7 Insider Tips for Digital Nomads Relocating to Thailand
As more people get vaccinated and more countries around the world reopen, there are an increasing number of remote workers feeling the urge to travel abroad.
According to a recent Club Med study, Thailand ranks as the number 1 country in the world for digital nomads in 2021 based on 40 key livability factors.
While there are dozens of articles on the web offering tips to those interested in relocating to Thailand, the majority simply rehash the same old information. Many would-be nomads want to dig beneath the surface and find the crucial advice that can make or break their new life in the Land of Smiles in 2021.
In this article, we offer 7 insider tips for digital nomads that are sure to drastically improve your quality of life as an expat.
Choose your destination wisely.
There are many destinations in Thailand that make great home-bases for digital nomads, but you want to make sure you choose your location with care.
I have known more than a few expats who were initially drawn to the busyness and bustle of Bangkok, only to find that it wore down their nerves. Or the would-be beach bum who dreamed of working on a different beach every day in Phuket, but hadn’t considered the annoying tourist gimmicks of island life. I could go on from there.
Thailand is amazing because it has something to offer everyone, but then again, everyone is different.
Before you put roots down anywhere, take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself exactly what kind of life you envision for yourself in Thailand.
Then choose the locale that realistically suits your temperament the best.
Be realistic about your budget.
While there are many who boast online about spending $500 USD per month in Thailand – it is certainly possible – it is important to be realistic about your spending goals.
In Bangkok, a more realistic budget would be between $1,200 and $2,000 USD. In Chiang Mai, $800 to $1,500 USD.
The truth is, shoe-stringing it is feasible while you are traveling, but if you live here you will occasionally get the urge to splurge on creature comforts, such as Western meals, groceries at Rimping, or the odd night out.
Factor these expenses into your budget. After all, Thailand is your new home and there is no reason to deprive yourself unnecessarily. You’ve made it; you can afford it now.
That being said, do make use of as many free (or almost free) resources as you can. Chances are, if you’re a digital nomad and thinking of relocating to Thailand, the plan is to live frugally, save, and build your business as cheaply as possible.
In Chiang Mai, for example, Maya mall has a great free co-working 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 a blazing fast connection for a month for 100 baht, thus bypassing the need to buy a coffee at CAMP.
Get a debit card that reimburses ATM fees.
Before you come to Thailand, you want to make sure that you have a debit card with the lowest withdrawal fees possible.
ATM fees are quite high in Thailand ($6-8 USD per withdrawal) and banks usually charge an additional percentage on top of that. For Americans, Charles Schwab and Chase Bank are a lifesaver when it comes to traveling abroad. With their debit cards, all ATM fees are reimbursed at the end of the month.
ATM fee reimbursement saves around $60 USD per month and is a wonderful benefit when traveling anywhere in the world. As an extra bonus, you can try to find a credit card with zero foreign transaction fees and one that gets you air miles as well.
Make sure your financial transactions are working for you – not the other way around!
Learn some Thai, and mind your manners.
This tip might sound obvious, but you would be surprised how many people relocate to Thailand without even learning how to say hello. I recommend going even further and learning how to say several key phrases in Thai, which will make your first weeks here much easier.
You can start with hello, yes/no, thank you, you’re welcome, this/that one, and how much.
- Hello – sawadt-dii
- Yes – châi
- No – mâi châi
- Thank you – khôp khun
- You’re welcome – mâi pen rai
- This one – an nií
- That one – an nán
- How much – tâo rai
Thai people are very friendly and most of them, at least in the city, can speak a fair smattering of English. Still, being able to speak some Thai will make a huge difference in the way you are received by Thai people.
Manners are also important, as always. Thai people are famously well-mannered – indeed, even their word for “no” (mai-chai) literally means “not yes”.
You want to make sure not to fit into the stereotype of the brash and rude Western foreigner. Learn to use the polite particles “khrap” and “kha” after everything you say – even when using English (“see you again khrap“).
Also important is the famous Thai bow called the “wai” – a slight bow with your palms pressed together. The wai can be used when you are saying hello and goodbye, and should always be returned (even if only as a deep nod).
Recommended websites for learning Thai online:
- Learn Thai from A White Guy (subscription-based program that teaches reading first and then conversation fundamentals – great starting point)
- ThaiPod101.com (level-based lessons for the beginner and advanced learner alike)
- Learn Thai with Mod (free beginner and intermediate video lessons)
- Thai Lessons by New (free beginner and intermediate video lessons)
Make an effort to step outside your comfort zone.
Thailand is an amazingly convenient place to live and offers many of the same amenities as home. Oddly enough, this can end up being a problem. You have to make an effort to get out of your comfort zone.
For example, the expat communities in Chiang Mai, Bangkok and the southern islands are fantastic, and some of the best reasons to live here, but if you spend the entirety of your time here hanging out with your own group, you’re seriously missing out.
The expat enclaves are fantastic and have everything you need within walking distance, but there is so much more to Thailand! Make sure you venture beyond the beaten tourist path and explore your area.
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 the Karen hill tribe people, or even glamping like young Thai people do.
Most importantly, 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.
Remember to bring your credentials.
It might sound obvious, but you would be surprised how many newbie expats leave home without bringing along the credentials they will need to find work abroad and/or apply for a work permit in Thailand.
For example – a high school or university diploma, professional certificates, reference letters, background check if you have one, marriage certificate, birth certificates for dependents, etc.
This does not mean you need to physically pack these documents in your carry-on. Properly scanned digital copies work as well.
Apply for a work permit.
While Thailand is one of the most popular country in the world for remote workers, the truth is that most nomads work illegally – which can put them in a precarious tax position with respect to Thailand and their home country.
In order to work legally in Thailand, you need a valid Non-Immigrant Business Visa and Work Permit issued according to Thai immigration law.
If you have 5 years of experience providing digital services – or 2 years of experience plus an IT-related degree – then you are eligible to apply for a Business Visa and Work Permit through a local EoR (Employer of Record) like Shelter.
The great thing about working with an EoR is that they are able to legally employ you in Thailand and take care of the same payroll, tax, social security and immigration matters as a normal Thai employer. You still do your own work, but under the umbrella of your Employer of Record.
Most importantly, working legally during your stay in Thailand will give you peace of mind. Secondly, 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.
You want to choose an EoR wisely, as they will be your primary business partner in Thailand. Since you are the one paying for the service, do not be afraid to ask questions relating to the scope of work and what will be expected on your end. Some EoRs expect you to process your tax and social security payments on your own, or charge extra service fees to prepare paperwork for dependents.