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A Quick Guide to... Living and Working in Bangkok, Thailand

Posted by: Kathie Higginson

Thailand is more affordable than many of its neighbours in South East Asia – with an equivalent lifestyle in Hong Kong or Singapore requiring a much higher wage than that you would need in Bangkok. Start-ups in Thailand are on the up, and employers don’t mind hiring Westerners, who would command high wages at home but would often be willing to accept a pay cut relative to the cost (and extremely high standard) of living they could afford.

Bangkok is a bustling city; almost half of Thailand’s population lives in the metropolis, and the city is busy and always full of life.

Emergency Services: Police 191; Tourist Police 1155; Ambulance 1554; Fire 199
Language: Thai, although in the tourist areas many speak some English
Currency: Thai Baht (฿ subdivided into 100 satang)

Where to live
Bangkok is divided into 50 districts (called ‘khet’). Like any major city, where you work and, if you have children, where they go to school, will be the first consideration when you’re looking for somewhere to live in Bangkok. Traffic is hectic at best, so many expats in Bangkok prefer to live in walking distance of a BTS train station or the MTR underground, and popular locations include Ekkamai, Thong Lo, Silom, Sathorn, On Nut and other regions within Sukhumvit Road. Expats with families often choose Bang Na or Bang Kapi to the south and east respectively.

There are restrictions on foreigners owning property and land in Thailand, so you’ll more than likely be renting. It’s best to go through an estate agent, as the market moves quickly and not all properties will be advertised - see if you can get recommendations from friends or colleagues.

Thailand’s education system is relatively good, and the government have introduced progressive policies to ensure literacy rates, especially in poorer rural areas outside of the metropolitan area. This said, however, teaching will of course only be in Thai, and class sizes are often large – meaning most expats send their children to the international schools, which typically have excellent standards. International schools in Bangkok include Bangkok Patana, Regent, the American School of Bangkok, Shrewsbury International School in Bangkok and New International School in Bangkok, though there are many others of an equal standard.

Getting Around
Bangkok’s rapid population growth over recent years means its infrastructure falls somewhat short – although the Skytrain and the MTR underground are both good options. Some areas also have boat services, which are less crowded – although sadly all these services do not cover the entire city like the cheap, but much slower, bus network does.

Meter taxis can be subject to getting stuck in traffic, but are regulated by law – ensure that the meter is turned on when you get in. Another option for short journeys is the motorbike taxis, which should get you to your destination quicker as they weave through the traffic – although these aren’t necessarily the safest choice, so ensure you wear the helmet provided. The ubiquitous tuk tuks are another option but be careful not to accept the first price you’re offered, although once you have negotiated a price you’re happy with, you won’t be ripped off as it won’t change when you reach your destination.

Thai roads are well-maintained and although the standard of driving may be more erratic than you are used to, it’s not as crazy as other countries you’ll have visited. Most of the signs are in both Thai and English too. International Driving Permits are only valid for a limited duration, so if you want to drive in Thailand you’ll be best getting a Thai license from the Department of Land Transportation. You should also attend a class on driving safely, a colour blindness test and written and practical exams. A comprehensive insurance policy is a must.

Getting a Visa
Before you can obtain a work permit, you’ll need a non-immigrant visa, which must be applied for from overseas, and can be a fairly exhaustive process requiring large amounts of documentation from your Thai employer. It’s best to ask an immigration lawyer or your new company’s HR department for help, as the paperwork can be extensive and very confusing. Once you’ve gained your visa, you’ll still need a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) and visa extension – and you’re likely to need the help of a tax accountant to avoid double taxation.

Making Friends
Making friends with Thai nationals should pose few problems; Thai people are largely inviting and polite. There is a sense of community, and also of national pride (so avoid criticising Thailand, even Bangkok’s crippling traffic jams and never ever criticise or make jokes about the Royal Family, particularly the King). The best thing you can do is just relax, be polite, join in and don’t let anything get in your way. Try to understand the culture; when Thais sing the national anthem stop what you are doing and stand still. Finally, don’t expect anything to be done with urgency in Thailand – mai pen rai.

Private healthcare in Thailand is of a great standard, which has earnt the country its reputation as a destination for healthcare tourism. Hospitals in Bangkok are fantastic, and though they may be more expensive than those outside the city, they will fall far below countries like the US in terms of price. Expat health insurance is essential never the less, particularly in case of a long hospital stay or an emergency which may result in repatriation.

It’s very easy to find certain American fast food outlets in Bangkok, so if you need a fast food fix you won’t go hungry – but why would you, when such an array of fresh local food is available for next to nothing? Western food is relatively expensive – and easy to find, with plenty of international options in Bangkok. Thai food perfectly suits its heat and humidity, however. The street food, although confusing as the menu will exclusively be in Thai, tends to be fresh and you’ll often find it’s as cheap as cooking your own meals, too. You shouldn’t drink tap water, but bottled water is cheap and plentiful so that shouldn’t cause you any trouble at all.

They say that Bangkok is the only city in the World where food does not improve the more you pay! Some dishes to try include Somtam (spicy papaya salad), Larb Moo (spicy minced pork), Tom Yum Goong (spicy seafood soup) and of course Pad Thai (stir fry noodles). Also try the numerous noodle dishes / stir fries at the street side stalls.

Drinking in Bangkok is often no cheaper than the west, and imported beers, wine and spirits are expensive – although their Thai counterparts are relatively cheap. Thai beers can be around 6% so are stronger than their western counterparts.

The main area where most expats and tourist will drink and socialise is along the Sukhumvit Road from Soi 1 to Soi 33, and in the Patpong area at Silom. If you want to drink with the locals head out of these areas to the beer gardens further along Sukhumvit up to Soi 101.

Young expats may feel more comfortable heading to Royal City Avenue (RCA) or the Khao San Road areas for the discos, bars and more local presence.

Safety and Crime
Bangkok is a modern and metropolitan city, so it’s easy to forget that Thailand is still a developing country. Bangkok does feel safe, but it’s sensible to take some precautions as muggings and street crime do happen, particularly late at night – central, well-lit areas tend to be OK though. Try not to get into an argument with locals, even if you do feel you’re in the right it tends to be wise to smile, apologise and move on.

The Thai police reputation generally precedes them, and they do tend to favour Thais over Westerners, so it’s best to avoid dealing with them unless you need to. Remember that the police force don’t earn a great wage, and the system lacks the resources it needs.

It’s a good idea to learn some Thai phrases before you move to Bangkok, although you should get along OK on English alone for the most part – if nothing else, it will help you to make friends. Thai is a tonal language and is tricky to learn, with a different script – so although you may get along OK with just a few key phrases, if you want to become fluent or anywhere close, you’ll need to go to school.

Price Guide

3 course meal for 2, mid-range 700 ฿ $19.80
Draught beer 60 ฿ $1.70
Loaf of bread 36 ฿ $1.02
Mid range bottle of wine 700 ฿ $19.80
Gas/Petrol (1 litre) 27 ฿ $0.76
Taxi (1 km) 6 ฿ $0.17
Rent - 1 bed, city centre* 19,734 ฿ $560

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