Thailand Expat Health Insurance Guide
White sandy beaches and deep blue seas, fringed by jungle-clad rocky outcrops. Thailand is a paradise, offering some of the most entrancing experiences to be found in the world. No wonder so many people are moving to Thailand.
Just a few of the benefits of moving to Thailand include:
If you’re currently considering a move to Thailand, either permanently, or as a long-term traveller, this guide provides all the information you’ll need to know before booking that plane ticket…
One of the real attractions of Thailand is the climate, which makes it possible to live in shorts all year round.
The country generally experiences three broad seasons. These are:
Hot Season – Between March and June temperatures can rise to 38’C or more. This is the perfect time to explore Thailand’s islands and beaches, where the cool offshore breeze takes the edge of the heat.
It’s also a perfect time to visit the highlands to the north, where temperatures are generally more moderate thanks to the higher elevation.
Rainy Season – Between July and October Thailand experiences a higher-than-average rainfall, with the potential of being affected by annual monsoons.
At such times more rural areas may be affected by standing water, which can make travelling on country roads rather more difficult.
Appreciate, however, that Thailand has a tropical climate, so rain may be experienced at any time of year.
Cool Season – As the rains decline, so the temperature begins to drop.
It’s important to point out that these temperature drops are all relative; it’s unlikely you’ll be needing your ski clothing to cope with the “cool” season. Indeed, the average temperature at this time of year is still a very comfortable 19’C.
Furthermore, as this season typically lasts only between November and February, you’ll soon find the temperature climbing back up again.
Thailand is rightly proud to be the only South East Asian country not to have been colonized by a major European power in the past. This has enabled the country to maintain a long cultural tradition, unaffected by European influence.
Furthermore, Thailand has long been a popular expat destination, thanks to all the benefits she offers.
It is estimated that at present over 200,000 foreigners (“farang”) live in Thailand, with over 40,000 of these being Brits.
What this means is that if you’re considering moving to Thailand you can expect the best of both worlds; a native Thai population with a fascinating culture to experience, but also plenty of other expats in your own situation.
In Thailand, foreigners are generally accepted as just part of everyday life and, particularly in the more developed areas like Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Pattaya, it can be quite easy to get by speaking English.
Thailand’s primary religion is Buddhism, a study which encourages peace, respect for nature and for other human beings. Thai monks, in their glowing orange robes, are a common site, and this culture of “respect” can be seen in all aspects of life in Thailand.
This is possibly most noticeable in the classic greeting – the “wai” – where one places the palms of the hands together as if praying, while gently bowing the head. This is considered a great sign of respect, and should you be greeted in such a manner, you should be suitably flattered.
Oddly, for such a peaceful nation the other cultural tradition which has received worldwide acclaim is the brutal martial art of Muay Thai boxing, where elbows and knees are used alongside feet and fists to vanquish an opponent. Savage it may seem, but nobody moving to Thailand should leave without watching at least a few bouts of this adrenaline-fuelled sport.
The official language in Thailand is Thai. Like Russian or Arabic, the Thai language uses its own alphabet which can take time to adjust to.
Compared this to the paltry 26 letters in the Roman alphabet and its little wonder that so many people moving to Thailand place importance on taking Thai language lessons on arrival.
English is spoken in some areas, but the coverage is far from universal. The prevalence of English is far greater in popular tourist destinations than it is in more rural areas. A recent study rated Thailand as 54th out of 56 countries studied for their English proficiency levels.
So while many road signs are bi-lingual, learning some basic Thai is likely to be beneficial, especially if you plan to explore the more remote areas of this stunning South East Asian jewel.
Thailand is a large country, so if you’re to enjoy all that she has to offer you’ll likely want to get familiar with the many transport options.
As with many other countries, possibly the most ubiquitous and cost-efficient way to get around is by bus.
Be aware, however, that in Thailand a huge number of bus companies operate, many offering unlicensed transportation in poorly-maintained vehicles.
For your personal safety, the best option is to focus your attention on government-run buses both for their safety and efficiency.
