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Moving to Thailand
What to Know if You're Moving to Thailand
Do you plan on moving to Thailand as an expat? Be aware that it takes more than a holiday mood, with dreams of white beaches and turquoise seas, to relocate. InterNations GO! informs you about the various aspects of moving to Thailand, from safety advice in popular destinations to visa types.
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Relocating to Thailand
Moving to Thailand may conjure up specific images of beautiful white sand beaches with giant limestone formations or thick, green rainforests hiding large, ambling elephants. The country’s diverse landscape and thrilling lifestyle attracts expats from around the globe, all hoping to get a taste of one of Southeast Asia’s most dynamic areas.
The Pros and Cons of Moving to Thailand
Thailand, with its dazzling temples and vibrant nightlife, is incredibly popular among globetrotting backpackers and adventurers. The country’s famous hospitality also makes it an ideal destination for pensioners who dream of spending their golden years in the sun.
However, an expat moving to Thailand might also consider the negative aspects that relocation can entail. In certain areas of Bangkok or Pattaya, it is hard to ignore the sordid side of the party circuit. The red-light districts, for instance, with their strip bars, sex workers, and drug users, attract less than savory visitors. This part of life in Thailand, and the Thai economy, is an unfortunate reality that foreigners relocating to The Land of Smiles must learn to live with.
However, expats should also be aware that these contrasting images—the sparkling foreign paradise juxtaposed against a seedy lifestyle—are two sides of the same coin. Exaggerated exoticism often leads visitors moving to Thailand to either romanticize or demonize the country.
Thailand: A Short Political History
When moving to Thailand, you ought to remember that the Thai people themselves are fiercely proud of their nation’s heritage. After all, the country is the only one in Southeast Asia that was never under colonial rule. Moving to Thailand means settling in a country whose culture dates back over a thousand years.
The present monarch is a member of the Chakri dynasty, which has been in power since the late 1700s. Its forerunners, the Kingdoms of Lanna, Aytthaya, and Sukhothai, left their marks on the country’s patrimony, with vestiges of Lanna culture in Chiang Mai or the historical sites of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya. Today, these sites still attract many tourists on their annual vacation.
The Royal Family
Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since a military coup in 1932, with democratization replacing military rule in the late 1970s. There are three branches of government and a Prime Minister. Although the Thai constitution gives the royal family limited power, the King is still highly revered and considered the figure head of Thailand.
The current monarch of Thailand is King Maha Vajiralongkorn, also known as Rama X. He is the second child, and only son, of the previous ruler, Rama IX (King Bhumibol Adulyadej). King Vajiralongkorn was officially coronated in 2019, three years after the passing of his father.
Expats in Thailand should be aware that the king and royal family are highly regarded in the country. It is a criminal offense, even for foreigners, to speak poorly about them. There are also many customs and traditions associated with the royal family that expats should observe least they offend the natives of their new home.
One such custom is observance of the King’s Anthem. In Bangkok, this anthem plays twice a day (dawn and dusk) over loud speakers at metro stops and in schools and government buildings. When you hear this song, you must freeze in place until the music stops. If you are sitting, you must stand. This song also plays before movies in cinemas, and you must stand and stay silent until it is over. Similarly, when a member of the royal family drives down a street, police will stop traffic and pedestrians are expected to stand in place until the member has passed.
Images of the king and queen can be found throughout Thailand: in offices, shops, restaurants, and even as large standing posters on the street. These images are treated as respectfully as if they were the actual king and queen standing there. That means you should be careful not to point the soles of your feet at them, which includes crossing your legs while sitting.
On the whole, Thailand is an extremely safe country and the most criminal acts targeting foreigners being purse snatchings from passing motorcycles. However, there are still some things you should keep in mind in regards to your personal safety when living in the country long-term.
Thailand has experienced periodic political unrest, with some of the most violent clashes occurring between 2006 to 2011 with the “red shirts” (oppositional supporters of the former populist PM Thaksin) and the pro-government royalist “yellow shirts.” In recent years, these protests have died down, but expats should still bare their memories in mind as there is a Thai propensity to have quick, violent escalations.
