Want to live in Thailand?
Expats relish Thailand’s climate and low cost of living, which make it an incredibly popular destination to start a new life, especially for retirees.
Accommodation is affordable and modern. The public transport and communications infrastructure are good. And you’ll enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in exotic surroundings. Thai people are friendly and accepting of farangs (foreigners), although you may find it takes longer to develop strong relationships.
Accommodation in Thailand
It’s difficult to buy property in Thailand, but the country has a vigorous rental market, so you’ll be spoilt for choice whatever your budget.
There’s a diverse range of property available in Thailand, from studio apartments to serviced condominiums, luxury villas to bamboo beach bungalows. Most expats heading for Bangkok choose serviced apartments in the city’s business district, close to the Skytrain, metro and nightlife. Families may prefer a suburban townhouse near an international school. And retirees are often drawn to the tranquillity of an island villa or a traditional home in the quiet north of the country.
Most Thai properties are let furnished – so ask for an inventory to be signed before you move in. While you’re renting, you’ll have to pay for your phone line, water and electricity separately.
Letting agents and landlords in Thailand expect a deposit of two to three months’ rent. You’ll also be asked to sign a contract for a number of months. You’ll need your passport, a copy of your work permit and proof of income to apply for a long-term rental.
Local culture in Thailand
The weather, the language, the religion, the dress code, the food – there are many cultural differences that you may find challenging at first. With this in mind, it’s worth visiting Thailand a few times before you commit to living here.
You’ll get by with English, especially in Bangkok, as it’s taught as a second language in state secondary schools and universities. Locals will appreciate any effort you make to speak their language, even if it’s just a few basic phrases.
In terms of religion, Thailand is predominantly Buddhist – so make sure you understand and respect the religion’s main principles. There’s also a small but active Christian presence.
Men and women’s names are usually preceded by the title ‘Khun’, followed by their first names rather than their surnames. Gift giving is a minefield – flowers, chocolates and fruit are welcome, but there are rules about wrapping and your choice of blooms. And when you have dinner with a Thai family you might not find knives at the table – forks, spoons or chopsticks are the norm.
Expats are advised to stay up to date on the safety situation in Thailand and are cautioned against travelling to the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla on the border with Malaysia.
Education in Thailand
State (public) schools in Thailand offer 12 years of basic education, with nine years being mandatory. Standards can be variable, so most expats send their children to one of the country’s international schools.
Generally recognised as superior to public schools, fee-paying independent schools are greatly valued in Thailand. Many are run by charitable organisations and the Catholic Church.
Homeschooling is legal in Thailand, where the law recognises alternative education and considers the family to be an educational institution. You have to apply to the government if you want to homeschool your children.
Most expats in Thailand send their children to an international school because classes are usually taught in their home language. Fees are high and pupils often have to study the Thai language and culture as part of the curriculum. School managers and principals must be Thai nationals, but there’s usually an expat head teacher as well.
Keeping in touch in Thailand
Thailand has had a fixed line telephone system since 1881, so it’s well connected with two main operators – the state’s TOT Public Company Limited and True Corporation.
The mobile network in Thailand boasts good coverage, especially around cities, towns and resort islands. 3G is prevalent, but there is limited 4G availability. The three main mobile service providers are AIS, DTAC and True Move H.
Broadband is also available across most of Thailand and the government has pledged to install hundreds of thousands of free WiFi hotspots throughout the country over the next few years. You’ll have no problem using social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. According to the Bangkok Post, nearly 70 percent of the population in Thailand is on Facebook, and Instagram is growing rapidly.
Television in Thailand is received via analogue, digital, satellite or cable, with major local channels owned and run by the Thai government or army. Subscription packages with international channels are available – so you needn’t go without your favourite programmes.
The Bangkok Post is Thailand’s most widely circulated English daily newspaper, with The Nation following close behind. Both cover topics such as news and business and publish a classifieds section.
Healthcare in Thailand
Thailand’s public healthcare service is underfunded and understaffed, especially when it comes to GPs. The Ministry of Public Health oversees more than 1,000 hospitals throughout the country. The standard of facilities is variable, especially in rural areas.
Most expats opt for private medical care, which is cheaper than you might expect and generally of high quality. There are more than 300 private hospitals in Thailand. Most doctors and specialists are trained in the West and speak English. General care for private patients is good and affordable, although emergency and special procedures are often pricey.
Expats are legally required to have medical insurance. While public insurance is available, most opt for private policies. Getting the right cover can be fraught with pitfalls if you don’t ask for help or read the small print carefully.
There are many pharmacies across Thailand, especially in Bangkok and smaller cities and towns. You can identify a pharmacy by its white sign emblazoned with a green cross. They’re open daily, but Sunday hours are limited. You can get a wide range of medications without a prescription and most pharmacists speak English.
There are a number of health hazards in Thailand. Don’t drink tap water unless it’s treated – or only drink bottled water. Because Westerners are prone to tropical viruses and diseases, you should have all the relevant vaccinations before you move and keep them up to date.
In case of emergencies, getting through to an English-speaking operator at Thailand’s public rescue service can be difficult. It’s best to call the tourist police or the ambulance service at your nearest private hospital. If you have private medical insurance, you should be given an emergency contact number when you sign up.
Getting around in Thailand
Thailand has a fairly good public transport. Efficient, extensive and cheap, Thailand’s bus and coach services are mainly state run and the most popular form of public transport. Those opting to travel by train will discover that Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Station is the hub of rail travel in Thailand. Trains depart on four main routes to all parts of the country. The comfy, air-conditioned first-class carriages offer good value for long journeys.
Bangkok also has a rapid transit metro system, known as the MRT. It has two lines – the blue line and the purple line – with extensions and additional lines planned. Trains are frequent and usually run on time. They also connect to the BTS Skytrain, an elevated train that serves around 30 stations in the city.
Most expats in Thailand make good use of taxi services, particularly in Bangkok. Three-wheeled tuk-tuks, locally known as samlaws, can carry a few passengers. There are also faster motorbike taxis that take a pillion passenger, but these can be frightening for the uninitiated. Metered taxi cabs are brightly coloured and show a red light if they’re available – make sure the driver turns the meter on and doesn’t try to overcharge you. Ride-hailing services, such as Uber, are also available in Thailand.
Thailand has numerous low-cost domestic airlines. One of the most popular is Air Asia. Standards are good and there are comparison websites where you can find the best deals.
Those thinking of driving will find they’re better off using public transport in Bangkok as traffic jams are the norm. That said, having your own car is great for long-distance travel. Road safety is an issue, so be sure to drive defensively. You can drive in Thailand with an international licence for up to three months before you have to apply for a local licence and take a test.
Cost of living in Thailand
Thailand is renowned for its low cost of living. Although prices for everyday items are rising, most expats still describe their financial circumstances as comfortable.
Grocery shopping is cheap, as are restaurant meals and street food. Clothing, transport and accommodation costs are also low.
How can I open an offshore bank account?
Top tips for Thailand
See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in Thailand.
Take your time to see the different places in Thailand - do not just go to the main tourist places. Thailand is a very diverse country. Try to understand the culture - it will take some time to do that.
All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.
All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.
This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.
Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.
You might also be interested in
What is an offshore bank account?
Opening an offshore account, can be an effective way to save, invest and manage money while abroad.