200): my first apartment was furnished, but I needed to buy several items such as bedding, kitchen utensils, and hangers.
  • Visa runs (US$450): after getting my first job, I had to leave Thailand, get a new visa, and then re-enter the country. This was the total cost for travel, accommodations, and visa fees.
  • Tourist attractions (US$300): I visited a number of must-see sights around Thailand during my first few weeks. From famous temples to national parks, I spent this much to visit these places.

During your first few months you’ll spend money on tourist attractions and will overpay for things. But after a while, you’ll adjust and know where to go for the best bargains.

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Depending on your visa type you’ll also need to show a certain amount of money in a Thai bank account. The visa section below explains this in more detail.

For potential retirees, you may be thinking about how much you need per month to live in Thailand. Some people say it’s possible to live on less than US$1,000, and while that may be true for some, we all have different wants and needs.

In terms of costs of living, Ajarn.com’s cost of living page covers the incomes and expenses for teachers in Thailand. Even if you don’t want to teach you should check this page out. It highlights the kinds of lifestyles people can afford according to their monthly budgets.

Outside of teaching, you can check out these Thailand cost of living guides as well:

These articles will provide you with detailed breakdowns of the cost of living for different people in Thailand.

If you’re looking for something more specific, you can use our free Thailand Cost of Living Calculator to estimate your monthly expenses on rent, food, transportation, and much more.

Medical Care Options

Thailand is becoming a popular destination for medical tourism, thanks in part to its quality healthcare and low costs. So, as an expat you’ll get top-of-the-line treatment when going to private hospitals in Bangkok.

Keep in mind, though, that private hospitals are in the healthcare business to make a profit. Undoubtedly you will get top-notch care from Western trained, English-speaking doctors and staff, but this comes at a premium.

Also, private hospitals tend to mark up the cost of certain medications by sometimes 400 percent. So, if you visit a private hospital, feel free to ask the staff to write down what you need, then buy it for a fraction of the price at a local pharmacy (one that isn’t attached to the hospital, of course).

Almost every major street in Thailand has a pharmacy, and they all carry a wide range of medicine.

You can visit government hospitals or premium clinics, too, where some doctors from private hospitals also practice, and pay up to 25 percent less for treatment. The wait times will be a lot longer, however.

Local clinics can be found all over Thailand as well. They can help you with common ailments such as colds, food poisoning, and sprains. But staff at local clinics most likely won’t speak English.

With some of the generalities out of the way, let’s look more closely at the process of moving to Thailand.

Preparing for Your Move

If you’re not yet in Thailand, and depending on the amount of responsibilities and commitments you have back home, you’ll have to take care of a lot of things before moving here.

I cover some of the more common aspects below, starting with personal matters.

Handling Personal Matters

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.

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.

You can ask your family to download video calling programs like Skype or Zoom. Secondly, you can reassure your family that you’ll be coming back to visit regularly.

Getting Health Insurance

Before moving to Thailand you should get health insurance, just in case it takes a while to find a job that covers you for medical emergencies.

If a multinational company hires you to work in Thailand, you’ll most likely get a relocation package that includes health insurance.

On the other hand, if you’re going to find work in Thailand after arriving here or you’re going to retire in Thailand, you’ll need to get health insurance yourself. We always recommend Luma Health to expats in the country.

For more advice, check out our guide to health insurance in Thailand. For a more detailed at look at what kind of coverage you need and what you can skip, check out our guide to insurance in Thailand.

You may be thinking about getting travel insurance, but this is only suitable for short-term stays to the country.

Applying for the Right Visa

One glance at the different Thai visa options is enough to make you dizzy. However, if you have some money to spend, the Thailand Elite visa is the easiest visa to get.

It’ll get you five to 20 years in the country, and with it, you won’t have to file the dreaded annual documents and paperwork required by other Thai visas.

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.

You can also take a look at our guide on different visas in Thailand.

