Moving to Bangkok
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What to know if you're moving to Bangkok
Upon moving to Bangkok, you will find yourself confronted with a city of extremes. The bustle of a thriving metropolis mixes with Thai culture and tradition. InterNations GO! equips you with essential information for expatriates, including advice on safety, various neighborhoods, and housing.
All about Thailand
Relocating to Bangkok
Relocating to Bangkok will lead expatriates to one of Southeast Asia’s most dynamic cities, a place of stark contrasts.The city encompasses cultural heritage and economic growth, Thai hospitality and political unrest, glitz and glamour, as well as urban sprawl and squalor.
Before setting out for Bangkok, expats might read up on the history and living conditions of Thailand’s capital to be better prepared for moving to Bangkok. An amusing little fact that many foreigners moving to Bangkok will come across is the official name of the city.
While Bangkok is the name used by most foreign residents, locals call it Krung Thep Mahanakhon or Krung Thep. The full name, which is abbreviated thus, is actually the longest place name on the globe, with 169 letters and an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. Its beginning means “city of angels” — a romantic and auspicious name.
Demographics: Rapid Population Growth
Unfortunately, the “city of angels” is anything but a romantic place, as foreign employees moving to Bangkok will discover. The city is the social and economic hub of a newly industrialized country. Its urban growth is partly fueled by migrants moving to Bangkok from poorer provinces.
According to the most recent official census, the population of Bangkok counted more than 5.7 million people in 2010. However, this does not include the rural migrants coming to Bangkok as unregistered residents, so estimates put the urban population at up to nine million. Moreover, if you consider the larger Bangkok Metropolitan Region — since lots of urbanites move to the outskirts and neighboring provinces — it was actually over 14.5 million. By 2015 the population has obviously increased further.
Expatriates moving to Bangkok should therefore be aware that they will be living in a 21st-century metropolis, which is currently going through rapid change. Indeed, the demographic growth is higher in Bangkok than in other parts of Thailand.
Pollution, Trash, and Traffic
It’s not much of a surprise that the city’s biggest problems include housing shortages, particularly for poorer people. Other issues include traffic jams, crowding, and pollution. Expats with respiratory diseases may have to cope with the effects of particulate matter in the air over Bangkok.
The Chao Praya River suffers from very low water quality. Moreover, the remaining canals (khlong) of the network that once inspired Western visitors to call it “Venice of the East” sometimes resemble an open-air sewer.
Common Sense Keeps You Safe
Despite all current problems, foreigners moving to Bangkok don’t remain immune to the city’s considerable charms. Its historical venues attract countless culture enthusiasts every year, and the upscale nightlife locations are the stuff legends are made of. Moreover, expats will be relieved to hear that it’s a relatively safe city, compared to other places of the same size.
On the other hand, the recent terrorist attack in August 2015 probably didn’t enhance Bangkok’s appeal, but such incidents have been rather rare in the past few years. Price-gouging, profiteering, scams, and credit card fraud are usually the biggest dangers for tourists and foreign residents.
However, you should know that, especially on the party circuit outside Bangkok (e.g. in Koh Samui, Phuket, and Pattaya), an increase in muggings, violent robberies, and sexual assault has been reported. Also, if you think that you are falsely accused of petty theft or property damage by blackmailers, please contact your nearest consulate immediately.
Staying Out of Trouble
Despite the end of outright political strife, you should still take care to avoid becoming embroiled in the capital’s political unrest. When moving to Bangkok, you should not discuss politics in public or with people whom you don’t know well.
Make sure to avoid political demonstrations. If the political tension should flare up again, do not wear red or yellow shirts (the symbolic colors of the anti- and pro-government factions). That way, you can easily stay out of harm’s way and truly enjoy moving to Bangkok.
The political crisis escalated in 2013 and 2014. By 2015, however, the situation has become more stable, and the martial law imposed during the crisis was lifted from most of the country.
Neighborhoods in Bangkok
Considering the city’s ever-growing dimensions, it should not be surprising that Bangkok is a province (changwat) of its own, with a special administrative status. Indeed, Bangkok’s sprawling outskirts and suburbs are already spilling over into several neighboring provinces. Together with the city itself, parts of these provinces form the Bangkok Metropolitan Region.
Bangkok is divided into 50 districts (khet), which are in turn divided into sub-divisions (kwaeng). As if this wasn’t confusing enough, the administrative districts do not necessarily overlap with functional neighborhoods, i.e. industrial zones, business areas, nightlife locations, residential communities, etc. So, most expats may be wondering where to live.
You should have a clear idea where you will be working and where your children could go to school. Due to the problems with Bangkok’s transport network, many expatriates want to keep their family members’ daily commutes as short as possible. This leads to a marked preference for either a central location or a suburban life close to an elevated expressway link to Bangkok Central. The latter option is quieter, less prone to pollution, and more family-friendly.
The City Center
In Central Bangkok, the most popular areas for expats are concentrated alongside Sukhumvit Road and the Bangkok Skytrain route. The very tourist-oriented quarter around Siam Square is the place to go for all visitors, young people, or lovers of shopping sprees and popular entertainment.
