This post will provide you with a super handy summary of how you, yes YOU, can live in Thailand. Whether you plan to live there forever or if you are only planning on living in Thailand for a year it will be helpful. We will cover visas, earning money in Thailand, and a whole lot more. If you are wondering how to live in Thailand, here is the info you need.
To keep the length of this post manageable I will provide links to posts we have already written about specific topics. This post will try to bring it all together.
Thailand has been an appealing destinations for decades. Warm weather year round, great food, affordable healthcare, tropical islands, jungle covered mountains, and a modest cost of living make it an extremely attractive destination for either short or long stays.
People move there to cut their costs while they launch a new business, they go to teach English, they move there to retire somewhere warm and cheap, they move just to experience something radically different from their everyday life at home. There are a multitude of reasons why Thailand is a great place to go and spend some time.
But moving to another country is not usually something you just up and do. What key things do you need to have organized?
Living in Thailand For a Year (Or More)
Living in Thailand for a year is a great way to give yourself an amazing experience. Maybe you will stay longer, maybe not. I recommend setting yourself the goal of just one year initially. Going in with the mindset of “this is forever!!” can make the move more intimidating than it needs to be.
Plan on one year and after that evaluate what you want to do. Stay in Thailand, move to another country, or go home. Decide after a year. Even if you leave after a year and never return you will still have had a life changing experience that you will never forget.
There are two main pieces to this process. Getting a visa that will allow you to stay legally and gaining the ability to make money in Thailand. If you do not need to earn an income while in Thailand then you are already halfway there.
There are of course other more minor issues but you can worry about finding international movers and finding an apartment in Thailand later. If you do not have a handle on the visa and financial situation, the trip of a lifetime will never get off the ground. The rest can be sorted out relatively easily.
Getting a Thailand Long Term Visa
At the time of writing the long tradition of performing “visa runs” (traveling to the border, leaving the country and then immediately coming back in to get a new on-arrival tourist visa) appears to be under threat. Thailand is becoming ever more strict about not handing out back to back on-arrival tourist visas, especially at land borders.
That just means that you need to do some prep work before you show up.
How Long Can I Stay In Thailand?
That depends on what kind of visa you get. If you arrive at a land border with no pre-arranged visa you will get 14 days. Fly in and you will get 30 days. Clearly this is not suitable for a longer stay.
You can prearrange a 60 day tourist visa at your nearest Thailand embassy or consulate. Fill out a form, pay the fee, leave your passport with them for a few days and you are done. However 60 days is still a long way short of 1 year. Getting a real Thailand long term visa is going to take a little more work.
The rules around Thailand visas, especially long term visas, can be a little complicated and they change regularly. Make sure to double check everything you read on this site, or any other site for that matter.
Literally as I am writing this I became aware that Thailand is planning on introducing six month tourist visas in November 2015. These rules change FAST. You would need to prearrange the visa from outside Thailand. Once you arrive you need to exit Thailand at least every 60 days and you cannot work legally but this could change things for you.
Broadly speaking the three most common long term visas are:
- Retirement visa – If you are 50 or above and do not need to work this is for you.
- Education visa – If you are interested in committing yourself to learning the Thai language or attending university in Thailand this is for you.
- Business visa – Known as a B visa. Contrary to the name you do not need an actual business. This visa is commonly a stepping stone to a work permit. You do not absolutely NEED one of these to get a job but it will likely make your life easier.
This is just a super quick outline of a complicated topic. Click here for more information about getting a Thailand long term visa.
Once you know what kind of Thailand visa you need, getting it is usually pretty straightforward. Your nearest Thailand embassy or consulate should be able to help you. Although we are from Perth we have primarily dealt with the Thailand consulate in Brisbane and they have been incredibly helpful over the years.
Now you have an idea of the various visa routes you can take for your delightfully long stay in Thailand.
Next up, how are you going to pay the bills while you are there? First though…
How Much Does It Cost To Live in Thailand?
The cost of living in Thailand is very reasonable. It is however extremely variable.