Applying for the Thailand Pass

Since July 1, 2022, travels to Thailand no longer have to apply for the Thailand Pass to enter the country.

However, there’s no telling what the future may hold, so if at any time you have to apply for the pass, check out our guide to the Thailand Pass for more info.

Setting Up a Mail Forwarding Service

I had no need to forward my mail, as any important documents such as my student loans and bank statements were either sent online or to my parent’s house.

However, if you need any mail sent to Thailand, you can set up a mail forwarding service with your local post office.

Deciding Where to Live

Before moving to Thailand, it’s a good idea to think about where you want to live.

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From beaches to cities, Thailand offers all kinds of living experiences.

Do you want to be next to the beach every day? Do you want to live on rolling farmlands? A big city? These are questions you have to ask yourself.

If you’re moving to Thailand for work relocation, then you don’t have much say in where you’re going to live. The rest of us have 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 spent a month in Bangkok and then took it from there.

After finishing a training course in Bangkok, I headed to the islands with the dreams of working next to the beach. However, there were fewer job opportunities and salaries were much lower than I had seen in the capital.

So, money and job opportunities kept me tied to Bangkok.

If you’re planning to buy property in the country, check out Keller Henson. They have a great selection of properties all over Thailand. You can filter your searches based on location, price, and even return on investment.

With that said, let’s look at some of the more popular expat locations in Thailand.

Bangkok

The city most people first visit 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 finding somewhere paying what I now make would be hard. Second, Bangkok has a variety of restaurants, malls, and leisure activities. The final reason is because Bangkok is the hub of Thailand — you can travel to anywhere via bus, train, or plane.

There are a few downsides to being in the capital, though. It lacks that certain something that I’ve felt in other major cities such as London, Tokyo, or Berlin. The traffic is also really bad.

Chiang Mai

The spiritual home for digital nomads, long-term travelers, and retirees, Chiang Mai has long been a popular choice for expats in Thailand.

I’ve visited Chiang Mai a couple of times and have a few friends living there, and they have told me about both the pros and cons of living in the city. But there’s much to do — temples, sports facilities, restaurants, and nature are all at your doorstep.

Pattaya

The nightlife and existing expat scene make Pattaya a popular destination for people looking to call Thailand their home. PattayaUnlimited is a good resource for everything Pattaya has to offer.

Phuket

Phuket attracts expats because it’s the ultimate Thai-beach destination. Have a look at Phuket–101 and Jamie Monk’s blog to find out firsthand about this tropical locale.

Others

The Northeast of Thailand, or Essan, is famous for farming and is common place for retired expats to relocate to. Most retired expats living in this region have Thai partners.

Other notable areas that deserve a shout-out are Hua Hin, Cha-Am, and Koh Samui, which all have flourishing expat communities.

Wherever you travel in Thailand it’s not uncommon to see other expats, so you need to travel around a bit to get a feel for where you want to live.

Also, consider if the 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, living there all year round would drive me crazy.

Now that you know whereabouts you want to live in Thailand, let’s go on to the actual moving process.

Moving to Thailand

The following steps don’t necessarily have to handled in the order they’re listed in, but each of them should be taken care of at one time or another when moving to Thailand.

Getting Health Insurance

Although expats no longer need insurance to enter the country, it’s a good idea to get health insurance, or at a minimum, travel insurance

You never know when medical emergencies will happen in the country.

Booking Flights

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 CheapOAir. Once inside the country, you can get anywhere with a direct flight.

You can also find out how to get cheap flights to Bangkok.

Thai Airways is the national carrier, but these days every major airline flies into Thailand. I fly with Emirates, as they seem to have the best connections at the most reasonable prices. They also fly A380s, which is an added bonus.

For flights within Thailand you have many choices. Thai Airways offer plenty of national routes but tends to be the most expensive.

