Information on Thailand’s Cost of Living, Infrastructure, Climate, Residency, Health Care and Real Estate
Thousands of foreigners have settled in Thailand, in world-renowned resorts such as Koh Samui, Koh Lanta, and Phuket, in cities including Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai, and in the smaller towns of Hua Hin, Cha-am, and Pai. It’s rare to find a town in Thailand that doesn’t have at least a few foreign residents.
There’s a lot to like in Thailand: Breathtaking beaches, friendly locals, and well-established expat communities are just what’s on the surface. Beyond these attractions, Thailand boasts excellent health care (sometimes one-fifth the cost of U.S. health care) and easy retirement visa options.
A would-be retiree would have no trouble enjoying life here… there is a large and established expat community, plenty of golf courses, excellent medical and dental care, and all the services and amenities that an expat could want. Plus, the geography offers everything from misty mountains to pristine beaches.
The real kicker though, is the price. Thailand is arguably the cheapest place on Earth to live well. While affordable luxury is available, you can live on a very modest budget, thanks to US$1 pad thai lunches and US$11-a-night hotels (including breakfast and free WiFi).
Bangkok is a popular choice among retirees who appreciate its cosmopolitan flair, vast variety of entertainment venues, shopping, and warm, tropical climate. The city’s proximity to beach resorts is another plus. Pattaya and Cha-am are just two hours from the city, and the retirement haven of Hua Hin is less than three hours away.
Many foreigners come to Bangkok to work. The demand for English teachers is insatiable, as is the market for skilled employees in many other industries. If you have at least a bachelor’s degree and a willingness to work, you will have no difficulty finding a job in this city.
Cost Of Living In Thailand
Live and Invest Overseas offers monthly cost of living budgets (for a couple) for our favorite destinations in Thailand:
Infrastructure In Thailand
Thailand’s infrastructure is generally quite good, but varies greatly across the country. Cities are typically well-developed, but rural towns or more remote regions would be less so. Thailand communications infrastructure is impressive and there is currently a long-term plan to make far-reaching improvements to the national transportation infrastructure.
This nation-wide initiative will improve rail, air, road, and water transport (even reaching beyond the Kingdom’s borders to connect systems, in some cases), making travel much easier for both domestic trips and visits to neighboring countries. Within a decade, it’s hoped that city and suburb congestion will have improved considerably.
While Internet technology is widely available here, very fast, and often free, it is censored by the Thai government, making some sites inaccessible.
Bangkok has had quite a facelift in the past decade. The Don Mueang International Airport now handles only a small percentage of the flights it once did, while the sleek new Suvarnabhumi Airport, opened in 2006, serves more than 45 million passengers per year. Bangkok is the gateway to the rest of Thailand and points beyond. If you come to Southeast Asia, there is a good chance that you’ll at least transit through the city. Indeed, Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi services more flights than any other airport on the Southeast Asian mainland, and Bangkok is also a major rail hub.
Climate In Thailand
Most of Thailand has a tropical climate which is dominated by the monsoon season.
The temperature in all areas of Thailand typically ranges between 50°F and 100°F throughout the year. Average annual humidity is around 85%. Mountainous regions and any area above sea level may experience cooler temperatures and lower humidity. Thailand receives the majority of its precipitation during monsoon season, but the rest of the year also receives regular rainfall. There is also a difference in rainfall per region. The average annual rainfall for northeast is about 40 inches, but it’s over 150 inches on the peninsula (including in Bangkok).
As in any country, weather depends on your region, but generally Thailand enjoys a warm, sunny climate with some temperature fluctuation from season to season.
Thai Rainy Season (monsoon season): May to November
Thai Dry Season: December to April (March to May is the hottest time of the year)
Residency In Thailand
U.S. citizens may enter Thailand without a visa and remain in the country as a tourist for a maximum of 30 days. If you wish to stay longer than 30 days, you need a “long-stay tourist visa” in your passport before you leave the United States. The visa must be used within 90 days of issue and allows for a stay of 60 days. After arrival, a tourist visa can be renewed twice (each time for an additional 30 days). To remain in Thailand longer than 90 days within a six-month period a valid Thai visa is required.
It used to be possible to stay indefinitely in the country with a tourist visa, making visa runs to a neighboring country every month or so. However, these laws were changed a few years ago. Now a foreigner who wants to live in Thailand long term needs a visa and Thailand actively polices visa overstays; if you overstay your visa, you will be subject to fines (accumulated daily) or detention.
