The following guide is aimed at new expats or people about to become expats in Thailand. Thailand is a beautiful country, with friendly people and a fascinating culture and can be one of the most fulfilling and fascinating places to relocate to. The following tips are no-holds barred advice for surviving the learning curve all expats have to go around before becoming seasoned expats.
Weather & Clothing
When packing clothes to come to Thailand only pack one sweater and one coat. You won’t be needing a sweater or coat if you are staying in the central or southern areas of Thailand; unless you are planning on staying in the far northern regions of Thailand, or mountainous regions, which will merit packing for cold weather. However, do pack long-sleeved tops and trousers to keep mosquitoes at bay during the evenings.
If you are staying in Bangkok you will probably never experience wearing a sweater or coat ever again as the hot season is very hot, the wet season is hot and humid and the cold season is somewhat of a joke, as that’s always fairly hot too. If you are lucky, you may experience no more than two weeks or less of chilly weather in Bangkok during the cold season, so savour it if it comes.
You would need to take shower at least twice a day in Bangkok and do the laundry after every 3-4 days as it is very humid. Nearly every apartment in Bangkok has its own laundry service or machines. Another option is a laundry delivery service like Laundry Town where they pick up and dropoff your laundry or dry cleaning at a reasonable price.
Renting an Apartment
When you arrive in Thailand it’s wise not to jump into any commitments until becoming streetwise, so one option is to negotiate with a hotel to stay for a month or two. After this, it will be worth asking a Thai friend or partner to look around areas where you are interested in living. There are condos, townhouses and also houses within gated communities for rent everywhere in Thailand; although if you want to live in the centre of the city rent will be a lot more expensive. If you live in a Thai area instead of a tourist area you will save thousands of baht. A nice apartment in a Thai area outside the city centre should set you back between 5,000 to 12,000 baht, unless it is a luxury apartment, and townhouses will cost between 8,000 to 18,000 baht.
The reason why it is good to look around with a Thai friend for somewhere to live, or ask if your Thai friend knows of anywhere recommended for rent, is that if the advertisement for rent is in Thai it will 90% of the time be cheaper than if it is advertised in English. Property advertised for rent in English at the back of newspapers, or on English language websites, are usually aimed at green foreigners who will not notice the ridiculous cost.
Also, try to ask some people about their experience renting under the landlord that owns where you want to stay. Most landlords are fair, but a few will bump up the electricity rate to the highest rate possible and find any excuse to keep your deposit when you move out. This of course applies to anywhere around the world.
Food and Drink
Although in Thailand it is unsafe to drink the tap water, bottled water is sold at a very cheap and fair price, with bottles of water currently ranging in price from 7 baht up to 12 baht. There are some water bottling factories that may be willing to deliver bottles in bulk at a discount, if you order from them regularly.
If you are into cooking, apartments do not allow gas cookers, so you’ll have to stick with an electric cooker; however, markets and supermarkets will supply you with ingredients for Thai dishes and also international dishes. If you embrace cooking Thai food the food bill will be very low indeed. Thai food initially starts off as looking like some mystical, Asian culinary magic and hard to master. Although after trying your hand at making a few dishes you’ll soon realise that most Thai food is refreshingly simple to make using fresh ingredients. There will initially be a lot of unfamiliar herbs, vegetables and fruits in Thailand, but just learning about or trying a different herb, vegetable or fruit every week will make you knowledgeable and able to get the most out of visits to the local markets in time. If you don’t want to cook eating out in Thailand is very cheap, and in some cases even cheaper than cooking for yourself sometimes; markets, food stalls and restaurants will sometimes deliver food to your apartment for a small cost too.
Do not listen to people who say “street food is safe to eat in Thailand” as this kind of thinking is too generic, as you will find good clean street food and also the odd place that will have you sitting on the toilet for the whole night. So always take notice of how clean the restaurant is, particularly where the food is being stored and prepared, take note of how popular the restaurant is with Thai people (as if no one is in there it could be a bad sign), and finally, when you find good street vendors use them regularly instead of switching between random untested food vendors.
Thai food will be spicier in general than most other countries where expats have originated from, but eating spicy food regularly builds up a tolerance, so don’t be surprised if after spending a year or so in Thailand that you end up eating doubly hot food compared to when you first arrived.
You can teach English, work in the internet industry, IT sector in Thailand or own a business 49% as a foreigner. Other forms of employment (Government) are usually not entirely legal or are exceptions to the rule. Rules and red tape for obtaining visas or work permits permanently change and are (from the viewpoint of an expat) randomly unstable. ThaiVisa.com is an excellent place to find out the latest ever changing rules and has a whole community of confused fellow expats trying to figure out and wade through the red tape. For retirees, ThaiVisa.com will also clue you up on the ever changing rules for retirees in Thailand.
