Life as an Expat…What does it take?

Assuming you have sorted out visa, finance, shelter, food and transportation, what do you think it takes to be successful or happy living the life of an expat?

Some think it is all down to planning while others think it is the ability to be flexible.  How important are things like age, money, intelligence, curiosity, looks, health, companionship and personality?  Are expats looking for a better life or just looking for a way to survive?  Care to share your ideas on the topic of life as an expat?

I think it depends on the person, everyone is different & have different needs.  What works for one person is not going to work for everyone.  Patrick

There are many different types of expats such as people who got their job first before moving to Thailand such as Embassies staff, multi corporation, teachers in prestigious international schools, banks, hospitals, hotels etc.

Then there are expats who come over to look for jobs and these can be sub divided into 2 common types. Professionals and non professionals. As there are many Hospitality companies in Thailand, thus some professipnal people got their job here to work in International hotels. Then you have some who comes over to look for any jobs as they love Thailand in their own ways.

You have expats married to Thai ladies and they come over here to look for jobs while staying at their wife's house.

You have expats who started their own business here.

Even retired expats have different types. Some have the luxury to spend and they are here for 6 months while escaping the winter season back home. Then go back for 6 months while summer there.

There are retired expats who need to watch the exchange rate and forgo many things in life to meet the budget.

I had seen expats being controlled by Thai wives as they can't socialize and go where she goes. Just talking to a neighbour for 15 minutes and his wife start calling on his phone.

Thailand is a country where there's so much diversity that at times can amuse you. You may not thought about it but it happens in Thailand.

Excellent summary, and so well put.

Last summer I was in Phoenix attending an expat meeting, Inter-nations. I met an American woman and she has lived for so long out of the US that she no longer can think of herself as just being an American. Presently I am in Phoenix and will be returning to Chiang Mai in 29 days, but whose counting. I too am feeling that distance of simply being an American. For the past few days there's been this discussion of Trump and the NFL and all of it seems like such a waste of time. With my time in Thailand I can think of better things to do with my time then engage in worthless debates over insignificance. (I love going through police check points and showing my Thai driver's license.)

Again, thank you for you summary

I've only been here 15 mths, but life as an expat in Thailand and away from the US is so much more enjoyable. When I meet someone here and converse, it's usually about uplifting and enjoyable things. When I traveled back to US for 2 mths last Nov/Dec, the conversations and news media were filled with politics, protests and violence. It felt like I was living in a big drama environment and things have only gotten worse since then. I count myself fortunate, to be retired and living the expat life in Thailand at peace and away from all the crazies back home. I guess if you're living in it, you just don't realize until you leave how toxic that environment is. Some of my former colleagues, friends and family back home think I'm a little "out there" for wanting to live away... but, if they could only experience life in Thailand away from the drama, they would see what they are missing... maybe it's just me, but I found peace & happiness here...

Some interesting comments so far. Not exactly what I was looking for but that’s OK, besides, its probably my own fault. When I get home this afternoon and I have a chance to sit down in front of the computer I will try to flesh things out a bit more.

Will try to be a little more on point...

I've only lived life as an expat for a short time, first for 2 1/2 years in Saudi Arabia and the past 15 mths in Thailand as a retired expat. After the initial move to another country and the visas, housing, banking, and logistics are settled, then for me it just takes getting use to the new culture, the people and the food. I guess loneliness is the biggest thing that has bothered me and may be a big reason why some people move back home. I've really missed my kids & grandkids, my former colleagues & friends, my job (to some extent), going to sporting events and my favorite restaurants. I think to be successful or happy living as an expat you need to overcome this loneliness. I have not overcome it completely and still get that feeling from time to time. The next biggest thing for me is the food, the type, the quality and the freshness. I am constantly missing the foods back home... 

Overall, living an expat life is fun, enjoyable and interesting. I get to meet new people from different backgrounds, learn about other cultures, travel to different countries and experience things I would have never experienced back home.

For me, I had to make a decision whether I was going to continue doing the same things every week like I had been doing for the previous 40 years and then pass away in my recliner like my Dad after never having gone anywhere, or whether I wanted to adventure out and see the world and do new things. The answer for me was the latter... It was better for me to make the move to live as an expat than not do it and regret it later in life.

Many Americans live in fear such as insurance premiums, health care, jobs, salary, foreigners taking away the jobs, terrorist, Trump etc

Yes lots of talk about politics, American investment abroad etc

You may think there's none in Thailand? You don't converse well in Thai language otherwise you get an ear full of red shirts, yellow shirts, politicians, laws, corruptions etc

In life, sometimes it's good to be deaf, blind and mute so as one got peace. Deaf because don't know the language. Blind because can't read the words. Mute because can't speak the language.

