Low cost of living, beautiful jungle and beaches, available jobs for foreigners, and a rich culture, mean that Thailand is becoming an increasingly popular place to live and work for foreigners. If you are planning on becoming an expat in Thailand, then there is good news! Many have already done it, so there is plenty of information on the topic.
So, what do you need to know about becoming an expat in Thailand? Here are some of the most important things to know about becoming an expat in Thailand.
- How Do Visas Work?
- How Does Health Insurance Work?
- How to Find a Place to Live in Thailand
- Can I Bring a Pet?
- How to Do Taxes in Thailand
- Traveling to Thailand
- How Can I Find a Job?
- Cost of Living in Thailand
- How to Learn Thai
Becoming an expat in another country is a huge step in life. Everyone has their own reasons for moving to another country, but they all face similar issues and obstacles during the moving and settling in process. I’ve curated the following information to cover the most common issues concerning becoming an expat in Thailand.
How Do Visas Work?
Tourist visas can cover you from 30 to 60 days depending on what country you are from. However, because you are planning on becoming an expat, 60 days is probably not enough.
If you are planning on leaving the country, and returning (called a visa run) to try and cheat the system, don’t! Eventually, you will get caught, and it won’t be worth it.
Here is a quick look at various visa types to help guide you in your research.
- Non-Immigrant Visa B – This is a typical work visa
- Non-Immigrant Visa IB – This is a business/investment via
- Non-Immigrant Visa O – Volunteer Visa
- Non-Immigrant Visa M – Media Visa
- Non-Immigrant Visa RS – Scientific Research Visa
- Non-Immigrant Visa EX – Skilled work for experts/specialists
- Diplomatic Visa – 3 to 6 months for diplomatic missions
- Non-Immigrant Visa O-A- For those looking to retire in Thailand. This visa allows you to stay for 1 year, with an annual renewal option. You must be over 50 years old, have no criminal record, and meet a list of financial and health requirements. You may not work in Thailand if you are residing there with this visa.
- Thailand Elite Visa – This visa could give you 5 to 20 years in Thailand. You also get special airport service, healthcare benefits, first-class accommodations, golf-club memberships, priority at immigration counters within Thailand, and more. Of course, it’s expensive, the application fee for the cheapest program is about $16,500 for a five-year stay.
Make sure that you research the relationship between your home country and Thailand to make sure there are no special restrictions or beneficial programs before deciding on which visa to apply for.
You can check out our article here about how to retire in Thailand.
How Does Health Insurance Work?
Health insurance is one of the most important factors to consider when moving to Thailand. If you are uninsured, don’t expect a hospital stay to be cheap just because you are in Thailand. A few nights in a private hospital could mean racking up thousands of dollars in bills.
Even if you are healthy, you should make sure that you are well insured. You will be far from home, in a country where you may not know the language very well, and it’s likely that you won’t have a large network of family, and friends (at first). Better health insurance is likely to mean better access to doctors who speak English.
If you are planning to stay in Thailand for longer than a vacation, but shorter than a year, you might want to check out travel insurance plans. There are emergency only plans that are relatively cheap, and more expensive plans that cover most of what a normal health insurance plan would probably cover in your home country.
Depending on what country you come from, there may be extended travel insurance offered by your government. However, if you are from an English-speaking country, that is unlikely.
For most people, buying Thai health insurance is probably your best option if you are planning on becoming an expat.
Let’s cover your options.
Private Local Insurance
These insurance plans are likely to be advertised on Thai television and other media. They will probably look familiar to private insurance plans in your country, and you should be mindful of the terms. Look out for restrictions on coverage, and be aware that your age will play a factor.
These types of plans are likely to cover any costs you will rack up while staying at a Thai hospital. Because of the relationships between local insurers and local hospitals, there will be less of need for you to fill out paper work, you can probably just show your card.
Here a few well know private local insurance companies in Thailand.
You have options when choosing a private local insurance company, and you can compare them on misterpraken.com.
Private Offshore Insurance
One of the main differences between private offshore insurance and private local insurance is the coverage limits. Private offshore insurance is better if you want access to higher quality hospitals without spilling over your coverage limit.
