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An Expat's Guide to Living Abroad in Bangkok, Thailand

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Maddie Turk
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I never considered myself a city girl. Then I look back and the 3 places I’ve lived have been relatively large cities. Now, for nearly 3 years, I have lived in the 2nd largest city in southeast Asia, Bangkok.

It was never my desire to live in large metropolitan cities but somehow I've drifted towards them. Whether it was for school or a boy, but not just any boy, my now-husband. Moving abroad for love might not be the most common reason to move abroad but it is how I ended up living in Thailand.

We have treated Bangkok as our home since we moved here and look forward to many years to come.

Here are 8 things all expats planning on living abroad in Bangkok should know before they move.

1. A breakdown of areas to live in the city

I’m more familiar with downtown Bangkok than the outskirts. For that reason, I usually associate locations with the train stations.

I live in an area called Asoke and it is the main and busiest intersection, where both (MRT & BTS) of the train lines meet. You can say it is the Time Square of Bangkok. The closer you are to the main road, Sukhumvit, where the BTS (Bangkok Train System) runs, it tends to be more expensive.

We chose to move here after seeing 16 different condos, this was the best spot for us because my husband walks across the street to work and really hates the idea of commuting. Luckily after we moved here I found my job and it is only 3 train (BTS) stations away and is very convenient.

If you want to be in the “main” busy, city life areas, then that is mostly in downtown Bangkok from the stations of Chit Lom to On Nut BTS.

My husband and I have lived in Asoke ever since we moved here but there are times where I wished we lived outside of the hustle and bustle in a more low-key area where you can find quirky characteristics such as Ari.

view of the city center of Bangkok on a sunny afternoon
The view from our apartment

2. Tips to find an apartment

Typically, most expats agree that you shouldn't sign any lease or commit to any housing before you move to the city. It's always best you first check out the area and the apartment or house before you sign a lease.

The best way to get a feel for your new country is to rent an AirBnB or check-in to a hotel in an area you're interested in living in. That way you can spend ample time in the neighborhood and then decide if it's a place you'd like to live in long-term. During that time, I also recommend you check out other neighborhoods. You might be surprised at how different places can be once you're actually there.

It's also important to keep in mind that what most people consider a great place to stay while on holiday might greatly differ from a great place to live. In my experience, the tourist areas are not the best places to move, although they're the common areas you hear about when reading travel guides.

Although it's not a very common practice in Thailand, in some circumstances your work will provide you a place to live. If that's the case, it's usually easier to take what they give you but if you'd prefer, you might be able to negotiate an extra stipend for housing in exchange for the housing they offer.

In our case, we had help from my husband's company where they provided us a realtor agent to help us with our search.

Agents usually don’t cost anything and get a commission from the condo once signed. I highly suggest using one. This isn't just the case in Thailand but throughout Southeast Asia.

It will save you time and avoid any miscommunication since there is usually a language barrier when you try to do it on your own. Our realtor worked for CBRE Thailand. You can check out their site here. They were really great to work with.

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3. Tips to finding a job

I moved here for my husband's job and started teaching English online until I found a full-time job. Teaching English online is a great side gig to have regardless of your employment status. You can scale this job to work as much or as little as you'd like, especially with teaching platforms like VIPKID.

I would say LinkedIn is the most promising job hunt platform I came across. These tips to find a job abroad via LinkedIn were really helpful while I searched for a job.

I wasn’t interested in looking for teaching jobs but everyone assumes when a foreigner has a job in Southeast Asia, it is mostly teaching. I luckily applied for a job that turned to an interview at another company. It was an intense interview process but I have been at the company for over 2.5 years.

If you're hoping to get hired, not as an English teach, be patient and apply to whatever jobs you can. You'll get something!

If you are though hoping to teach English in Thailand, read this guide about finding a teaching job in Thailand.

A woman sitting on the steps of a museum with a view of the stained glass roof above her
Explore the beautiful Erwawan Museum!

