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10 Tips for Living in Thailand

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Did you know the Thai national anthem is played twice daily throughout the country? Do you know what the "Wai" is? Expats in Thailand share tips for living in Thailand.

Expat Thailand - 10 Tips for Living in Thailand

Where to Live in Thailand

"If you need to be around other expats, this may not be the place for you. If you are OK with living in a Thai building, which on the outside does not look that great, this may not be for you. We have a pool, gym and plenty of resturants and bars to choose from, but most do not speak English. As for transportation this is a great neighborhood for cabs and soon the BTS line to the airport and back to the city. We did live in Tong Lor for awhile, which has plenty of expat's around but the rent is going to set you back about 18,000-as high as you want to go. Villa Market is close by, which has just about everything you may want from the west. For me I prefer a bit away from the center of the city, where the people are really friendly, and if you have the need, grab a cab or in our case soon the BTS. If you have kids, be concerned with the schools and you find the best closer into the city center. If you are just a couple, have some adventure and get outside the city center and you will also save a lot of precious resources," explained one expat who lives in Bangkok.

"Chiang Mai is a beautiful place but we have seen many people get caught up in the dream without really thinking things through. Come here for awhile, get to know the people and not just the people hanging out in the bars and get to know the culture. It is easy to find a house here but it may never be a home," explained one person who moved to Chiang Mai.

Making Friends in Thailand

"You just need to let go of your western concepts, relax, laugh, be polite, be clean, and enjoy this wonderful country and it's people. If invited to someone's home and everyone is sitting on the floor, sharing all of the wonderful food, get down and dig in. You will make much merit and great face in the eyes of your hosts," said one expat in Bangkok. Another expat in Bangkok said, "American Women's Club, Community Services of Bangkok, American Chamber of Commerce, International Women's Ministry, and American Association of University Women. Any local group formed in your particular neighborhood. If you have children, become involved in their school."

"There are many - Hash House Harriers, Many Rotary and Lion's Clubs, a Toastmaster's Club - and many charitable organizations if you wish to volunteer. Those include the Gibbon Foundation, the Soi Dog Foundation and more. There are also organizations involved in long-term assistance to the victims of the Dec 26, 2004 tsunami," said one expat living in Phuket.

"Songkhla International Women's Group, a small but welcoming group of both accompanying spouses (including men and domestic partners) and career women. There is a HASH and various informal clubs for sailing, flying, etc... one only has to go to the local pubs and ask around. Thailand has good weather, great food and friendly people. The expat population is small and friendly and the Thais are welcoming so it's easy to make friends and become a part of the local society," said an expat in Songkhla.

Retiring in Thailand

"As a retiree I have minimal obligations:

  • To file my home country taxes. (about an hour per year)
  • To renew my drivers license every 5 years. (Time to complete: about 3 hours.
  • To report my address to Immigration every 90 days, which can be done by mail. Time to complete: about 2 hours.
  • To renew my visa once a year. Time to complete: about 3 hours depending on the queue.
  • To renew my car registration annually: Time to complete: About 5 minutes, because I have a company do it for me.
  • To pay my monthly bills: About an hour online a month.
That comes to a total of about 17 hours per year. The rest of th time is mine to use as I see fit. How can it be better than that?

Expat Health Insurance in Thailand

The quality of healthcare in Thailand varies by region. If you live in Bangkok, you'll find top notch hospitals and facilities. One expat in Bangkok said, "Go to either St. Louis Hospital or Bumungrad. The latter is a bit more expensive, but far, far cheaper than the USA and the care is just as good if not better." Another said, "There are many private hospitals close in Bangkok; I use four ranging in distances of about 1 to 10 kilometers - Bangkok Medical Center; Bumrungrad; Mayo; and Vibhavadi - ER services so far have been very good and inexpensve. Traffic is a problem, so I have taken a taxi when possible to save time. - hospital care has been professional and more user friendly than US - I always use private, if available, for faster service." Consider obtaining health insurance for expats if you are moving to Thailand. In the case of medical emergencies that require you or a family member to travel outside of the country, expat health insurance is critical.

Learning Thai

"My Thai friends taught me some bad words, that I repeated. Jokes on me! There is much humor in the Thai culture, so don't be embarrassed to struggle with language, because it can break the ice," said another expat.

Political Instability

"I guess when I first came here, I thought everything was just rosey. Then I went through my first coup, which did not bother me much, but still provided instability for the country. Then when I moved back it was the Yellow Shirts and then the Red Shirts. Still did not affect me much, but was worried for Thailand more than myself," said one expat.

International Schools in Thailand

In Bangkok, expats on our site suggested the following schools: The American School of Bangkok, Swiss International School in Bangkok, Shrewsbury International School in Bangkok, KIS International School Bangkok and New International School in Bangkok. In Chiang Mai, Prem Tinsulanonda International School was recommended. Read individual reviews of schools in Thailand.

Understanding Thai Culture

"The Thai National anthem is sang twice a day throughout the country. When I first arrived in Bangkok I did not know that when the anthem is being sung everyone has to stop what they are doing, and stay still, like even if you riding your bike, or walking on the street, you need to stop and stand like a statue. So the one day I am busy minding my own business wondering why everyone has suddenly froze, only to be shouted at (in Thai) by a biker... Initially I thought that he was shouting cos I'm ... well, brown... but he was just trying to tell me to stop walking," said one expat in Bangkok. Another said, "Oh yeah, make sure you eat all of your rice on the plate, as leaving some is an offence."

"Perhaps the most common for me was the use of the "Wai" which is the prayer like gesture the Thai use to greet each other. I found that I was initiating this gesture with Thai people and as there are fairly complex rules about who should do this first and even how high the hands should be held depending on the relative seniority I cause much embarrassment to my Thai friends," said one expat.

Racism in Thailand

"It was like I stepped into the twilight zone. RACISM was BLATANT!!! I felt like an outcast (I am South African, female ~4th generation Indian). Often when I sat in public transport, people sitting next to me would change seats, I'd be refused accommodation and employment because of my skin colour. Make sure you have thick skin if you are a Black or brown person heading off there. It can get tough and the weak go home," explained one expat.

A Different Pace

"From a business perspective the most challenging aspect of Thai culture is the apparent lack of a sense of urgency. There is a Thai saying "mai pen rai" which loosely translated means something more than "it's ok, no problem". This relaxed and laid back attitude is perhaps the best and worst of the Thai culture," said one expat living in Bangkok.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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First Published: Nov 08, 2012

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