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Life in Thailand: An expat couple on relocating to the ‘Land of Smiles’

In 2013, Chris Scott and Angela Scott left their nine-to-five jobs in Northern Virginia, U.S. in pursuit of a better life in the ‘Land of Smiles’ – Thailand.

Creators of ‘Tieland to Thailand’, Chris and Angela share their experiences of taking the plunge and moving to their new home, Chiang Mai, and reflect upon the ups and downs of expat life.

Why did you decide to move to Thailand and for how long have you lived abroad?

“We half-jokingly said we wanted to leave behind the office life and retire young, but we knew we had to live somewhere with a low cost of living. After considering several countries in South America and Southeast Asia, we settled on Thailand.

“Not only is it extremely affordable, which allows us to live comfortably within our means, but it is also safe, and has warm temperatures year-round and delicious local cuisine. We’ve been living here for five and a half years - and counting - sharing our travel and expat life experiences on our blog.”

What does the term ‘wellness’ mean to you? And what, if anything, are you doing to achieve it?

“For us, ‘wellness’ encompasses mental and physical health. To achieve this, we do our best to eat a healthy diet that is mostly cooked at home. We also exercise regularly and destress through walks, yoga, and massages. We have a small but close group of friends that we share expat life’s ups and downs with.”

View of a quiet outside cafe in downtown Chiang Mai View of a quiet outside cafe in downtown Chiang Mai

Would you say you have a better or worse work/life balance since moving abroad?

“Since moving to Thailand, our work/life balance has both improved and worsened. It has improved because we are no longer bound by the nine-to-five office life and have the flexibility to decide our own work and leisure schedule. However, it has worsened because working life has fused with our personal lives, so we find ourselves working throughout the day, every day of the week.”

How comfortable do you feel about using the public health care system in Thailand?

“We don’t use the public health care system in Thailand because we don’t like the long waiting times, inconsistent quality of medical services, and lack of English-speaking doctors. However, we are comfortable using Thailand’s private health care system for routine check-ups and treatments because it’s affordable, accommodating to walk-in patients, and many doctors are trained overseas and speak English.

“In the event of an emergency, we are somewhat comfortable using Thailand’s public health care system due to the lack of centralised emergency transportation services.”

Cityscape of Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand Cityscape of Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand

Do you know where to go to get primary care, how to access a specialist and how to pay for your treatment?

“Thailand’s health care system isn’t like some other countries in which patients consult with a primary care physician or general practitioner (GP) who oversees their health and recommends a specialist when needed. Instead, when we’re sick, we know to go to a hospital or clinic (not a doctor’s office) and the staff are responsible for directing us to one of the dozens of secondary or tertiary care specialists.

“To pay for major medical treatments, we must either show proof of health insurance (international and Thai insurance are accepted at most major hospitals) or show enough funds in a bank account. Some hospitals require a large deposit prior to receiving medical treatment. Thailand’s hospitals will not accept patients who cannot afford treatment.”

A scooter parked near where street food is sold in downtown Chiang Mai, Thailand A scooter parked near where street food is sold in downtown Chiang Mai, Thailand

How does the quality of the health care system in Thailand compare to the health care system in the US?

“If you compare the top-rated hospitals of both countries, the health care quality in Thailand rivals, if not surpasses that of the U.S. The cost of medical care in Thailand is also roughly 20% of that in the U.S., so many people travel to Thailand for major operations and medical treatments. However, in our experience, we find that American doctors are better advisors than their Thai counterparts regarding post-operative care, cautioning about drug interactions and short and long-term side effects, and encouraging preventative care.”

Since moving abroad, do you feel that mental health is better or less supported and recognized than at home?

“It’s difficult to say for sure because we are not able to read articles or watch documentaries in Thai, but we get the impression that mental health is less supported and recognised in Thailand than the U.S.. Although we feel comfortable talking to our friends about our struggles, we do not feel comfortable speaking with Thai health care professionals or employers because of the cultural differences.”