Lion, Nok Air, Air Asia, and Thai Smile (Thai Airways’ low cost option) are the main budget choices, and they are all close in price. If you book early you can get one-way flights for as little as THB800 including taxes. I budget between THB2,500 to THB3,000 for a round-trip ticket if booking a few months ahead.

Bangkok Airways flies out of Koh Samui but has a limited selection of international flights. In general, flying from the island is more expensive compared to other departure locations. Because of this, people often fly to nearby Surat Thani Airport and take a ferry to Koh Samui.

Once you land in Thailand, you can take a look at these airport transfer options to see which one is suitable for you. Check out this guide for Bangkok airport transfers.

Importing Your Pet

It’s possible to bring your furry friend with you to Thailand, but make sure it will be able to handle the tropical climate.

There’s a trend of buying Siberian Huskies in Thailand, but since this breed loves cold weather, it might not be able to adapt to the tropical climate.

For more info, check out our Thailand pet important guide.

Packing the Necessities

After a couple of trips between the U.K. and Thailand, I wound up bringing everything I needed with me to Thailand — although, to be honest, this isn’t the most efficient way of going about this.

If your company is relocating you to Thailand, you might not have to worry about shipping your things to the country, as they’ll do it for you.

But if you’re coming here on your own accord, you need to figure this part out yourself. Luckily, we have a shipping to Thailand guide that you can use to help pick an international mover and method.

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Since you can buy most of things you use back home in Thailand, you don’t have to bring everything with you, but quality furniture and electronics are more expensive here, so it’s best to ship those things from home.

The items that are usually more expensive in Thailand are:

  • books
  • imported foods
  • electronics
  • car seats, high chairs, etc.
  • vitamins and supplements
  • brand-name clothes and shoes

If you’re ready to pack your bags and your bags include more than you can carry onto the plane, you can get free quotes from moving companies.

Checking Important Documents

One thing you’ll learn about Thailand is that officials here love paperwork. I dread how many copies of my driving license, passport, and school degrees are floating around various government offices.

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An example of how to sign your photocopies in Thailand.

Below I’ve put a list of important documents you must bring. If possible, bring original copies with you.

  • passport
  • driving license
  • birth certificate
  • list of contact numbers
  • home ownership deeds
  • proof of income or pay slips
  • medical certificates or reports
  • marriage or divorce certificate
  • degrees and transcripts
  • taxes, social security cards, national insurance numbers

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 won’t be able to use them.

Settling In

Once you’ve moved to Thailand, it’ll be time to start settling in. You’ll have to find a place to live, find a job, and much more.

We’ll cover that in the sections that follow.

Renting a House, Condo, or Apartment

Don’t rent a place long-term before arriving 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.

Instead, you should plan to spend at least the first few days or even weeks in a hotel or short-term rental. Book at least a few nights in a Bangkok hotel to figure out where you want to live.

To speed up the process of finding a long-term rental, talk to a real estate agent. It’s basically free for you.

An agent will give you a list of properties based on your wants and needs and be able to show you places in your ideal neighborhood.

If you’re on a budget, look at hostelworld.com. But you won’t get a room with enough space for all your belongings if you’re moving here.

I’ve also met a few people who arrived in Thailand and stayed in a hostel while looking for a job, and they all said that the lack of privacy and facilities made things hard.

There are some great guides on ExpatDen, so I won’t go into too much detail here. But you can take a look at our Bangkok apartments guide. It shows you how to rent a place and what to look out for during the process.

For those looking for something more long-term, we also have a guide for buying a condo in Thailand.

If you’re looking at buying a house in Thailand, then you’re limited because of the Thai laws against foreigners owning land.

The best choice is leasing a land and house for 30 or 60 years. Sure, there are a couple of ways around this but the risk, hassle, and potential downsides aren’t worth it in my opinion.

Renting a house in Thailand is simple. Property websites like DDProperty list houses in tourist areas and have the contacts of real estate agents in Bangkok who can help you.

