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Living in Thailand: A Guide to Moving to Thailand as an Expat

Living In Thailand: A Guide To Moving To Thailand As An Expat

Are you thinking of living in Thailand? With around 3.6 million migrants living in Thailand as of 2022, making up 5.2% of the total population, moving to Thailand is becoming increasingly popular among expatriates.

If you too are asking yourself the question, ‘should I move to Thailand?’ perhaps this guide will help you to decide. Here we’ll cover how to find a job, a place to live and explain some of the ins-and-outs of daily life in Thailand as an expat.

Central Business District in Bangkok, Thailand - Living in Thailand: A Guide to Moving to Thailand as an Expat
Central Business District of Bangkok / GETTY IMAGES

What to expect from living in Thailand as an expat

Thailand is a newly-industrialised country with an incredible history. In the commercial centre and capital city Bangkok, workers will find an industrial and service economy that has cemented the city as the one of economic centres of South East Asia.

Bangkok is very modern, and so you can expect good telecommunications systems, high-quality architecture, public transportation networks and a generally metropolitan culture, with plenty of bars, restaurants and leisure facilities. There are over 10 million people living in Bangkok, and the population is growing.

Outside the capital, Thailand’s diverse landscape is less modernised and predominantly agricultural. The mountainous north is littered with temples known as ‘wats’, which are popular with backpackers and tourists, and which reflect the country’s strong association with Buddhism. Along the Malay Peninsula and throughout the Gulf of Thailand in the south, one will find long stretches of tropical beaches and islands, including the popular destination of Koh Samui.

Being close to the equator, Thailand is hot all year round, with a monsoon season lasting most of the summer. For this reason, air conditioning is essential for people living in Thailand.

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How many expats are living in Thailand?

Despite its aging population, Thailand has a growing population, fuelled by a recent influx of migrant workers. The United Nations says the exact number of migrants living in Thailand is difficult to determine, due to a large number of migrants being undocumented. However, the total number of foreign citizens living in Thailand is estimated to be between 3–4 million, with the vast majority coming from the neighbouring countries of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. At least 112,000 workers in Thailand as of 2019 were classed as professional or skilled.

How many British expats are living in Thailand?

According to the UK’s Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), there are around 41,000 British expats living in Thailand. This makes it the 17th most popular destination for British expats. The greatest number of British expats moving to Thailand are retirees, although a great number also move to Bangkok to work.

How is the political situation in Thailand and is Thailand safe for expats?

Politically, Thailand is slightly unstable, having failed several times over the last 100 years to settle on a constitution, but is fast improving after re-establishing the Westminster system of representative parliament.

The Economist Intelligent Unit’s Democracy Index 2021 ranks Thailand at 72nd in the world for democratic rights and political stability, with a score of 6.04 out of 10.

According to Human Rights Watch, protests in Thailand are common, with “thousands of democracy protests” happening across the country in 2020 and 2021. They are largely led by young people and the underprivileged, and seem to be becoming increasingly violent. The UK government website warns that terrorist attacks are “very likely” to occur in Thailand. It advises against all but essential travel to the southernmost region on the border with Malaysia. The border of Cambodia is littered with landmines and is considered a no-go zone.

Abortion
is legal only in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in Thailand. Homosexuality is legal, and Thailand is known as a popular destination for LGBT tourists, but LGBT people living in Thailand will have fewer legal rights than they would elsewhere. For instance, it is currently not possible to legally change one’s gender while living in Thailand, although a proposed Gender Certification Act hopes to change that.

Thailand ranked 79th in the world for gender equality in the United Nation’s 2020 Gender Inequality Index.

Be very careful to avoid drugs of any kind when living in Thailand. Possession of even small amounts of drugs can lead to imprisonment, while possession of large amounts of drugs can be punished by the death penalty.

Two Asian girls walk in Wat Phra Kaew and Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand - Living in Thailand: A Guide to Moving to Thailand as an Expat
Wat Phra Kaew and Grand Palace in Bangkok / GETTY IMAGES

What language is spoken in Thailand and do people in Thailand speak English?

Thai, also known as Siamese, is the national language of Thailand. It is a tonal language with dozens of regional variations and uses an Indic script.

