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Moving abroad: An expat guide to Thailand

If your reading this on The Phuket News website, then chances are you've visited Thailand at least once, perhaps even several times, or indeed, you might have already taken the plunge and set up your life as an expat in the 'Land of Smiles'.


The Phuket News

Friday 16 March 2018, 09:35AM


Thailand is one of the few places on earth that lives up to the postcards. Azure coastal waters with white sandy beaches and unique rock formations rising out of the sea. Photo: Mark Knowles
Thailand is one of the few places on earth that lives up to the postcards. Azure coastal waters with white sandy beaches and unique rock formations rising out of the sea. Photo: Mark Knowles

But for those still wondering whether making a life in Thailand is a feasable option, here is a short overview of some of the key factors to consider before you make a decision.

Thailand is one of the few places on earth that lives up to the postcards. Azure coastal waters with white sandy beaches and unique rock formations rising out of the sea.

The country’s geography means it has more than 3,000 miles of this beautiful coastline – not to mentioned dozens of islands. But that’s not all. Thailand boasts nature-filled jungles with friendly locals making amazing, affordable food. This, combined with cheap flights and Western affluence, placed it firmly on the backpacker bucket list 25 years ago.
 
Since then, economic growth has attracted thousands of expats from both east and west to work in the tech, finance and tourism industries. Many expats fell in love with the country as backpackers and returned to open bars and restaurants for fellow travellers, others headed to Bangkok for more white-collar careers – making a decent wage in a country where the good life costs little.
 

Economic opportunities

Thailand’s economy really began to pick up around 2000, recovering from the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which had sent the economy into freefall – tripling unemployment. Despite political unrest, the country’s economy has continued to grow especially since 2010. Its GDP rose from 0.7 in 2014 to 4.5 in 2017.
 
As a newly industrialised nation, Thailand lacked many of the specialists – especially in tech – needed to modernise and grow. As such, many corporations and professionals keen to exploit the demand – as well as live in paradise – were able to take advantage.

That said, it is not always easy for foreigners to find work in Thailand. There is a large amount of bureaucracy and regulations for expats, with work permits, visas and job-related restrictions. It is common to see ‘Thai national’ in job ads.

Despite these restrictions, there are many areas in which expats are in demand. Roles in technology and engineering are often advertised. These roles tend to demand mid and high-level skills that come from many years’ experience, which many Thai nationals don’t have.

Thailand’s huge tourism industry is also a great source of jobs – especially (though not exclusively) for English-speaking expats. Thai companies often see expat hotel managers, chefs and diving instructors. Other professions include teaching, consulate staff, NGOs and finance managers.
 

Expat make-up

The largest expat communities in Thailand are Americans, Brits and Australians who make up 44%. Other expat communities include Russians, other Europeans and a growing number from the east - Japanese, Malaysian, Chinese and Koreans.
 

Culture

Thailand deserves its name as the ‘land of a thousand smiles’. While it remains a generalisation, most expats find the Thai people warm, friendly, polite, generous, caring and respectful.

Combined with the country’s natural beauty, healthy food and historic monuments, it is unsurprising that so many expats love living here. Some cite the Buddhism of the north as being a reason for this congenial manner, but this extends to the south where Islam is the predominant religion.

Access to Thai culture, from historical and religious sights to theatre and cinema, is easiest in the big cities (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Udon Thani). But most expats find living the laidback, outdoor lifestyle of the provinces and islands offers a good balance between cultural interest and relaxation.

It is worth noting that many of the more touristic destinations – islands Samui, Phuket, even Phi Phi – have a higher density of Westerners and cater for younger party-orientated visitors.
 

Climate

Thailand has two distinct geographies: the southern leg of the country with sea on both sides, and the northern, inland area. The former is cooler with a monsoon climate, and the latter is more humid with a tropical climate. With average temperatures of 25 to 30 centigrade (highs near 40 and lows rarely dipping beneath 15) Thailand offers a fantastic climate for expats – though, at its hottest, many Europeans crave aircon.

While expats should always take care when out in the very powerful Thai sun, malaria is also a risk, especially in the north. While incidences of malaria have halved since 2000 it is still worth get vaccinated before you go.
 

Cost of living

One of the reasons the country became popular with backpackers in the first place, is its cost of living. Food and shelter in particular is usually very affordable. The cost of living increases significantly in the south due to the demands of tourism and value of the more limited space.

Even so, life is cheaper than in the west. What’s not cheap? Cars - even second-hand ones. Because fewer people can afford new cars, second-hand ones hold their value. A few quick comparisons show that you can expect to pay double the UK price for 10-year-old car.
 

Healthcare

There are excellent international hospitals in Bangkok, but hospitals and clinics outside the main urban areas are not always up to western standards. Many hospitals require guarantee of payment for bills, which can be expensive and may delay treatment. To avoid such problems, investing in expat health insurance may be a good option.
 

Private and international education options

Many public schools in Thailand suffer from underfunding and a subsequent bad student/teacher ratio. On top of this, most expats choose international schools where the language of instruction is either English or the mother tongue (German, French, Chinese) to help students better understand.

All international schools must teach students the Thai language and culture. The aim is to help expat children gain an insight into their host country and aid settling in. Most international schools in Thailand are situated somewhere in the Bangkok metropolitan area, though more are opening in other large centres as demand grows.
 

Problems

There is often a Faustian pact to be made with new host countries: great income with terrible weather, low cost of living with bad infrastructure, great climate with political instability. But Thailand is about as near to paradise as it is possible to get.

When flagging the downsides of Thailand, there is a limited list – though individuals’ tales of woe can cover a multitude of complaints. Medical costs can be very high, expat ownership of property and business can be difficult, theft can be an issue and there is a certain amount of political instability that can make the economy unstable and give rise to civil unrest. Outside Bangkok, access to certain products ‘from home’ can be limited.
 

Summary

Thailand offers people from all over the world a new home in the sun, surrounded by natural beauty and friendly, laidback people. A move to Thailand comes with certain challenges around finding work but, once settled, offers expats an outdoor lifestyle for a fraction of the price of the West.

 

By Sabrina Bucknole 

 

 

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