Thailand has it all: 513,120km2 of beaches, jungles, elephants, cheap food… What more could you possibly ask for? It borders Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, so it’s a super convenient base for other adventures in south-east Asia. The country has an inpouring of foreigners each year, many of whom stay longer than the 30 day tourist exemption stamp that some passports allow. Many of you will know that I spent nine months living in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, and since I have left I’ve had several people ask me for advice about how to move there. Hopefully, this post will help outline the most important things that you need to know before moving to Thailand.
Although Thailand has a huge number of glorious cities and towns, the most popular for the expat community are Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Tao, Phuket, and (unfortunately) Pattaya. Unless you’re a dirty old man seeking to break all moral laws when it comes to young Thai girls, I would avoid Pattaya like the plague. I have several friends that visited Pattaya without knowing much about it beforehand or doing research, and they were so horrified by what they found there that they left ASAP. I urge you to not go.
Phew, now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at the other cities. Bangkok is a very urbanized city. It’s a little more expensive than the North, and is hustling and bustling, with a lot of impressive architecture. From what I have gathered, people either love it or hate it. Personally, I thought it had its very own charm, but I was only there for a few days. A lot of expats who are teachers or businessmen end up in Bangkok.
Koh Tao (or the other islands) are idyllic, beach resorts that offer great diving opportunities and fantastic sunsets. The expat communities in these areas will be smaller, but it’s easy to be envious of that lifestyle so it depends on what you’re looking for.
Chiang Mai is up in the North of the country, and is a smaller city surrounded by mountainous jungle. The vibe is very different, with a slower paced lifestyle involving a lot of working in coffee shops. The community here is easy to get into, and Nimmanhaemin road is a hub for meet-ups. There are loads of condos to rent in and around this area.
The weather varies from season to season. There is a running joke that Thailand basically has three seasons: hot and foggy, hot and dry, or hot and wet. The North is supposedly a little cooler than the south, but that might just be because of the urbanisation of Bangkok, and the sunny beaches of the islands.
The best time of the year to arrive in Thailand is between October and March. At this time the sun is shining, and it’s not unbearably hot. However, this is the tourist season so prices will be up and it will be busy. From March to May is burning season, when farmers burn all of the old crops in preparation for the new growing season. PM10 levels shoot through the roof, people wake up with their eyes gummed up, the authorities warn you to stay inside the house. Coupled with this very high heat, so it can make the living conditions pretty uncomfortable.
From May to October is rainy season. It can be sunny one minute and then black clouds will come rolling in, and you will be soaked within seconds. The best thing for this time is to always have a poncho in your bag or your bike (you can get them at every 7/11 during this time). Thailand is currently in a drought, and the rainy season hasn’t been that bad in the last few years – although they have suffered pretty severe flooding in some areas.
The most important thing to know about Thai weather is that it is humid. Your hair will frizz, you will sweat like you’re in a sauna, and the best way to deal with this is to just embrace it as you go along.
3. Entry with a Visa
If you are planning on staying longer than 30 days, then you will need a visa. Now, this is a constantly changing debate, so it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the Thai embassy site for your country before you plan your trip.
The easiest visa to get is a tourist visa. You can get a work visa but you need to have a job with a company in Thailand beforehand, and you also need a lot of paperwork to do so. You can also get a student visa, although I have heard rumours that immigration are cracking down on student visas as so many people were going over and actually never attending and lessons for the course that they were enrolled in.
Firstly, you can get tourist visas in two different lengths: three months, and six months. Weirdly, both visas actually have a cut off point of one month before they ‘officially’ finish, so think of them as two months or five months – at that point you need to get a new visa.
Visas can be single entry, or double entry. A single entry means that you can only come into the country once, so no going on holiday and coming back on the same visa. As soon as you leave, that visa is all used up. A double entry means that you can effectively go on holiday once, and come back in on the same visa. The great thing about this is that once you re-enter, the visa ‘refreshes’, so on a six month double entry visa, you actually get a year (or 11 months if you take off the mysterious last month).