English is not widely spoken in Thailand at the moment, however, schools are increasingly adding English to the curriculum. People living in Thailand will therefore find good opportunities for teaching English, if they choose.

How did Thailand deal with COVID-19?

The British Medical Journal outlines Thailand’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as fast and firm. The nation implemented tough measures in accordance with its 2015 Communicable Diseases Act, and after declaring a state of emergency on 26th March 2020, would go on to include:

  • A 14-day quarantine for anyone showing symptoms, and all international travellers
  • Contact tracing supported by over 1 million volunteers
  • Suspending all international flights
  • A stay-at-home policy from April 2020, effectively closing offices, schools, restaurants, stores, pubs and clubs, massage parlours, gyms and other businesses
  • Cancellation of large-scale events
  • Suggestions to wear face masks, observe social distances and adhere to hand hygiene
  • Ban on alcohol sales

As a result, Thailand made it through the first wave fairly well, with only 3,042 cases and 57 deaths. However, because of the large number of undocumented migrant workers who cross Thailand’s borders, its second wave was much larger. As a result, Thailand implemented local schemes to control individual outbreaks, closing schools, pubs, massage parlours, gyms and restaurants, and stopping domestic travel between regions.

While caseloads were much higher in the second wave, deaths were significantly lower, with the vast majority of infections occurring among young workers.

As of 2022, an emergency decree remains in place although domestic travel within Thailand has resumed – albeit with some limitations. You will need to apply for permission to enter Thailand and will be asked to show your Thailand Pass to prove you are fully vaccinated. You may need proof of vaccinations to travel throughout the country and enter certain business venues. If you test positive for COVID-19 while in Thailand, you may have to quarantine at home, although policies vary by region and depending on the severity of your symptoms. See more details on the UK government website.

If you’re not fully vaccinated, you can still enter Thailand under the Alternative Quarantine Scheme, whereby you will need to quarantine for 14 days at a State Quarantine centre.

British people moving to Thailand may be able to take part in a Sandbox Scheme. For this, you may require your Thailand Pass, vaccination certificates, certificate of recovery, proof of prepayment for two COVID-19 tests while in Thailand, proof of prepayment for five nights’ accommodation and an insurance policy covering you for at least US$20,000. Find more details on the UK government website.

What is the weather like in Thailand?

The Thai climate is hot and humid and the average temperature ranges from 18 to 38°C. Thailand is located between vast areas of land and water, so it is impacted by both the summer and the winter monsoons.

As a result, Thailand weather consists of six months of rainfalls during the wet season (May-October), three months of dry and cooling breezes during the winter (Nov-Jan), and three months of heat during the summer (Feb-Apr). In November, the South and particularly the area of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao is still very rainy.

A row of tuk-tuks parked along a city street in central Chiang Mai, Thailand - Living in Thailand: A Guide to Moving to Thailand as an Expat
A row of tuk-tuks parked along a city street in central Chiang Mai, Thailand / GETTY IMAGES

How can I find accommodation when moving to Thailand?

Buying property in Thailand is notoriously difficult for foreigners, so if this is your first time moving to Thailand you’re better off renting before looking to buy.

Fortunately, Thailand has a robust rental market and there are many websites to help people who want to live in Thailand. A few you might want to try include:

Before moving to Thailand, make sure you do plenty of research about the area where you intend to live. It’s a good idea to visit and walk around the area, or you can try asking on the many online forums dedicated to expat life in Thailand, such as Thaiger.

As an expat in Thailand, you will find that your money goes much further, as the cost of living in Thailand is significantly lower than in western nations. Therefore, it’s more likely that you will be able to afford to live in affluent and middle-class areas. Coastal areas can be more expensive, especially if you want to have a sea view. The three most popular areas in Thailand for expats are Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and, of course, Bangkok.

If you are moving to Bangkok, some of the most popular areas for expats include:

  • Ekkamai 
  • Sathorn 
  • Thong Lo 
  • Ari 
  • Victory Monument 
  • Silom 
  • Sukhumvit

There is no regulation for who can become a real estate in Thailand, so if you are thinking of working with an agent, be sure to vet them first. Make sure they have good credentials and testimonials, and try asking their previous clients how they found the experience, if you can.

If you intend to work in Thailand, you should agree a contract on a place to live before starting your work permit application, as you will need to submit proof of a permanent address during your work permit application.

