10 Tips for Relocating to Chiang Mai (from 10 Digital Nomads)
Ususally, what we most fear doing is what we most need to do. That phone call, that conversation, whatever the action might be—it is fear of the unknown outcomes that prevents us from doing what we need to do.
—Timothy Ferris, The 4-Hour Workweek (46-7)
It’s no secret that Chiang Mai is one of the top digital nomad hotspots in the world, which is why so many remote professionals choose to relocate here each year.
For many people, however, simply taking the leap into the location independent lifestyle is the hardest part. There is so much uncertainty surrounding such a momentous decision that it’s easy to fall into analysis paralysis, even if your current situation in life is unfulfilling. Before you know it, “better wait until next year” can turn into an annual mantra.
Luckily, you are not the first to consider taking this path. Many have come before you, and their insight can help you minimize risk, avoid frustration, and hit the ground running when you land in the northern capital of Thailand.
That’s why we asked 12 seasoned expats in Chiang Mai a very simple question: If you had to offer one tip to someone relocating to Chiang Mai, what would it be?
Here are their answers.
Nomad Tip 1: Take the leap
“Living in Chiang Mai and running an online business for the last 6 years has unshackled me from needless expense, made me move my life and work online, got me to escape employment, provided me with a more robust income, and given me more meaningful work and a more meaningful life.
My advice is: do it!”
—Rob Cubbon, RobCubbon.com
Nomad Tip 9: Go bootstrap mode
“Make use of free (or almost free) resources. Chances are, if you’re a digital nomad and thinking of relocating to Chiang Mai the plan is to live frugally, save, and build your business on a shoestring. Maya mall has a great free coworking space on the 5th floor called CAMP that’s perfect for “bootstrap mode”. If you go down to the AIS shop on the 3rd floor and ask for a wifi sim you can get blazing fast wifi for a month for 100 baht, thus bypassing the need to buy a coffee at CAMP.
P.S. Try the “Nine One Mocha” at Nine One Coffee on Nimman Soi 11; it’s a mocha made with a bit of coconut oil and unlike anything you’ve had before!”
—Vic Dorfman, MemberFix
Nomad Tip 10: Apply for a Business Visa and Digital Work Permit
“If you have 5 years experience providing digital services (or 2 years plus an IT-related degree), then you are eligible to apply for a Thai Business Visa and Digital Work Permit through BOI-certified companies like Shelter.
For one thing, working legally during your stay in Thailand will give you peace of mind. The days of back-to-back Tourist Visas are over, and Education Visas are only a short-term solution and do not confer the right to work. Second, the benefits of paying back into the system are worth it. Not only can you rest easy knowing that you’re a contributing member of Thai society, you also get the same great healthcare as the Thais. Finally, you won’t have to worry about immigration-related matters anymore. Companies like Shelter handle the documentation, visa and work permit processes, bank account setup, and ongoing invoicing and payroll, leaving you to focus on your work. Best of all, with a BOI-issued Digital Work Permit you won’t need to show up in person for 90 day check-ins and your visa can be extended each year without having to leave the country.”
—Mark McGinn, Shelter Blog
Nomad Tip 2: Get involved
“When you first move to Chiang Mai, be sure to join a coworking space and attend in person meetups and conferences.
You’ll quickly discover that unlike in many online groups, in person you’ll meet a ton of helpful, kind and generous people, including those much more successful that can help guide you along your path.”
—Johnny FK, JohnnyFK.com
Nomad Tip 3: Take expat trolls with a grain of salt
“When you’re new to a place, it’s tempting to join all the relevant Facebook groups to get to know people, find out where the local meet ups are and ask some questions you’ll have.
These groups are a great resource and often one of the only places to get up to date local information but be warned! There are certain groups that are jam packed with sour expats of all ages who gleefully troll any fresh faced newbie filled with ideas of changing the world for the better.
My advice: join the groups and get involved but take negative comments with a pinch of salt and don’t let it change your view of this amazing vibrant community.”
—Beki Adams, Teacher Beki
Nomad Tip 4: Find a decent condo or apartment to rent
“While moving to Chiang Mai is very straightforward, one of the biggest challenges is finding somewhere to live. Fortunately there are many options.
Check out Perfect Homes and create a list of condos you like. Book a hotel for the first few nights when you arrive and then go and view the condos on your list. You can just turn up, view the condo, and if you like it take it—super easy!”
—Kyle Gawley, Gravity
Nomad Tip 7: Get a debit card with ATM fee reimbursement
“Before you come to Thailand, make sure you have a debit card with the lowest withdrawal fees possible. ATM fees are very high in Thailand ($6-$8 per withdrawal) and banks usually charge an additional percentage on top of that. For Americans, Charles Schwab and Chase Bank are a lifesaver. With their debit cards, all ATM fees are reimbursed at the end of the month. This saves me about $60 USD a month in Chiang Mai alone and it’s fantastic when I travel anywhere in the world. Also, be sure to have a credit card with zero foreign transaction fees and one that gets you air miles as well!”
—Amanda Gedney, Settle in Abroad
Nomad Tip 8: Step outside your comfort zone
“Chiang Mai is super easy to live in and offers loads of the amenities of “home,” but that can actually end up being the problem. You gotta make an effort to get out of your comfort zone!
The nomad community in Chiang Mai is fantastic, and one of the best reasons to be here, but if you spend the entirety of your time here hanging out with your own tribe you’re missing out. The Nimman neighborhood is fantastic and has everything you need within walking distance, but there is so much more to the city, so make sure you go explore! Learn some Thai and make new friends in a local dive bar. Go to a fresh market where none of the vendors speak English and eat something weird. Rent a motorbike and head into the hills to spend the weekend in the jungle with Karen hilltribe people, or even glamping like young Thai people like to.
Make sure you’re not just living the same life in a different locale. Plug into what’s local—your time here will be richer for it.”
—Lily Bruns, Draper Startup House
Nomad Tip 5: Get outside the city
“One of my favourite things about Chiang Mai are the many day trips you can do around the city. Go mountain biking down Doi Suthep, climb up the sticky waterfalls, hike around Doi Inthanon, or just go for a slow ride along the Samoeng Loop on your scooter—just a few of the many things to do.
If you’ve got a few days to spare, head up to Pai for a few days, or spend a night camping with friends at Mon Cham or Doi Pui.”
—Fabian Reinhardt, Self Made Artist
Nomad Tip 6: Ride the Mae Hong Son Loop
“My favorite experience in Chiang Mai was renting a motorbike for 5 days and riding over 1000km through the mountainous region of Northern Thailand along the Mae Hong Son Loop.
This epic adventure takes you past waterfalls, temples, caves, hot springs, and ancient villages, including the highest point in all of Thailand—Doi Inthanon National Park. This truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I would recommend to anyone relocating to Chiang Mai.”
—Mike Holp, Be Remote Consulting