You can sometimes cut your rent in Thailand by 40 percent by negotiating. We show you how to negotiate rent in this exclusive guide for our supporters.

Finding a Job

Should you get a job before arriving in Thailand? Or should you get a job after you’ve arrived here? This is what you, as a future Thailand expat, have to think about.

You can read our finding work in Thailand guide for more info. It uncovers the useful ways you can find 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.

On another note, schools look for teachers among the field of expats living 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 be ways to work online in Thailand under the new Smart Visa plan.

We include a list of industry-specific job websites for teaching, IT, finance, NGO, and other industries in this exclusive guide for our supporters.

Opening a Bank Account

Open a bank account in Thailand to help manage your finances. You can start by going to the nearest bank branch and asking about the requirements.

After that, set up an account with Xendpay so you can make international transfers. It’s often the cheapest way to send money to Thailand.

Paying Taxes

In general taxes in Thailand are low.

Along with the 7 percent VAT, you’ll pay THB750 per month for social security. You’ll also pay personal taxes based on your income as shown in the chart below.

Personal Taxable Income in Thai BahtTax Rate
0-150,000Exempt
150,000-300,0005 percent
300,000 – 500,00010 percent
500,000 – 750,00015 percent
750,000 – 1,000,00020 percent
1,000,000 – 2,000,00025 percent
2,000,000 – 4,000,00030 percent
Over 4,000,00035 percent

Like other countries, you can take advantage of tax deductions in Thailand. Popular choices include buying SSF, paying for life insurance, and purchasing a condo. Expats and Thais workers get the same deductions.

This includes a temporary tax deduction on purchases in malls, hotels, and restaurants registered with VAT. You could claim any purchase with a value of up to THB15,000. Please check the revenue department website for more info.

To give a quick overview of how I deal with my taxes in Thailand, it’s best to look at my income. 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 THB34,000 a month.

That meant I paid THB750 for social security and zero taxes on the income as my yearly amount was THB102,000. My next job had a salary of THB55,000 per month, and after social security and tax I received around THB50,050. Now I earn between THB68,000 to THB102,000 and the amount I receive is around THB6,000 to THB8,000 less after paying taxes 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 U.K. (where I’m from) and Thailand. This 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 taxes in Thailand. If you work you’ll receive a work permit and tax ID in order to pay income tax and social security. 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, so you should check with your own tax department about this. The Thai tax year runs from 1st January to 31st December.

Since taxes vary between each person, get in touch with a tax expert who knows how to help expats.

Enrolling Your Kids in School

One of the most challenging things to do when you move to a new country is to find the right school for your son or daughter.

You have a lot of things to consider, including whether to send your child to one of the international schools in Thailand or a local school.

An international school that follows the same curriculum as the one used in your home country or your child’s previous school makes it easier for your kids to adapt to the new school and make it easier if or when you move back to your home country.

If you want to go this route, check out KIS. They are based in Bangkok, are accredited by the Council of International Schools, the Ministry of Education, and the Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assurance (ONESQA), and have a good reputation with expat parents.

A local school, on the other hand, offers your child the opportunity to immerse themselves in Thai culture and get a deeper understanding of the language.

Local schools are cheaper than international schools. But price alone is not a good indicator of whether a school is the right fit for your son or daughter, or the quality of education offered at the school.

Dealing with Immigration

Life is easy in Thailand when visiting on a tourist visa. You simply get stamped in and out by immigration at the airport or border. On the other hand, when you’re here on a different type of visa things get more confusing and time consuming.

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Inside Division 1 Immigration, Chaengwattana, Bangkok, Thailand.

Our visa article covers 90-day reporting, so I won’t go over it in detail here. In short, you have to visit immigration every 90 days to let them know you still live in Thailand and are residing at the same address.

To do this, you can go to the immigration center in the province in which you live, send the forms through mail, or complete the 90-day check-in online.