“Mental health is often a topic of discussion in online forums. However, posts are often met with two dramatically different responses. On one hand, there are online expat communities (for example, in exclusive Facebook groups) that offer advice and emotional support when someone posts about their struggles. On the other hand, there are some extremely toxic communities (often found in public forums) that guilt and shame the person who admits to suffering from mental health issues.”

Exterior view of a Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand's largest city Exterior view of a Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand's largest city

Expats are apparently more prone to mental health issues because they don’t have the same support network in their new home. What advice would you give for maintaining good mental health while living abroad?

“First and foremost, live somewhere that’s near the centre of the community rather than on the outskirts of town. Isolating yourself will only exacerbate problems such as loneliness, depression, anxiety, and lack of purpose in life. Secondly, make friends by actively searching for and attending meetup groups and clubs in your new community.

“Online networks such as Facebook, Meetup and InterNations are excellent ways to find out where and when other expats hang out, particularly those who share the same hobbies and interests as you.”

How would you describe the relationship between the role of the expat community and people settling into the new culture?

“We can’t speak for all of Thailand, but we found it difficult to immerse ourselves in the expat community in Chiang Mai because we don’t fit the typical expat profile. As a result, we have met very few people over the years who we connect well with or bond over similar life experiences, beliefs, and interests.

“However, we think that if you follow a career to Thailand, are retired or marry a Thai person and start a family, you will settle into your community among fellow employees, retirees, and foreign spouses relatively easily.”

View of an old city wall in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand's largest city View of an old city wall in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand's largest city

What would you say is the best part of international life in Thailand?

“The best part of living abroad in Thailand is the freedom to do what we want with our time and money. We used to live just outside Washington, D.C. and worked full-time jobs. There was always the underlying social pressure to keep up with the Joneses and we felt that we didn’t have enough vacation time. Now, we live comfortably and have extra time to travel and relax.”

What was the worst part about moving abroad?

“The biggest initial challenge about moving to Thailand was the language barrier. Without the ability to read and speak the Thai language, minor tasks of everyday life became major challenges. It took us a great amount of effort to do the simplest tasks, from figuring out how to sign up for a bank account as a foreigner and buying a bus ticket to finding a shop that sells whole coffee beans or asking a Thai salesperson about motorcycle helmet safety specifications.

“With hardly any online or printed resources in English and lacking the confidence to talk to local Thai people (many of whom do not speak English beyond basic greetings), we spent a grueling amount of time figuring things out on our own. This was one of the major reasons why we started our blog — to share our experiences so that life is easier for the next expat who moves to Thailand.”

How easy or difficult is it to maintain a healthy diet in your new country?

“It’s easy to maintain a healthy diet in Thailand if you are selective about what you cook at home and what you eat out at restaurants. We shop at local markets, which are brimming with tropical fruits and vegetables, fresh eggs and handmade noodles. We also buy wholegrains, quality cuts of imported meat and cold-weather produce from international grocery stores.

“It takes some time to seek out Thai and international restaurants that use quality ingredients and healthy cooking techniques, but the number of health-conscious businesses is steadily growing, especially in expat-friendly towns.”

Describe the role of exercise and how it differs from your home country.

“We used to do a lot of outdoor activities and exercising in high-end gyms in the U.S., but our routine changed after moving to Thailand. Outdoor activities are limited due to the harsh sun, high year-round temperatures and seasonal smoky season in Northern Thailand.

“Years ago, the gyms in Chiang Mai lacked air-conditioning and properly maintained equipment. Fast forward to today and we’ve found a new exercise routine: we go to a Western-style gym as well as swim and do yoga several times per week.”

Angela Scott and Chris Scott posing in Thailand, their home since moving from the U.S. in 2013 Angela Scott and Chris Scott posing in Thailand, their home since moving from the U.S. in 2013

Angela Scott and Chris Scott, expats who moved to Thailand and operate the Tieland to Thailand blog.
Source: Angela Scott and Chris Scott 

Whether you’re moving to pursue a career opportunity, or you’re bored of the nine-to-five routine like Chris and Angela, their experiences with expat life in Thailand should shed some light on what life is truly like in Thailand. You can read more about their experiences here: Alternatively, read our comprehensive Destination Guide for Thailand to learn more about relocating to the ‘Land of Smiles’.

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