Adjusting to Living Abroad in Thailand

When I arrived in Thailand I wasn’t sure what to expect, but a decade into my adventure, now married with two children, I can say that living here has exceeded my wildest dreams. And I’m not the only one—many expats try to extend their time here once they arrive and some stay years longer than they’d originally planned. The combination of a vibrant, cosmopolitan capital, a fast-growing economy, friendly people, a higher standard of living, and a beautiful landscape make Thailand a paradise.

Bangkok city center at night.
Bangkok city center at night. Photo © Chatchai Somwat/123rf.

Visitors are always surprised at how convenient and comfortable the country is, especially the major cities and beach areas. Thailand boasts good roads, running water, electricity, and high-speed Internet service in all but its most remote corners. And because Bangkok is such an international city, anything anyone could possibly want—from maple syrup to fresh feta—is available in increasingly convenient places.

Despite the economic growth, life in Thailand still has a community feeling to it, even in the biggest cities. Every side street functions like a little village, where neighbors bow or wave when they cross paths, local vendors sell fruits and vegetables, and everyone knows everyone else’s business.

Walk a couple of blocks in any city and you’re bound to find street food vendors selling papaya salad or iced coffee, hole-in-the-wall noodle shops, 24-hour mini marts, and other signs that much of life in Thailand takes place in public. In Bangkok, you’ll also find fancy restaurants, high-end shopping malls, and efficient public transportation. Although you may need to plow through some bureaucratic obstacles to work, live, or retire here, they are seldom insurmountable. Tens of thousands of Americans and Western Europeans are already here, so ample services are available. Add to this some world-class beaches and close proximity to the rest of Asia, and you can see why Thailand is considered the perfect place for expatriates.

Despite its being a tropical country with plenty of gorgeous beaches and islands, living in Thailand isn’t a permanent vacation. The biggest challenge for foreigners is learning to understand Thailand’s culture and people. It’s easy to withdraw into the pampered life of drivers and international supermarkets and expat friends and barely interact with everyday Thai people. Most native-English speakers find Thai a very difficult language to learn, and many give up entirely. As a result, they feel even more alienated from the people around them and more confused by the culture.

Life in Thailand is going to be quite different from life back home, but for the most part it will be more interesting, more convenient, and a lot more fun. Come in with a positive attitude and an open mind and you’ll enjoy your time here and perhaps have the adventure of your life.

Floating market in Amphawa, Thailand.
Floating market in Amphawa, Thailand. Photo © Witthaya Phonsawa/123rf.

What I Love About Thailand

  • Inexpensive, fresh, and delicious street food available from early morning to late at night
  • Never feeling cold
  • Taxi drivers routinely quizzing me about my life, then telling me I speak Thai well even when I stumble over words and can’t understand them
  • Shopping for cute shoes and dresses at the markets, and usually paying about $5 for each
  • Thai fried chicken
  • Having neighbors and street vendors wave hello and smile when I’m out walking my dog
  • Excellent, affordable at-home childcare
  • Wet markets filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish
  • Thai massage
  • Getting my hair shampooed and blow dried for less than $10
  • Hopping on the back of a motorcycle taxi when I’m in a rush
  • Gorgeous beaches and warm, clear water
  • Cheap flights to almost anywhere in the country
  • Orchids of every color imaginable

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