Different immigration centers have different standards and policies. For example, I now report in Nonthaburi and they insist that I fill in form TM30 as well (house registration and landlord declaration of foreign guest).

But immigration in Bangkok at Chaengwattana doesn’t request 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 that must be 100 percent right. To get around this, you can use an agent to handle all the paperwork for you. If you work for a mid- to large-sized company, they should offer this service to you free of charge.

If you’re not working, then you can pay for a visa service. This can save you time if you don’t want to do it yourself.

Staying Safe and Healthy

For my yearly visa I need a health checkup, and the last time I went the doctor asked me how often I travel by bus.

This seemed like a weird question. Then she told me that she saw deterioration in my lungs due to pollution, most likely traffic related. I used to travel by bus twice a day and it scared me to see how it affected my lungs.

Pollution can affect you, too, especially when living in the city centers.

Also, 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 alone there are often hundreds of deaths, but these are mostly in rural areas of the country. However, be careful when driving and make sure to wear a seat belt, even if others don’t.

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 support.

Basic Thai social security covers treatment in government hospitals but often has long waiting lists. This treatment will not be free and you’ll still be liable for some expenses.

Many lower paying jobs offer accident insurance. This will cover you for THB2,000 per day in a hospital, THB2,000 per year for dental, and around THB5,000 for other procedures. Using this in a private hospital means you’ll still have a huge medical bill, and it won’t be 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 THB90,000. Her work insurance covered THB9,000, leaving her to pay the rest.

If your job doesn’t provide health insurance, you can check out Luma Health. All of its plans come with full IPD coverage at an annual limit of THB32 million. You also get a free health checkup every year when you buy the superior or premium plan.

You can also check out our Thailand health insurance guide to find out the most suitable plan for your situation.

Mental health is a serious concern for expats here as well. 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 see someone they miss.

Also, gyms are abundant in Bangkok. From facilities in your condo or housing estate to international gym chains, there are options to suit everyone. Take a look at our Bangkok fitness guide to see what’s available to you.

Setting Up Utilities

The first thing expats want to do when arriving in Thailand is set up their phone and internet.

AIS Package
A sample package from AIS.

There are three main phone companies in Thailand:

They are all the same and offer a variety of plans based on whether internet or phone calls are more important to you.

Thais mostly rely on messaging apps such as Line or Facebook Messenger. For around THB300 per 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.

This works out to around THB800 per month and includes a few English channels. For this amount, you should expect at least 50 MB of internet speed, a simple TV package, and 4G phone service.

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 has exclusive rights, so you must go through them. If football isn’t your thing, then AIS has some useful packages and sole rights to HBO. Premium TV and internet bundles cost up to THB3,000 per month, so it isn’t the cheapest at-home entertainment option.

You can also get Netflix Thailand. It starts at THB99 for a mobile plan and gets as high as THB419 for the premium plan. I use this instead of cable TV. And, if there’s a sports event I want to see, I go to the pub.

Living in Thailand

Having been here for many years now, I understand a fair amount about Thai culture but not everything. There are still things that surprise me.

After your first few years, you’ll pick things up and over time become more understanding of how and why things happen like 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.

Thai Office Culture

My first few weeks in Thailand were a vacation, but after a while I had to settle into working life, and this process was challenging.

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 that Thai people were friendly, and the employees at the first company I worked for proved that. They seemed happy with me and helped me when I needed it. After a month working there, however, I realized it wasn’t always easy to tell when a Thai person was lying or hiding things from me.

There were little signs I didn’t pick up, but now I understand. They would never 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, because of it, I only lasted three months at that job. Ever since then, I’ve only worked for international companies in Thailand.

This part of Thai culture, not always saying what you mean, still catches me from time-to-time, and you have to be aware that the famous Thai smile is sometimes there to hide another emotion.

Hierarchy in Thailand

Thais really respect their elders. This means the pecking order may be different from your own country. Young people will greet their elders with a wai, the traditional Thai greeting, which elders may or may not return.