To find work as a teacher Ajarn.com is a fantastic site for job vacancies. You will also find many jobs just by asking around locally. It will be very worthwhile to put on a shirt and tie and deliver your CV to language schools / schools that you are interested in teaching at. A smart appearance for teachers in Thailand is of paramount importance. Not all expats observe the need for a smart appearance when applying for work, so you will have the upper hand on any rival applicants who will not wear a tie ” . . . because it’s too hot.”
Before teaching at a language school / school first do some research and ask fellow teachers about the school’s reputation. Preferably, befriend one and ply them with beer for the complete lowdown. Most schools are excellent, treat you well, have health care benefits, arrange for your work permit and visa and pay you on time every time. A few schools on the other hand will alienate you as a foreigner, be unreliable on renewing your work permit and visa, have no teaching resources and have a variety of ways to cut down your pay packet. So, don’t just look at the salary, as reliability and respect is arguably more important.
There are a wide variety of sports to take part in in Thailand, including Muay Thai boxing instruction schools. Golf is also quite affordable in Thailand, especially the driving ranges where you can order food and drink to your driving range bay. If you choose to learn with a golfing instructor make sure that they are a valid pro golfer, and also make sure that they are still active players.
Cricket, ice-hockey, field hockey are all popular sports in Thailand played by mostly expats and you can easily join the teams. Southerners is an expat club established in 1996 and has many different sports. The subscription could vary from $100-$200 per year plus match fee.
If you are feeling very adventurous you can try playing ‘takraw’ which is a Thai ball game where you hit a rattan ball over a net using your chest, head, feet and knees. In the centre of Bangkok there are many clubs you can join, such as chess clubs and pool clubs, where you can also meet up with other expats.
Not many people will know but Thailand many adventurous sports from Wakeboarding to Kitesurfing to Scuba diving to Rock climbing and many more. Action Sport Asia is a great website portal for adventure sports in Thailand.
Escaping the City
If you opt for living in a busy city, odds are the traffic, pollution and noise will drive you nuts after a while. However, there are many places where you can escape to that are just outside the city. Take Bangkok for example, where you can escape down to the coast at Cha Am or Pranburi, or even Kanchanaburi. Agoda.com is a great tool and booking option for hunting out quiet resorts outside the city.
The Opposite Sex
If you take time to become streetwise in Bangkok before meeting a member of the opposite sex, if you are single, it will benefit you greatly. Beware of meeting potential partners via internet dating sites, in tourist areas or bar areas. If possible meet a girl/guy outside of the tourist areas, as this will save you from a world of stress in the long run.
You will be able to recognise the new expats who have jumped into a relationship willy-nilly without becoming streetwise in Thailand, as at first they will typically say “Yeah, but this one’s different,” which will last around 2 months when everything will seem just perfect – then you’ll see them shouting down their phone and pulling their hair out . . . After which, a year or two down the line you’ll only see their partner only turning up on pay day.
So, aim for a real partner, a genuine Thai partner who is not in the ‘find any old foreigner online’ club, or from the ‘No Name Bar’ posse. Travelling around in the real Thailand outside of the tourist areas will enable you to have more of a chance of finding a genuine loving Thai partner.
The White Knight Syndrome
The ‘White Knight Syndrome’ is particularly relevant to English or American expats, where there will be a cultural tendency to jump in and rescue people in need. After all, if someone needs help you should help them right? Well, that all depends whether or not it is genuine or a trap.
It is not uncommon for certain women in tourist areas to sit down near you and suddenly start crying uncontrollably. This has happened to one of the staff here 3 times already. This may be genuine of course, but there are many traps angled at manipulating you via your ‘white knight syndrome’ in tourist areas. So before jumping in like Sir Lancelot in order to ‘rescue’ people in need, ask yourself if it is genuine or a set up for soft hearted tourists or green expats.
Abandon Straight Lines
Do not walk in completely straight lines around shopping malls without deviating or presume to drive in a straight line to your destination without being prepared to veer or give way to random hazards, such as cars (or people) suddenly changing direction. By all means try walking rigidly in straight lines in busy shopping centres or driving along a motorway in Bangkok and you’ll soon see what I’m talking about here.
Beware The Infamous “Noon”
Whenever you ask for directions in Thailand you will find two different types of people. The first type of person will direct you to where you want to go giving clear ‘turn left’, ‘turn right’ instructions etc. No problem. The second type of person will be someone who doesn’t know but does not want to lose face. You will know this type immediately because they will say “Noon” (meaning ‘over there in the distance’ in English), and “Dtrong bhai. Noon.” (meaning go straight on, it’s over there in the distance). Trust us, if you follow these vague mysterious directions you will end up being more lost than you originally were. One member of staff here once followed the ‘Dtrong bhai. Noon,” directions trying to look for the department of transport and ended up at a steel factory in the middle of nowhere.
Public transport in Thailand is very good in general, as you can travel by taxi, sky train or the MRT, or even cheaper would be the BRT, buses, songtails, motorbike taxis and little can buses. You can literally get to anywhere in Thailand with ease at any time of the day or night.
