How to Live in Thailand
Many people visit the tropical 'Kingdom of Thailand' for a few weeks and have such an amazing time there that when it's time to go back home, they can't help but think to themselves, wistfully, "Wouldn't it be great to live in Thailand for a while?". For many, that's an impossible dream due to family commitments and other responsibilities. For many others, however, taking off to live in Thailand is a very realistic prospect. All they need, apart from money to actually get there and to tide them over for a while, is a spirit of adventure and the confidence to make a go of it.
Having had a close relationship with Thailand for more than 20 years, I have come across many weird and wonderful ways that expats have adopted and adapted in order to live in Thailand for extended periods and to support themselves financially while they're there.
Working in Thailand
Working in Thailand is the most common and practical way for foreigners to live in Thailand for extended periods. Wages aren't very high compared to Western countries, but Thailand is a much cheaper place to live. Food and accommodation can easily be managed on a typical salary. Travel throughout the country is incredibly low priced, and cheap clothing and other goods are readily available in every town.
There are, of course, official ways of going about it, which (with the help of your prospective employer) involve obtaining the correct visa and work permits, but it's no secret that many people work casually without the correct 'non-immigrant' visa or work permit. They just have single or multiple entry tourist visas, but by keeping a low profile, they carry on this work for as long as they're allowed to remain in Thailand. When their tourist visa ends (typically after 2 months) they go on a visa run. For most, that involves a bus or train trip to one of the neighbouring countries, such as Malaysia or Laos, to apply for a new visa before returning to Thailand. Unfortunately, visa runs are a self-limiting activity. Having just completed a stay in the country supposedly as a tourist, they may be refused a new visa unless they can come up with a good reason for needing to spend so much time in the country as a tourist. Otherwise, the Immigration Department will assume (usually correctly) that they must be working illegally and will refuse to issue a visa.
For native-English speakers, the most common form of work is English teaching. Many, if not most, aren't actually trained or qualified teachers of English as a foreign language but are just native speakers of English providing conversation practice to Thai students who are willing to pay. Among most career-minded Thais, a working knowledge of English is considered essential, so there's no shortage of people willing to learn. For those prospective teachers who are suitably qualified, English teaching can be done officially through registered language schools or government state schools. For those whose qualifications amount to nothing more than having excellent (preferably native) English language skills, it can still be done, albeit unofficially, at small unregistered language schools or privately, at students' homes or coffee shops, etc. - or even their apartment.
For more information on what's required to teach English in Thailand, see my article: Teaching English in the Kingdom of Thailand.
Native speakers of languages other than English have far fewer opportunities as the greatest demand, by far, is for English tuition. Japanese speakers have some opportunities to teach Japanese to those inolved in the tourist industry or to Thais working for Japanese factories in Thailand, such as Honda. The recent increase of Chinese tourists has also produced a rising demand for Chinese languages (mostly Mandarin). There is a small demand for native German, Spanish and French teachers, but I've never met anyone who could get enough work to make a living at it.
Re-writing and editing
Many companies and organisations in Thailand with international interests sometimes employ foreigners to check and correct texts that they write as part of their foreign business. Hospital doctors, for example, often need to write medical reports in English and need them to be checked for grammatical and spelling errors. A lot of this kind of work isn't advertised but done on a personal basis. Personal contact and personal recommendation is how to find this kind of work.
Buying and selling
This involves buying cheap goods in Thailand and selling them for a profit either back home or in another country, preferably a rich country like Japan.
This is a favourite working method among backpackers, who want to spend time in several Southeast Asian countries, and not just Thailand. They spend time in Thailand buying stuff such as silver, jewelry, clothes and handicrafts, etc, and then head to Tokyo or Osaka in Japan to sell their wares on the streets, before returning to Thailand or a nearby (equally cheap) country such as Vietnam or Cambodia to do it all over again - and again. The longer they spend in other countries, the greater their chances of getting a new Thai visa when they need one.
Stay away from buying gemstones with the hope of selling them back home later unless you actually know how to tell a genuine from a fake or from a genuine-but-low quality stone. Some rip-off shops have been known to employ foreigners who pretend to be visiting dealers buying gemstones. Any foreign customer who has wandered in (or been enticed in) to a rip-off gem shop, will, on meeting a friendly 'fellow foreigner' be reassured that everything is above board. BIG mistake!!
Start a Business
Many people with a Thai partner (wife or husband) set up in business. One acquaintance has set up a mobile burger bar with his Thai wife outside a busy tourist bar. He does great business and doesn't mind working until tourists and expats spill out at closing time and find a burger irresistible. Actually, it's his wife that does the work, while he stands around talking to customers. Many people like the idea of running a bar, but running a bar or other business is a complicated bureaucratic jungle and you need to pay for the services of a lawyer or agency such as Siam Legal to guide you through the process.
There are many opportunities to do volunteer work in Thailand. Projects are run by various organisations and include such projects as: teaching English to novice Buddhist monks, helping out at orphanages, elephant camps, etc. These can be an excellent way to know a side of the country that's unknown to tourists, (and also to many Thais) but most, unfortunately, aren't free. You're expected to pay towards your food and lodgings which are provided by the organisation. For this type of work, a Non-Immigrant 'O' visa is required, which lasts three months but can be extended.
Studying in Thailand
Another option for those not concerned with earning money is to study a subject at a Thai school or training centre. Studying is a popular way to live in Thailand for long periods and popular subjects are: Thai cuisine, Thai boxing (Muay Thai), Thai language, Buddhism, scuba diving and massage.
Some courses are short enough that many people just take them while on a tourist visa, but longer courses held by registered Thai language schools or training centres require the correct non-immigrant (ED) visa. You need to get this from outside Thailand using a letter of admission from the school. If already in Thailand, this involves a 'visa run' to one of the neighbouring countries - a 2 or 3 day round trip.
Retire in Thailand
Anyone over 50 years old can live in Thailand indefinitely if they obtain an annually renewable retirement visa known as a non-immigrant (OA) visa and fulfill certain requirements.
They need to show evidence that they are financially secure enough to support themselves. Working is not allowed under this visa. The amount they are required to show is currently 800,000 baht, or an income of 65,000 baht per month or a combination of both (US$1 = 35 baht and UK£1 = 48 baht at June 2016).
They won't be eligible if they have a contagious disease (excluding HIV), or if they're a drug addict or have a criminal record.
The first step is to apply for a three month Non-Immigrant (O) visa at their local Thai Embassy either in person or by post, making sure their passport has at least 12 months validity. A police report from their country showing no criminal record may also be needed.
Then they can to go to Thailand.
Next they need to open a bank account at any high street bank in Thailand and deposit their money or arrange to have money regularly paid in from their home country (e.g., from a pension). Then they need to obtain a certificate of health provided and signed by a Thai doctor.
Finally they can go to the Immigration offices in whichever part of Thailand they've chosen to live. Their three month non-Immigrant (O) visa will be upgraded to a one year non-immigrant (OA) visa. When their visa expires, they can then renew it year by year as long as they can still show that they have the required savings or income.
Note - This information about retirement visas comes from the Royal Thai Consulate in Hull, UK and is specifically for UK nationals. The conditions and requirements are much the same for many other countries, though, especially Western countries, but as there may be differences and changes to the requirements, it's necessary to check with your local Thai consulate or Thai embassy.
How much do you know about Thailand?
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