As is common in other countries, pretty crime is prevalent on buses and at large bus terminals so take care to keep belongings with you when travelling by bus.
While Thailand does maintain thousands of miles of rail track, train travel in Thailand can be slow and unreliable. To guarantee a seat – or sleeper cabin – it is generally best to book well in advance. With such a booking you will be free to simply sit and admire the view as the stunning Thai countryside whooshes past.
Taxis can be found all around the larger cities, and are ideal for local travel. When hiring a taxi ensure that the meter is in use; many expats report drivers claiming their meter isn’t in use, only to try charging the poor traveller over the odds.
Another common ruse involves taxi drivers informing visitors that a certain destination is currently closed, and instead redirecting their attentions to shops or restaurants which they recommend (and from where they typically earn a commission). If the situation arises, check that a site is closed yourself, and be firm about not deviating from your pre-agreed route.
That’s not to suggest that all Thai taxi drivers are “on the take” but simply to alert you to two possible issues to keep an eye out for.
Those moving to Thailand from the UK will be pleasantly surprised to find that Thai’s drive on the left, though you should never get too comfortable while on the road.
Aim to drive defensively, and be prepared for anything from seemingly-suicidal drivers to pot holes in the road. Pay particular attention after dark, where some Thai drivers oddly still refuse to turn on their headlights. Unsurprisingly, road traffic accident rates are considerably higher in Thailand than in most developed countries.
Many hire car companies will also be able to provide you with a driver/guide for a very reasonable cost, and this can often be the ideal compromise between freedom and safety.
Thailand’s healthcare facilities differ significantly across the country. Big cities – especially Bangkok – offer a range of high quality medical establishments. These are becoming popular with medical tourists as the costs are generally very reasonable, while standards of care are high. It is in Bangkok that one will find Bumrungrad International – Asia’s largest and (allegedly) most highly-regarded hospital.
Outside the main urban areas, however, the prevalence of high quality medical facilities declines precipitously.
Emergency treatment may therefore require considerable travel in order to reach a hospital capable of dealing with higher-level cases satisfactorily.
There is no such thing as free medical care in Thailand. Those moving to Thailand for work should be covered by social security through their employer, granting access to government-funded hospitals.
Non-workers will need to pay out-of-pocket or rely on health insurance. Indeed, in Thailand medical insurance should be considered essential, in order to gain access to not just the many private hospitals to be found here, but also medical repatriation should it be required.
The currency of Thailand is the baht, which is divided into 100 satang.
While it is possible to exchange money in your home country before moving to Thailand, expats and travellers almost always find better rates upon arrival in Thailand itself. As a result it can be a smart idea to bring US dollars or Sterling, in order to exchange at one of the many currency offices or banks to be found here.
There are, of course, other sources of funds. ATMs are commonplace in Thailand, and accept a range of international bank cards. That said, in rural areas these may suffer from power cuts and similar problems, so never get down to your last few baht before withdrawing more in case the solitary machine you’re relying on is out of order.
Travellers checks may be cashed in Thailand with relative ease, though be aware that you will be charged a processing fee for every one cashed. It is therefore generally wiser to request a smaller number of larger-denomination checks to save on such fees.
Credit cards are accepted widely, especially in more urban areas, though visitors should note that card “skimming” is not uncommon in Thailand. As a result, you should not let your card out of your sight. In addition, inform your bank before departing for Thailand as otherwise their fraud department may decline Thai transactions assuming the worst.
If you’re moving to Thailand with kids then one aspect you’ll need to investigate are the education options on hand. As with other aspects of Thailand, the most highly-regarded schools tend to be found in more populous areas.
There are a number of options available to expat parents. The first of these are local schools, which provide free tuition up to the age of 13. The problem with such schools is that lessons are typically taught in Thai, and the learning style tends to focus on rote learning rather than more interactive learning styles.
Most expats, in reality, opt for one of the two types of private schools to be found in Thailand. The first of these are private bi-lingual schools, where pupils will be able to gain a useful grounding in the Thai language while studying.
