Many people have been taken by surprise by the emergence of Thailand as a top rated expatriate hotspot. For too long the Asian nation had a reputation as a slightly seedy haunt for single men, or as a party paradise for international students…but nowadays this stunning and diverse nation has managed to totally transform its image.
The change in direction for Thailand is working. So much so that it was rated as the best place to retire abroad by 82% of the expatriates surveyed for HSBC International Bank’s expansive Expat Explorer survey in 2011, with the nation also topping the same survey’s Expat Experience league table.
With expatriates increasingly seeking an improved lifestyle from their relocation overseas, it seems that this is exactly what Thailand can provide.
62% of expats of working age who are living in Thailand and who were surveyed by HSBC stated categorically that their work/life balance had improved since relocating, with a higher than the global average stating that their overall quality of life had in fact improved since moving to Thailand as well.
So what is it about this nation that’s winning over so many international hearts?
Looking at the criteria that Thailand was assessed on for the HSBC expatriate survey, we can learn a lot about the desirability of the nation by seeing where it ranks particularly highly.
Firstly it’s important to mention that the survey had 3,385 expatriate respondents who were based in 100 countries across the globe. Now in purely economic terms Thailand ranked 11th overall, but it came out on top in terms of expats reporting they could afford a nicer or bigger home, and it ranked in the third spot in terms of expats reporting that they could afford more than one property after moving to Thailand.
In terms of having a greater disposable income it ranked 6th, and it ranked 5th for affordability of healthcare – something that is especially important for relocating expatriate families and retirees.
For those seeking a more luxurious lifestyle Thailand also ticks many boxes…it ranked 7th for the ‘boat or yacht’ criteria and 7th for the ‘swimming pool’ criteria too – suggesting that all that extra disposable income can be enjoyed very well!
However, as we all know money isn’t everything. And for anyone looking for a new home abroad there are far more pressing concerns, such as integration, the language barrier, relocating with children and finding employment for example.
So how does Thailand rank for these essential elements of expat life?
The good news is that it ranks exceptionally well in terms of the overall expatriate experience…which is just one more indicator why Thailand has gone from being a single man’s haunt to an international family centre par excellence.
Overall Thailand came out on top of the Expatriate Experience section of the survey. It also ranked in the number one spot for organising healthcare and finding accommodation – exceptionally pressing concerns for families moving abroad.
Thailand came in the top ten for all the following criteria too: -
- Organising schooling for children
- Organising finances
- The weather
- Making friends
- The local work culture
- Fitting in and cultural integration
- Social life
- The work environment
- The aforementioned work/life balance
- The quality of accommodation available
- The quality and accessibility of healthcare
- A healthy diet
- And the ability for expats to be able to travel more and see more of the world
So if you take the findings of this survey as the basis for considering Thailand by, you can see that it’s a very strong contender on all the essential levels. But as anyone who’s already moved abroad knows, surveys and fact-based reports can only tell you so much about a nation. It’s critical to access forums and hear from people who already live in Thailand as expats to get a better sense of whether it’s somewhere you could really live.
Bearing this in mind we thought we’d do some of the critical research for you, and cover key subject areas that matter most to relocating expatriate families such as: -
How safe is Thailand?
The Thai people love children, and many expats say that for them Thailand is one of the safest places they’ve ever lived with their children. The ‘dangers’ that expats need to be aware of are not those of abduction or molestation for instance, nor of gangs or crime…rather expats need to be aware that the roads in Thailand are lethal for example.
Driving standards are very poor indeed, and you’ll often see children riding shotgun in cars, standing between the seats. Children also ride on the back (or front) of motorbikes and mopeds with no head protection, but as long as you protect your children when you travel on the roads, you’ll avoid this danger.
General perceptions of ‘health and safety’ are basically limited. This can mean that in busy marketplaces you need to watch out for pans of hot oil for example, or sharp knives, and then there are issues such as open water wells and unfenced bodies of water. Expats also need to be acutely aware of food and drink hygiene in Thailand if they want to avoid nasty bugs and tummy upsets.
As a general rule of thumb however, those who take responsibility for their own children and who educate themselves and each other about the ‘dangers’ of living in Thailand live well and avoid any trouble. And as stated, the extreme concerns that we all have when it comes to keeping our children protected from the evils of the world take on much less significance in a nation as peaceful as Thailand.
What’s healthcare really like?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to healthcare in Thailand and how to pay for it. The first thing you need to know however, is that compared to North American health insurance costs, Thailand is cheap! Having said that, expats fall into two categories – those who have health insurance, and those who self-fund if/when they need medical care.
Anyone with children, with healthcare concerns, or who may be considering starting a family would be well advised to think about taking the insurance route. Whilst medical fees in Thailand are also far cheaper than in North America or Europe for example, costs soon mount up – and if you want the best doctors and treatment, you pay a premium in Thailand just like you do anywhere in the world.
