Tips for Thailand Expats
Living Abroad in Thailand
More than enough travel guides and websites about Thailand give fantastic advice on hotels, sightseeing, nightlife and restaurants. If you've already read such guides, you already know what kinds of clothes you should bring and that the currency is in Baht. But for someone who intends to live in Thailand, there are many questions, concerns and needs not addressed in the travel guides.
Bangkok is a thriving, cosmopolitan metropolis with an abundance of activities and culture. Chiang Mai has become far more expat friendly, with many coming to retire or to take advantage of work opportunities and a milder climate.
Some cities in the northeast (Isaan) are thriving centers of commerce, such as Khon Kaen and Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) but this is the region to be if the slower pace of village life is what suits you, as most of Isaan is rural.
The south has Phuket and the other tourist destinations and many expats live and work in the tourist hospitality industry there. More centrally are the Hua Hin and Cha-am areas along the Gulf of Thailand and Pattaya; all three of these resort cities have many retiree communities and large numbers of expats.
These regions have the largest numbers of expats, so if you live elsewhere than these areas, you're likely to visit one of these towns or cities, and you're certain to come to Bangkok on occasion.
We all have our reasons for choosing a life abroad with Thailand as our host country. My intention is to make your transition easier or if you're researching a country to retire to, you can decide if Thailand is right for you and arrive knowing what to expect. This lens will cover quite a few, but not nearly all, of the concerns that people have about moving to and living in the Land of Smiles.
Cost of Living in Thailand
Wide range of lifestyles
The cost of living in Thailand varies tremendously. Bangkok is the most expensive of all the cities; however, the cost of living in Thailand will depend on your salary and the lifestyle you choose. Many multinational corporate executives earn several hundred thousand baht per month and many English teachers earn as little as between 25,000-30,000 baht per month.
Income and Benefits Vary
An English teacher with a few years of experience under her belt should command about 45,000 baht per month, where if your university degree is in Education, at a private school you could earn 55,000-60,000 baht per month. Many teachers tutor on the side and that brings in several thousand baht per month more. A qualified teacher working in a reputable international school can expect to earn in excess of 100,000 baht per month plus benefits.
Many of you will be fortunate enough to receive accommodation benefits as part of your employment package. However, many more of you will need to pay for accommodation out of your salary which will likely be your largest expense. If you work for a multinational company, your employer will likely give you a generous living expense and your flat, house or condo can run up to 80,000 baht in rent or more, but it will be well within your budget. More about the cost of accommodation is outlined in Chapter 5, Settling In.
How you eat will also determine your monthly expenses. You can eat from the street vendors or buy food to go at your local outdoor market and a meal will cost between 20-40 baht. Snacks are around 10-15 baht. This is the cheapest way to eat and this is how I ate during my work week - cheap and simple.
Restaurants will vary widely in expense. A basic Thai restaurant will likely be less than 120 baht per person, but there are also fancier Thai restaurants and prices will go up from there, much more if alcoholic beverages are part of the meal. Restaurants offering western fare usually cost about 250-400 baht per person and the really nice restaurants you are likely to spend a minimum of 1,000 baht per person.
Many expat families hire a maid whose duties include cooking for them, so eating out is not an issue and is likely more cost effective and healthier than dining in restaurants every day.
Overall, you will live OK, if a bit frugally, if your minimum salary is 40,000 baht per month (less is OK if your employer pays your housing) don't eat at nice restaurants every day and take the bus often. As an example, a few years ago, I was last making 45,000 plus 2,500 for housing expenses and was able to save about 20,000 per month. I went to movies regularly, had beauty treatments, went out to eat at decent restaurants every weekend and traveled outside Bangkok every chance I got. My lifestyle was excellent compared to how I was living in my home country.
Those on executive salaries can live quite luxuriously, if so chosen, and there is a wide range of earnings, saving and spending. You will get a very good idea of the cost of things when prices are quoted throughout the guide.
For those of you who are pursuing teaching, this article is a great perspective of what you can expect to spend:
And a more updated (2012) cost of living report is from our friends at Bangkok Podcast with quite a lot of useful information, from apartment costs to internet and communications to transport. Don't miss this one.
This particular episode does not cover costs such as insurance, banking and visa renewals, but it does cover other essentials like housing, transportation, entertainment, communication, water, electricity, etc.
How to Pay Your Bills
Very easy to do
A convenient way to pay your electricity, phone and water bills is to pay them at your always nearby 7-Eleven or some of the mail posting shops. You simply give your bills to the counter attendant and they go to a computer, type in the information, and then give you your bills back with receipts stapled to them. They don't need to keep any of your paper documentation. The service charge is about 10 baht per bill, but it's worth it not to have to go to the office to pay.
If you're late in paying, you will have to go to that office to settle the bill in person, and it's quite inconvenient finding the place. You may have to bring a Thai person with you to help you out if that happens. On the other hand, if you happen to have a maid or a driver, you can ask them to go for you, and, of course, it’s nice to give them a little extra baht for doing this extra duty.
