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Expatriate life in Thailand

There are hundreds of thousands of expatriates from all over corners of the globe living in Thailand and the country has worked hard to ensure that migrants feel welcome.

In keeping with the Thai people’s emphasis on respect for others, including foreigners, or ‘farangs,’ you should expect a warm welcome as long as you reciprocate the respect you are afforded.

Thai people are renowned for their friendliness and pride in their rich cultural heritage. From a young age, emphasis is placed on good manners, kindness, and self-control. It is very offensive to openly criticise another person, and losing your temper is thought to anger the spirits, so if conflict does arise, compromise and a cool head are the way forward. People are hard-working and generous, and much importance is placed on family. National holidays are significant and celebrated with pride.

While places like Phuket and Bangkok are very popular with expatriates because of the sort of lifestyle they afford, the work opportunities they offer, and the access to excellent international schools and hospitals, some expatriates can be found in more rural locations particularly if volunteering or teaching English as a Foreign Language.

Even within the more popular locations, not everyone who relocates to Thailand is based in a particular area, but some districts are more appealing. This is partly because expatriates are not allowed to own over 49% of condo apartments in a development, so you will find yourself mixing with the locals to some extent wherever you are.

Mingling with the locals and getting to know the people around you, rather than limiting your social engagements to people from your country of origin can provide many benefits. Immerse yourself, make conversation and utilisze the friendliness and openness the Thai are known for. This way you can learn things about the country that the guidebooks cannot offer, and also benefit from local knowledge.

The low cost of living in Thailand is a huge draw for many, as you can get a lot more for your money, particularly if you’re on a low income. Whether you want to backpack across the Central Plains or retire in Chiang Mai, your income or pension will go much further. Many people head to Thailand to start up their own business, to take advantage of the relatively cheap utilities, staff, and space costs.

The potential for a laid-back kind of life also has a huge appeal, but this is not all Thailand can offer: in bigger cities such as Bangkok you can still enjoy the fast-paced, high-level executive lifestyle. In urban areas, you can also guarantee access to everything from high-speed Wi-Fi to international supermarkets. Bear in mind that in more remote areas it can be more difficult to find internet and as well as some other amenities.

Wherever you are, and whatever your lifestyle of choice, there are certain aspects of living in Thailand which differ from those of other countries and these are important to adhere to. 

Important tips for living in Thailand

  • Familiarise yourself with the wai greeting – a traditional Thai greeting initiated by the person of lower status to the higher. The palms are held together at chest height, with the fingers pointing up, before a small bow is executed.
  • Outward appearance – smartness speaks volumes in Thailand. Keep relatively covered particularly in places not used to tourists, or even in places like Phuket where it’s acceptable to wear swimwear on the beach. Be sure to cover up if walking into town.
  • Tonal language – Thai has five different tones – pronouncing a Thai word with a different emphasis can give an entirely different meaning – thankfully the locals are generally forgiving and will be happy to correct you if you attempt to speak Thai.
  • Haggling is acceptable in markets but not usually over food.
  • Respect for hierarchy and the concept of superiority is strong within families as well as business and acquaintances – you may be asked personal questions to establish where you should fit in the hierarchy of their acquaintances.
  • According to the Government's National Statistics Office, approximately 94 percent of the population is Buddhistd — it’s  is a way of life rather than religion per se. Temples are known as wats. Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity are also practiced freely in Thailand.
  • There are more men than women conducting business in Thailand, and while it is on the road to equality, there is still a way to go. For example, women cannot touch a monk or sit level with or above him, and are expected to dress modestly and wear long sleeves, a long skirt and to cover their hair if in a temple.
  • Public displays of affection are frowned upon as a woman may lose her honour if touched by a man in public.
  • Take your shoes off when entering temples and certain places of business (if there is a collection of shoes left outside a door, this probably suggests you should follow suit), and don’t touch your feet or point at anything with your feet in Thailand.
  • As the highest part of the body, the head is considered sacred in Thailand  – don’t pass anything over the head.
  • You must show respect to the Royal Family and the National Anthem, which is played every day in the morning, every evening, and before films. Stand and stop what you are doing to show respect. There are strict laws in place regarding disrespect to the Royal Family.
  • Drug crimes are severely punished in Thailand.

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