4. Fun things to do in Bangkok

It is difficult to think about what it was like before COVID!

Within Bangkok, there are many places to see and several weekly events. I usually navigate to Facebook and search under “events” or see what is happening this weekend from BK magazine.

Although, I do miss Happy Hours and the social scene after work, it is usually a late-night scene here for tourists.

There are many unique cocktail bars but you will pay $9 USD a drink on average. There are many markets, festivals, ladies' nights, fitness classes, and more.

Bangkok is a large city but I would say it is fairly slow for the number of people. Yes, traffic is horrendous but not as bad as Manila or Jakarta.

Another great thing about Bangkok is the number of flights that go in and out. I never got the opportunity to travel outside the US until I came here. To fly domestically to islands such as Krabi, Phuket, and Chiang Mai is very affordable and doable for a weekend escape. There is a great mixture of scenery throughout Thailand.

You can’t go wrong or run out of things to do. 

two friends at a busy outdoor market in Bangkok, Thailand
Enjoying Chatuchak Market on a Saturday! #preCOVID

5. The "boring but important" legalities to live in Thailand

In the past, it was common to find people living and working here on tourist visas. Mostly this practice was ignored by authorities. You could simply do a "visa run" to renew your tourist visa by quickly crossing the border and coming back in when needed. Some people didn't even bother to renew their visa and usually didn't run into any problems.

The government has tightened up though on penalizing people who stay over 30 days with a fine when they travel and are without a visa. Also, it is tough to get a working permit even for companies but that is required to work here.

To get a cell plan, you need a work permit. Although, if your phone is unlocked then you can purchase a SIM card at any 7/11. 

You can apply for a tourist visa which can range for a certain amount of time and about $30 USD. Here is a link for more info.

If you're planning to move to Thailand to study abroad or to learn Thai, you might be eligible for the Thai ED Visa. Find out the requirements and how to apply here.
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6. Quality of life as an expat

I am from California and my husband was born and raised in Bangkok before he moved to Texas for his degree. He figured out after 2 years working in the US, the opportunities are better abroad.

We are not in a rush to move back to the US because we feel the quality of life is quite strong here. Healthcare, hospitality, household help, transportation, international schools are top-notch and not super expensive.

I would say it is safe here as well.

An American expat living in Thailand holding two plates of Thai street food
Trying out yummy and SPCIY street food on Yaowarat Rd

7. General cost of living in Bangkok

The cost of living in Bangkok will greatly depend on your lifestyle. If you enjoy eating Thai food and are happy to eat locally or if you like to cook and do your shopping at the market, your expenses will most likely be much cheaper than your home country. On the other hand, if you're not interested in shopping, eating or entertaining yourself how locals do, your cost of living will be much higher.

If you lived in western countries before and tried to copy your life here, you would start to see how things add up quickly and are 2-3x more expensive since most things are imported and taxed.

Wine for example, what an expense! A decent bottle on average costs about 1k bht which is $30 USD. Quality hair and nail salons are about the same cost as in the US.

Luckily, many condos here are fully furnished so that saved us money but if you want to furnish your own home, furnishing is expensive. 

To give you a more detailed example of cost of living in Bangkok, here is an article which has been updated recently.

A woman wearing a long red skirt posing for the camera at a big, open train station
Waiting for my train at Hua Lamphong train station

8. A few more things all expats should know before moving here

I think I was prepared well enough before we moved since my husband has family here and speaks Thai. As much as I have tried to speak Thai, it is difficult for me.

I believe once you learn to speak the native language you feel more at home and treated with more respect. 

I do most of my shopping when I go back to the US and I think many others do. My clothes, hair products, makeup, I try to wait and hold off until I travel back home once a year. It saves me money and there are a lot more options than what is offered here.

The malls are spectacular but again, comes with a price. They are pretty luxurious but offer shops such as Zara and H&M as well.

Bangkok is an amazing city to live as a foreigner. I hope you enjoy the city as much as I have.

xx,
Maddie

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