If you want to live in a large brand new high end apartment building populated primarily by foreigners right in the heart of Bangkok that is, not surprisingly, a little expensive. There is pretty much no upper limit on how much you can spend, particularly in Bangkok.
However it is extremely easy to drive down your cost of living. Live in an area with more Thais and where foreigners are relatively uncommon. Eat more Thai food and less western food. If you are in Bangkok use the surprisingly good Bangkok public transport as much as you can. If you are elsewhere in Thailand maybe get a scooter to get around. The more “Thai” your lifestyle, the cheaper it will be.
As an added bonus this also means that you will have a more interesting experience and will learn a lot more about Thailand and the Thai people. Embracing a lower cost of living while in Thailand means a less sanitized, more Thai experience.
How about some specific numbers. Back in 2012 we did a break down of our cost of living in Chiang Mai, Thailand's fashionable northern city. At the exchange rates at the time of writing our month cost us about $1000 Australian dollars or about $700 US dollars. These costs are for a month spent in Jed Yod, a lovely suburb of Chiang Mai that is sufficiently far away from the touristy center of town to make foreigner prices a non-issue.
We had a similar cost of living while living in Thailand for a year back in 2009. Potentially prices will have crept up somewhat since 2012 although they vary according to the health of the Thai tourism industry and the overall economy, which have their share of ups and downs over time.
That budget of $1000 AUD or $700 USD gets you a comfortable but very basic existence. Most likely you are looking at a bedsit apartment and eating Thai food most meals. Traveling much is going to be out of the question and you will be using buses and trains when you do travel. It is a nice comfortable life but you have to be careful with your budget and you won't be able to jet off to explore somewhere nearby that has caught your eye.
If you increase your budget to $2000 AUD or ~$1500 USD per month you have a lot more wiggle room. Now you can start going out for some nice western meals when the mood strikes, you can travel around the region more and get yourself a nicer apartment. If you have even more money to spend the upward trend continues and you can get yourself someone to clean your apartment, your laundry done for you, regular Thai massages etc.
It is actually possible to survive on less than $1000 AUD ($700 USD) but that gets unglamorous very quickly. Air-conditioning is more or less necessary due to the climate, western food is nice now and then, being able to afford to explore Thailand and other nearby parts of south east Asia is nice.
$1000 AUD per month is getting by, $2000 AUD per month or more is very comfortable, much less than $1000 AUD per month is unlikely to make you happy in the long term.
Retiring In Thailand
If you are retired or simply have no need to earn an income then most of what follows will not apply to you. Once you have your visa arranged, book your flight to Thailand, book somewhere between a week and a month via either Agoda or Airbnb and use that time to shop around for more permanent accommodation. You are on your way.
Making Money In Thailand
For those of us who are not yet retired, whether you are taking a career break or are in search of a new career you will need to make money in Thailand. There are two options here although you may well want to explore both.
The first option is getting a conventional job within Thailand. The second option is making money outside of Thailand via some sort of online business or remote work. First up…
Work in Thailand
Work in Thailand for foreigners is very tightly restricted. You can't just show up on a tourist visa and start work in Thailand, not legally anyway. You need the appropriate visa and your employer needs to have at least started the process of getting you a work permit before you can work in Thailand legally.
By far the most common kind of job for foreigners wanting to work in Thailand is teaching English. As native English speakers are strongly preferred the entire English teaching industry is heavily dependent on foreigners.
The huge demand for foreign teachers means that teaching English in Thailand is one of the few readily available employment options. This actually extends to much of Asia. Teaching English overseas can be a great way to support yourself in a lot of countries.
Way back in 2009 Tanya and I spent a year teaching English in Thailand. It was a fabulous experience. As our pay more than covered our cost of living, living in Thailand for a year didn't actually cost us much. Once we started work we lived entirely on the money earned by teaching and we were actually able to save a little.
As an aside, if you are more interested in backpacking around the world or wondering how to travel long term consider breaking up your trip with periods spent doing something like teaching English that will actually make you money. We get asked how to save for travelling very frequently and we know that saving to travel is tough but you can greatly reduce the amount you need to save while actually extending your trip by including some time spent teaching English in Thailand or elsewhere. Then you can go back to traveling the world.
