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Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand

Tim Newton

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There will be bumps along the way between your visits to the beach, bar and immigration office (sometimes the bumps will be at the beach, bar and immigration office). Expat life is what you make of it here in the Land of Smiles. Moaning about it never helps but accepting the bumps is part of the adventure. Here are our Top Ten Hard Truths for expats in Thailand.

1. Visas can be a pain in the neck

You have plenty of options but the options never quite fit into your line of work or expectations. Between the Non-B visa, ‘Retirement’ visa, Education visa, Tourist visa, Elite visa and Smart visa, along with a few visa runs and trips to your local immigration office, you can usually fernangle a long-term stay in Thailand (yes, we know we used nick names for some of the visas).

One way or the other you will need to keep your paperwork up to date as the fines and penalties for over-stays and visa problems can be quite harsh and difficult to negotiate your way around these days. There’s plenty of good information on the net about visas but, despite what you read, interpretation may be different on the day you visit the local office and depending who you end up speaking too.

At the end of the day, ask yourself how difficult is it for Thai citizens to live in your country…

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

2. You call it corruption, they call it business

You are a guest in a foreign country. Thailand has a long history of independence and hasn’t been tainted with a lot of western influence. Unlike Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia. Philippines and India (just to list a few countries around Thailand), there has never been western colonisation of the Kingdom. Most Thais will be delighted to remind you of this proud fact. The down-side is that your perception of western efficiencies and customs are going to be challenged whenever you want to do just about anything.

There will be times when you will be asked, or invited, to put your hand in your pocket to get something happening – it could be a building project, a visa, getting your accounting done or getting a signature on a contract.

If you are running a business in Thailand you’ll be invited to ‘contribute’ more often than if you’re just living the single life here. Be shocked, be angry, be determined to point out your distaste about corruption – it’s not going to change a system and business culture that’s been in place for generations. It’s also unlikely to change much during your time in the Kingdom.

The laws and penalties are changing but the customs concerning corruption will take generations to catch up.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

Speaking of business…

3. Thais love paperwork

Thais and Thai bureaucracy loves paperwork. You will be bewildered by the amount of paperwork generated for the most simple tasks. We’ve decided that there must be a huge building somewhere in Thailand that just holds mountains of paperwork that will never, ever be seen again. Despite computers, modern banking and the concept of the ‘paperless office’, you will see paperwork generated at the expense of perfectly good trees in quantities difficult to fathom.

How about 32 A4 pages of paperwork for changing one brake disc on a 12 year old Honda Jazz? Watch in wonder as the photostat machines and bubble-jet printers churn out paper you probably can’t even read and get placed into files that will likely never be read by anyone else, ever.

The problems with completely useless paperwork extend from the 7 Eleven receipt to small businesses, keeping administrators employed who process and shuffle paperwork around as a daily chore.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

4. Business can be an adventure and very challenging

Despite a US NGO voting Thailand as one of the best places to start a business in Asia (try and hold back your laughter), starting a business in Thailand can be 1) challenging 2) an adventure 3) bewildering 4) perhaps impossible. Or all four at once.

It will also be expensive.

Free you mind of anything you’ve learned in the west about starting a business, jump onto Google and find a good local administration person or lawyer. Do it all yourself at your peril.

Just because the Thai GF can pour a beer or ‘knows someone’ is no guarantee that things will go smoothly. Running a Thai business never ever goes the way you plan. Ever. Between your visas, business registration, Labour Office, Department of this and that, accountants and your Thai staff, is a wall of red tape, twists, turns and WTFs that will test your resolve.

You will also be signing an astonishing amount of pieces of paper you don’t understand, hundreds and hundreds of times.

The effort is usually all worth it but you’ve been warned! Dot your ‘i’s and cross your ’t’s and check everything thoroughly before you sign a document. And then do it again.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

5. Two-tier pricing

Go to a small local restaurant in any holiday area and there will likely be several versions of the menu – one for locals and one for tourists – you’ve probably never noticed. Of course the menu for the tourists has the same food listed at higher prices.

