Thailand Expat Guide

Expats considering a move to Thailand for any length of time have a lot of choices and issues to ponder before they make the move. Asia is a wonderful and widely inviting place to live as a Western and many expats choose Asia, and Thailand in particular, because their Western salaries stretch a lot further in Thailand. Just how far money stretches depends on where you decide to live within the country, so let’s take a look at the various nuances and considerations for Thai expats.

We also have various stories and advice on the Thailand section of our expat blog.

What Visas are Needed to Live in Thailand?

This is a tricky situation to explain succinctly, so we’ve covered all of the different type of Thai expat visas in more depth on another page.

The quick and dirty though looks like this:

  • Most expats holding a passport from a Western country will get an automatic 30 day on-arrival stamp when they arrive by air. If you arrive overland without a visa you only receive 15 days.
  • If you plan a mere three months to a year in Thailand you can likely make due with the tourist visas and exit and leave. These visas must be obtained outside of Thailand and require full page visas inserted into your passport. There are some issues and restrictions about how many of these the Thai embassies and consulates will issue before denying you one.
  • Though much harder to obtain, there are non-immigrant Type “O” visas that allow for a full year in the country though you will still have to cross a border every 90 days.
  • Those 50-years and older expats can fairly easily receive a Type “O” once year visa. These retirement visas can be easily extended, particularly for expats married to Thai nationals. Some proof of income stipulations must be met each year.

For a more in-depth look at the Thai Expat Visa Situation, then check out our full resource guide. These are just tips and suggestions, and though this site is updated regularly by a current Thai expat, know that you should verify information with the nearest Thai embassy!

Where Should You Live in Thailand?

This is a good question and largely depends on personal preference! There are so many wonderful cities in Thailand and all of the bigger cities and Thai islands have a thriving expat scene and amenities for Westerners.

Let’s look at a few of the major options and considerations for each city:

Bangkok

A bustling Asian city with towering buildings, busy sidewalks and even busier streets. For those expats used to the bustle and city life in other capital cities (think London, New York, etc) then you will love the more frenetic pace of life in the city.

As far as prices are concerned, living in Bangkok lies right in the middle of the Thailand price structure. For a moderate lifestyle, with a Western-style apartment, a few Western meals each week, and friends and activities in the city you can expect about 25,o00 baht. Up this price a bit if you plan to drink cocktails and party regularly!

Chiang Mai

This is the cultural capital of Thailand and the second largest city in the country. And though it’s second to Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a completely different experience. This is a small city with no tall, towering downtown area and instead a sprawling city with no sky-scapers and a small, walk-able downtown area inside a square moat.

The city has a thriving expat community, there are heaps of hotels in Chiang Mai that also accept long-term expat rentals, and the city is a gateway to many of the smaller hill-tribes nearby and has a large refugee community, making it an ideal hub for expats seeking NGO work and volunteer opportunities.

For prices, you can expect a Western-style apartment and amenities, with delicious street eats and a motor-bike rental for about 17,000 baht a month. Again, your life-style really dictates costs, but it’s a good idea of what you can get on the moderate scale.

The Thai Islands

This is a broad topic because the islands are so varied down south. But that being said, the icy blue waters of the Thai islands and the tall karst rock formations jutting out of the water attract a huge number of expats and tourists alike. As is the case with nearly any chain of islands, life is more expensive. Any of the Thai islands are going to cost more for an expat than an equivalent lifestyle in Bangkok or Chiang Mai.

But don’t despair, this is still a lot less for the equivalent in Western countries! Anticipate you can live moderately, with Western amenities for about 30,000 baht per month. If you drink and party a lot, this will figure will be higher.

How Will I Get Around?!

Thai driving is right up there as some of the most nerve-wracking driving in the world for the uninitiated. As in other Asian countries, there are few hard and fast road rules and the cars, motorbikes, trucks and pedestrians operate with a sort of hive mentality of anticipatory chaos. Also consider that bribery is commonplace and if you get pulled over when driving this may be expected.

Public City Transportation

For expats living in Bangkok you can certainly get by without a car if you’re inside the city or find an apartment near the BTS metro line. There are also heaps of regular and motorcycle taxis as the cheapest way to sometimes get from one spot to another. Chiang Mai and other cities have their own options, with tuk-tuks on offer throughout the country.

Public Buses and Trains

There are long-distance bus and train stations creating a web of connection throughout Thailand–these are usually very well priced and reliable to an extent. For the public buses, consider though that they have a high traffic accident rate and can be more dangerous than a train or a short inter-country flight.

Motorbikes and Cars

These are perfect options for expats in any city except Bangkok (not necessary there). It is very easy for expats to rent a motorbike or car in these cities with nothing more than a valid foreign drivers license. To purchase a motorbike or car you need an logner-term visa (non-immigrant “O”) and with that can pay a very reasonable sum for a shiny new bike or car.