That being said, another important thing to remember in Thailand is the culture of “saving face.” To “save face” in Thailand means to not be embarrassed or ashamed. To make a Thai “lose face” is taboo and can bring a lot of unpleasantries for a foreigner. Some ways in which a foreigner can make a local Thai lose face are common mistakes such as speaking English too fast and causing the local to feel embarrassed if they do not understand you. However, arguing with someone, for example over an exorbitantly priced taxi fare, can lead to a physical altercation if the person you are disagreeing with feels that you have caused them to “lose face.” In Thailand, the law will often side with the Thai person, so foreigners should do their best to always remain respectful and, if caught in an altercation, apologize and try to defuse the situation.
Thailand has also seen some terrorist attacks, especially in Bangkok and in the south near the border with Malaysia. The attacks primarily happen outside government buildings and some Buddhist shrines, such as the 2015 bombing at the Erawan Shrine near Bangkok’s busy Siam Paragon Mall. 2019 also saw a series of explosions yet again rock the Thai capital outside government buildings and at one BTS skytrain stop.
Thanks to Bangkok, Pattaya, and the Thai beaches, Thailand has a reputation for being a “party” country where drugs are easy to come by. While acquiring recreational drugs in Thailand is fairly common within expat circles, foreigners should be aware that these are not legal in the country and, if caught, can incur serious criminal offenses. Even drugs such as marijuana can get you thrown into a Thai prison and eventually deported and blacklisted from re-entry into the country for several years.
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Popular Expat Destinations in Thailand
The Foreign Community in Thailand
Expats looking to join a large community of fellow foreigners will find an easy home in Thailand. Thanks to the easy way of life and low cost of living, Thailand welcomes massive amounts of foreigners every year both as tourists and new residents. In addition to neighboring Southeast Asian countries, the largest expat groups in Thailand are natives from the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Australia, Japan, and India. Expats living in The Land of Smiles are mostly found in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Phuket, and Thai islands like Koh Samui and Koh Tao.
However, Thailand is such a popular destination among expats that you are guaranteed to find a welcoming expatriate community no matter where you live in the country.
As you might expect, the greatest amount of expatriates live in Bangkok and its metropolitan area. The capital is the unrivalled political, social, and economic center of Southeast Asia. The city is home to diverse demographic groups and expat communities hailing from China, India, Japan, Europe, the US, South Korea, Australia, Singapore, and more. Bangkok’s industrial neighborhoods, financial services, tourism sector, and transport industry offer a variety of job opportunities to skilled foreign employees.
Recently, Bangkok’s pollution has started to climb to dangerous levels, causing the government to shutdown schools for three days in 2018 because the smog count was considered too dangerous for people to be outside. Pollution levels decrease somewhat in the rainy season, but expats moving to the capital city are advised to get a pollution mask.
Pattaya and Phuket
The city of Pattaya also attracts a fair number of foreign residents. Working expatriates might be employed in the industrial zone, where car manufacturing, shipping, construction, and heavy industries abound. Pensioners from abroad often prefer these cities to Bangkok because of their beachside location and slightly more laidback vibe.
However, it is worth noting that Pattaya’s reputation has suffered drastically thanks to its tourism boom. The rapid transformation from a fishing village into a nightlife hotspot has led to crowded streets, pollution, rising prices, and problems with the local “red-light” sector.
Apart from Pattaya, retirees and people working for the tourism industry often choose to rent a home or get a job on the islands of Phuket or Koh Samui. The former is Thailand’s largest island. Phuket made international headlines in 2004 when it was devastated by a tsunami, and at least 250 people perished during the disaster. However, Phuket’s tourism sector and its residents have recovered from the shock. It is, once again, a favorite among sun addicts from across the globe. Its coastlines are a major reason why Thailand is among the favorite retirement destinations worldwide.
The smaller island of Koh Samui is another popular expat destination. It focuses almost exclusively on tourism, and might be a nice alternative to Pattaya and Phuket.
However, be aware that this is a prime destination for mass tourism, and includes all the positive and negative consequences that come along with that. On the one hand, the many visitors fuel the local economy, but the beaches like Lamai and Chaweng are also now attracting the same loud party crowd that plagues Pattaya.
As Bangkok and the cities in the south become a haven for the backpacking party crowd, Chiang Mai is growing increasingly more popular with expats looking to live in Thailand for a few years. Drawn by its cooler mountain weather and quieter streets (at least when compared to Bangkok), expats are starting to flock to this lush northern city. The quirky, bohemian city is famous for its many Buddhist temples (wat) and traditional arts and crafts.
Visas and Registration in Thailand
Before you come to Thailand, please make sure to contact the nearest Thai Embassy or Consulate to enquire which visa regulations apply in your case. If you are simply a private traveler, a tourist visa should suffice.
