Your guide to expat life in Thailand

Living in Thailand

Expats relish Thailand’s climate and low cost of living, which make it an incredibly popular destination to start a new life, especially for retirees.

Accommodation is affordable and modern. The public transport and communications infrastructure is good. And you’ll enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in exotic surroundings. Thai people are friendly and accepting of ‘farangs’ (foreigners), although you may find it takes longer to develop strong relationships.

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It’s difficult to buy property in Thailand, but the country has a vigorous rental market – so you’ll be spoilt for choice whatever your budget.

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Types of accommodation

There’s a diverse range of property available in Thailand, from studio apartments to serviced condominiums, luxury villas to bamboo beach bungalows.

Most expats heading for Bangkok choose serviced apartments in the city’s business district, close to the Skytrain, metro and nightlife. Families may prefer a suburban townhouse near an international school. And retirees are often drawn to the tranquillity of an island villa or a traditional home in the quiet north of the country.

Renting property

Most Thai properties are let furnished – so ask for an inventory to be signed before you move in. While you’re renting, you’ll have to pay for your phone line, water and electricity separately.

Letting agents and landlords in Thailand expect a deposit of two to three months’ rent. You’ll also be asked to sign a contract of between three and six months. You’ll need your passport, a copy of your work permit and proof of income to apply for a long-term rental.

Culture changes

The weather, the language, the religion, the dress code, the food – there are many cultural differences that you may find challenging at first. With this in mind, it’s worth visiting Thailand a few times before you commit to living here.

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You’ll get by with English, especially in Bangkok, as it’s taught as a second language in state secondary schools and universities. Locals will appreciate any effort you make to speak their language, even if it’s just a few basic phrases.


Thailand is predominantly Buddhist – so make sure you understand and respect the religion’s main principles. There’s also a small but active Christian presence.


When it comes to etiquette, there are a few things to remember if you want to avoid offending your new Thai neighbours. Men and women’s names, for example, are usually preceded by the title ‘Khun’, followed by their first names rather than their surnames. Gift giving is a minefield – flowers, chocolates and fruit are welcome, but there are rules about wrapping and your choice of blooms. And when you have dinner with a Thai family you won’t find knives at the table – forks, spoons or chopsticks are the norm.


There have been a number of high-profile terrorist incidents in Thailand, most recently in a popular tourist area of Bangkok. Prior to this attack, the Foreign Office in Thailand issued a warning of terrorism, and expats are cautioned against travelling to the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla on the border with Malaysia.


State (public) schools in Thailand offer 12 years of basic education, with 9 years being mandatory. Standards can be variable – so most expats send their children to one of the country’s international schools. Universities are well ranked globally, especially for medicine, the arts, humanities and information technology.

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Private schools

Generally recognised as superior to public schools, fee-paying independent schools are greatly valued in Thailand. Many are run by charitable organisations and the Catholic Church, which has more than 300 schools in the Kingdom.

International schools

Most expats in Thailand send their children to an international school because classes are usually taught in their home language, although any Western-based curriculum has to be approved by Thailand’s Ministry of Education. Fees are high – between 300,000 and 600,000 THB per year – and pupils have to study the Thai language and culture as part of the curriculum. School managers and principals must be Thai nationals, but there’s usually an expat head teacher as well.


Homeschooling is legal in Thailand, where the law recognises alternative education and considers the family to be an educational institution. You have to apply to the government if you want to homeschool your children.

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Keeping in touch

State telecoms

Thailand has had a fixed-line telephone system since 1881, so it’s well-connected with three main operators – the state’s TOT Public Company Limited, True Corporation and TT&T.

Mobile network

The mobile network in Thailand boasts good coverage, especially around cities, towns and resort islands. 3G is prevalent, but there is limited 4G availability. Three of the main mobile service providers are AIS, DTAC and True Move.


Broadband is available across most of Thailand and the government has pledged to install hundreds of thousands of free WiFi hotspots throughout the country over the next few years.

