An Expats 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.
At the same time, with tropical climates come a number of health risks that might not be of concern back home. These can include malaria, rabies and Japanese Encephalitis
While Thailand allegedly benefits from over a thousand medical establishments, the very best hospitals to be found in Thailand are private establishments, with fees to match.
The end result of all this means that Thailand’s health insurance should be considered an integral part of your travel-planning itinerary.
Private health insurance 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.
Healthcare in Thailand
Like many countries, while hospitals are to be found all across Thailand, the very best establishments are to be found in major urban areas. Bangkok is notable for the high-quality facilities on offer, while the standards of medical care tend to decline in more rural areas.
While Thai nationals can make use of “free” medical care, for travellers there is in reality no such thing as free healthcare.
You’ll either need to pay for your medical expenses out-of-pocket or rely on a Thailand health insurance policy to cover the fees.
If you are working as an expat in Thailand then you will normally be covered by social security, meaning that your employer pays into the government-run health service on your behalf. We 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.
This is just as well, as while many public facilities are very reasonably priced, they may have long waiting times, or 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.
Thailand Health Insurance
Here at Expatriate Healthcare, we’re experts at providing international health insurance to travellers and expats alike. As specialists in our field we’ll help you to stay safe during your time in Thailand.
Our standard medical insurance policies for Thailand include everything you could need as standard including:
- Emergency and accidental medical treatment
- 24/7 emergency assistance line
- Emergency dental treatment
- Emergency medical evacuation
- Medical repatriation
In addition, we can also cover you for issues such as delayed luggage, loss of your passport, theft or missed departures.
Private Hospitals in Thailand
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.
Pharmacies in Thailand
In terms of accessing prescription drugs in Thailand, it is interesting to note that these can sometimes be sourced (legally) over the counter in Thailand. Equally, some drugs which you can buy over the counter in the UK or USA may require a prescription in Thailand.
If in doubt it is generally easiest (and cheapest) to simply walk into a pharmacy and explain what it is that you need. Note that you may not be able to find the branded products you are familiar with, so aim to bring with you a list of the generic drug names you may need during your stay.
Pharmacies are generally easy to identify by their white signs with green crosses on them. Note that there are numerous independently-run pharmacies, as well as most hospitals boasting their own. It is at the independent drug stores that you will normally get the best deals; hospital pharmacies often mark up their prices considerably.
Moving to Thailand
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:
- 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.
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…
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.
Culture in Thailand
Thailand is rightly proud to be the only southeast 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.
One of the most noticeable aspects of Thai culture is simply how friendly and hospitable the locals tend to be.
Furthermore, 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.
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 that encourages peace, and 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.
Language in Thailand
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.
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.
Transport in Thailand
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 attention 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.
For the ultimate in freedom, it is possible to hire a car while in Thailand, though the standards of driving may not always be what you’re used to.
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 potholes in the road. Pay particular attention after dark, when 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.
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. 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.
Currency 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.
Education in Thailand
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 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. As elsewhere in the world, however, the fees can be steep.
Food & Drink in Thailand
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 roadside 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!
Safety in Thailand
If there is a downside when moving to Thailand it’s that crime can be rife in some areas; particularly those popular with tourists. Petty crime such as bag snatches is not uncommon. It is also not unheard of for tourists to be mugged – sometimes at knifepoint.
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 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 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.