Another huge benefit of offshore insurance, is that some plans give you the option to return to your home country for medical care, and you can keep the plan if you move to another country.
You can check out your options at internationalinsurance.com.
The companies that provide these plans may be from companies which you are already familiar with, such as Cigna and IMG.
Travel insurance is going to be riskier, and you cannot apply for it once you are already in Thailand. The coverage is short-term, which means you can get plans up to a few years.
But if you are staying in Thailand for a few years, I highly suggest you get a more comprehensive plan, even if you are young and healthy.
The benefit of travel insurance is that it is much cheaper than the above options. But there is a reason for this, they don’t handle long term care, so you would have to return to your home country for this care (if you will be taken care of there) or pay out of pocket in Thailand.
Travel insurance is mostly just good for emergencies like spraining an ankle, or more mild illnesses like catching the flu.
Even if you are young and healthy, I wouldn’t take a risk with travel insurance, injurey and serious illness is almost always a surprise.
Social security is only relevant to you if you are legally employed in Thailand.
If you are, then 5% of your earnings will be deducted from your salary every month up to 750 baht. If you have social security you can get free medical care.
Like any government healthcare system, your options become more limited than with private insurance. This means more waiting, and doctors who might have more patients than they can handle.
You chose a local hospital to which you must visit, but the better the hospital, the more likely that spots are limited, and you will instead be assigned to one with availability.
The social security option is only a good option if you are healthy and on a super tight budget. However, since health is probably the most important ‘living expense’ on this list, it might be worth it move money from accommodation and transport, and get a private insurance plan, especially if you are someone who visits the doctor frequently.
This is an option for people who have larger families of three or more or have a company in Thailand. There is a great article on expatden.com that goes into depth on health insurance for business owners in Thailand.
Make sure to take your age, health and lifestyle into account, especially if you are planning on staying in Thailand for most of the rest of your life. It may help to visit a doctor in your own country for a physical, and talk with them about your move.
If you have the money, the best option is private insurance, hands down. You don’t want to take risks with your health, especially in a system with which you are unfamiliar.
How to Find a Place to Live in Thailand
There are several options you have when looking for a place to rent, whether it’s a house, apartment, or a condo.
- Real Estate Agent – Just like in your home country, this could significantly mitigate the time and stress it takes to find accommodation to your taste. They can even start showing you online listings before you arrive in Thailand. Most agents won’t want to work with someone planning on staying under 1 work, and make sure to have your paperwork handy. You can find a real estate agent here.
- Wander – If you are already staying in Thailand, you can always go to the area you are thinking about living and pop into some accommodation being shown.
- Online – Here is a cleverly named website bahtsold.com, that is kind of like a Thai Craig’s List, and can you help find accommodation for rent online. You can also check out the bangkokpost.com, which sometimes has listings. You can also check out house rentals ddproperty.com
Make sure to get rental insurance, or property insurance. In Thailand, if you are renting, the owner of the building should be responsible for the fundamental parts of the structure like the external walls, floors and ceilings.
But what if your apartment floods or you own the property? You can research and compare property and rental insurance at misterprakan.com.
Can I Bring a Pet?
Before you decide on bringing your dog with you, consider that Thailand’s climate may be very different from your own. It is very hot and humid, so if your four-legged friend is a Huskey, bringing him or her with you may be a health concern.
If you do bring your pet, you will need a health certificate from a veterinarian (in English) that provides the species, breed, sex, age, color, animal ID, name and address of the owner or kennel of origin. You must prove, with the certificate, the animal originated in a place where common animal diseases are controlled.
You also need to be sure it has all of the proper vaccinations.
To import your pet, you will have to fill out this form.
You are most likely flying into Thailand, so you can choose to have your pet on the same flight as you, or flown as cargo, or if they are small enough, as excess baggage (Sending your pet as ‘excess baggage’ sounds a little sad, but they don’t have to know).
Once you arrive at the airport, you will have to keep them in the box in which they traveled and arrived in, and check in with customs, and take them to the quarantine inspection area.
Keep in mind that importing your pet means you will spend an extra hour or more getting through customs.
