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Living in Thailand as an expat

While many expats choose to live in Thailand, individuals living abroad should determine if the country fits what they are looking for before jumping on the bandwagon.

Reporting from: Bangkok, Thailand

The idea of living in Thailand sounds good to a lot of expats. Just look around Bangkok and you’ll see any number of location independent entrepreneurs as well as lawyers, accountants, and all sorts of other professionals from around the western world.

Some may disagree with me, but here are my observations after one month of living in Thailand.

Most of my business successes to date have come from going against the grain. While people had been crowing for well over a decade that “radio is dead”, I built an eight-figure broadcasting business after a year of over-sleeping at a party college. After that, I started or invested in businesses in very un-sexy industries. People laughed, said it was “beneath me”, and that I was wasting my time.

And, each time, my contrarian hunch paid off. We frequently talk about going against the grain of US government propaganda in order to find more freedom and avoid getting screwed by a system on the verge of collapse.

Along those same lines, I’d urge caution before you decide that living in Thailand is the best thing since sliced bread.

As a Type-A entrepreneur, I look for places I can fit in well. China: like a glove. Thailand: like a wet blanket. But, alas, living in Thailand isn’t about “what would Andrew do?” It’s about what you should do.

Let’s examine living in Thailand

The word “Thailand” means “land of the free” – the same term we ironically use to describe Los Estados Unidos. It’s a reference to the fact that Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has never been colonized by a European power.

However, just as the United States uses it’s Star-Spangled Banner to indoctrinate its own citizens (despite not ranking “most free” in any single survey), Thailand is no bastion of personal or economic freedom either. It’s for that reason I’ve dubbed Thailand “the United States of Asia”.

Living in Thailand can be nice if you don’t mind the slower pace and lack of overall drive, but I wouldn’t do anything more than LIVE there. That means placing little money in Thai banks and preferably having a global business rather than a local storefront.

Cost of Living
Depending on where you’re coming from, Thailand can be quite cheap or not a bargain at all. For Americans outside of the pricey coastal areas, you’ll pay about what you would at home. Nice, one-bedroom apartments along busy Sukhumvit can be had for $600-$1,000 a month (and up). A western-style meal in a mall restaurant will cost $10-15 without drinks.

There’s plenty of nice shopping in Bangkok and the beach cities, but as we’ve discussed before, international goods aren’t any cheaper than you’d find elsewhere. Taxis are extremely cheap, but…

Getting Around
Traffic in Bangkok is horrendous. If Thailand is the United States of Asia, Bangkok is its Los Angeles. Bangkok is spread out into different areas with no specific “downtown”. There is a central business district in Sathorn, but there’s plenty of activity in many other parts of the city as well. That leads to continual traffic jams – even at three in the morning. Unlike many other cities in Southeast Asia, Bangkok does have a Skytrain and an MRT subway system, but they don’t go everywhere.

Personal Freedom
Unlike the United States, Thailand is not a police state. Anything but. While nearby Vietnam has cops that look more militarized, I really don’t see a difference between it and Thailand. Neither country has much of a police state, nor do cops heckle you much. The idea that a “totalitarian state” like Vietnam is far worse than Thailand is silly, in my opinion.

That said, you have to look out for yourself in Thailand. As an advocate of privatized police, I’m all for it. Just don’t come here thinking that anyone will care when five mafioso thugs try to beat you up at a nightclub (as happened to me).

Economic Freedom
In some ways, the Thai economy is somewhat laissez-faire. The government hasn’t stepped in to the overpriced Bangkok property market with the kind of cooling measures seen in Singapore or Hong Kong, jurisdictions with much higher economic freedom rankings.

That said, the government has been outspoken about influencing the value of the Thai baht currency – the one with the King’s face plastered all over it. Legal framework here is quite opaque. Starting an on-the-ground business as a foreigner can be costly, and forget about buying a business on the cheap.

Culture
People in Thailand tend to be very patriotic and nationalistic. It’s not my place to take issue with such patriotism or to say that makes them bad. However, if you’re part of the minority of Americans (or other Western nationalities) who have realized what extreme patriotism does to a country, you understand what I mean. I love to see people embrace what makes them who they are, but not to embrace the government that claims a monopoly on it.

I recently interviewed Harry Dent who told me all about his demographic research and how it impacts his investment outlook. I use another metric to measure living or starting a business in a new country: culture.

For example, I have numerous Chinese friends whose parents are loaded (parents in China happily heap whatever they have onto their children), and these friends could have had a fantastic life at home. Their well-connected families could have helped overcome whatever political issues you’d associate with “communist China”, but they chose to expatriate to find even better opportunities and make their own way.

I don’t see that in Thailand. Thais I spoke to said that they – nor any of their friends – would ever consider leaving Thailand. An American lawyer I met with said that his Thai wife would never hear of moving anywhere else. There’s nothing wrong with being in love with where you live, but when that conflates with happily handing more power over to the government, it gives me reason to pause.

Stereotypes
I suggest that living in Thailand is like living in the “United States of Asia”, not as an insult, but as a warning against following stereotypes. Ever since word got around the world that streets in the US were paved with gold, the country has been a haven for hyperbole.

Similarly, I believe Thailand is overhyped by tourists who saw “The Hangover 2” and came for a few nights of partying. Bangkok is a great place for partying and for medical tourism, but not for everything. (As is the theme of this site, no place is good for everything).

I learned long ago to experience everything in life for myself, rather than asking for someone else’s opinion. When I stayed at five-star hotels, I’d frequently ask the concierge for a restaurant recommendation, only for their suggestion to be mediocre. Meanwhile, I’d find some dive in a back alley with phenomenal food. I realized that living your life on other people’s suggestions is silly.

I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t be living in Thailand. My suggestion is simply to realize that Thailand is a popular expat destination and, as such, has a lot of stories about it which are often over-hyped. As with anywhere else you’d consider moving, you really need to spend some time on the ground before committing long-term.

And if you think Bangkok is the bargain capital of Asia, you’d best think again. I’d only recommend living in Thailand to a location independent person (or retiree) with over $3,000 a month in after-tax income.

As always, do your homework. No one else can see the world through your dreams and your eyes.

If you are interested in determining what country best fits your business and lifestyle goals, contact us and we can help.

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Andrew Henderson

Andrew Henderson

Andrew has been internationalizing since 2008, and has learned what works and what doesn't work when it comes to reducing taxes, increasing personal freedom, and creating wealth. Click here to work with him personally.
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