Top expat tips for living in Thailand

  • • Ensure you have all essential documents and visas in place before departure
  • • If you move with your kids, early application for school places is advisable
  • • Have up to three months’ rent available upfront to secure a rental property
  • • Look at life insurance and health cover that reflect your location needs. We have been supporting expats with international insurance for almost 30 years now
  • • Stay healthy and immerse yourself in the culture
Lady selling traditional thai food from her boat at the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market near Bangkok - Living in Thailand: A Guide to Moving to Thailand as an Expat
Lady selling traditional thai food from her boat at the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market near Bangkok / GETTY IMAGES

Jobs, visas and working in Thailand

You must have a work permit if you intend to legally work in Thailand. You are not permitted to work unless you have a work permit and a Non-Immigrant B Visa.

To secure a work permit, you must first apply for an initial visa before entering Thailand. A non-immigrant (visitor’s) visa is not sufficient. You can apply for your B Visa and work permit when you’re already in Thailand, at the immigration department.

The best way to go about getting a work permit is to apply through your employer. You will also need to supply:

  • A passport photo
  • Medical certificate
  • Passport
  • Letter of employment
  • Proof of degrees
  • Your address in Thailand

Your employer will then provide documentation proving your employment.

While living in Thailand, you’ll only be permitted to perform the job listed on your work permit. There are certain types of jobs that foreigners are allowed to do, and everything else is excluded (see the list of prohibited work). Foreigners are not allowed to engage in exports or wholesale trading. If you intend to change jobs or address, you will need to apply for a new work permit.

A Thai work permit is valid for 12 months and costs up to 3,000 Thai Baht (US$90/£70). You will need to extend your visa every year, which you can do so long as you remain in employment. You are required to check-in at the Thai Immigration Department every 90 days for the whole duration of your stay in Thailand, no matter how long you live there, which you can do online.

Find out more information on the Thai Embassy website.

James Bond island with thai traditional wooden longtail boat and beautiful sand beach in Phang Nga bay, Thailand - Living in Thailand: A Guide to Moving to Thailand as an Expat
The beautiful James Bond island in Phang Nga bay, Thailand / GETTY IMAGES

Cost of living and moving to Thailand

Thailand, like most countries around the world, has been affected by the cost of living crisis in early 2022. Since late 2021, the rate of inflation has increased from -0.02 to 5.73%. This is still lower than the UK’s rate of inflation, which was at 6.2% at the end of February 2022. Still, consumer goods and general living costs are becoming more expensive in Thailand.

However, this is not such a big problem compared to western nations, because the general cost of living is still significantly lower than in countries like the UK. Numbeo puts the average cost of living at 35% lower than the UK, with the cost of rent 61% lower. Having said that, GDP per capita is much lower in Thailand than in western countries, at US$7,186, compared the UK’s US$41,059.

Moving to Thailand can be very expensive, especially if you want to ship your own belongings from home. The cost of moving a family house with a standard amount of furniture and possessions from the UK can cost between £2,300–£5,500, according to reloadvisor. If you bring your own car to Thailand, it is free for the first six months, but after this you will have to pay an import tax of 200% of the car’s value.

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Banking and finance in Thailand

Opening a bank account in Thailand can be a long and complex process. To get started, you’ll need:

  • Your Non-immigrant B Visa, or another type of long-stay visa as appropriate
  • Your passport

And, depending on the bank you choose, you may need to bring any of the following:

  • Proof of permanent address in Thailand, such as a tenancy agreement or land deed
  • Letter of reference from your employer or education institution
  • A reference from your home embassy and/or your home bank

So your ID can be verified, you’ll usually need to go to the bank in person to open your account.

You may be able to open a bank account with a tourist visa, especially in Bangkok.

Banking culture in Thailand is very branch-specific. Two branches of the same bank may have completely different rules, so if you’re having trouble opening an account in one branch, it’s always worth a shot to try the other branches too.