Another convenient way to pay your bills is to sign up for the online service of your Thai bank. You can pay all your bills, with exception of your water, online – even your rent!
(Photo reference: 7-Elevens having the dark blue sign with moon and stars mean you can pay your bills there.)
Safety Tips in Thailand
Both men and women should take heed
Generally speaking, Thailand is a rather safe country to live in, but that does not mean you should be lazy in your safety precautions. Use common sense like not walking alone in unfamiliar or dangerous areas of town, dressing in revealing clothes or drinking alcohol with men you don't know well.
The one thought I always had that kept me on the straight and narrow is that I am in a foreign country and, if anything, I am more vulnerable than I would be in my own country. I cannot speak Thai fluently enough in an emergency, and when it is an emergency, it's impossible to translate in your head as quickly as you need to communicate. Always think about these issues before doing something even slightly risky.
Late Night in a Taxi
Probably the most pressing concern for western women in Thailand that I have heard time and again is about getting into a taxi late at night to go home. Whether you are a man or a woman, some safety tips to keep in mind when taking a taxi home late at night are:
- Sit in the back seat, behind the driver if possible.
- If you're going to a club where you've worn some skimpy clothing, carry a shawl or scarf in your purse and wrap it around your shoulders and chest.
- Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged and that there is plenty of money on it.
- Have a couple of friends with a mutual agreement that you can call on at any time, especially if you begin to feel uncomfortable in the taxi. Even faking a conversation can be OK if you don't have anyone to call. Talk about where you are, where you're headed and the taxi number you are in, making it obvious to the driver that someone is waiting for you.
- Don't be hostile, but don't be friendly either. Maintain a blunt and self assured attitude - no small talk, no giggling.
- When you know you will be out late at night, try to plan your evening with a group of friends and travel together rather than be alone at the end of your festivities.
- If you feel anything is strange, don't be shy to tell the taxi driver to stop and get out.
Some more general safety tips to consider:
- When using the ATM, look around you first before taking money out. Put your cash away quickly and make sure nobody follows you.
- If you are going on holiday at a beach, stay near your bungalow for your night's partying and make sure your walk back is out in the open and safe. If you walk along the beach late at night, stay in a group.
- Ladies, carry your purse or shoulder bag on the side away from the street to prevent thieves on motorcycles from snatching it. Men, don't keep a stuffed wallet in your back pocket.
- Do not assume that entering a crosswalk (or zebra crossing) means that vehicles will slow down and stop for you. In Thailand, pedestrians do not have rights of way. See photo above!
- Make photocopies of your most important documents and keep them in a safe place. I never kept my passport on my person; instead I photocopied the ID portion and kept that in my wallet and kept the original at home.
- Never bring all your credit cards out with you, keep some at home as well. When walking across a street, do not assume vehicles will be traveling in the legal direction, or that the direction the traffic was going in the morning will be the same as in the afternoon.
Bottom line: look BOTH ways several times before crossing a street.
- Tazers are not illegal in Thailand, but one expat has said that Tazers purchased in Thailand do not work, but if this sounds like an attractive form of self protection to carry with you, you might want to take care of this purchase before arrival.
Expat Bloggers in Thailand - Get an insider's view before making the move
Here is a list of the blogs I follow. There are a ton of Thailand blogs out there, but these have been around for awhile and I personally subscribe to their feeds.
- Retire 2 Thailand
Hugh Leong has retired with his wife and lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He writes about the concerns retirees face, such as the cost of living on a fixed income and how to pass all that time you've now got. He's quite interesting with lots of valuabl
- Tasty Thailand
A former colleague of mine has this blog that has lots of wonderful restaurant reviews. But it's not just about eating in Thailand, she's got up-to-date Thai news, shopping information and travel destination advice. This blogger covers Thailand exten
- Women Learn Thai (and some men, too)
Cat has created the go-to blog for everything learning the Thai language. She has an extensive section for learning Thai for free online. Cat also has very interesting interviews with Thai learners who have become fluent, giving tips and advice for u
- Greg to Differ
Greg Jorgenson is the co-host of Bangkok Podcast (first blog listed) and he's been a resident of Thailand for the last 10 years. He's got a great insight on how things are run in this city along with some fantastic photos and commentary. He also writ
Attention ladies! This is a private website for expat women living in Thailand who wish to join a group of like-minded women. Berthe Mandaat has created these groups and forums in cities all over Thailand like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Hua Hin.
- Bangkok Podcast
Tony and Greg are no longer producing monthly shows, but there is still lots of good information on their podcasts, even their older shows are essential listening for any newcomers to Bangkok. There is a Thai language series, interviews with authors,
- Coconuts Bangkok | News | Food | Restaurants | Nightlife | Guide
Coconuts Bangkok is a local news and reviews website that endeavors to cover everything that’s happening in the Thai capital. Their mission is to produce as many relevant and entertaining stories and reviews as possible for their readers, and they