In addition to this, some passports can actually get an extension of one month down at the local immigration office, so at the end of your 11 months, you can get an extra one.
Everybody got really excited about the six month visa when it was announced as it meant we could stay a year with only one departure, however they then dropped the bombshell that it must be applied for within your home country, and you have to leave Thailand loads of times in that six month period. They also abolished the once existent three month multiple entry visa, but you can still get single entry three month visas, that honestly seem the easiest and most hassle-free option for me!
This all seems really confusing, however once you’ve cracked it it’s easy!
Most people do visa runs across the border into Cambodia, Malaysia, or Laos for new visas etc., as you can’t apply for another tourist visa in Thailand, you have to go elsewhere and give yourself a few days as you leave your passport over night.
4. Entry without a Visa
Some passports are on the visa exemption list, that means you can spend 30 days in Thailand without having to worry about visas and so on. If you’re willing to risk it, you could live off this stamp, and exit and re-enter the country every 30 days, but again, I hear rumours that they are starting to clamp down on this.
Whatever you do, don’t bother risking being inside Thailand without a visa or valid exemption stamp in your passport. The Thai police are notoriously corrupt and if you’re lucky you’ll just have to bribe them: if you’re unlucky you can end up in Thai prison, that I wouldn’t want to wish upon anybody.
5. Finding a House
The best way to find somewhere to live is to drive around once you are there and spot signs outside houses, or blocks of apartments that you can just go into and ask reception for available rooms. Do not use estate agents or websites, they will absolutely rip you off, not only in rent but also fees and deposit – you should only ever have to pay a maximum of 2 months deposit. Monthly contracts are a bit more expensive, but you can also get contracts in 6 month and one year bouts. Be prepared to negotiate!
If you are on a tourist visa, it is illegal to work for a company. The way that most people living in Thailand make their money is online. Many people are digital nomads, so they have online shops and businesses, blogs and so on, so they make their own money that they live off.
If you are a teacher, or want to be a teacher, you can teach English in Thai schools (some will take you without any TEFL). I made a lot of friends who were completing their TEFL or CELTA qualification in Thailand, and they went on to teach. I would recommend this if you actually want to teach, as it involves a lot of time and effort, and money, so you should actually want to do it!
Personally, I worked online as an English tutor for a Chinese company. The hours were full time and I started at 5am five days a week, so it wasn’t easy – but I appreciated the free training (a full months worth!) and it could be very fulfilling. It paid a good wage for Asia that allowed us to live comfortably. There are a lot of apps out there now where you can chat with foreigners for cash, but I don’t recommend them at all (I also worked doing this for a while). The pay is variable and it’s fairly boring – at least with a good company you have an actual salary.
This is the trickiest part of living in Thailand, and something that I wish I had researched before I moved there. Thai people are notorious for seeming so relaxed that they are lying down. The way that they complete task will most likely seem backwards to you and me. Whatever you do, don’t go into a situation guns blazing, and try not to get angry (something that I really struggled with, as it can be really frustrating). Some Thai people have an opinion of westerners that we are angry and rude, and to be honest I am not surprised, because they seem to do things so slowly compared to our lifestyles that we might end up shouting and being rude. Obviously, the truth is that our cultures could not be more different, and a lot of Thai tradition is to be polite, whereas ours might not be so… The most important thing is to never make a Thai person lose face, so suggestions or feedback has to be phrased in a very careful way so not to cause offence. There’s nothing worse than when you are desperately trying to get something done and you piss off a Thai person so that they don’t want anything to do with you (for example, like a taxi driver when you have a train to catch…).
This was a very long post, but I hope that it offers you some useful tips for moving to Thailand. Have you lived in Thailand? What do you think of my tips, agree or disagree? Are you planning on going over, where to?