Popular Thai banks with expats include Bangkok Bank, Kasikornbank and SCB. Make sure to research the options available before arriving in Thailand to understand the differences between each bank, including:

  • Currency conversion rates
  • Transaction fees
  • Fees to send money abroad
Aerial photograph of Big Buddha in Phuket - Living in Thailand: A Guide to Moving to Thailand as an Expat
The Great Buddha in Phuket / GETTY IMAGES

Healthcare and insurance in Thailand

Before moving to Thailand, it’s absolutely essential you take out health insurance. According to Thai law, all expats living in Thailand must be covered by either:

  • Public Thailand health insurance, which is only available to working expats enrolled on the Universal Coverage Scheme, or
  • Private health insurance

If you opt for public health insurance, you will have access to Thailand’s state healthcare system. The 2021 Legatum Prosperity Index ranked it 27th in the world (find out which countries have the best healthcare systems in the world). However, you may experience long waits for treatment.

Many expats therefore choose international health insurance. This offers access to private clinics and hospitals and faster access to treatment, as well as additional insurance to cover things such as maternity and cancer treatment.

Culture and customs in Thailand

The dominant religion in Thailand is Buddhism, which is practiced by around 95% of the population and dominates the local culture and customs. Thailand’s impressive temples and monuments are a popular draw for tourists. As a local, you can expect to bump into Buddhist monks often, and if you’re lucky, you may be able to learn martial arts, yoga and meditation, or partake in Buddhist rituals at a temple near you.

But despite being deeply religious, Thailand is seen as one of the most progressive cultures in Asia. Thailand has historically been very welcoming to LGBT tourists. However, more recently, an anti-foreign sentiment has been creeping in to an increasingly-nationalistic and socially conservative Thailand. People with dark skin are also more likely to experience racial discrimination while living in Thailand.

Like many Asian cultures, Thailand has a strong code of behavioural and moral ethics called ‘Face. Face is an important social concept in Thailand, and refers to a person’s collective reputation, dignity and honour. You can ‘lose face’ by humiliating yourself, for instance by becoming angry or being drunk in public; you can ‘give face’ by boosting someone else’s reputation, for instance by complimenting them or honouring them in public; and you should always ‘save face’ by distancing yourself from potentially scandalous situations.

Thailand is a collectivist society, and places a strong emphasis on the family. If you are invited to meet or dine with someone’s family, you should accept the invitation. Thais are also loyal to their local community, and to their collective nationality. However, the downside of this is that Thailand has a very rigid social hierarchy with only a small degree of social mobility.

Your handy “moving to Thailand” checklist

To help get you started, here are the essential things you need to tick off:

Accommodation

  • ☐ Have you researched places you’d like to live?
  • ☐ If you’ve found an apartment or house you’d like to rent, have you contacted the landlord and made an offer?
  • ☐ If you’ve agreed a place to live, have you received your tenancy agreement?

Work

  • ☐ Have you received a job offer from a Thai employer who meets the eligibility criteria to sponsor your application?
  • ☐ Have you started your application for your Non-immigrant B Visa and Thai Work Permit?
  • ☐ Do you have all the paperwork necessary to complete your work permit application? This includes: passport photos; medical certificate; passport; letter of employment; proof of degrees; proof of address.
  • ☐ Do you have the cash available to pay the necessary fees?
  • ☐ If you are already living in Thailand on a work permit, are you able to check in to the embassy at least once every three months?

Healthcare

  • ☐ If you are depending on state healthcare, are you enrolled on the Universal Coverage Scheme?
  • ☐ If you need to take private healthcare, have you taken out international health insurance before moving to Thailand?
  • ☐ Have you looked into other forms of health insurance, such as life insurance and income protection?

Banking

  • ☐ Do you have all the paperwork necessary to complete your application for a bank account? This includes: a copy of your visa; passport; proof of address; proof of employment; letters of reference e.g. from your home embassy, home bank, education institution, etc

Relocation

  • ☐ Have you looked into the cost of relocation? If you’re bringing your own furniture from home, have you received a reliable quote from a shipping company?
  • ☐ Have you looked into schooling for your children? If you are relying on state education, you may need to contact schools to see if they have places available

Before you go…

If you’re considering choosing international health insurance, William Russell would be happy to offer you advice and a quote to help you decide. For 30 years, we have helped expats like you move and settle into their new lives overseas, with the peace of mind of knowing their families are covered by a comprehensive and flexible health insurance policy.

Speak to us today to find out more about how international health insurance could benefit you and your family – and good luck on your expat journey to Thailand!

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