Then go to any national park in Thailand and the entry price can be as much as 1000% higher for ‘farang’ and tourists. It’s just a fact of life, much-debated, and you probably just need to accept it. If you do confront a two-tier pricing issue from time to time get out your Work Permit or local drivers licence and the higher price is usually waived. But not always. Or start crying, that sometimes works too.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

6. Bar girls don’t love you

The 20-something bar girl with the short skirt and fetching smile probably doesn’t love you.

Whilst many westerners seem to gravitate to Thailand to indulge in the local pleasures of the flesh, a long term relationship and partner may take more time to cultivate than a round of expensive drinks and some small talk with a bar girl whose vocabulary will likely range between the cost of drinks and routine pleasantries… Ka. You’ll have better luck on Tinder or, heaven forbid, taking a lady out on a date and actually getting to know her.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

7. But that’s not how I did it last time!

Immigration rules, negotiating with police, business rules, road rule enforcement. The way you tackle some of these day-to-day little ‘impediments’ should be treated as a single adventure and not to be referred to in the future as the-way-things-are-done. Whilst Thailand has well-described rules, regulation and laws relating to just about everything, they are often applied and enforced in a way that may appear unfair or inconsistent. Or not at all.

The way police negotiate who was responsible at an accident may be different every time. It used to be folk lore that if there’s any issue to be sorted out between a Thai and a foreigner, the Thai will always come out ahead.

From personal experience I would say that’s no longer the case but always be prepared to ‘wing it’ in any given situation. If there are going to be police or the law involved best to get someone speaking Thai, the local Tourist Police or someone in-the-know to help you wade through potential problems. If it’s a serious matter, don’t say anything or give anyone anything until you’ve contacted your embassy or local consulate.

The 24 hour phone number for Tourist Police around Thailand is 1155.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

8. Don’t lose your cool

Stamp your feet, raise your voice, point at the absurdity of the situation over and over. I can guarantee it will make absolutely no change to the final outcome. Losing your cool will simply not help any situation and will likely inflame it further, to your detriment.

Ask for the manager, describe your point-of-view in exquisite detail on a sheet of paper, get out the finger puppets or turn to Google Translate – go for it. But do it quietly, with a smile.

Never lose your temper and try not to raise your voice because it’s just not the Thai way.

1) They will smile in silence whilst you point out that their website said something completely different

2) They will go and discuss the matter with other staff and come back to you with precisely the same answer they gave you in the first place

3) They will listen to your rant and think you are completely insane without actually saying so

4) They will simply walk away whilst you are just getting warmed up

5) They will get angry… you NEVER want that to happen, you’ll come off second best every time.

Jai yen.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

9. The road toll in Thailand is appalling

Despite their generally affable nature, great food and endless smiles, Thais don’t do the driving thing well. And it’s dangerous. Thailand has been listed amongst the top 10 most dangerous places to drive in the world for the last decade. Currently Number 4 as reported by the WHO, 2019.

If you are in a car your chances improve a lot. If you’re older or female, the odds improve further in your favour. If you are on a motorbike but wear a helmet, you’ve also improved your chances of surviving Thailand’s roads. If you’re older than 24 you’re already 50% less likely to have a fatal motorbike accident.

Christmas/New Year and Songkran (Thai new year in the middle of April) are the times of the year when Thais wipe themselves off their roads in astonishing numbers and all the police checkpoints, Government media releases and changes to laws do little to curb the carnage.

The biggest contributor to this national disgrace is drunk driving with speeding coming a close second. Despite almost draconian laws on alcohol advertising, the message about drink driving simply isn’t sinking in. Attitudes and a commitment to enforcement is slowly changing but it’s a long-tough road ahead for the people of Thailand to tackle their shameful road toll.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

10. Queues (or ‘lines’ if you’re American)

Queues and waiting in line are just a part of modern Thai life. Whether it’s waiting in the Immigration queue at the airport or your local office, at the local convenience store or at a public hospital, your wait is just a function of all the other systems that lead to inefficiencies and delays.

It might be well argued that it’s not only Thailand where queues have become a part of life but in Thailand many situations seem quite easy to fix, at least to the person waiting in line (who usually has plenty of time to contemplate solutions).

