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Living in Thailand
A Comprehensive Guide About Living Well in Thailand
There are many reasons to move to Thailand. Maybe you want to take up a lucrative expat assignment or spend your golden years in the sun. Whatever your motivation for moving to The Land of Smiles, InterNations GO! gives you all the advice you need on local expat life, including housing, healthcare, and more.
Need to move abroad? Organizing an international relocation is not something you should do on your own. As expats ourselves, we understand what you need, and offer the essential services to help you move and live abroad easily. Contact us to jump start your move abroad!
Life in Thailand
Unlike what some prospective expats might believe, living in Thailand is not equivalent to a relaxed life in a beach resort. While there are jobs and areas of Thailand where this is true, Thailand is so much more vibrant and varied than a seaside getaway. Expats moving to the capital Bangkok will find a thriving metropolis, where business people rush to work and stand in long rush hour queues for the metro. Likewise, working in a place like Pattaya may bring you closer to the blue waters and long boats associated with the Southeast Asian country, but life still moves at a fast, chaotic pace, with a never-ending stream of foreigners arriving and leaving, looking for their next adventure.
Of course, elderly retirees and young work-and-travel backpackers are able to maintain a fairly laid-back life in Thailand. These expats typically move to cities like Chiang Mai, a chill mountain city, or Phuket, which has easy access to many of Thailand’s stunning island.
For expatriates who receive an inter-company transfer or another career opportunity, they are most likely to find themselves based in Bangkok or the industrialized Pattaya-Chonburi Metropolitan Area on Thailand’s eastern seaboard. For these foreigners, living in Thailand often means urban sprawl, traffic chaos, and air pollution.
Expat life in Thailand definitely has its downsides, but it is also an excellent occasion to familiarize oneself with the culture of Southeast Asia’s most important nation.
Almost 70 million people currently live in Thailand. Most of them belong to the four ethnic groups of Thai people, who came from southeastern China about a thousand years ago. However, apart from demographic minorities such as the Khmer or Hmong, there is a sizable Sino-Thai (Thai-Chinese) community living in Thailand, especially in Bangkok.
Many Sino-Thai identify as multi-racial, with ancestors from both groups and having adopted Thai surnames as well. The ethnic Chinese in Thailand also tend to be bilingual or trilingual — speaking Mandarin Chinese, the respective Chinese variety from their family’s former home region, and, of course, Thai.
Thai — or, to be more precise, the central Thai dialect — is the official language for all people in Thailand. It is a mandatory subject for all schoolchildren, including expat kids living in Thailand and attending an officially accredited school.
It is not mandatory that expats learn Thai, but knowing key phrases and “taxi Thai” (i.e. numbers and how to give directions) will go a long way to helping you feel settled. Likewise, if you do not speak Thai and do not intend to learn, then you should at least know English. English is an obligatory foreign language taught at many Thai schools. Nearly all street signs are written in both English and Thai, as are other necessities such as ATMs, building names, and public transport signs. You should not expect every Thai you meet to be able to converse with you in English, but, on average, everyone will know some basic words.
While living in Thailand, you will certainly meet plenty of businesspeople, academics, students, or front-desk staff in the tourist industry who can speak fluent English. Among the older population, the urban working class, or the rural populace, though, it will not do to rely on English.
When you prepare to relocate to Thailand, consider attending a Thai class. Admittedly, Thai may be a bit tricky for expats whose native languages are not tonal or who do not distinguish carefully between various registers, such as street Thai and religious Thai. However, you are bound to make a better impression as a foreign resident living in Thailand if you try to pick the basics of the local language. Expat children are obligated to take Thai classes in school. This rule applies even if your children attend a private or international school during their life in Thailand.
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Housing and Healthcare in Thailand
Finding Your New Home in Thailand
To find appropriate housing for their new life, most expatriates enlist the services of a relocation company or a real-estate agent. Some foreigners specifically search for furnished or serviced apartments rather than compound villas or normal flats.
In any case, since there are no multiple listings for property ads in Thailand, it is recommended to get in touch with several realtors. That way, you can choose from a wider selection. Realtors can most often be found through expat Facebook groups or word-of-mouth recommendation from other expats. InterNations GO! can also help get you set up with the right real estate agent to fit your needs and budget.
Expat parents at your kids’ school(s) can be of help as well. For example, the International School in Bangkok publishes an online contact list of Thailand realtors. In that way, they help foreign families find a home.
There are certain legal restrictions on foreigners buying property in Thailand. They are allowed to purchase flats, condominiums, and houses, but not the plot of land on which the building stands.
People looking for a holiday home or retirees wishing to immigrate to Thailand often make use of special tenancy agreements instead. These rental contracts or so-called “land leases” can be valid for up to 30 years. In some cases, they can even be renewed for another 30-year period.
Most foreign employees simply rent rather than buy property. Standard rental agreements last one year. Sizable western-standard flats and houses are not hard to come by in major cities and specific expat neighborhoods. However, they are also not cheap. In some parts of Bangkok, such as an expat compound with family villas, accommodation may cost up to 100,000 THB per month, or even more (3,200 USD).
Expats looking for cheaper rent, but a decent living situation, should look towards large apartment complexes. These will often include reasonably priced one-bedroom apartments, and buildings which have standard gyms, pools, and even a restaurant and/or 7-11 convenience store. These apartments will range between 10,000—15,000 THB per month (300—500 USD). Utilities are typically charged separately and will cost another 1,000—1,500 THB (30—35 USD). It is standard to be asked for three-month’s rent as a deposit.
