Thailand: moving to the “Land of Smiles”

Known around the world for its bustling capital city, stunning beaches and iconic cuisine, Thailand is an incredibly popular destination for expats. Beneath the beautiful aesthetics of this South East Asian jewel is a vibrant and welcoming culture that anyone can become a part of. And the lure of Thailand has created a large expat community.

Thailand is a supremely exciting country too, thanks to the mix of ultra-modern and traditional. Want a luxury apartment in the centre of Bangkok? Or how about a quaint villa overlooking sapphire oceans? Thailand delivers in droves and we can’t wait to help you move there effortlessly.

Getting the paperwork sorted

People move to Thailand for a number of reasons: to enjoy retirement, for work in a new role, or for long term travel around the country. No matter why you’re moving, you will need to obtain the correct visa and paperwork. All visas are obtained from the Thai Embassy or your country’s consulate.

Expat retirement in Thailand is incredibly popular, as the Retirement Visa allows anyone over 50 years multiple entries into the country every 12 months. You must meet the financial requirement thresholds and open a Thai Bank account to obtain this visa.

There are also great options for those wanting to study or travel in Thailand. Tourist visas allow stays of up to 60 days, with an extension of 30 days possible. For those pursuing a career there are business visas. Work permits have specific requirements that you will have to meet, depending on the career path and destination country you are coming from. If you’re an investor in a Thai Company, you can also enter the country on a Business Visa allowing you multiple entries over a 12-month period.

All entrants coming to Thailand on an immigrant visa are advised to get their own expatriate health insurance. The Thai medical system is very good, and often considered low cost, however insurance makes things easier. Access to healthcare for expats is made even easier due to almost all medical professionals speaking English.

Where to live

Living in Thailand is a lot easier than you might initially think. Sure, there are cultural differences, but comforts from home are easy to come by and the cost of living is very affordable.

Choosing exactly where to live depends on what you’re personally looking for, so make a list of your own needs before starting your home search. It’s important to note that non-Thai nationals can never legally own land in Thailand. So, you’ll be renting your new home, unless you can find a condominium where the rules allow for foreign owners.

To help you make your decision, we’ve provided a brief outline of some of Thailand’s most popular places to live. Of course, there are plenty of options off of the beaten track. This guide is simply a taste of what Thailand has to offer.

Chiang Mai

The mountainous city offers a high quality of life and a low cost of living. It’s certainly more relaxed than Bangkok, but it still boasts plenty in the way of convenient amenities and nearby entertainment. For around 250 USD a month you can get a spacious, furnished apartment with all the bells and whistles; TV, cable, internet and air conditioning. Eating out is generally very affordable too, with most meals costing barely more than 3 USD.


More expensive than anywhere else in Thailand, Bangkok is still outside the world’s 50 most expensive cities. You can get extraordinary value for money even when renting an apartment close to the city centre. However, with a population of 8 million, living in Bangkok can be a full-on experience especially if you’re new to life as an expat. That said, many expats moving to the country live in Bangkok and really enjoy their time there.


Phuket is something of an island paradise for expats looking to truly escape the rigours of urban living, without giving up on amenities. Its turquoise waters, mountains carpeted with jungle and marble-white beaches make it an incredibly popular place to live. Thankfully, there is still plenty of space available to give you a wonderful sense of isolated tranquillity. Phuket is well connected to the wider world as well, with Thailand’s second busiest airport operating in the region.

Family life and education

Whilst Thailand has a deserved reputation as a ‘place to party’, it’s also perfectly suitable for expat families if you know where to move. Generally speaking, Bangkok is a good place for an expat family thanks to the wider selection of international schools and convenient amenities. Chiang Mai is a good choice too, though be prepared to join lengthy waiting lists for the top international schools. The further outside the busy urban centres you live, the more difficult it will be to find a school that suits your child.

It should be noted that most public education centres in Thailand are reserved for Thai nationals, unless the child has one Thai parent and their birth was registered in Thailand. Because of this, international schools are the best option for expat families. And you’ll find most institutions offer Western curricula such as the popular International Baccalaureate.

If you need help locating a school for your child, why not choose Santa Fe Relocation’s excellent school search service? We connect your child with an international school that best meets their specific requirements.

Getting around Thailand

Thailand has plenty of convenient transport options for expats looking to travel around the country, or just get around their area. The quickest is definitely to catch a plane. It is the most expensive way to travel, but for people rushed for time it is the quickest (you can get to anywhere in two hours or less by plane). Another option is the train, though be prepared for lengthy journeys. Chiang Mai to Bangkok takes around 12 hours by trains, despite only being 430 miles apart.

Buses are the most widely used method of transport in Thailand and they commonly reach areas inaccessible by either planes or trains. That being said, they’re also amongst the most crowded ways to get around Thailand, usually packed with locals and/or intrepid backpackers. They are very cheap though!

The other option is to rent a motorbike, but the roads in Thailand can be somewhat hectic. We don’t recommend hiring or buying a car if you can avoid it. Cars are expensive and more often than not you’ll find yourself stuck in traffic enviously watching motorbikes glide past.

Getting to the islands in Thailand usually means you’ll be taking a ferry, which are easy to catch and are affordable. Ferries are almost always shared by other people but if you’re willing to pay, there are options for private charters.


Human settlement of Thailand dates back hundreds of thousands of years, with evidence suggesting early human species lived there almost one million years ago. Throughout this time, Thailand was dominated by a collection of different indigenous communities, but interestingly, not by what we know today as the Tai people (Tai being the ethnic group, Thai being the term given after Thailand got its name in 1939). They were to come to Thailand later in the 8th century, supposedly migrating from Guangxi in China where the Zhuang Tai people still live today.

Before the Tai people arrived though, different cultures flourished and became part of the trading routes in use by ancient civilisations. Unfortunately, much of Thailand’s history prior to the arrival of the Tai people is unknown.

When the Tai did arrive, they quickly set about displacing the local indigenous populations and creating powerful city states. They were influenced heavily by the Hinduism practising Khmer culture of neighbouring Cambodia. Though by the 14th century King Uthong had made Theravada Buddhism the official religion of his fledgling city, Ayutthaya.

It quickly rose to become one of the most significant cities in the area and supposedly reached a population of one million by AD 1700, making it more populated than any other city in the world at the time. However, Ayutthaya was sacked during the Burmese–Siamese War during the 18th century, ending the Siamese Kingdom.

Burmese rule was short lived, and it wasn’t long until new Tai kingdoms appeared. After a brief period of instability, the Rattanakosin era began and it is an era that continues to this day. In response to increasing pressure from colonial powers such as France and Britain, Thailand changed from a traditional feudalist structure to a modern, centrally governed state with established borders. Unlike the countries surrounding it, Thailand was never conquered by the colonial powers and this remains a source of pride for many Thai people.

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