Are You Coming as a Tourist?
There are over 50 countries whose nationals do not need to apply for a tourist visa. However, if you do not fall under the Visa Exemption Category, you will need to acquire a visa before coming to Thailand.
Passport holders from a further 19 countries may get a visa on arrival for short-term vacations. Everyone else just has to apply for a regular tourist visa. It usually allows you to stay in Thailand for up to 60—90 days depending on your nationality.
How to Apply for Your Thai Tourist Visa
In order to obtain a tourist visa, you need the following documents:
- a valid passport
- a completed application form
- recent passport-sized photographs
- a round-trip ticket
- proof of sufficient financial funds
In some cases, you may need to bring additional documents. Medical tourists, for instance, often have to enclose a letter from the hospital in Thailand where they are going to receive treatment.
Please do keep in mind that a tourist visa is valid for tourism purposes only. If you go to Thailand for work or a longer-term stay, you will need a non-immigrant visa.
Non-Immigrant Visas: Which Visa Type Is Right for You?
Non-immigrant visas for Thailand cover different categories including:
- F (official duties)
- B (business and work)
- ED (education)
- EX (experts and specialists)
- IB/IM (investors)
- M (media, film producers, and journalists)
- (family visitors, NGO volunteers, etc.)
- R (religious activities)
- RS (researchers and scientists)
- O-A (retirees)
You are required to provide the following documents:
- a valid passport
- a completed application form
- two recent passport-sized photographs
- a recent bank statement
- others, according to your specific category and situation (e.g. a letter of acceptance from a Thai university for a student visa).
Cutting through the Red Tape before Getting a Business Visa
Foreigners coming to Thailand on a B visa to do business with a Thai company normally need the following, though requirements may obviously vary:
- a letter from your company, describing your position and stating the purpose of your trip
- a document from a government agency or embassy certifying the purpose of travel
- an employment contract indicating the salary and qualifications of the applicant
- a letter of invitation from a Thai company or business association
- correspondence with business partners in Thailand
- the corporate paperwork of said Thai company (business registration, business license, shareholder list, company profile, details of business activity, VAT registration, tax balance sheet, and location map)
…And the Same Goes for Your Thai Work Visa
A B-visa national who will be taking up gainful employment in Thailand needs a slightly different array of paperwork:
- a letter of approval from the Ministry of Labor (obtained by the Thai employer from the Office of Foreign Workers Administration)
- a letter of invitation from a Thai company allowed to employ foreigners
- employment contract
- CV, educational records, and references from previous employers
- your original university diplomas
- the corporate paperwork of their employer in Thailand (business registration, business license, shareholder list, company profile, details of business activity, list of foreign staff, location map, tax balance sheet, alien income tax return, and VAT registration)
Please note that there are different regulations for each visa category and that requirements can change according to your nationality, the country from where you are applying, and the purpose of your stay. For further details, please always contact the Thai Embassy or Consulate.
Most non-immigrant visas are initially valid for 90 days. You will then have to apply for a temporary work permit at the Department of Employment or the local Employment Office. You will also need an extension of stay from the Office of Immigration Bureau or one of its local branches.
In most cases, the visa is then valid for up to one year, but can be renewed. To apply for an extension or renewal of your visa, please get in touch with:
Government Center B
Chaengwattana Soi 7
To take care of visa and work permit issues in one go, please contact:
One-Stop Service Center
Chamchuri Square Tower, 18th floor
315, Phayathai Road
Important Alien Registration Information
Do not forget to fill out your arrival and departure card on the plane before queuing at the airport immigration desk. It should be kept in your passport all the time, as your hotel staff or landlord might want to see it. Whenever you leave Thailand, you will need to present this card again, so it is imperative that you do not lose it.
If you do lose your departure card, you will need to file a police report and instead present that whenever you leave Thailand (even if you are only leaving for a short weekend vacation in a nearby country). Contact your HR department or embassy for more information.
A new law was also recently enacted that requires landlords to alert the government when their foreign occupant leaves their dwelling for more than 24 hours. While the observance of this is up to the discretion of the landlord, it is something expats should be aware of and ask about upon moving to Thailand.
If you are planning to stay in Thailand longer than 90 days, you will have to undergo a separate process of alien registration with the Office of Immigration Bureau within a week and re-register every three months (90 days). This 90 day registration is required even of foreigners in possession of a Thai work visa.