Even though Immigration queues have improved over the past 12 months, you can still be waiting for an hour to get through immigration at any Thai airport if you arrive just after 5 Chinese or Russian charter flights. But it’s usually managed with a smile once you get your moment in front of the camera for your photo and fingerprint ID.

Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

So what can you do with many of these challenges? In most cases, keep smiling, take a deep breath and remember why you came to live in Thailand in the first place. Despite the thousand and one little annoyances and inconsistencies, it’s still a wonderful place to live.

A few days on the ThaiVisa forum would make you think that all expats ever do is whinge and complain about life in the Land of Smiles. It’s a bad example of expat life and most of us find our way through these challenges with a bit of patience, grace, a good book or a smartphone with a full charge.

We are, after all, guests in the Kingdom of Thailand and it’s up to us to find a way around THEIR systems, as best we can.

There is an airport nearby, in most cases, with multiple flights out of the country if you’re truly aggrieved by any situation. Get some good local friends around you, do some research before you embark on any new task and keep an eye on your rear-view mirror.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    airbagwill

    February 2, 2018 at 10:58 am

    A cliche-ridden article shallow, that has a few good soundbites (I like the expression – “2. YOU CALL IT CORRUPTION. THEY CALL IT BUSINESS.”), but basically it says nothing new or in a new way. – a case of the “bleedin’ obvious” for the most part.
    The paragraph on “driving” is of course completely misinformed, and I guess that may be on a par with the premises for his other observations?

    apart from a few people being able to say “I told you so” – when in actual fact all they mean is “I agree” I don’t see the article brings anything new to the debate.

  2. Avatar

    codered911

    February 2, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    Firstly, I would say thank you posting this article.
    For guys already or thinking about reside in Thailand may find it useful/informative…more or less…
    This my few cents worth of thoughts…
    1) For getting your visa I have not had any issues since the beginning..thought I’m a newbie…
    is about trying to get things right the first time…i.e. getting the right forms to fill and have all relevant documents copied and ready…etc
    is about trial and error…learn as you go…
    you may have to go back and forth though you have already make enquiry the first time. you may not get your answer 100%
    Most of all be polite and friendly…smile keep your cool as it’s been said “jai yen yen”
    2) As for driving my personal experiences here is…drive with all your senses alert always 100%
    I called it defensive driving. Try not or not at all sound your horn though you have the right of way.
    3) I guess as the saying goes…learn…think and live like the locals…try not to bring your own culture or habits…
    Cheers!!!

  3. Avatar

    rehana webster

    September 7, 2020 at 9:10 am

    great article. thanks.

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Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2012. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for nearly 40 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program, presented 3,900 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 450 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and is now the General Manager and writer for The Thaiger. He's reported for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue.

Events

Pattaya Fireworks Festival hoped to boost economy over upcoming weekend

The Thaiger

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Pattaya Fireworks Festival hoped to boost economy over upcoming weekend | The Thaiger

The Pattaya Fireworks Festival is approaching with many hoping it will boost the economy over the upcoming weekend. Stacked with long fireworks shows and some hotels offering promotional fares for advance bookings, officials say they hope it will wake up the weekend as Thais and foreigners alike take part in the annual short list festival.

The festival runs over November 27 and 28.

Most hotels, particularly set on the beach, have created limited promotional room rates with some offering package deals. Pubs, restaurants, and food vendors will surely benefit from the festival as the international air travel restriction has made it difficult to keep their businesses alive.

Pattaya Fireworks Festival hoped to boost economy over upcoming weekend | News by The Thaiger

SOURCE: The Pattaya News

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Events

PTT pays millions in compensation after Samut Prakan gas pipeline explosion

Caitlin Ashworth

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PTT pays millions in compensation after Samut Prakan gas pipeline explosion | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Thai PBS

The Thai petrol company PTT paid millions of baht in compensation to those affected by the Samut Prakan natural gas pipeline explosion last month which killed 3 people and injured more 60 people.

The explosion at an industrial estate in the Bang Bo district killed 3 people, including 2 elderly women, and severely injured 10 people. Another 21 people were admitted to the hospital for less severe injuries and 43 others were slightly hurt from the explosion. Homes and cars were damaged from the fire.

