An Expat’s Guide to Bangkok
In a new location there is an endless list of utilities, and things you need to organize for daily life. Our consultants are on hand to guide you through the process of setting up bank accounts, getting electricity and water connected to your apartment, establishing cable TV and internet accounts. Whatever you need to start your life in Bangkok, one of our solution experts will help you through it.
Bangkok is a city that has something for everyone. With a huge community of expats, follow our advice to act like a local and settle in fast! Once you have decided to take the plunge and become an expat in Bangkok, the good news is you’re not alone. Many westerners are fascinated by the carefree lifestyle offered in Thailand, as well as it’s attraction as a fantastic holiday spot.
The first word you will hear when you touch down is farang. It’s the Thai word for foreigner, and is the common way you will be referred to in this country. There’s no disrespect in the term, it’s simply how the Thai’s classify westerners.
To stay in Thailand for any period of time you’re going to need a visa. Broadly speaking, there are two categories of visa for people coming to Thailand. Long term includes naturalisation, permanent residence, and non-immigrant visas such as work permits, marriage visas, student visas and retirement visas. Short-term options include visas on arrival, “visa runs” and tourist visas.
Depending on your situation and your dedication to staying in Thailand, you might want to consider your options in more detail. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand website has thorough descriptions of their requirements for each type of visa. As the requirements can change, please note the following are general guidelines only and we recommend you contact us, or the relevant authorities – to discuss your specific situation in detail when you are planning to come to Thailand.
Achieving permanent residence (or naturalization) is not an easy process for the typical expat. It’s quite rare to see expats in Thailand with PR or citizenship, due to the quotas in place for each nationality and some significant financial qualifications and restrictions. The typical path is to get a Non-Immigrant Visa, which has many different classes.
The typical expat who is coming here to work will apply for a Business (Non-B) Visa. Combined with a work permit this allows you to stay in Thailand for periods of 12 months at a time, and can be easily extended every year.
A work permit is required in combination with a valid visa to be able to work legally in Thailand. Normally your company that is sponsoring your Non-B Visa will also provide the documents for your work permit. Your work permit is tied to your employment, so if you change jobs you will need to update your work permit accordingly.
If you marry a Thai citizen you can apply for a Marriage visa. The requirement is that you have a minimum 400,000 baht in a Thai bank account (for a period of 60 days), or a monthly income of 40,000 baht that is verified by your embassy. The benefit with this visa is that you can also obtain a work permit on it, unlike many of the other visa classes.
Bangkok is home to some excellent universities including Chulalongkorn, Mahidol, Assumption, Thammasat and King Mongkut. All have international departments, and teach some courses exclusively in English. This is an excellent option for someone who is interested in learning about Thai language or culture. As a bonus, studying in Thailand will guarantee your stay for up to 4 years if you are an undergraduate student, and universities here are also much cheaper than in western countries.
If you’re over the age of 50, you can apply for a retirement visa provided you meet the financial qualification of having 800,000 baht in a bank account, or a monthly income of 65,000 baht.
Visa on Arrival / Visa Runs
Most westerners who arrive in Thailand will be granted a stamp-on-arrival in their passport that allows them to stay for 30 days, or in some cases up to 90 days (depending on your nationality).
One way that foreigners get around having a permanent visa is to exit Thailand’s borders for a short stay in a neighbouring country such as Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia or Malaysia – and then re-enter Thailand to claim a new stamp-on-arrival. A whole industry has emerged that enables this process, including mini-vans to the border and back. This option is a legal grey area, and in times of political uncertainty, it is not uncommon for the Thai government to block westerners who attempt to enter on consecutive stamps-on-arrival. Use some caution when exercising this option, and for what it is worth, remember that your departures and arrivals remain on your record with Thai immigration.
Tourist visas are typically granted for 90 or 180-days, and you can apply for a tourist visa in your home country. Unless you have a criminal background, (or no money), you will most likely be granted this visa. It can be difficult extending these in Thailand, but it’s a good visa to use to come for a “test drive” in Thailand, and see if you like it or not. If you decide to stay, you will be better off on one of the Non-Immigrant visa options that allow you multiple entries.
The most acceptable form of greeting is the “wai”. This is performed by putting the palms of your hands together in front of you and bowing slightly. In traditional culture this is more appropriate than a handshake, it all depends on the business you are in. Thai people use first names instead of surnames, which are preceded by “Khun” for both men and women.
“Saving face” is a common term in Asian countries, and we can liken it to keeping a good reputation. It’s very important for Thai’s to keep up appearances, but don’t generalize here – every culture does it to an extent. What it means for you as an expat is to be mindful of your actions towards Thai people. If you purposely (or inadvertently) harm a Thai person’s self-esteem, expect some form of aggressive or passive-aggressive retaliation.
On the positive side Thai people are very compassionate and if they see that you are feeling down, or have been the victim of wrongdoing, they will try to boost your self-esteem and place the blame elsewhere. But if you are the perpetrator of something negative, which could be something as harmless as speaking your mind, then don’t be surprised if you bring unwanted attention onto yourself.
Do not, under any circumstances, criticise the royal family. This refers especially to the King who is revered with the utmost respect in Thailand. This is quite common in the UK, Australia and the Commonwealth, where people openly criticise the effectiveness of the Queen.
Any criticism of the royal family in Thailand will result in charges of lèse-majesté, and either a prison sentence or expulsion.
Remember that Thailand is not a western country. People are brought up to respect authority without criticism, and many people in such positions expect this level of respect. It’s fairly unwise to speak your mind to people like government officials or policemen. In some cases the same rules apply to your boss, and you’ll find that many of your Thai staff will simply not bring their thoughts and opinions to you, and may even not speak up about problems in the workforce.
