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12 Expats Talk About Adjusting to Life in Thailand

Joshua Wood, LPC

Summary: Expats in Thailand discuss adjusting to life in Thailand - customs, cultural blunders, struggling to learn Thai and more.

Night Market in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Night Market in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Expats in Thailand talk about adjusting to Thai culture and customs. They talk about blunders they've made, struggling with the Thai language, diversity and meeting people in Thailand. The expat population in Thailand ranges from young English teachers who travel the country and surrounding countries, some families and many retirees enjoying the low cost of living and beautiful beaches.

Cultural Blunders

"There are a number of cultural taboos that should be observed in Thailand. Luckily the people from Orientations told me about many of them but I still made errors. 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. Once again, Orientations was able to put me on the right track with this," said one expat living in Bangkok, Thailand.

"Oh God, I'm sure I used a few words that did not have the right tone and was probably a nasty word, but they forgive me. I have had many laughs with Thai's because of something that I thought I said, that I didn't mean. 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 embarrased to struggle with language, because it can break the ice. Oh yeah, make sure you eat all of your rice on the plate, as leaving some is an offence," mentioned another expat in Thailand.

"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," commented one expat who made the move to Thailand.

"I probably inadvertently butchered the language, but the Thai were too polite to criticize," remarked another expat living in Bangkok, Thailand.

"Undoubtedly, I have and unintentionally continue to do so. It is very easy to make blunders because there are many cultural rules in Thai society. Thai culture is complex and hierarchical. It takes Westerners a while to gain appreciation of what that means," added another expat in Thailand.

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What Expats Appreciate about Their New Culture

We asked expats in Thailand what they appreciated about their new culture. Here's what they had to say:

"Few busybodies, do-gooders and bleeding hearts interfering in the lives of other people. Respect for elders," said one expat living in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Most Challenging Aspects of Living in Thailand

Then, we asked expats in Thailand what was most challenging about their new culture. They replied:

"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, Thailand.

"Struggle with language!!! Reading a menu that I can't read. I live in a 99.9% Thai area and have to rely on pointing and the basic language skills I am developing. If the taxi goes off the normal route on a dark, rainy night, I have no idea where I am, or where I am going. (I can share my ride during curfew, if anyone is interested, it's funny in the end)," mentioned another expat in Thailand.

"Keeping my head up high, knowing that everyone judges me purely on my appearances, and knowing that just because I am dark skinned, they truly believe that I am not good enough and I am insignificant," commented one expat who made the move to Thailand.

"No matter how hard you try, you will NEVER EVER EVER be accepted by Thai people. You will ALWAYS be an outsider. Xenophobia is the name of the game here," remarked another expat living in Jomtien, Thailand.

Diversity in Thailand

We asked expats about diversity in Thailand and whether locals are accepting of differences. They said:

"Unlike the majority of Thailand which is Buddist, there is a large visible Muslim population in the area, especially in the villages and cities going south to the Malaysian border(a majority muslem country). An active separist movement among various Muslem militant groups has led to an intolerance towards muslems by a majority of the Thais and, I am sorry to say, the expat population as well. Christians are a small part of the Thai population but are accepted as a normal part of society. Foreigners, expats, (called "Farangs") are all assumed to be Christian with no prejudice. Thailand is a homogenous population, so Farangs attract alot of attention, especially if your are fair with blond or red hair and blue eyes. (our family is all blond and blue eyed) It is quite a bit like the fame of being a movie star. Usually this curiousity is limited to being constantly watched and being approached by people wanting to practace their English or take pictures. Thai children are adored and this will extend to Farang children being especialy fawned on, constantly talked to, and touched. The touching especially the hair and arms seem to be the biggest concern among the expat population, but if you ask them to stop or the child seems distressed they will. There is a large Thai middle class and upper class population, with a majority of the laboring classes living in the surrounding villages. The Buddist belief of reincaration and acceptance of fate, leads to a tolerant and generally easy going society, with the exceptions noted above," said one expat living in Songkhla, Thailand.

"Quite diverse - Thais from all over Thailand, Foreigners - mostly from Europe but also lots of Aussies and Americans," mentioned another expat in Thailand.

"There are several large groups of people and many other smaller ones. If I had to summarize the expat population, it would be as follows: 1. Japanese families who are located here and involved in the factories in Lamphun (a nearby province). 2. American and Korean missionaries who tend to congregate with themselves in the southern region of the city. 3. NGO workers who are often involved in refugee or orphanage work. 4. Families who move here because their work is flexible. 5. Retired expat men who get remarried and have started a "mixed" family," commented one expat who made the move to Thailand.

"This is a diverse and accepting area. I was not aware of the extent and presence of Christian groups, facilities and missionary work," remarked another expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Meeting People in Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Expats living in Thailand talked about meeting people in Thailand and local clubs and organizations:

"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," said one expat living in Bangkok, Thailand.

"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," mentioned another expat in Thailand.

"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," commented one expat who made the move to Thailand.

"There are over 5000 expat families living in this city. Because of this, there are literally hundreds of programs and clubs to join. From "Little League" to ballet classes to chess clubs to golf schools, this city is a great place for families. Our family was lucky enough to be transferred here for work," remarked another expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

"There is a myriad of groups in Hua Hin to join, including a ladies group, foodies, Trash heroes, BikerBoys and others. Best way to find them and join is on Facebook," added another expat in Thailand.

Expat Life in Thailand

What is it like living in Thailand? Here is what people had to say:

"This is a very laid back place overall. People who are working still work hard but enjoy the social aspects available," said one expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Expats living in Thailand interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.

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About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000. Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Some of Joshua's more popular articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and 5 Best Places to Live in Spain. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.

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May 19, 2019 19:27

does anyone know of cheap health insurance in thailand. i am tearing my hair out . help!!!!

First Published: Feb 23, 2018

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12 Expats Talk About Adjusting to Life in Thailand

Expats in Thailand discuss adjusting to life in Thailand - customs, cultural blunders, struggling to learn Thai and more.
Expats in Thailand discuss adjusting to life in Thailand - customs, cultural blunders, struggling to learn Thai and more....

10 Tips for Living in Thailand

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.

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....

5 Great Places to Retire in Asia

We asked expats and searched our forums for recommendations about where to retire in Asia. We pinpointed countries with affordable costs of living and have five great retirement locations. Please add your recommendations in the comments section!

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Expats living in Bangkok enjoy a bustling city that is the most populous city in Thailand. Over the last several decades Bangkok has become an important regional business hub for Southeast Asia.

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