5 million baht was paid to each of the families of the deceased, according to PTT president and CEO Auttapol Rerkipoon, who met with the families as well as victims injured in the explosion to make the payouts. PTT paid 500,000 baht to those severely injured, 200,000 baht to those hospitalised for less severe injuries and 50,000 baht to those with only slight injuries.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Events

Bangkok locations for Loy Krathong – float away the woes of 2020

Maya Taylor

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Bangkok locations for Loy Krathong – float away the woes of 2020 | The Thaiger

The Loy Krathong festival is tonight, this year coinciding with Halloween. If you’re living in Bangkok you’re spoiled for choice with launching locations.

There is no equivalent word in English for ‘krathong’. You might hear it described as a small boat or vessel. Many shops, market and roadside stalls will display ready-made krathongs, or in parts so you can assemble and decorate to create your very own krathong. Try and steer away from the polystyrene ones with bits of plastic and lots of pins. They will end up washed up on some riverbank or lakeside as pollution – dangerous to fish, animals and you.

Loy Krathong is a festival celebrated annually throughout Thailand The name could be translated as “to float a basket”, and comes from the tradition of making krathong or buoyant, decorated baskets, which are then floated on a river or water catchment. Loy Krathong takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar so the exact date of the festival changes every year.

Authorities are also urging people to avoid the new craze of “edible” Krathongs this year. Using bread and other edible products can become a problem for the catchments’ ecology and may even kill the fish if they try and eat too much of it. Bread also doesn’t float very well!

Here’s a useful guide with a few options to launch your environmentally-friendly krathong. How to make a krathong? Below…

Bangkok locations for Loy Krathong - float away the woes of 2020 | News by The Thaiger

Chao Phraya River – The River Festival 2020
Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river is hosting another three-day party, with ten piers participating in krathong workshops, arts and crafts, and Loy Krathong rituals at nearby Buddhist temples. A free shuttle boat will connect the different piers. Check out the Facebook page for more information.

Bangkok locations for Loy Krathong - float away the woes of 2020 | News by The Thaiger

Asiatique
If you’re ready to experience Loy Krathong the way the locals do, head to Asiatique, the riverfront night market, which is where you will find the biggest crowds and some impressive shows. Traffic in the area will be very bad and there’ll be long queues to take the shuttle boat in front of Saphan Taksin BTS Station.

The Temple Fair
Head to Wat Saket for its long-running temple fair, popular with Bangkok residents for decades. Buddhist merit-making rites take place at the top of the hill, while at the bottom, you can enjoy weird and wonderful street food and a carnival-like atmosphere. Check more details HERE.

Bangkok locations for Loy Krathong - float away the woes of 2020 | News by The Thaiger

The Park
Around 30 of the city’s parks will be open for Loy Krathong but note that alcohol is prohibited. You can float your krathong at Lumpini Park, Chatuchak Park or Benchasiri Park among others. A major park celebration will be held under the east bank of Rama VIII bridge and near the Sam Yot MRT, at Khlong Ong Ang.

The Universities
Chulalongkorn, Thammasat and Kasetsart universities, and others, are holding Loy Krathong celebrations this year. Chulalongkorn will open its pond to the public but note that only small candle krathongs are permitted. The Tha Prachan campus at Thammasat host an afternoon fair, with participants invited to bring environmentally friendly krathongs. Kasetsart will hold a similar event in the evening. All universities will have food stalls and entertainment on offer. Check university websites for details.

The Romantic Date
Couples who want to avoid the crowds and have a quieter celebration may want to head to the riverside arts centre, The Jam Factory. After setting your krathong afloat, grab some popcorn and enjoy a couple of Thai movies being screened outdoors on a vintage projector. Free entry.

Hotels
Just about every hotel in Bangkok will be hosting some sort of Loy Krathong event. If they’got a pool, be assured the staff will be decked out in traditional Thai finery, and you’ll be invited to float a Krathong. Many of the events will have a charge and include dinner or buffet.

Or make you own and launch it in the bath

Happy Loy Krathong!

SOURCE: Khaosod English

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