How to Do Your Taxes in Thailand
Lucky for you, taxes in Thailand are probably lower than your home country.
There is a 7% VAT tax, and a Social Security tax you will have to pay if you are working in Thailand (5% of monthly pay up 750 Baht).
Personal income tax is broken up into tax brackets, meaning you will pay anywhere from 0% to 35% of your personal income.
- 0-150,000 baht – 0%
- 150,000-300,000 baht – 5%
- 3000,000-500,000 baht – 10%
- 500,000-750,000 baht – 15%
- 750,000-1,000,000 baht – 20%
- 1,000,000-2,000,000 baht – 25%
- 2,000,000-4,000,000 baht – 30%
- Over 4,000,000 baht – 35%
You must pay taxes in Thailand if you spend over 180 days in the country annually. If you work in Thailand you will get a work permit and tax ID, and your company will probably help you out with that. If you are not working, you will have to apply for a Tax ID.
You are able to make tax deductions on things like property insurance, so make sure to do some research on what you can write off before you do your taxes in Thailand.
Also, be mindful of any tax treaties your government has with Thailand, or any taxes your government may still impose on you while you are living in Thailand.
Traveling to Thailand
If you have yet to do much research on what city you want to live in, or what city you need to fly into, this section will help. There are a few international airports in Thailand, and chances are you will be flying into Bangkok, Chiang Mai, or Phuket.
If you do some planning and book in advance it’s possible to get a reasonably priced ticket to Thailand from most major cities in the world. According to kayak.com April is the cheapest month to fly into Thailand, and tickets become more expensive around the high season, which is from November to January.
There are plenty of excellent resources which can help you compare flights. Here are a few.
Make sure to book early, and don’t forget your pet!
How Can I Find a Job?
You may still be in the initial planning phase of moving to Thailand, and you have yet to find a job. You can land a job after you get to Thailand, while you are still there on a tourist visa, but if you are a planner, you probably want to work it out before your arrival.
Teaching English in Thailand
Teaching English in Thailand is probably the most popular job for expats because you just need to know English (for some positions), and anyone reading this article probably has that down. For that reason, I’ll spend most of this section focused on teaching English in Thailand.
Qualifications for teaching in Thailand depend on what kind of school you want to teach in. The standard will be higher for a public school or university, where you will need a bachelor’s degree, and an English teaching certificate like TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA would be a plus.
If you do decide to go the public school or university route, keep in mind that the Department of Labor or Immigration may want to see the original copy of your degree and transcripts from your university.
However, there are private schools that cater to adults, and younger students looking for extra English help. While many of these schools can be a great choice, do your research on the places you are applying to make sure that they are legitimate.
You can find job listings for teacher’s in Thailand at ajarn.com. Here you can find government and international schools, and you can post your resume for potential employers. You can also look for jobs on Facebook at the Teaching Jobs in Thailand Facebook page.
If you can speak Thai, or you find a job at an international school where English is spoken, keep in mind that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are in demand in Thailand, and they may lower the standard if you have the ability to teach these subjects.
Most teaching jobs in Thailand will offer a one-year control from April/May to March/April of the following year, which is the academic school year in Thailand, however, international schools may have a different, more western, academic calendar.
The standard amount of teaching hours in 15-20, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but keep in mind that these are teaching hours. That means hours standing in front of a classroom trying to explain grammar in English to people who may not have a strong English ability. It does not include things like lesson planning.
How much does the job pay? That’s probably the main thing you want to know. Government school’s pay about 32,000 to 40,000 baht every month, while private schools might pay a little more, up to 60,000 bath each month, and international schools pay the most, at 60,000 up to 100,000 baht at some of the best schools.
Other Job Opportunities in Thailand
Some of the more lucrative and popular industries in Thailand where expats can find work are tech, hospitality, marketing and publishing. Jobs for programmers, graphic designers, and digital marketers are in demand.
Here are some resources to help you find a job in Thailand.
- Angel – Great for finding a startup or famous company to work for. This company posts jobs all over Asia.
- Ajarn – This site posts jobs for teachers.
