What is it like to live in Bangkok as an expat?
In this Expat Interview, Tara shares her expat life in Bangkok, Thailand. She discusses her moving procedure, good and bad things about Bangkok, where to visit in Bangkok, the cost of living in Bangkok, and more.
1. About Bangkok
Bangkok is the capital city of Thailand. It is a large coastal city with roughly 14 million people in a 600 square mile area.
Like other large cities in the world, you can find a diversity of people living throughout the city and restaurants, shopping malls, museums, businesses, etc.
Bangkok is a safe city to live in as a foreigner and incredibly affordable.
Most foreigners come to Thailand to work as teachers because, to stay long-term, you either need to have a work permit or be married to a local to have a marriage visa.
2. What was your procedure for moving to Bangkok?
I originally moved to Thailand in 2011 but lived in a smaller Thai city.
After completing my contract with a government school, I moved home to NY to complete my Master’s degree.
I knew I wanted to go back to Thailand, but this time my husband and I wanted to work in Bangkok at an International high school to make more money.
In the summer of 2014, we packed up all of our things once again, moving to Bangkok. We had never lived in a big city before, so this was a new experience.
3. Why did you choose to live in Bangkok, Thailand?
After living in a smaller Thai city, I wanted to experience what it was like to live in one of the biggest cities in the world.
Also, as an expat living in Thailand, you can only stay longer than a few months if you have a work permit.
Many jobs do not provide a work permit, so most people who move to Thailand work as teachers.
I wanted to upgrade my job from working in the government school system, and most of the big-name international schools are located in Bangkok.
Bangkok has everything you could imagine, the same as other big cities, so we were looking for some conveniences of that as well.
4. How to prepare to move to Bangkok?
When moving from country to country, it isn’t easy to carry a lot of luggage with you. I could only bring two suitcases, so I had to figure out what was most important.
Since I would be working as a teacher, I made sure to pack all of my professional working clothes first.
I wasn’t sure if I would be able to find the styles of clothes I wanted to work in Thailand, so I prepared by purchasing those items at home first. I also needed to save a bit of money.
It is because, in Thailand, you get paid only once per month, which means you have to live for a whole month before receiving your first paycheck.
You need to make sure you have enough money for rent, deposits, etc.
5. Cost of living in Bangkok
It depends on your lifestyle. Bangkok can be one of the most affordable cities to live in or just as expensive as New York City.
a) Accommodation: Bangkok apartments
You can rent a small studio apartment (not in the center of town) in Bangkok for as little as $300 per month.
Or you can live directly off of Sukhumvit Road in a two-bedroom apartment for $1,500 per month.
b) Food in Bangkok
The same is true for food. You can eat Thai street food for less than $1 per dish, or you can eat at the fanciest restaurants for $20 per serving.
c) Transportation in Bangkok
Transportation is typically always cheap, whether you choose a taxi, motorbike taxi, sky-train, or subway. Tuk Tuk’s tend to charge higher prices.
d) Shopping for groceries in Bangkok
You can shop for groceries at the local markets and pay pennies for fresh fruits and vegetables, or you can shop at the Central shopping mall grocery stores and pay US prices.
e) Buying clothes in Bangkok
For clothing and accessories, you can shop again at the local markets where shirts cost as little as $3.
Also, you can go to the luxury shopping malls that have Sephora, Gucci, Michael Kors, and Coach, for example.
f) Paying taxes in Bangkok, Thailand
Depending on the type of job you have, you may or may not have to pay taxes. Typically in government schools, they will pay the taxes for you.
In International schools, you often have your taxes deducted from your monthly salary, which can be anywhere from 10-20%, depending on the amount of your salary.
It seems steep, but if you’re paying taxes in Thailand, you don’t have to pay taxes in the United States.
g) My experience
When I worked at a government school, I only made $1,000 per month, but I could save $500 per month.
I ate cheap Thai food, shopped at the markets, and lived in a studio apartment.
When I moved to work in the International schools, I made roughly $3,000 per month, saving at least $2,000 per month.
I lived a more expensive lifestyle, had a two-bedroom apartment, enjoyed fancier restaurants, and traveled to more exotic places.
6. What are the difficulties of living in Bangkok?
The Thai language is incredibly difficult. It consists of 5 tones, which means the same word spoken in 5 different ways means five different vocabularies.
As a foreigner, you will most likely never say the tones correctly unless you take classes, so it can be challenging to communicate with the Thai people.
When I first moved there, I needed to rent an apartment, a motorbike, figure out where to do laundry, etc., and all of this is quite hard without speaking the language.
Unless you’re in a tourist area, most Thai’s do not speak any English.
I slowly learned the words for the things I needed doing and spent a lot of time studying.
I learned how to read the Thai script, which was instrumental when ordering food from a restaurant or reading the signs on the streets.