Don’t Get Involved
The best way to stay out of any possible trouble in Thailand is to stay off the radar. Let the locals deal with their own problems, in their own way, even if you think it is wrong. Try not to get involved with any disputes, and never get into a fight. You will find you end up getting the blame for causing it, and may even come out seriously injured. Don’t let this dissuade you from coming over to Thailand, you just need to be aware that as a foreigner it’s best to let the Thais deal with their own problems.
Most employers will pay you directly into your bank account. It’s easy to open a bank account in Thailand, although some banks have specific requirements for foreigners – such as being a work permit holder, having a minimum financial deposit and not taking a certain amount of currency out of the country.
The best option to find out the requirements is to just walk into a branch of one of the biggest banks. Make sure you bring your passport, and any other identification you have with you.
The most well known Thai banks are Bangkok Bank, Kasikorn Bank and Siam Commercial Bank. If you prefer a non-Thai bank, there are also Citibank and HSBC in Thailand. With them you can set up multiple currency bank accounts, and they are quite accessible with branches in the country.
According to the Thai Revenue Department, as of 2013-14 the personal income tax rates are as follows:
|Annual Income (baht)||Tax Rate (%)|
Much like western countries, there is a financial year and you are required to file an annual tax return. The financial year in Thailand begins on the 1st of October and ends on the 30th of September. For a typical expat your company will be paying your tax for you, so they will also take care of your tax return. If you need to complete this yourself your best option is to hire a Thai accountant, because many of the forms you need to fill out and provide are not in English.
Work and Culture Nuances
If you have visited Thailand before, you have probably already witnessed some practises that just don’t happen in your home country.
It’s not uncommon to see people asleep on the job, you may have needed to pay an “on the spot” fine to a policemen for a small traffic infringement, and you’ve probably negotiated the sale of t-shirt to 1/10th of its initial price. These sort of things just do not happen in the west and are part of the excitement that makes Thailand what it is.
You’ll also regularly see what westerners typically consider workplace discrimination. Thai employers normally advertise for positions based on gender, race and age, and require photographs accompanying all job applications.
Education is highly regarded in Thailand. Other than owning a business, one of the most typical professions for expats is to become an English teacher at a private language institute, public school, international school, or a university.
In order to do so, the minimum requirement is to have a bachelors degree. You do not have to be an English or Education major to teach English, you just need to be a native English speaker with a university degree. Just like in the west, postgraduate qualifications are necessary to teach in a university position. There are a number of TESOL certificates and postgraduate qualifications that provide training in teaching English too.
There is no medicare in Thailand, so for an expat you will need to find a health insurance plan. The large companies that are worth considering are Bupa Thailand, Thai Health Insurance, William Russell and NZI InterGlobal. Health care is much more affordable in Thailand than in the west, and you’ll find the premiums are much cheaper than back home.
Despite being cheaper, the health care in Thailand is of a very high standard. Our solution expert will show you the closest international hospital to your home as part of our settling in orientation.
In the event of an emergency, you can call any of the following hospitals emergency lines:
|St Louis Hospital||02-675-5000|
In a new location there is an endless list of utilities and things you need to organize for daily life. Our consultants are on hand to guide you through the process of setting up bank accounts, getting electricity and water connected to your apartment, establishing cable TV and internet accounts. Whatever you need to start your life in Bangkok, one of our solution experts will help you through it.
Expats typically send their children to international schools. The public school system teaches primarily in Thai, and offers a curriculum that is not competitive internationally. Some private schools follow a British or an American curriculum, and are another choice for your kids settling into Thailand.
The most popular schools are:
- Bangkok Patana School
- International School Bangkok
- NIST International School
- Harrow International School Bangkok
- Shrewsbury International School
- The American School of Bangkok
- International Community School in Bangkok
In an emergency, the last thing you want to be doing is scrambling to find details. The most common emergency services you may need and their contact details are as follows:
|Ambulance and Rescue||1554|
|Police and Fire Brigade||199|
|Emergency Police Services||191|
|Tourist Police||1155 (speaks English, French and German)|
The expatriate community in Bangkok is thriving, and you can find events on most weeks to meet with new people and network with like-minded international professionals.
The most active chambers of commerce and community groups are:
- American Chamber of Commerce
- Australian Chamber of Commerce
- Australian New Zealand Women’s Group (ANZWG)
- Bangkok Mothers and Babies International (BAMBI)
- British Chamber of Commerce
- New Zealand Chamber of Commerce
- South African Chamber of Commerce
There are a number of well-established internet forums for Thai expats too, which have a wealth of information and active communities ready to answer questions that you might have. The most popular is Thai Visa but new and growing communities are springing up all over the web.
In line with this is a large group of people (primarily in Bangkok), that create fun and regular events through MeetUp. You can find groups dedicated to entrepreneurship in Thailand, volunteering or simply likeminded people who like to go out to the movies. There is also a big sporting scene, and the chambers of commerce can direct you to many amateur groups to play rugby, football, soccer – whatever your sport of choice!
Finally, as follows are some helpful guides and information that will make your stay in Thailand a breeze:
- Bangkok Travel Guide
- Latest news and events @ BK Magazine
- Directory and general information on life in Bangkok from AngloInfo
- Bangkok Post
- The Nation Online
- Food by Phone, the largest home delivery service
As well as the flowing paperback resources:
- Bangkok Guide
- Fodor’s Travel Guide
- Working with the Thai’s
- Thai’s Mean Business
- Thailand Start-up Guide
- Berlitz Thai Phrasebook
- Culture Shock Thailand
Come and enjoy all of the wonderful sights this city has to offer, and you’ll soon find yourself loving Bangkok as much as the locals do!