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Popular Expat Destinations in 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 informs you about the various aspects of moving to Thailand, from safety advice over popular destinations to visa types.

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.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

If there’s something you’re still not sure about, check out the InterNations Forum.

Martin Beck

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