If you drive in Thailand you will encounter members of motorbike gangs called ‘dek wen’ on side roads who are normally harmless enough, however the trend is for people in these clubs to take out their back lights, and even sometimes their front lights. In the black of night it’s sometimes really hard to see them. Some motorcyclists will also turn their wing mirrors inward, because they are worried about seeing a reflection of a ghost, which means they will be blind to what is happening to their rear, such as if you are trying to overtake them.
In areas such as the centre of Bangkok and tourist areas you can find pubs familiar to as they are back home, such as Irish pubs, English pubs and other internationally themed pubs. Often, when sitting in these pubs you almost forget that you are living in another country. This can be a nice hit of familiarity if you ever become homesick. There are also clubs that verge on the wild side, and also high end clubs with stunning decor. Night life in Thailand is awesome, in a word.
You can also have a great night out by going Thai style. In real Thai areas you won’t normally find bar stools clustered around the bar area. This is because Thai people are less solitary than say many western people for example, as in they will normally prefer to go out with family or a friends. Therefore, you’ll normally see rows of tables instead of bar stools. In general, nights out in real Thai areas in Thailand will be a lot cheaper. In fact, sometimes you can have 4 nights out in a Thai area for the price of having 1 night out in a tourist area that is catered for holidaymakers and expats who prefer familiarity.
One thing you may notice is that in tourist areas whisky and other spirits are sold by the shot, whereas in a Thai bar/restaurant you buy whisky by the bottle, saving you a lot of money if you are a whisky drinker. You can even ask for your bottle of whisky to be kept behind the bar (usually up to 3 months) until your next visit if you don’t finish it all, which is a service you won’t find in tourist bars.
It is a fantastic experience to go out to a Thai restaurant with Thai friends. We’re not talking about the stereotype old guy farang with socks and knee length sandals taking out his younger girlfriend’s entire family/village and paying the bill every time here . . . We’re talking about genuine Thai friends who will sometimes take you out and treat you and sometimes you will take them out and treat them. Real Thai friends will look after you and even negotiate prices for you when out shopping and teach you a lot about Thai culture and Thailand. Genuine Thai friends are generous and kind and it can be fun swapping ideas and viewpoints from different cultures. If on the other hand you find your wallet regularly being emptied with some shark-eyed woman aggressively repeating “Don’t think too much – I take care you,” then it’s time to wise up, ditch them and find some real Thai friends.
You’ll come across two distinct types of expats in Thailand. The first type will be open minded and will want to pick up the language as fast as possible, they will venture into real Thai areas, enthusiastically try new foods and will quickly become streetwise. The second type will only stay in tourist or expat themed areas and will be uncomfortable with the unfamiliarity of a completely Thai area. They will normally rely on someone else, be it a friend or spouse to communicate in Thai and will avoid anywhere where English is not on the menu in restaurants.
It is pretty obvious that if you are the first type, an open minded expat who really tries to embrace Thai culture, then life in Thailand will be an adventure full of new experiences.
Here are a few dos and don’ts to keep you on the right track to being respectful and aware in Thailand:
- Don’t put your feet up on tables or backs of seats.
- Never point the soles of your feet at someone.
- Don’t pat or touch someone’s head.
- Take your shoes off when you enter someone’s house.
- Start eating when other people start eating at a meal, don’t just start tucking in.
- Don’t cross your fingers for good luck in front of you, as this means ‘a lie’ in Thailand.
- Never flash your headlights when driving to let another driver go, as this means ‘don’t go’ in Thailand.
- Try not to put your bags on the floor, try to put them up on a seat or somewhere raised off of the floor.
Out of respect for other fellow expats please avoid the following:
- Never wear sandals with knee high socks. Especially dirty white socks.
- Avoid shaving 5-10 years off of your age and making out you’re younger.
- Don’t invent or hype up your past jobs/career as you’ll find hundreds of expats already doing that. Trust us, you’ll meet them regularly.
- Never say, “Yeah, but this one’s different.”
- Don’t stand around with a frown shouting down your mobile phone because she’s suddenly travelled to a different province without telling you.
- Stop trying to walk at an olympic pace in a straight line.
- Don’t weld yourself to a bar stool, shave off your hair, cover yourself in tattoos and don a funky string vest sporting a beer belly.
- If you are Australian, please don’t wear an Acubra hat and 1940s style outback shorts.
- If you are American, please don’t wear a huge wide brimmed Stetson hat, or begin any sentence with “Actually, in the states we . . . “
- If you are English, please do not wear a shell suit, bring over any of the miserable English tabloid newspapers or even mention the appalling series ‘Eastenders’. Plus, do not grow a handlebar waxed moustache and talk about tea all day.
- Don’t walk around Thai cities with a huge great backpack on, as if you are crossing swathes of wilderness.
Above all, make sure you have fun living in Thailand as it is a fantastic and fascinating place to live, with many things to learn and experience.
Here are a few helpful telephone numbers to know when living in Thailand:
Fire Brigade 191
Tourist Police 1155
Tourist Service Centre 1672
Highway Police 1193, 0 2354 6007