Perhaps the top two issues you need to be aware of are that finding a general practitioner is hard, most doctors specialise…so make this a priority when you arrive. And ask for recommendations locally from fellow expats. Secondly, road traffic accidents are a leading cause of death and injury in Thailand, so take care out there to avoid needing any emergency treatment.
Regarding the terrible driving standards and traffic accident statistics, bear in mind that emergency transportation isn’t up to the same high standards in Thailand as it is in North America or Europe for example.
If you’re pregnant when you move to Thailand, or you decide to start a family once you’ve relocated, the good news is that most hospitals have decent and modern facilities for the birth.
It’s normal to have the entire pregnancy managed by an obstetrician rather than a midwife however, and in some hospitals there can be pressure on the mother to opt for a caesarean section as it’s ‘easier’ for the staff involved. No one should ever be pressured into such an option however, and ensure you discuss delivery methods early on so that any misunderstandings can be ironed out, or so that you have plenty of time to find an alternative hospital.
9 months may seem like an eternity when you’re pregnant, but it does go fast, so get everything discussed and in place well in advance of your due date.
What’s the standard of education like?
Many nations have league tables or standards and grading of schools available so that parents can research which schools are best, which might suit a particular child, and which are affordable or otherwise…when it comes to Thailand however, it’s a bit of a minefield.
The very reassuring news is this however, you can find a very decent standard of education for your child in Thailand – from preschool right through to tertiary level. The bad news is that it may cost you a lot of money depending on the establishment/s you choose – and it will certainly cost you an awful lot in terms of time as you research all of the options open to you.
Any expat who chooses to live away from the main cities will have limited choice in terms of international schools or English language schools – but homeschooling is always an option – as is entering your child into the local Thai school system.
For those living in Bangkok or Phuket to name but two very popular expatriate choices, there are plenty of schools to choose from. Your choices may be restricted in part by budget – but just because an educational establishment charges the most, it most certainly doesn’t mean it’s the best. This is why researching is key.
Look at the qualifications that staff hold, try and learn about staff turnover because consistency can be key for any school’s standards. Look also at the grades children typically achieve at key exam levels, and where pupils go on to study. It’s worth speaking to other expat parents about their experiences too, and also asking expat children themselves about where they’re happy at school and why.
Are there jobs available for expats in Thailand?
Thailand has a very long and detailed list of restricted jobs and professions that are only open to local citizens (suggested link? http://www.phuket-info.com/forums/expats/11936-restricted-jobs-list.html)…and any expat who wants to find a job or start a business in Thailand is well advised to refer closely to this list to ensure that their dreams and plans are not restricted or altered by it.
Finding professional work in Thailand can be hard – unless you’re being relocated by your employer, you’ve been head-hunted by a local company, or you work in well-paying industries that utilise a lot of foreign workers such as the oil and gas industries.
Anyone who needs to earn a living to live in Thailand will need to make a careful and concerted effort to research their choices before embarking on relocation. Yes Thailand is an incredible place to live exceptionally well – if you’re earning a decent salary. But if you’re looking for work the marketplace is fierce, and employers will always favour the local workforce first.
It is possible to open your own business in Thailand – and it is of course possible to live in Thailand and work elsewhere…either virtually thanks to the Internet, or literally thanks to Thailand’s excellent international travel links.
The most important thing to emphasize about working in Thailand is that the local environment is friendly and accessible, and the local people accommodating and accepting – but finding well paid employment can be very, very difficult indeed…
Therefore ensure you have employment and income issues covered before committing to move to Thailand.
The quality of life available in Thailand is undeniably excellent. Thailand is a nation with a stunning climate, an inimitably paradise-like landscape, where the people are peace-loving and totally tolerant of foreigners, and where the cuisine, culture, lifestyle and history are incredible.
It is most definitely not a nation exclusively accessible to single males – it’s a family friendly country, a retirement paradise, and a place where anyone can make an amazing home.
The restrictions and issues expats need to be aware of are touched upon in this article – from the affordability and accessibility of healthcare and education, to the availability of professional jobs and the lack of driving standards for example. However, because Thailand is so unique, and so different to America, the UK, France or Australia for example, it’s well-worth making the effort to visit before you commit to complete relocation.
About the author: Susan Beverley is a writer and editor for Escape From America Magazine and also writes for and maintains Expat Daily News – the expat news blog for EscapeArtist.com. She traveled extensively before becoming an expat herself having found a place to call home in South America where she has lived since 2005. She understands the concerns, needs and difficulties that expats face from first-hand experience and is dedicated to supporting and encouraging anyone who is looking for a new nation to call home. [ send her an email ]