Silom and Sathorn, on the other hand, cater to big business as much as to Bangkok’s tourist and nightlife industry. They house the city’s major financial centers and law firms. Therefore, they are dominated by high-rise office buildings and luxury hotels rather than regular housing. Sathorn Road is also home to a number of foreign embassies.
However, Silom is a very cosmopolitan district too, which makes it attractive to tourists and Bangkok’s foreign residents. It attracts visitors with hip clubs, a lively gay scene, several pubs for homesick Brits and Irish expats, the international BNH Hospital, and the relative closeness to Lumpini Park. The hostess bars and sex shows of Patpong are another matter, though.
Most expatriates living in Bangkok’s center actually settle somewhere close to the long artery of Sukhumvit Road. There is a “little Japan” dominated by Japanese expats, a couple of streets known as “Soi Arab” due to the prevalence of Middle Eastern immigrants, etc.
Moreover, the neighborhood houses exclusive areas dominated by rich expats and affluent Thai residents. They tend to live in serviced accommodation, high-rise apartments, or luxury condominiums — a place for the wealthy or for single executives and childless expat couples.
Expatriate families tend to move to the southern district of Bang Na or the eastern part of Bangkok called Bang Kapi. Some even choose to leave the changwat of Bangkok altogether, going beyond the city limits to the province of Nonthaburi in the Bangkok Metropolitan Region.
Bang Na is about 20 km away from the city center — and conveniently located in the direction of the international airport. There is a highway that leads into Sukhumvit Road, and Bang Na does not lack any amenities of daily life. For instance, there’s the Central Plaza shopping mecca and the British Bangkok Patana School.
However, many residents of Bang Na were glad to see the long-awaited extension of the Skytrain line realized in August 2011. This public transport link to central Bangkok now makes it more attractive as a neighborhood.
Bang Kapi suffers from a similar problem as Bang Na used to — it hasn’t got any connections to the Skytrain or the underground. But the western part of Bang Kapi, along Ramkhamhaeng Road, is still convenient enough, due to its relative closeness to the Khlong Saen.
From Khlong Saen, an express canal-boat service will take you faster to the city center than a bus or taxi could. Ramkhamhaeng University is also nearby, making for a lively atmosphere with many students.
Before renting accommodation in Bang Kapi or the northern parts of Bangkok, though, you should make sure that your new home is not affected by airplane noise. Don Mueang, Bangkok’s traffic hub for domestic flights, is located in one of Bangkok’s northernmost districts. It might pay off to check where exactly the planes’ entry lanes are.
Accommodation in Bangkok
Other Neighborhoods Worth Considering
Nonthaburi is officially a neighboring province of Bangkok, one of the six that make up the Bangkok Metropolitan Region. It is again divided into several sub-districts, called amphoe. Among them, the amphoe of Pak Kret is especially popular among expats. Pak Kret is home to the International School of Bangkok. The school has become the center of an expat-heavy community around Soi Nichada Thani.
While Nonthaburi province was hit very hard by the flooding in autumn 2011, most of Pak Kret — including the expat neighborhood in Nichada — was not flooded directly. However, the bus routes and public transport links were often disrupted for months, mainly in October and November 2011. By now, expat life in Pak Kret has long since returned to normal, although it took some time to clean up the province in general.
Purchasing Property vs. Renting Accommodation
In the suburban residential areas, it is much easier to find free-standing family homes, estates with a surrounding garden, or housing situated in modern communities available for rent. Owing to restrictions on foreigners purchasing property in Thailand, most expats — even the more affluent ones — do not try to buy housing for a longer stay in the hope of making a profitable investment.
Renting is much more common than buying. Due to the population growth of the Bangkok Region and the popularity of property investment among well-to-do Thai, the local real-estate market tends to move rather fast.
Finding a Real Estate Agent
It is best to get recommendations for several trustworthy and experienced realtors from personal acquaintances on location. Your new colleagues, your company’s HR department, your children’s school, and your expat friends should be able to help you.
Since personal contacts and networks are important for doing business in Thailand, these real estate agents may have their own contacts and sources to locate available housing. If you simply start going through the classified ads in the Bangkok Post on your own, you might miss out on a number of opportunities that are never openly listed.
A Checklist for Your Rental Agreement
When you have found the home of your dreams, always make sure that the rental agreement includes the following specifications:
- full name and contact details of the parties involved
- detailed description and complete address of the property
- term of lease
- length of stay
- number of tenants
- amount of rental payment and due date
- penalty for late rent payments
- services, equipment, and furniture included in the rent
- responsibility for utility bills
- security deposit and conditions for getting it back
- limits on occupancy
- responsibility and costs for repair and maintenance
- termination clause (in case that you have to return home early)
Registering as a Foreign Resident
As soon as you have a sort of permanent residence in Thailand, do not forget to notify the authorities (immigration office or local police) of your change of address. Every foreigner who is going to stay in the country for more than 90 days has to hand in a written registration anyway and repeat this every 90 days.
In central Bangkok, this registration procedure can be taken care of here:
Government Center B
Chaengwattana Soi 7
In some older sources (including some government websites), you may still find Soi Suan Phlu listed as the address of the Bangkok Immigration Bureau. However, the premises have moved, as indicated above.