Most accommodations are furnished with basic items, such as a couch, tables, bed, wardrobe, and a fridge. Cooking inside the home is not that common in Thailand, especially in the cities, because street food is so plentiful, cheap, and delicious. Because of this, do not be surprised if there is no stove in your apartment. Some newer buildings will provide electric stove tops, but ovens are rare.
Health Advice: Avoiding Unwelcome Ailments
In addition to housing, healthcare is a vital component of expatriate life. In preparation for living in Thailand, you should make sure to get all necessary immunizations at home and to gather information on taking precautions against common diseases.
Recommended vaccinations for Thailand include tetanus, diphtheria, polio, pertussis, MMR, influenza, and hepatitis A. Moreover, for longer stays, you should also get immunizations for hepatitis B, rabies, typhus, typhoid, and Japanese encephalitis.
While some institutes of tropical medicine have issued a swine flu warning for Thailand, and there have been occasional reports of avian flu in the country, it is insect-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and chikungunya that are actually a greater risk for the average resident. You should make sure to wear light, but long-sleeved clothing, use anti-insect repellants daily, and hang up mosquito nets at night.
Moreover, in order to avoid getting sick, pay attention to proper food hygiene. Do not drink the tap water. In places like Bangkok, you can use the water to cook as long as it reaches a boiling temperature.
How Thai Healthcare Works
Since the 1990s, Thailand has had a national public health insurance scheme. However, the Social Security Scheme mainly covers employees aged between 15 and 60 years in private companies with more than ten staff members. Their contributions are deducted directly from the employee’s salary and paid into the Social Security Fund.
There are other public healthcare policies as well. The Civil Servant Medical Benefit Scheme covers public sector employees and their dependents. Since 2002, the Universal Coverage Scheme has provided for poorer families. The latter, though, does not always cover the same treatment that the other two plans provide.
Health and Education in Thailand
Health Insurance for Expats: Private Insurance — The Preferred Choice
Thailand’s national health insurance plans do not always include expats, and they do not cover high-quality private healthcare, either. Therefore, most expats take out a private insurance policy.
These healthcare plans are often provided by multinationals or US American companies. Of course, there are Thai insurance companies with private healthcare plans as well. However, the language barrier with its resulting problems of getting an English-language policy and contract deter many expatriates from making use of this possibility.
No matter where you are insured, make sure to have your insurance papers and enough cash at hand when you go and see a doctor at a clinic. Unless it is an emergency, you are usually expected to pay upfront and be reimbursed by your insurance later.
While merely consulting a doctor costs at least 800 to 1,500 THB (25—30 USD), a private clinic with an international department may require you to make a large deposit in advance before staying for stationary treatment.
Medical Facilities: Public Hospitals vs. Private Clinics
Despite the higher expenses, expatriates indeed prefer private medical services providers, the quality of whose care is often excellent. Public hospitals, on the other hand, tend to be understaffed and underfunded.
When you choose a clinic, ask whether they have a family doctor for consultations. There is a shortage of general practitioners in Thailand, but you may prefer not to consult a specialist for every complaint.
You can find a list of clinics (including dental clinics) in Bangkok via Allianz Worldwide Care.
If you need an ambulance and would like to avoid a government clinic, do not phone 191 (the general emergency number in Thailand). Instead, call the hospital of your choice directly. Below is a contact list of four local hospitals that are especially popular in the expatriate community.
Bangkok Christian Hospital
124 Si Lom
Bang Rak, Bangkok 10500
+66 2 625 9000
Bangkok International Hospital
33 Soi Sukhumvit 3
Khlong Toei Nuea
Watthana, Bangkok 10110
+66 2 066 1000
33 Sukhumvit 3 (Soi Nana Nua)
Wattana, Bangkok 10110
+66 2 667 1000
Samitivej Hospital (Srinakarin)
488 Srinakarin Road
Suanluang. Bangkok 10250
+66 2378 9000
Samitivej Hospital (Sukhumvit)
133 Sukhumvit 49
Klong Tan Nua
Wattana Bangkok 10110
+66 2711 8000
Nine years of public education is mandatory in Thailand. Although a pre-school education is not obligatory, many Thai children attend a kindergarten or daycare center. After that, they go to primary school for six years and to a lower-level secondary school for another three years.
When the mandatory schooling is over, they have the opportunity to move on to upper secondary education. This is provided by either an academic institution or one that focuses on vocational training.
The graduates from an academic upper secondary school frequently become university students. A course at a Thai university usually takes four years for a Bachelor’s degree. Some subjects, such as education or medical school, require five or six years.
The main universities in Thailand are: Chulalongkorn University, Chiang Mai University, and Mahidol University.
While the language of instruction is Thai for most university classes, Thailand’s biggest and most prestigious universities offer some English-language courses as well, e.g. MBA degrees for international students.
Unfortunately, many public schools in Thailand suffer from underfunding and an accordingly bad student-teacher ratio. However, the language barrier is often the main reason why expat kids largely attend private international schools. There, the language of instruction is either English or their mother tongue.
All international schools are required to instruct their students in the Thai language and Thai culture. That way, expat children still gain an insight into their host country’s language and culture.
Most international schools in Thailand are situated in the Bangkok Metropolitan Area. For a complete list, consult the International Schools Association of Thailand.
There are international schools in Bangkok which cater to the needs of Australian, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Swiss, and US American expat communities (among others). For instance, the KIS Bangkok and Ruamrudee International School are international schools offering the International Baccalaureate. Aside from that, there are a few (mostly English-language) international schools in Chiang Mai, in Pattaya, and on Phuket, among other places.
Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!