Moving to Thailand
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A comprehensive guide to 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 over popular destinations to visa types.
Relocating to Thailand
Moving to Thailand may conjure up very specific images for many expatriates. It means starting expat life in a country of beautiful beaches and lush rainforests, which attract countless divers and hikers.
The Pros and Cons of Moving to Thailand
Thailand, with its sumptuous 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 neighborhoods of cities like 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.
However, all expats should be aware that both these images — the dream of a foreign paradise as opposed to its darker parts — are two sides of the same coin. Exaggerated exoticism often leads visitors moving to Thailand from abroad 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 state in Southeast Asia which 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. Today, these still attract many tourists on their annual vacation.
The King and Queen
Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since a military coup in 1932, with democratization replacing military rule from the late 1970s onwards. When you move to Thailand,it is essential for you to understand the importance of the reigning sovereign, King Rama IX (Bhumibol Adulyadej), and his wife Queen Sikrit.
King Rama IX, who ascended to the throne in 1950, is by no means an uncontroversial figure in academic and political circles outside the country. However, you should nonetheless respect the immense popularity that the royal couple enjoys. This is particularly due to the King’s patronage of many development projects.
Moreover, for a foreigner moving to Thailand, it is useful to know that lèse majesté — insulting the royal family or even the king’s image — is a criminal offense, even for foreign nationals.
Staying Safe from Trouble
You should definitely keep several things in mind when it comes to your personal safety. As mentioned above, you should take care never to insult or criticize the sovereign unless you want to get into trouble with Thai authorities. But the recent political unrest, which was plaguing the country from 2006 to 2011, might be a more pressing concern for you.
Clashes between “red shirts” (oppositional supporters of the former populist PM Thaksin) and the pro-government royalist “yellow shirts” used to occur on a regular basis. However, since the summer of 2011, when the opposition party — led by Thaksin’s younger sister — triumphed in the general election, the protests seem to have died down.
Still, as an expat, you should stay far away from all political demonstrations and even government institutions. The latter may become the target of terrorist attacks.
Due to the Internal State Security Act in 2010, police searches have apparently increased in number. Although the political climate is now far less tense than it used to be, foreigners moving to Thailand should carry their passport and immigration papers with them all the time. Currently there is a very real threat of terrorism, especially in Bangkok area, and the recent bombing in August 2015 and other terrorist attacks have not really made the city any safer.
Furthermore, diplomatic missions advise their nationals not to move to Thailand’s border areas near Cambodia, Myanmar, and Malaysia. Furthermore, Thailand’s south remains under martial law, owing to soldiers fighting radical Muslim groups in that region.
Popular Expat Destinations in Thailand
A Word of Warning
You should stay away from all sorts of recreational drugs in Thailand. Even the possession of “party drugs”, which might earn you a slap on the wrist in your home country, can lead to strict sentences. So, unless you want to familiarize yourself with Thailand’s prison system, don’t even think about hanging out with stoned backpackers on the beach.
We’d also like to add that paying attention to your luggage is vital when you prepare for a trip home. Don’t take anything from a person whom you don’t know very well, and don’t leave your luggage unattended. Drug runners like taking advantage of harmless travelers and expatriates.
Nonetheless, despite these dire warnings, the actual number of foreign nationals who run afoul of law enforcement authorities is small, and most expats enjoy a peaceful life in Thailand.
The Foreign Community in Thailand
It is hard to come by any reliable and up-to-date statistics concerning the number of foreigners currently living in Thailand.
At the end of 2013, there were an estimated 3.5 million foreign nationals in the country, including tourists and other temporary visitors. Most other foreign residents are migrant laborers from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, and India, refugees from neighboring countries in the insecure border regions, or people born in the country without any specific citizenship.
Furthermore, there is a sizable community of expatriates and retirees from Japan, the UK, China, India, North America, and various European states as well. In 2009, it included over 100,000 foreigners with work permits for professional positions and skilled labor, as well as 120,000 people with non-working long term visas.
Of course, most expatriates live in Bangkok or 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, e.g. from China, India, Japan, Europe, the US, South Korea, Australia, or Singapore. Bangkok’s industrial neighborhoods, financial services, tourism sector, and transport industry offer a variety of job opportunities to skilled foreign employees.
The real GDP growth suffered a decrease after 2012, but the 2015 forecast already shows signs of recovery. However, the recent bombings in the city were a severe blow to the important tourism sector.
Pattaya and Phuket
The city of Pattaya, the surrounding Pattaya-Chonburi Metropolitan Area and its heavily industrialized Eastern Seaboard Zone, also attract their share 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 the popular beach resort of Pattaya itself.
However, Pattaya’s reputation has also suffered drastically from 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 domicile or get a job on the islands of Phuket or Koh Samui. The former is Thailand’s largest island. Phuket made the international headlines when it was devastated by the tsunami of 2004 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.
Koh Samui and Chiang Mai
The smaller island of Koh Samui is another popular expat destination. It focuses almost exclusively on tourism, and might be an alternative to Pattaya and Phuket.
However, be aware that this is a prime destination for mass tourism, with all its positive and negative consequences for the island. On the one hand, the many visitors fuel the local economy. On the other hand, beaches like Lamai and Chaweng are now attracting the same loud party crowd that plagues Pattaya or Patong.
Last but not least, some expats are drawn to the city of Chiang Mai in the mountainous northern part of the country. Chiang Mai is very much a bohemian and cultural center of the region and the heart of a sprawling metropolitan region.
Not only is it famous for its many Buddhist temples (wat) and its traditional arts and crafts. It has also a more laid-back feel than hectic Bangkok, and it’s a greener place, too. For a city of 160,000 inhabitants (last official figures from 2008), Chiang Mai offers quite a busy nightlife with an active gay scene, but less of the sex industry that runs rampant in some parts of Bangkok or Pattaya.
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 residents do not need to apply for a tourist visa. However, if you do not fall under the Visa Exemption Category, you always 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 days.
Here’s 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 different reasons, the so-called non-immigrant visa will apply to you.
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)
- O (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
- 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 you are applying from, 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. Then you have to apply for temporary work permit at the Department of Employment or the local Employment Office. You 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
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.They are obligated to notify the local police within 24 hours if you move out and your address in Thailand changes.
At hotels, pensions, and hostels, this notification happens automatically. However, when you rent an apartment, make sure to ask your landlord to take care of it. Moreover, if you are planning to stay 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).