Alternatively, and by far the most popular options among expats, are the large number of highly-regarded private international schools. Here class sizes tend to be smaller, lessons are taught in English and students may study for internationally-recognized qualifications. As elsewhere in the world, however, the fees can be steep.
Food & Drink
Thai food has become rightly famous across the world for its delicious recipes and incredible diversity of flavours and styles. Perhaps the most ubiquitous aspect of any classic Thai dish is the use of noodles or rice – often accompanied by meat and a selection of fresh vegetables.
Thailand is currently one of the world’s largest exporters of rice, and over 5,000 different varieties are recognized.
Even the Thai word for dinner translates literally as “eat rice”.
Through a heady mixture of ingredients like chilli, lime, lemongrass and coriander classic Thai food is wholesome, hearty and full of interest.
Available from numerous road-side stalls it is also incredibly reasonably priced, making sampling the many dishes on offer an affordable and enjoyable part of life in Thailand.
In terms of water, most experts advise sticking to bottled water outside Bangkok, and avoiding ice in drinks to prevent upset Western stomachs.
It is interesting to note that Thailand is the cultural home of Red Bull, and energy drinks are part of everyday life here. Far from the shiny, heavily-marketed beverages available in the UK and USA you’re just as likely to buy an energy drink in a boring brown bottle in Thailand.
In addition, visitors should be aware that caffeine levels tend to be considerably higher than what you are used to, so drink them in the evening at your own risk!
If there is a downside when moving to Thailand it’s that crime can be rife in some areas; particularly those popular with tourists. Pretty crime such as bag snatches are not uncommon. It is also not unheard of for tourists to be mugged – sometimes at knife point.
The safest route is to stick to safer areas, travel in a group and, if the worst happens, don’t resist.
Note that drink spiking occurs in Thailand so you should be very careful of any drinks offered to you in bars and clubs.
Lastly no mention of safety in Thailand would be complete without highlighting the many gem scams that are pushed on gullible foreigners. Many visitors have been encouraged to purchase gems at knock-down prices – even from seemingly respectable establishments – only to get home and find they’re worth a tiny fraction of what was paid. If in doubt, you’re best to avoid such situations, as if they seem too good to be true, they probably are.
Places to Visit
Thailand is an expat’s dream, with everything from cultural highlights to stunning national parks and some of the best beaches in the world. If you’re moving to Thailand you’ll be perfectly placed to explore everything that Thailand has to offer. Here are a few of our recommendations…
Long an expat freehold, Chiang Mai is now the largest city in northern Thailand. A world away from Bangkok, with all the hustle and bustle, Chiang Mai is well-known for its more laid-back atmosphere. Alongside this, however, the city offers everything that an expat could need from reasonable property prices to fast Internet connections.
Besides the practicalities of Chiang Mai the city also offers a range of cultural highlights including the picturesque and ancient city centre, together with numerous temples just a stone’s throw away.
This UNESCO-listed site comprises the ruins of an ancient city with its huge monasteries and towers, together with the surrounding protected parkland. Today Ayutthaya represents one of Thailand’s most significant historical sites and an opportunity to glimpse into Thai life in the 14th Century.
Khao Sok National Park
One of Thailand’s largest and best-loved national parks, Khao Sok represents over seven hundred square kilometres of prime wildlife habitat. Home to a huge number of rare plants and animals not to be found elsewhere in the world, including one of the world’s largest flowers. Known as Rafflesia it can grow up to 90cm across – truly a memorable sight. So whether you visit to elephant trek through the jungle, hike along the many paths or saunter up the river silently be prepared for a wildlife feast at every turn.
This huge UNESCO-listed temple, positioned on the rim of a volcano, is a real highlight of any visit to Thailand.
Come to experience life in the time of the Khmer, within the beautiful surroundings of the forest. While it may not be easy to get to Phanom Rung (expect a decent walk) this helps to keep many tourists away, making it at once both breath-taking in magnitude and serenely peaceful for those who make the effort.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Arguably the world’s most-famous floating market, here is an opportunity to take part in contemporary Thai culture. Hire and boat from one of the many locals here and go shop, eat and explore in this most memorable setting.