Social media

You’ll have no problem using social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. According to the latest figures from Zocial Inc that monitors Thailand’s social media trends, a third of the population are registered Facebook users and more than half of these are in Bangkok.


Subscription packages for television services are available for expats – so you needn’t go without your favourite programmes. An Android set-top box delivering UK channels like BBC and ITV costs around 10,000 THB a year.


The Bangkok Post is Thailand’s most widely circulated English daily newspaper. In Chiang Rai, the local English language weekly is the Chiang Rai Times, featuring news, classifieds, business listings and travel information.


Thailand’s public healthcare service is underfunded and understaffed, especially when it comes to GPs. Most expats opt for private medical care, which is cheaper than you might expect and generally of high quality.

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Public healthcare

The Ministry of Public Health oversees more than 1,000 hospitals and nearly 10,000 health stations. The standard of facilities is variable, especially in rural areas.

Private hospitals

There are more than 400 private hospitals in Thailand. Most doctors and specialists are trained in the West and speak English. General care for private patients is good and affordable, although emergency and special procedures are often pricey.

Medical insurance

Expats are legally required to have medical insurance. While public insurance is available, most opt for private policies. Getting the right cover can be fraught with pitfalls if you don’t ask for help or read the small print carefully. Policies often have exclusions, particularly for outpatient treatments that can be expensive.

Emergency services

Getting through to an English-speaking operator at Thailand’s public rescue service is difficult. In an emergency, it’s best to call the tourist police or the ambulance service at your nearest private hospital. If you have private medical insurance, you should be given an emergency contact number when you sign up.


There are many thousands of pharmacies across Thailand, especially in Bangkok and smaller cities and towns. Hospital pharmacies are more expensive than independent chemists or chain stores such as Fascino. You’ll recognise a pharmacy by its white sign emblazoned with a green cross. They’re open daily, but Sunday hours are limited. You can get a wide range of medications without a prescription and most pharmacists speak English.

Health hazards

Don’t drink tap water unless it’s treated – or only drink bottled water. Because Westerners are prone to tropical viruses and diseases, you should have all the relevant vaccinations before you move and keep them up to date. HIV is also prevalent.

Getting around

Thailand has a fairly good public transport network both in its cities and across the country, including taxis, tuk-tuks, buses, trains and cheap domestic flights. Buying or renting a car or motorbike is another option, but you may find it daunting to negotiate the traffic in Bangkok.

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Efficient, extensive and cheap, Thailand’s bus and coach services are mainly state-run and the most popular form of public transport. Hail a bus by waving your hand, palm down, and pay the fare as you board.


Bangkok’s Hualamphong Station is the hub of rail travel in Thailand. Trains depart on four main routes to all parts of the country. The comfy, air-conditioned first class carriages offer good value for long journeys.

Bangkok also has a rapid transit metro system – the MRT – with 18 stations and a single line stretching for 20km in a rough horseshoe from Hualamphong to Bang Sue. Trains are frequent and usually run on time. They also connect to the BTS Skytrain, an elevated train that serves around 30 stations in the city.


Most expats in Thailand make good use of taxi services, particularly in Bangkok. Three-wheeled tuk-tuks, locally known as samlaws, can carry a few passengers. There are also faster motorbike taxis that take a pillion passenger, but these can be frightening for the uninitiated. Metered cars are brightly coloured and show a red light if they’re available – make sure the driver turns the meter on and doesn’t try to overcharge you.

Domestic air travel

Thailand has numerous low-cost domestic airlines. One of the most popular is Air Asia. Standards are good and there are comparison websites where you can find the best deals. There are also smaller operators and seaplane services that cover off-the-beaten-track routes to the remote islands.


You’re better off using public transport in Bangkok as traffic jams are the norm, although having your own car is great for long-distance travel. You can buy a car or motorbike from one of many local dealerships – they’ll also handle the paperwork and explain the legal requirements.

You can drive in Thailand with an international licence for up to three months before you have to apply for a local licence and take a test. Most road signs are only in Thai and tolls on the motorways are payable in cash.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in August 2016. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.