7. Did you experience any discrimination in Bangkok?
The Thai people will stare at foreigners often, and you will hear them say ‘farang’ (Thai word for French, but now it is used as a blanket term for all foreigners) around you all the time.
They don’t mean it in a derogatory way, so don’t feel offended.
You might get annoyed after hearing it so many times, but you have to remember that you are a foreigner living in their country.
There are times when a Thai person will come up and take a picture with you, sometimes without asking, and this is another thing you have to get used to.
For the most part, Thai people are kind and helpful and enjoy engaging in conversation with foreigners. If you learn to say just a few words in Thai, that will really impress them (you might even get better discounts on the market!)
Sometimes, although it’s very rare, foreigners will be charged higher prices than Thai’s at small restaurants or for transportation services.
There is not much you can do about it, and since Thailand is such an affordable country, these differences are so small that it’s better to pay it and move on.
8. How to overcome culture shock in Bangkok?
I didn’t have too much culture shock because I had previously traveled to South East Asia (the Philippines).
I knew a bit of how they lived, and I made sure to ask friends who had been there previously for advice.
Also, I did have to get used to the squat toilets and the fact that not everywhere is as clean as I was used to (especially in restaurants).
Those adjustments come with time, and now they don’t bother me anymore.
9. What do you like about Bangkok?
Bangkok is one of the largest cities in the world, and just like other large cities, it has everything you could imagine. Restaurants, shopping, bars, temples, museums, you name it!
I love how cheap transportation in the city is. You can take a taxi from one end of the town to the other for less than $10.
Bangkok has both a subway and an above-ground sky-train.
The transportation is very efficient, and you can find your way around the entire city quite easily.
Tuk Tuks and motorcycle taxis can be found everywhere as well. You can spend one day in Bangkok and practically move around the entire city.
10. Is there anything that you don’t like about Bangkok?
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the number of people.
If you’re walking around the major tourist areas of Bangkok, there were will thousands of people around you.
It’s nice to find a quieter area of the city where you can roam the streets without too much chaos.
I also don’t like scams.
I haven’t been victim to any scams myself since I know what to look out for, but I hear about them all the time.
As a newcomer to the city, make sure to read up on the scams you might encounter, so you know how to look out for them.
For example, a huge scam in Bangkok involves Tuk Tuk drivers. They might offer you a discounted rate to visit a temple, but you are unaware that they plan to take you to a suit shop or a jewelry store and try and urge you to buy those products.
Don’t ever listen to a Tuk Tuk (or taxi) driver who tells you that a temple is closed but that they can take you to open one. This is a lie, of course, and you should avoid it.
11. What are your favorite things to do in Bangkok?
a) Shopping in Bangkok
My favorite thing about Bangkok is shopping.
I love shopping malls and cheap markets. Chatuchak market, also known as JJ, is one of the biggest markets in the world. There isn’t an item you can think of that cannot be found there.
I love strolling up and down the aisles and seeing what I can find. Always offer 50% less than the asking price! They will always ask for more money, especially for foreigners.
There are enormous shopping malls throughout the city, but most of them are located in the Sukhumvit Road area.
Malls such as Siam Paragon, Central Plaza, MBK, and Platinum are incredible and like heaven to those who love to shop.
b) Eating in Bangkok
I also love to eat in the city (of course!). Not only cheap Thai street food but all the different ethnic restaurants that can be found there.
Bangkok has a Little India, a Little Korea, a Middle Eastern Town, Chinatown, etc. You can find food ranging from Ethiopian to Italian to Mexican.
12. Where do you recommend visiting in Bangkok?
a) Temples in Bangkok
At some point, you will have to visit famous temples such as Wat Pho and Wat Arun along the riverside.
You can visit the Grand Palace or go to see the Emerald Buddha. Be aware that these all are extremely touristy things to do, so there will always be hundreds of other people there.
b) Bangkok Nightlife
For those who love the nightlife, the Khao San Road area is where most backpackers hang out.
If you love nightlife but want to stay away from the backpacker crowd, then the areas of Thong Lor or Ekkamai (off Sukhumvit Road) are the best options for you. Here you will find hipster and artsy bars with unique cocktails.
Sky bars are also popular places to visit in the city.
My favorite is Above 11, on Sukhumvit Soi 11, which offers a chill vibe with spectacular views of the city’s skyline. They serve a combination of French and Peruvian food. There are dozens of sky bars around Bangkok to choose from.
c) Day trips from Bangkok
Since transportation is affordable and easy to find, you can also venture outside the city to see excellent attractions.
An hour north of the city is Ayutthaya, where you will find ancient ruins, and an hour west of the town, you can visit the famous floating market of Damneon Saduak.