Thailand offers several residency visa options. Retirees typically want the nonimmigrant O-A (long-stay) visa. To qualify, you must be age 50 or older at the time of application, have completed a satisfactory police records check, obtain a medical examination, present a certificate of health, and deposit 800,000 baht (currency conversion here) in a Thai bank for at least two months prior to making your application or be able to prove that you receive a pension of at least 65,000 baht (currency conversion here) per month.
As a practical matter, it is much easier to obtain a retirement visa in Thailand than it is to get, for example, the Malaysia My Second Home visa in Malaysia. The financial requirements are less in Thailand, too.
Residency in Thailand can lead to naturalization in this country, but there are several requirements, including renunciation of prior citizenship.
Health Care In Thailand
Medical care is great value in Thailand. The country is one of the top spots in the world for medical tourism. Expats are often (sometimes embarrassingly) eager to share stories of the medical care that they received in Phuket, particularly. They commonly point out that their procedure averaged 20% to 80% less than it would have cost in Northern America or Europe and the quality of care that they received was far superior.
Whether you are in need of a routine check-up, a complicated dental implant or just want to brighten your smile, the dental clinics here also offer high quality care at very low prices. It seems like there are dental clinics on practically every block of major cities, and you will find at least one in every small town. Patong Beach Dental, for example, charges just 300 baht for x-rays and 12,000 baht for ceramic crowns (currency conversion here). Prices are even lower at the dental clinic in Phuket International Hospital. Many foreigners go to Phuket for dental care, combining the need for dental treatment with a vacation that pays for itself in savings.
Thailand does not offer universal health care, though medical costs are extremely reasonable and many people choose not to obtain medical insurance at all. However, with the cost of insurance so reasonable, it makes sense to have coverage.
Most medications available in the west are sold in Thailand, and prescriptions are generally not required other than for narcotics. Pharmaceutical prices tend to be a fraction of what they would be in the United States for the exact same drug. If you need to take a specific medication that cannot be substituted, you may want to check first to make sure that drug is available locally.
Expats rave about the quality of care provided at Bangkok Phuket Hospital, and are quick to point out that Bangkok Phuket Hospital shares many of its doctors with Phuket International Hospital—the quality of care at both hospitals is superb. These two hospitals treat tens of thousands of foreigners and locals every year. English speakers should have no difficulty communicating with the staff at either of these foreigner-friendly hospitals.
Real Estate In Thailand
One obstacle for some is the fact that foreign ownership of property is restricted in Thailand. Thailand places restrictions on foreign ownership and property similar to those in the Philippines, except in this country foreigners can own up to 49% of a condo building. The other downsides to this tropical destination include the distance from North America. The majority of flights have at least one stop, and it will take you more than 18 hours to cross the Pacific. The environmental factor that will affect you as a retiree in residence is air pollution.
Politics is the wild card when buying property in Bangkok. Thailand has the dubious distinction of having more coup d’états than any other country in the world. Whether Thailand is ruled by an unelected military junta or a democratically elected government, large protests have resulted in the closing of airports, traffic disruption, and martial law in the recent past. However, it’s important to note that civil unrest does not affected every part of Bangkok or the country as a whole. And protests are directed toward other Thais, never toward foreigners. During these times, day-by-day life around the country continues much as it always does, regardless of what may be happening elsewhere. Avoiding large gatherings of protestors is the easiest way to stay out of trouble.
Foreigners can apply for a 30-year renewable lease with an option to renew in 30-year periods, but these leases cannot be registered and sale of the property by the current owner who signed the lease could nullify the lease.
Foreigners cannot own land in Thailand. Companies can own land. Foreigners can invest a minimum of US$1 million (more or less, depending on the exchange rate) in a Board of Investment-approved project and under such can purchase 1,600 square meters of land. Some foreigners opt to own 49% of a property with 51% being owned by a trusted Thai native. We don’t recommend this.
English In Thailand
English is widely spoken and understood throughout Thailand. This is truer of the cities and true to varying degrees in rural or remote areas. Still, almost any Thai person you’ll meet will have a working knowledge of English.
It’s advisable to bring a translator when tackling administration, though, when you you’re opening your bank account or getting a local driver’s license, for example. Almost all road signs are translated into English (more or less successfully).
There are many notable English-language local papers published in Thailand.
There are even French and German newspapers.
Cities are also home to bookstores that sell new and used English books. Any Hollywood movie played in theatres would be played in English with Thai subtitles