An Expat’s Guide to Moving to Thailand
Thailand is the stuff of dreams; white sandy beaches, year-round warmth and some of the most exciting cities in the world. No wonder it’s such a popular destination for expats and tourists alike.
Thailand is a paradise, offering some of the most entrancing experiences to be found in the world. Thailand has long been a popular expat destination, thanks to all the benefits it 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.
Living in Thailand as an Expat
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.
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. To give an example of just how different Thai is from the English language – with its Roman alphabet – Thai boasts 44 consonants and 15 vowels. Compare 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.
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.
Just a few of the benefits of moving to Thailand include:
- An enviable year-round climate, enjoying average annual temperatures that allow for swimming, sunbathing and outdoor pursuits.
- A low cost of living, meaning expats and travellers can live well on just a fraction of what you might spend back home.
- A famously warm and friendly population, making it easy to make friends and find your way around.
- Some of the most delicious (and reasonably priced) food to be found anywhere.
- Excellent communications networks, making it easy to access the Internet; ideal for remote working.
- Some of the most jaw-dropping beaches to be found anywhere in the world.
You can read more about the pros and cons of expat life in Thailand in our guide.
Thailand Visa Requirements
To move to Thailand, you must apply for a non-immigrant visa, which will be issued for a maximum of 90 days. If you will be staying longer, you must also submit a 90-day report to the Immigration Authorities and you will need to visit your local Immigration Department every 90 days to confirm your address. You can apply for a one year visa extension to extend your stay past 90 days. You can then extend the stay again by three years. After this, you can apply for permanent residence.
You must have a work permit to work in Thailand. To get a permit, expats must already have a non-immigrant visa. Your work permit will be valid for one year or for as long as your work contract.
Companies employing expats must state the offer on their company letterhead requesting a non-immigrant visa for their prospective new expat employee. However, expats are more than welcome to come and explore the jobs market in Thailand for a month before having to obtain some sort of visa. Many visitors leave Thailand with job offers, and simply pop to a neighbouring country whilst their non-immigrant visa is sorted by their new employer.
To retire in Thailand, you can either apply for a one-year visa or a 10-year visa. The one-year visa can be renewed annually, whereas the 10-year visa must be renewed after 5 years for a maximum of ten years.
The Job Market in Thailand
The majority of job opportunities for expats are found in Bangkok, but there are some expats who live and work in the southern islands. Expats work in a range of industries in Thailand, including IT, Digital Marketing, Real Estate, and Journalism. Tourism is also a popular sector, with many job offerings for expats. Teaching English is another popular choice for expats and can often offer a higher wage compared to local wages.
It can be relatively easy for expats to find work in Thailand, however, there is the Foreign Business Act to consider. This restricts foreign workers from working in construction, retail, and other roles. In addition to this, it is the law in Thailand that a business will need to employ at least 50 Thai nationals for every one foreign employee, up to five foreign employees. Having the right skills and qualifications for the role you want can help you stand out from other expats who may be going for the same job.
Cost of Living in Thailand
The cost of living in Thailand is relatively low. According to Numbeo, the cost of living is nearly 40% lower in Thailand than in the UK and rent is around 60% lower. It’s estimated that a family of four will need around £1,600 for average monthly costs, in addition to rent, and an individual can live off around £450 per month, plus rent.
You can find out more detail in our Thailand cost of living guide.
Healthcare and Health Insurance in Thailand
Healthcare in Thailand
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.
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.
Public healthcare facilities in Thailand often have long waiting times, or do not offer the standards of medical care you are familiar with. In addition, it is worth noting that paying for medical care yourself can get expensive very quickly should you require specialist care like medical repatriation, CAT scans and so on.
In addition, most public hospitals in Thailand will expect your everyday care (washing, feeding etc.) to be carried out by family or friends. If you don’t fancy your travel companion having to bathe you, then private healthcare may be the way to go.
Private healthcare in Thailand grants you rapid and cost-effective entry to some of the most highly regarded hospitals in all of Asia where you can look forward to short waiting lists and exceptional levels of medical care.
In recent years Thailand has become a major site for global medical tourism. The private medical sector offers four times the number of hospital beds as state-run facilities together with considerably shorter waiting times.
Thailand is the home of Bumrungrad International – Asia’s largest and most highly-regarded private hospital – though numerous other private facilities exist. Many of these hospitals are designed with foreigners in mind, offering specialist “tourist” wings with English-speaking staff. As such you are unlikely to struggle with a language barrier when attending these private facilities.
Oddly, for a country known for its low cost of living, private hospitals in Thailand often charge considerably more than comparable facilities elsewhere in the world. It has been suggested by a number of authorities that the cost of private healthcare in Thailand can be roughly twice that of similar procedures in the USA. This can make healthcare in Thailand for expats quite expensive if they aren’t covered with the right insurance.
Health Insurance in Thailand
It’s the law for foreigners to be covered with some sort of health insurance in Thailand. This can either by through the public healthcare scheme, that’s accessible only by workers in Thailand, or with private international health insurance.
Expatriate Group is an expert in providing Thailand health insurance for foreigners. As well as flexible, comprehensive policies, we also offer corporate clients a cashless health insurance solution. This grants you access to public medical facilities, though in reality, many expats end up opting for fully featured health insurance policies.
Money in Thailand
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.
All residents and non-residents who earn an income from sources in Thailand are liable to pay personal income tax (PIT). Residents will also be liable to pay tax if they live in Thailand and their income is sourced from abroad but remitted in Thailand. You will be considered a resident in Thailand once you have lived there for over 180 days in a tax year. PIT rates will be calculated based on your income, with varying rates depending on how much you earn.
You can open a Thai bank account with a non-immigrant visa or with a visa extension. It can be tricky for foreigners to open a Thai bank account and not all branches will accept expats. However, many branches will happily take on foreign customers, so you should do your research to find the right branch. A Thai bank account will make it easier to get paid if you’re working for a Thai company. If you want a long-stay visa, a Thai bank account is a necessity.
Education in Thailand
If you’re moving to Thailand with kids, then one aspect you’ll need to investigate is 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 public schools. Thai national children can access free tuition up to the age of 13, but children who are not Thai nationals will have to pay fees. Lessons in public schools are typically taught in Thai, and the learning style tends to focus on rote learning rather than more interactive learning styles, which can take some adjusting for children used to more Western styles of teaching.
Most expats 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 a 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, such as the International Baccalaureate. As elsewhere in the world, however, the fees can be steep, but many children moving to Thailand from the UK find the transition easier with this kind of school.
Weather in Thailand
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.
Places to Visit in Thailand
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 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 breathtaking 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.
Moving to Thailand Checklist
If you are moving to Thailand from the UK, you will need:
- Valid passport
- Monthly budget to cover accommodation, groceries, utilities
- Money for flights and initial costs
- Booked flights to Thailand
- Valid visa
- Thai bank account
- Health insurance policy
- Enrolment in school for your children
- Accommodation, with a rental agreement
- Local SIM card or mobile phone
- Arrange furniture for the new home
- Arrange Wi-Fi for the new home
- Tie up loose ends at home, such as closing utility accounts and informing the tax office