How to survive as an expat in Thailand

Published:  2 Feb at 6 PM
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In spite of Thailand’s political instability, it’s still a popular destination for expat retirees from Europe and the USA.

According to local forums, many long-term expats who chose Thailand as their favoured overseas location believe the country’s changed out of all recognition since their arrival a decade or two ago. Everyday tasks, they say, are far more tricky and immigration procedures get worse year by year. Even so, although a few have left for other Southeast Asian countries, a mass exodus hasn’t yet been seen.

One thing’s for certain, in spite of the increasing modernisation sweeping the globe, Thailand is still one of the most ‘different’ expat destinations on the planet, especially for those brave enough to decide to live out of town. It has to be admitted visa procedures are far more trying than in the past, but they’ve a long way to go before they get to resembling the new American president’s vision of making his country white again. Bureaucracy rules worldwide, with Thailand no exception to the rule.

Another aspect of Thailand which seems to annoy a large proportion of expats is corruption. Thais, of course, understand it’s all about business and consider it normal, but at least it’s out in the open and obvious, thus removing the need for congressional investigations and suchlike. The real problem in Thailand is that the ‘trickle down’ philosophy doesn’t work, leaving a significant slice of the population wondering where their next meal is coming from.

As with every country on the planet, Thailand loves its bureaucracy – the more tons of paperwork the better and never mind the trees. The internet revolution hasn’t quite dawned, even although almost every Thai kid has a smartphone. Perhaps in the next generation… For expats dreaming of starting a business, the answer is ‘dream on’, as it’s almost impossible, even with a good lawyer who’s fluent in English. Visas, business registration, various government departments and Thai staff all guarantee a minor nervous breakdown for budding expat entrepreneurs.

For retirees and those seeking the simple life, the country can be heaven, provided an understanding of Thailand’s history and culture is achieved. Unfortunately, languages are the doorway to cultural understanding, and Thai is one of the planet’s most difficult tongues. Most male expats get by with a smattering, usually by marrying a younger and extremely attractive Thai lady who’s up to speed on annoyances like dual pricing for foreigners and the unwanted attention of bar girls.

Losing your temper in Thailand is almost impossible to avoid, but totally non-acceptable to the locals. The trick is to smile as do the Thais, even if it nearly chokes you, and never, ever raise your voice. Walking away before they do is best, as any other reaction might just result in their getting angry – not something you’d want to see. The above is especially applicable if you’re a driver in a land which clocks up more traffic accidents than almost anywhere else on earth.
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