Finding a sustainable way-of-life in Thailand

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For years I’ve been contemplating a way to spend a lot more time in Thailand. My fiancée is Thai and I do love her country a lot. However, I am not insanely well-off, am not planning to retire any time soon, do not wish to bail on my succesful carreer, nor do I want to forfit my situation in Belgium or do I resent my home country. Sounds like I want to have my cake and eat it too, doesn’t it? For a long time, that is exactly what I thought. But at a certain point I stopped researching other people’s solutions online and started paving my own way to the Land of Smiles. I’ll explain my approach in this post and take you along for the ride, with my feet firmly on Thai soil. You’ve guessed it, I have succeeded in my goal. 🙂 My objective is to inspire more people to chase their dream. This story will be most helpful for people in their late twenties to mid fourties, when retirement is still far away and a carreer path has been established.

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My research revealed plenty of strategies to enable a longer stay in Thailand, or even to reside there permanently. Broadly, they can be divide in five categories:

  • Expats: having a multinational company send you over, provide a royal salary and expatriot package (housing, reimbursement for the cost of living, tickets to fly back home a few times a year) and arrange for a long term visa and work permit. Even though still in existence, it has become much rarer due to the economic climate and the rising eductional level of the Thai work force.
  • Local employees: plenty of multinationals and local Thai companies hire farang locally. In theory, in order to get a work permit (and long term visa) they should bring a skill to the table that is hard to find amongst Thai employees. The most typical job for this category is teaching English.
  • Entrepreneurs: many farang start a local business. Prime examples used to be foreign-owned hospitality businesses (guest houses/bars/restaurants). More about owning a business in Thailand in a later post
  • Digital Nomads: by far the fasest growing segment, over the past few years. Digital Nomads are people who work over the Internet. Usually freelancers and mainly in IT. This is allowed with a tourist visa.
  • Retirees: when pension payments kick in, after a full career. Thailand can provide a non-immigrant type O visa for people aged 50 and above. More info on possible visas will be featured in another future post.

Most longer-term residents seem to stay around one of three locations:

  • Bangkok has the highest concentration of local multinational headquarters and plenty of opportunities for foreign English teachers. As a result, most of the jobs for farang are to be found here. Other upsides are farang centered hospitality and the possibility of a more Western lifestyle. A major downside is the elavated cost of living.
  • Pattaya also offers farang centered hopsitality and the possibility of a more Western lifestyle. This location is best suited for entrepreneurs in hospitality and retirees. With a lot of factories in the vicinity and the Laem Chabang port close by, there might be opportunities for those in production management and transportation.
  • With a lower cost of living, Chiang Mai seems to attract the majority of Digital Nomads.

My situation resembles the Digital Nomad profile the closest, but doesn’t match it completely. I have a management job in marketing and have been able to convince my employer to work remotely by using the following arguments:

  • A work permit is not needed, as I am not active on the Thai market nor do I steal jobs from Thai people.
  • I’ve gotten private health insurance that covers any accident while I am working, removing my employer’s liability
  • If my internet connection should not be adequate I would return home. It goes without saying that I had it installed and tested before I even got on the plane and have a series of back-up locations in place. Co-working spaces (subject of a future post) are ideal for this type of situation.

None of the three typical locations suit my needs, either. I’ve repeatedly stayed in all three and have done the tourist traps to death. Bangkok, Pattaya and Chiang Mai are what I like to call self-contained bubbles, removed from the average Thai culture and way of life. Mainstream media like to portray normal Thai life as rural, which is highly out-of-date. Sure, these rather primitive communities living of the land still exists, but Thai cities are very developed and have a thriving and growing middle class. My fiancée, for example, is an English teacher, who’s daily routine involves a commute to work, working at an office and shopping at the supermarket over the weekend.

Expat forums often refer to using local resources and eating at local eateries (as opposed to Western chains) as ‘going local’, implying this to be inferior and a way to live on a shoe string budget. I do strongly disagree: back home I do not eat two three-course meals a day at a restaurant, either. Thai cuisine is diverse, healthy and relatively low on calories. Ingredients are equally inexpensive and I plan to cook for myself too. It all fits in to my plan to find a realistic and sustainable lifestyle.

Once you venture off the tourist trail, prices for accomodation drop dramatically. I chose to live in the Nakhon Ratchasima province, close to the city of Korat. An 80 m² furnished house can be found for EUR 75 – EUR 125 a month, if you invest some time in research. Considering that this is about the amount I spend each month on utilities (gas/electricity/water), they balance each other out.

One of my major concerns was the reliability and speed of broadband internet. I was able to find a VDSL subscription with a tried-and-tested 30 Mbps/3 Mbps connection speed, which appears to be very reliable.

Over the coming months I will keep you updated about my quest for a sustainable and comfortable lifestyle.

 

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