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Top Ten 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 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 ARE A PAIN IN THE NECK

You have plenty of options but the options never quite fit into your line of work or expectations. But 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 for over-stays and visa problems can be quite aggressive 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…

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 the countries around Thailand), there has never been western colonisation of the Kingdom. And 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 more often than if you’re just living the single life here. Be shocked, be angry, be determined to point out your isses with corruption – it’s not going to change a system that has been in place for generations and unlikely to change much during your time in the Kingdom.

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 you can’t even start to imagine. How about 32 A4 pages of paperwork for changing one brake disc in 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.

4. BUSINESS IS A CHALLENGE

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. Free you mind of anything you’ve learned in the west about starting a business, jump onto Google and find a good local Admin. 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. 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.

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. Off course the menu for the tourists has the same food listed at higher. 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.

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 getting to know her.

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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. The way police negotiate who was responsible at an accident will be different everytime. It used to be folk lore that if 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.

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. Ak 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 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 at you 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.

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 Depending on which list of stats you want to believe, Thailand is either the most dangerous or the second most dangerous country to drive in the world. 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. Christmas/New Year and Songkran (Thai new year) 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.

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 quit easy to fix, at least to the person waiting in line (who usually has plenty of time to contemplate solutions).

Immigration queues at airports are becoming longer even though the well-publicised delays have been acknowledged, more computers installed and more staff trained. You can be waiting for an hour to get through immigration at any Thai airport with only half the stations staffed and spare staff standing behind passport control drinking coffee and checking their Facebook. But it’s all managed with a smile once you get your moment in front of the funny pod camera for your photo.

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 Thai Visa 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 away 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 locals around you, do some research before you embark on any new task and keep an eye on your rear-view mirror.

- Tim Newton

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 2,800 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 330 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and now produces digital media for The Thaiger and Phuket Gazette.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. 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. 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. sowhat

    March 15, 2018 at 1:33 pm

    “2. YOU CALL IT CORRUPTION. THEY CALL IT BUSINESS.”-
    There is no you call it this, they call it that. Corruption is corruption.

  4. almost megabuck

    April 16, 2018 at 5:29 am

    When I buy any merchandise through Amazon.com, I rely on strictly on negative comments which are mostly not fake. Learned it hard way. This is the second non-positive writing about Thailand after googling over three months. I value your blog higher than all others I’ve read. Firstly i appreciate, and secondly I thank you for that. And it gives me enough insight. I know how old traditional third world is and got so sick of it. And definitely don’t want to go back. I am staying where i am. Thank you again.

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Pattaya: 19th SingSiam war games in the Gulf of Thailand

The Thaiger

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PHOTOS: trattoday.com

Military exercises are taking place in the northern Gulf of Thailand between Sattahip and Koh Samui.

Col. Anthony Lee, commander of Singapore’s 188th Squadron, and Rear Adm. Thawatchai Muangkham, commander of the Thai Frigate Squadron, were on site for the 19th war games at the Sattahip Naval Base.

“The SingSiam games give Thai forces a chance to improve their strength and strategic training, including how to detect submarines, battle on the surface and defend air attacks. It also teaches the crews to cooperate with foreign allies,” said Rear Adm. Thawatchai Muangkham.

Ships and aircraft used included the Super Lynx Helicopter, DoMier 228 aircraft, F-27 MK 200 striker aircraft and the RSS Vigour, RSS Sovereignty and more. This year’s war games included aviation assault and support, defense at sea, target shooting, inspections, rescue missions at sea in the air, coordination, disaster prevention and more.

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Pattaya

Four crew plucked out of the water after freight ship sinks in Gulf of Thailand

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Four crew members of a freight ship that sank near Koh Si Chang in Chon Buri province late on Wednesday were rescued, officials said.

Phithak Watanapongpaisal, director of the marine traffic and safety of Laem Chabang deep sea port, said his centre was alerted at 11.40pm that the Phattara Marine 6 boat with 72 containers had sank near Koh Thai Ta Muen, which is located south of Koh Si Chang.

Phithak said the four crew members were plucked out of the waters shortly after the accident and rescuers managed to retrieve 20 out of 72 containers. He said it might take three days to retrieve all the containers.

Scuba divers have plugged the oil tank of the boat to prevent leakage, he added. The accident occurred after the ship had left Laem Chabang and was heading to Bangkok Port.

STORY: The Nation

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Pattaya

Two more Chinese airlines flying into Pattaya

The Thaiger

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PHOTO: Planespotters.net

More Chinese airlines heading to Thailand. This time they’re adding services to the eastern seaboard.

Two Chinese airlines are headed to U-tapao airport, 36 km south of Pattaya.

Donghai Airlines is flying from Wanzhou to U-tapao, while Kunming Airlines is launching a service from Kunming this July.

Donghai Airlines is already flying three times a week to U-tapao (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) using Boeing 737-800 series aircraft.

Wanzhou city is on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River in China with a population of a round 1,75 million residents. Wanchou district borders Sichuan to the northwest and Hubei to the southeast.

Owned by Sichuan Airlines, Donghai Airlines is also expanding with a flight to Darwin, Australia as well as U-tapao in Rayong, Thailand. The airline is aiming to expand its fleet to 120 aircraft by 2025, including Boeing 787 Dreamliners, additional Boeing 737-800s and Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

Meanwhile, Kunming Airlines is adding its U-tapao service effective July 1, four times a week.

The flights are on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and geared to the holiday package market in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province.

Partly owned by Shenzhen Airlines, Kunming Airlines already flies from Kunming to Hat Yai.

Yunnan  is the closest Chinese province to Thailand sharing a border with northwest Laos near the town of Luang Namtha. The Chinese province was a founding member of the Greater Mekong Sub-region Tourism Working Group along with five countries – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

Jet Photos

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