Read this first if you’re considering it
There are many great reasons to move to Thailand. The people are friendly, the weather is (mostly) great, prices are cheap, and there is a generally relaxed vibe.
But even though Thailand always makes the top 10 “best places to retire” lists, there are some drawbacks to living there. Many Westerners that moved to Thailand do nothing but complain. For some people, it can be a real culture shock.
Thailand is not a Western country, so don’t expect Western way to prevail there. To make a success of living in Thailand you need to adapt to the culture. If you can’t do that you’ll end up just another unhappy expat.
Here are the top 5 gripes I hear:
#1 — Immigration
This can be good or bad depending on your circumstances. There are some annoying aspects though, even if you have all your paperwork in order.
If you’re willing to pay for an Elite visa (starts at around $20,000 for 5 years) or have enough savings for a retirement visa you shouldn’t have many immigration issues. If you’re outside that group you may find that the immigration system can be a bit of a nightmare at times. They have certainly clamped down on loopholes in recent years.
But the number 1 issue that bugs most expats is the 90-day reporting system. If you stay in Thailand for longer than 90 days you need to report your address to immigration. That doesn’t sound too bad though, does it? But get this. You’ll need to report your address EVERY 90 days even if you live at the same address.
Some expats have lived in the same property in Thailand for over 20 years. They still need to report their address every 90 days. Unless the system is scrapped you will have to do this for the rest of your life if you live there. Report it a day late and you’ll be fined 2,000 baht (around $60). I know because it happened to me.
There is an online reporting system that is great if it works, but it often doesn’t. If you live in Bangkok you need to travel to the next province to report your address, as the main immigration office that covers Bangkok is across the border in Nonthaburi.
#2 — Buying property
If you rent a property or want to buy a condo, this isn’t an issue at all. But many expats want to buy a house. In Thailand, you’re not allowed to own a house as a foreigner. Or, as the pedantic expats like to point out, you can own a house but not the land that it’s built on.
There are ways around this such as getting a 30-year lease or buying via a company, but some of these methods are loopholes that could be closed at any time.
If you’re married to a Thai partner you can buy the house in their name, although that can lead to huge problems if you break up.
Foreigners can legally own a condo but only as long foreigners don’t own more than 40% of the total floor space in the condo building. This can lead to dual pricing in areas that are popular with expats. For example, if there are 100 condos of the same size in a building, foreigners can only own 49 of them. The other 51 need to be owned by Thais.
So, if the foreign quote is already full you’ll likely need to pay a premium to buy from another foreigner. If the area is not popular with Thais this can lead to big price differences between condos owned by foreigners and Thais.
Another issue is that property can be very difficult to sell. This is especially true in resort towns where many estates are sold mainly to foreigners.
#3 — Pollution
This is something that most foreigners don’t seem to know about. During certain times of the year, many parts of Thailand become extremely polluted. This includes Bangkok and Chiang Mai, two cities popular with expats. If you have any breathing difficulties, Thailand may not be a great place for you to live. During the pollution season, you may have to resort to wearing an N95 mask whenever you’re outside.
#4 — Flooding
Thailand suffers from flooding most years. It’s worse in some areas than others, but can be pretty bad if you get caught up in it.
Above is an image of my wife’s village. The whole village and surrounding areas were flooded for around 2 months in 2011.
I lived in Bangkok at the time of these floods and it was thought that the whole central district would flood. People built walls in front of their shops and houses, and there were sandbags piled up all over the city.
In the condo I rented at the time, they advised us to stock up on water. If the street got flooded and the water got contaminated the condo building would only have 3 days supply of clean water from the tanks. We were told we might need to defecate in plastic bags and place the bags on the roof. It was that serious. Luckily, the central districts avoided most of the flooding.
#5 — Banking
Another issue that can affect your life in Thailand is banking. It can be quite difficult to open a bank account there as a foreigner. Many bank staff claim that you need a work permit in order to open a bank account. If you don’t work in Thailand, you won’t have a work permit.
All of this varies depending on the bank, the branch, and even the staff member you deal with. The general advice for foreigners is to head to a head office branch or just go from branch to branch until you find one that will open an account for you.
Most branch staff only speak Thai. If a foreigner turns up wanting to open an account they will often be told that it can’t be done. They just don’t want the hassle of dealing with a foreigner. If you’re American some banks won’t want you at all because dealing with FACTA is too expensive for them.
The above is not meant to put you off, but to inform you of issues you may have. All the above issues can be overcome if you keep calm and go with the flow.
I only spend part of the year in Thailand, so these issues don’t bother me. I already have everything I need set up and working smoothly.