- ReliefWeb – Great for those looking to work for an NGO.
- ThaiHotelJob – If hospitality is your line of work, you will find job postings here.
- Marketingoops – For digital marketers looking for jobs in Thailand.
- Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand – For those looking to get into press work in Thailand.
Some of these jobs may require you to speak Thai, so start brushing up on your language skills!
Cost of Living in Thailand
If you are from an English-speaking country, then chances are that the cost of living in Thailand is significantly cheaper that where you are from. However, some expats come to Thailand and think they are going to live in luxury, only to end up spending as much as they did back home.
For that reason, cost of living will depend on your spending habits.
“I arrived here with around $5,000. This proved about enough to get set up in a cheap condo and cover my living expenses for the first 3 months before I got a paycheck. Below is a brief outline of what I spent during this time.”
While you might read about people living in Thailand for under $500 a month, that is unlikely to be true. Of course, it is possible, but your accommodations would likely be very poor and you would couldn’t eat out much, not to mention you would have probably had to skimp on health insurance.
Let’s read some more first-hand experiences for people who lived in Thailand.
“It is possible for a couple to live quite comfortably in different parts of the country for between $1,800 to $2,300 a month. Those who wish to move to the smaller towns will find that their cost of living becomes dramatically reduced the deeper into the provinces they go.”
That’s pretty cheap for couples looking to move to Thailand. While the cost of living drops when you move deeper into the country side, keep in mind that in Thailand, there is often no plumbing, and limited electricity in the country side, you should be ok with using a squat toilet with no flusher.
“In 2011, my baseline cost of living for Chiang Mai came in at $485—this number excludes visas, visa runs, personal travel, and annual travel insurance). Adjusted for 2020, as you’ll see below, many digital nomads can live on a baseline of $650 a month.”
This is on the low end of the cost of living spectrum. $650 a month might be a doable for a young person looking for adventure, and ok will sparse amenities, and roughing it a little bit. But if you are looking to live comfortably, you will likely pay more.
“They don’t keep track of every dollar so this is just an estimate, but they generally spend about $1,300/month and live quite comfortably. My dad likes to eat seafood so that’s why his food expense is so high. Locals who eat out every meal at cheap food stands or take out can probably keep it under $200/month on food.”
This person is talking about their parents that have retired to Thailand. $1,300 a month is pretty cheap for two retirees. It is possible that they receive health care benefits from their home country if they are over a certain age, or that they live in a more rural area. Also, if you are living with a partner, you split costs, which reduces the cost per person.
Expatden.com has a nifty cost of living calculator you should check out. It will help you get an idea of about how much your cost of living will be in Thailand.
How to Learn Thai
The United States Foreign Service Department released some interesting information on the amount of hours it usually takes for their employees to learn different languages.
For example, for an English speaker, learning a language more similar to English, like Danish, French, Italian, or Spanish, takes about 24-30 weeks, or (600-750) class hours. Keep in mind that these numbers are for Foreign Service Agents who are getting quality class hours focused on speaking and immersion.
However, you benefit from living, eventually, in Thailand. So, you will also be immersed in the language.
But how long does it take to learn Thai? According to the U.S. Foreign Service department, the above-mentioned languages like Danish fall into the easiest difficulty, or Category 1 languages. Thai falls into category 3, along with Greek, Farsi, Vietnamese, and many others.
Category 3 languages take approximately 44 weeks, or 1100 class hours to become fluent, or near fluent in. That’s a little under a year if you are studying for 25 hours every week. And that means actually studying and using the language.
While that may seem like a lot, keep in mind that you don’t have to be fluent in Thai to live and Thailand and interact with the locals. You can get pretty far with an intermediate, or even a beginner level of Thai.
And if makes you feel better, Category 4 languages include Japanese and Chinese which take 88 weeks, or 2200 class hours to become fluent or near fluent in. That’s double the time it takes to learn Thai!
Check out thaipod101 or read this in-depth article on learning Thai. Even if you learn a little Thai before you come, or while you are there, that will probably be the most valuable thing you can do in terms of really immersing yourself in the culture. After all, a culture is not just its food and its buildings, but the people who live there.