Some elders make decisions for and give advice to the younger people in the family. It also seems to me some Thai people do things to please the older members of their families, such as when choosing degrees or picking a career.

Yes, No, and Never Mind

One aspect of Thai culture that is hard to understand is that 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 that you have to pay attention to.

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. It used to leave me frustrated, but I’ve begun to pick up on these little clues to know when “yes” means “no.”

The first Thai word I learned in Thailand 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 expats. This frustrated me, as it seemed people didn’t care.

Familial Living Arrangements

It’s common for Thai people to live with their family until married, 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 or supporting a child through university or school in a different region.

Thai Language

I’ve never got the bug to learn Thai, but there are different ways you can learn the language here. There are also arguments about how necessary learning Thai is, but make no mistake about it — 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 an expat you should make at least an effort to learn the basics and how to greet people, say “please,” and “thank you.” The good thing is there are ways to learn as you can see below.

Offline

I learned my first Thai phrases 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 Isaan, 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 in real life rather than in Thai learning book.

Dating in Thailand will also give you the chance to learn the language. Thais find it cute when they an expat speaks Thai. I learned the words for cute, beautiful, and fun through dating, and traveling with my date led to me learning new words.

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 it up in Asia Books as it included 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.

Work is the other place where people can learn Thai, especially if you work for a local Thai company.

Online

You can also start learning Thai online using Thaipod101. It teaches you to quickly communicate in basic Thai.

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.

Finally, you can watch Thai YouTube channels or Thai Netflix shows.

Social Life

This part is interesting and is something I struggle with at times. Some expats aren’t committed to living in the country long-term. This makes long lasting friendships more hard to find.

I’ve managed to make some good friends here, though they have all come through work.

Thai friends are even harder to make in my opinion. I have one good Thai friend, but when he got married he had to move to another province, so we don’t see each other often.

In tourist areas it’s true there are other Westerners but it isn’t always obvious who is here on holiday and who is here long-term.

There are also social clubs from golf to football teams where you can meet people. 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 search on either Google or Facebook for the club that interests you.

It’s also possible to make friends with people randomly. Living in my condo has helped me meet several other expats, 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 enough to bump into people or meet them through work.

The final way to make friends is through your girlfriend or boyfriend. 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.

Now, on to You

Hopefully the above has covered any major concerns you might have in regards to moving to Thailand.

If there’s anything else, or you have further questions, feel free to leave a comment below and either myself or one of ExpatDen’s team members will get back to you.

Richard moved to Thailand in 2013 to enjoy the tropical climate, golf in the sun and working in a new culture. During this time he has started a website, put down roots and experienced a lot of what Thailand has to offer. When not working Richard is normally playing sport, scuba diving or planning a new vacation.

5 thoughts on “Moving To Thailand: A Guide for Expats to Live Here”

  1. Hi Richard,
    Thank you for your advice. I am a European, born in the UK. Living in France for the last 9 years. Now looking to retire to Thailand, to escape the cold that becomes worse as i get older.
    You have covered most of the things that would concern me. So once again i say thank you.

    Reply
  2. Thank you Richard, I’ll be moving to Thailand early next year, so tips were very welcome, hope to meet you there and go for a cofee.

    Reply
  3. Thank you so much for this helpful information. I have only just begun my research, but this was all very informative; it’s great that you took the time and effort to help out fellow wannabe expats!

    Reply
  4. Hello Richard

    Thank you for your article- I have looked at similar information and find what you have written very helpful and encouraging. I’m a 46 year old male looking to move to Thailand next year. I have a good friend who has lived in Bangkok and I visited last year.

    Many years ago i worked at an international school in South Korea and would like to teach in Thailand. hope to find work in Bangkok initially. Would you recommend I study TEFL in Bangkok or attempt to find work armed only with my CV and degree certificate?

    Many thanks

    Rory

    Reply

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