Particularly if you have not taught formal classes before English teacher training is extremely important. Once you get a job you will likely find yourself thrust in front of a class of students. Your students (or their parents) paid good money for the chance to learn from you so you want to have a solid idea of what you are doing.
There are a multitude or organizations that provide English teacher training courses. We did our TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) at SEE in Chiang Mai It is a full-time in-person four week course which includes instruction on how to construct lessons as well as plenty of supervised practice lessons with real live students ranging from young children through to adults.
The four week course is essentially a crash course in being a teacher. It is intense so do not expect to do much else during those four weeks. At the end of the course SEE can make some introductions but ultimately you need to find your own employment.
Like a lot of SEE graduates we have stayed in contact with John at SEE over the years. Through him we have become aware of another program they are offering that unfortunately did not exist back in 2009.
They call if their TEFL Internship. It consists of an abbreviated two week course followed by a semester (4-5 months) teaching at a school in provincial Thailand. You won't be making a fortune but will make enough to live comfortably, especially as you will almost certainly be in an area of Thailand far from the more expensive touristy bits.
If you are just wanting to try your hand at teaching English or if you are taking a career break and just want to do something radically different for a while this looks pretty amazing. If you want to see the real Thailand and immerse yourself in the community this is a great way to do it. Click here for more information about SEE's TEFL Internship
One final note on teaching English. I have previously written a lengthy downloadable guide to getting started teaching English in Thailand. To get access to it go to the very bottom of this page, subscribe to our mailing list and you will find a link to the teaching English guide and other handy resources in the subscription confirmation email.
What if teaching English does not sound terribly appealing? Because most other jobs are able to be done by a Thai citizen non-teaching jobs tend to be hard to come by as employers know they will struggle to get your work permit approved. You could get hired by an international company then transferred to their Thailand office but that does not sound like a terribly reliable plan. Thus we move onto…
I am grouping working remotely and running your own business together. The difference does not particularly matter as far as your desire to live in Thailand is concerned.
We have previously described a range of jobs that let you work remotely.
There are a virtually infinite array of options but do be aware that you will NOT be able to get a work permit. You will need to arrange a different kind of long term visa or look into those six month tourist visas I mentioned earlier.
It will be very helpful if you already have a skill set that is well suited to remote work. Computer programming, writing, translating. People are endlessly creative in working out how to make money but jobs that involve working on a computer more than interacting with people face to face generally adapt better to remote work.
Having an entrepreneurial streak is also helpful. Whether you are a freelance computer programmer selling yourself and your skills or you are running an Amazon store selling a product that you have designed a big dose of hustle is very handy.
A quick note about legalities. In many countries the legal status of people working remotely for an overseas employer or running an online business while on a tourist visa is a little uncertain. The laws in question have frequently not seen much updating since the invention of the Internet which has led to the ever increasing number of so called digital nomads, people able to work from anywhere they can get an Internet connection. In 2014 however, Thailand immigration officials specifically stated that remote work and running an online business while on a tourist visa in Thailand is legal.
Once you know how you will approach the visa system and you have a realistic plan for paying the bills I recommend booking your flight to Thailand. Pick a date that gives you enough time to whittle down your belongings, to move out of your current accommodation and to say goodbye to people but pick a date and then stick to it.
Treat your booked flight as if its date cannot be changed, even if it can be. Circle that day on the calendar and say “on this day I will leave for Thailand, no matter what.” Do not wait until you feel ready because that never happens.
When you departure date approaches book some accommodation through Agoda or Airbnb. Book for somewhere between one week and one month to give you time to find your feet. Finally, pack your bag and off you go.
If you want some location specific advice and plan on moving to Chiang Mai check out our post about moving to and living in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is a frequent first point of call in Thailand and a very pleasant place to live.
Finally, if you have any questions or concerns either comment on this post or contact us via the contact page. It sometimes takes us a little while but we respond to everyone.