A few hours south and you’ll reach the pristine beaches on Koh Chang or Koh Samet islands.
13. Is it easy to make new friends in Bangkok?
It’s easy to make new friends if you are social! Usually, if you’re working in the school system, there will be other foreigners from around the world that you’ll get to know and befriend.
You can also go out to bars or join classes such as Yoga to get to know other people.
You can’t be shy about starting a conversation with someone, go for it, and they are most likely in the same situation as you and looking for friends.
14. Do you hang out with locals or foreigners, mostly in Bangkok?
I hang out with a combination of locals and foreigners.
I have a lot of foreign friends from working in the school system and locals who work there too. You can meet more locals by going out to bars and restaurants and starting conversations.
15. Where is your favorite place in Bangkok to meet friends?
Thai people love to eat and drink! So bars and restaurants are the best places to hang out.
Meals are shared ‘family-style,’ meaning that many random dishes are ordered and shared among the whole group.
It is not common to order your dish and not share it with others. Coffee is huge too, and every corner has a coffee shop, so this is another popular place to hang out.
16. Do you interact with any expat communities in Bangkok?
No, I never interacted with any expat communities.
Usually, there are so many expats living in most schools and areas of town that you don’t have to seek any out. However, there are many expat communities that you can be a part of if you wish.
There are groups for getting together at different bars or restaurants. My friend was a new mother and joined a group of new mothers in the city. They would meet at cafes or take the children to the park.
17. A memorable experience in Bangkok
My co-worker was a former journalist who had lived in Bangkok for 20 years. He suggested we have some drinks at this old US/Thai Military base from the ’70s, converted into a bar. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we agreed and followed him there.
We arrived at this large compound, and he began banging on the door. It was raining outside, and nothing was happening. No one was coming. He looked around and was like, ‘Oh! Oops, wrong place’. He walked next door and banged again on a large metal door. A minute later, we were buzzed inside.
There were Thai soldiers with large guns all around us. We walked down this skinny hallway, where we had to sign our names. We were all a little sketched out and unsure about the whole experience, so we signed fake names.
When I was beginning to think the whole situation was a bad idea, we entered the bar. It turned out to be just your typical VFW bar. They had craft beers, pool tables, and American sports on the T.V. It ended up being a great night.
18. Did you change your perspective of Bangkok after living here?
Definitely, I always thought I would hate living in a large city, and Bangkok is one of the largest in the world. But there is always so much to do and see (and so much food to eat!) that it’s impossible not to love it.
However, I would still prefer to live near a big city but not inside it. I need a little more peace and quiet.
19. Advice and tips for moving to Bangkok or living in Bangkok
Read and plan. Know the general costs of things that you will need to come prepared with enough money. Understand the culture and customs of the people, so you don’t offend anyone and start off on the wrong foot.
Go with the flow! Of course, things will go wrong, but you will adjust, and you’ll remember it as a great learning experience.
20. Would you recommend living in Bangkok?
Should people live in Bangkok? Absolutely.
Bangkok will always be my favorite city in the world. In my mind, there is no other country like Thailand, and it’s a place everyone should experience, at least for a short time in their life.
The way of life for the Thai people is so fascinating, unlike the way of life in America.
I believe the only way for you to grow as a person is to step outside your comfort zone now and then. Moving out of your own country to experience another is a growth experience. You will never look at your own country in the same way again.
21. What have you learned from living abroad?
I have learned patience, tolerance, and understanding, to name a few.
I learned that people live differently all over the world and that their customs are not necessarily better or worse than your own, just different. You find yourself feeling more like a citizen of the world instead of a citizen of just your own country.
In the US, people tend to live very actively and stressed out lives. I know because I used to live that way. I constantly worried about money and taxes, and bills.
In Thailand, I didn’t have to worry about those things. I had enough money to be extremely comfortable, and those worries disappeared.
Life is a lot slower in Thailand. It causes you to reflect on your own life. This doesn’t mean that living in Thailand was perfect, and I didn’t have any problems. But I hope to carry the lessons I learned from living in Thailand with me throughout the rest of my life.
More about Tara Kenyon
Hello! My name is Tara Kenyon, from Upstate, New York. I have my Master’s degree in Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport and my Bachelor’s in Biology and Psychology from Binghamton University.
I have been living in Thailand on and off for the past six years as a teacher. At first, I taught English to high school students at a Government school in Nakhon Sawan and then Science at an International High School in Bangkok.
Living in Thailand has inspired my passion for travel and cuisine, which helped me begin my website, Nutrition Abroad. Here I write about recipes from around the world and provide travel guides and tips for the independent budget traveler.
Currently, I am taking a break from teaching and traveling the world with my husband, blogging about my experiences as I go!
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The opinions expressed here by Expatolife columnists are their own, not those of Expatolife.