Spirit of Thailand

Spirit of Thailand

Culture, Relationships,
Thai Massage, Traveling

The life of an expat in Thailand

Is living in Thailand paradise? What are the pros and cons? Who is this lifestyle for? This is a behind-the-scenes look at living in Thailand as a foreigner.

When I tell people that I live in Thailand, I often get feedback along the lines of “You are so lucky”, “I would love to be able to do that too”, “You live in paradise”, or “What an amazing lifestyle”.

Thailand is part of southeast Asia. This is the part of the world right below China. It is surrounded by Burma, Cambodia. Vietnam, and Malaysia.

If you look at a globe, you can see that Thailand is at the opposite side of the planet, if you are from America.

So why would anyone want to live half way around the world in a country where people speak a totally different language and have a very different culture and habits?

There are a number of reasons.

1. Money/cost of living 

For many years I worked as a tour guide. I worked non-stop during the summer season where I made all my money for the year. There was no work during the winter season, and it made sense to spend this time in a place  where my dollars went a lot further than in the US.

Many retired people on fixed pension income also realized that their dollars buy a lot more in a country like Thailand. Buying the same standard of living for a third of the cost is a very attractive idea, and millions of westerners have chosen an expatriate lifestyle for this reason.

2. Climate

If you live in a cold climate, you could live in Thailand and enjoy warm tropical weather. You could be suntanning at the beach instead of shoveling snow at home. This is an option for retired people or for people who have a business that can be run on the internet. Examples would be stock market investors, internet marketers, copywriters, travel writers, or ebay sellers.

3. Female companionship

Tens of thousands of western men have found girlfriends or wives in Thailand. You don’t see as many relationships between western women and Thai men, but they do exist as well. The relationship scene in Thailand is quite an interesting phenomenon.

Before you make up your mind what is right or wrong with this, I wrote nine articles on this subject that explore it from all angles. Personally I have found the love of my life in Thailand. We have been together for 16 years as of the time of this writing.

4. Health care

Medical treatments, dental  care and massage therapy all cost a fraction of western prices, and quality standards are high. Medical tourism is well established in Thailand, and anyone who needs major medical or dental work can save half or two thirds of what they would have paid in their home country without sacrificing quality.

5. Studying Thai Massage

Thousands of westerners come to Thailand every year to learn Thai Massage, and many, including myself, have turned it into a full time profession. Thai Massage has become a hot trend and a sought after healing art – not just in Thailand, but all over the world. 

Thai Massage has been used for hundreds of years to help the Thai people with many physical problems. In spite of the arrival of modern medicine, Thai Massage and other methods of natural healing are still very popular in Thailand.

In many western countries an hour of massage work can set you back between 30 and 80 dollars. In Thailand you can easily find good Thai Massage work for between $5 and $10 an hour. 

6. Slower pace of life

Many people from western countries have had enough of the rat race, a fast-paced, competitive way of life. In Thailand life is slower, more relaxed, people always have time to talk to you, and you never hear anything about “time is money”.

7. Food

Everyone needs to eat. Food in Thailand is very cheap compared to western countries. You can get a simple, tasty meal for $2 if you eat local food. Thailand has a unique cuisine with lots of variety. Food is literally everywhere. You rarely have to walk more than a couple of minutes to find a street vendor, a food stall, a market, or a restaurant.

Thailand has an amazing variety of fruits and vegetables. Markets are bursting with mouth watering selections year-round. Thailand is truly a foodie’s paradise.

8. The people

The Thais are generally friendly, helpful and tolerant. They smile a lot, and the best way to get what you want is to be friendly and smile as well. You hardly ever see Thai people getting in your face, getting loud and angry, or being rude. This is considered unacceptable in Thailand.

Nobody is perfect, and neither are the Thais. But in general most of your encounters will be pleasant and relaxing instead of intense and stressful. It is something that makes daily life enjoyable.

In summary here are some pros for living in Thailand: the cost of living is much lower, the pace of life is slower, people are friendly and accommodating, the weather is always warm, healthcare and massage therapy is very affordable, there are many colorful festivals throughout the year,  and for men it is very easy to find a female partner.

There are some cons as well: The Thai language is not easy to learn for most westerners, and you will be mostly confined to contacts in the expat community. Thai culture might be interesting and fascinating, but it is different enough that you will never really become part of it.

Thais think very differently from westerners, and they do not express their feelings. So most of the time you will not know what they are really thinking.

Thailand is a fairly modern and well organized country, at least by southeast Asian standards. You can get most everything you need or want. But you don’t have the same rights as you do at home. You cannot fully own property or a business, and in most legal disputes you will lose against the Thais, even if you are right.

In the north of Thailand there are major air pollution problems during February, March and April due to indiscriminate burning practices in agriculture and other areas, and the heat can really get to you during that time of the year.

Thailand might not exactly be paradise, but it is a great place to be, and tens of thousands of westerners have found a lifestyle here that suits them well.

image of the the author, Shama KernThe author, Shama Kern, has been living in Thailand for well over a decade. He is married to a Thai woman. You can reach him at shama@shamakern.com.

6 thoughts on “The life of an expat in Thailand”

  1. Hi

    Very interesting article, my husband and I would love to retire to Koh samui in about 10 years time ( Would love to come tomorrow!)
    Please send me links of your other article, I would love to read them.
    Please also tell me where you live in Thailand.

    Kind regards

  2. I have been teaching in Europe, specifically Germany for years. I am now in Turkey and things have not worked out so feel that Thailand could be a nice move for me. I am 57 but look a decade or so younger. Will Thailand be for me ?

    • I don’t think that your age would matter in Thailand. I have seen teachers of all ages here. Thailand is not known for paying teachers high salaries, but it is enough to live comfortably.

  3. Do you need health insurance to live in Thailand. I am married to a Thai and I am 70. Would my age be a problem? Though I am a reasonably fit 70 with no health problems.

    • That’s one of those unclear areas. There is a fairly recent regulation that foreigners who apply for long term visas need health insurance, but, as many other things in Thailand, it is not being equally enforced everywhere. However now, in the Covid environment, you definitely are required to have health insurance just to enter the country. And yes, if you get health insurance in Thailand, your age would be an issue. Many companies don’t insure you if you are over 60, and the ones that do will charge a hefty premium.


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