For sure you are left alone. The Thais will say a few English words to you only then silence. Smile and shake head or wave hands.

Though I communicate in reasonable fluent Thai and I side step all the subjects about Thais and Thailand because my words have no power and I'm expat. Will Thais listen to me and make changes or thank me for it?

I don't waste my time talking or listening about it. I prefer being in my turtle shell. Go out to the places where I enjoy and happy especially it's up to the expat standards.

I always believe in pampering myself after all the years of work done. Be happy and enjoy life since I have only 1 life.


Thank you for that thoughtful introspective response.  You paint a moving picture of loneliness and loss balanced against the desire to get the most out of your time on this planet with no regrets.  I have often remarked that part of my success as an expat is down to coming here with no excess baggage and no sense that I was giving anything up.  From my first trip as a university student in 1975, life in Thailand always felt like more, not less.  I felt more “me” when I was here than when I was back home.  I have been able to do things here that I never would have had the chance to do if I stayed put.

Of course it was different back then as I came here during a time unencumbered by the internet, Google, YouTube, or GPS.  I learned the long-slow way through trail and error as well as good old face to face networking.  I never really had a plan but I learned to trust my instincts and made good choices.  I think it is easier if you are confident, self-reliant but have good people skills.  I worry that we rely too much on the internet for answers and handholding these days.  I hate GPS and much prefer looking at a map.  That annoying GPS lady invariable tells me to turn where I don’t want to turn and wants to rob me of the experience of finding my own way.

So maybe people with a higher tolerance for change and uncertainty stand a better chance of adjusting to expat life.  I do see people, however, who look like they have brought that recliner you mentioned with them instead of throwing it away and embracing something challenging, new and different.

Just for reference, I am not much for making lists or telling others what they should do or how they should do it but I do enjoy asking people why they do what they do.  The why is always much more interesting to me than the what.  I started this topic with the hope of eliciting some opinions and ideas beyond the normal response that it all depends or lists of the different kinds of expats.

I probably spend more time focused on my present situation of being older, married, and not working but I do have firsthand experience with many aspects of being an expat.  I have covered the spectrum from young to old while living here.  I worked for the first twenty years in various fields and I have not worked for the last twenty years.  I was single for the first twenty years and have been married for the last twenty years.  I lived in Bangkok for thirty years before moving to the countryside in Chiang Rai ten years ago.

I have counted people on the extreme ends of the social spectrum as friends over the years and while I preferred older more experienced friends when I was young I now prefer more active people twenty years younger.

I have a house in an "active adult" community in Arizona. Two years ago I met a guy in this writing breakfast group. A group of wanna be writers, maybe. I went for few months and met some different people. One of them was a government worker who in one respect was in some way with law enforcement. He could have been a lawyer, an agent, or CIA. As usual he wasn't exactly clear.

This morning I was in the same breakfast room. (I'm back in the states, returning to Chiang Mai in three weeks.) I was with a different group and noticed this guy. He now hangs out with the law enforcement guys, which usually means cops.  Before I left two years ago and again today he expressed his disdain for Thailand. This time much more politely so. Talking with him, and asking him questions, demonstrated that there are people who just can not see or feel what Thailand is about. He was in Thailand to do a job for the US government and didn't see that Thailand has some unique characteristics. For example, there must be a reason why Thailand is the only country in the Far East that has not been, what shall I say, a colony of a foreign government. The Japanese were in Thailand during WW II but they did not occupy Thailand. I would imagine that Thailand utilized patience, understanding, and the Thai way to keep Thailand from being a subject or occupier of Japan.

Thailand has the attraction of an affordable life style. It also has a very pleasant and sensitive life style to offer. But it also has the Thai way, which Farangs must learn to accept, and live with. That doesn't make it an unlivable place, just a place to adjust to. If one has to have the rules and structure of their home culture then Thailand can create a conflicting life style. I know a Swiss group in Chiang Mai. They want to maintain something of a Swiss life style, within the Thai cost of living (unlike their own country). A Swiss neighborhood developed with Swiss activities. The only problem was that by doing so they created their own isolation. Unfortunately isolation creates some uncomfortable situations, to say the least.

In conclusion; Thailand is not for everyone, no matter how much they try or think so. Personally I have my struggles and challenges but I work at overcoming the challenges and look at learning situations. At times I see myself as having problems. To put it one way, I look at those problems or challenges as part of a learning curve. (I often limit my risks, as well.) But, for the most part, I accept the Thai Way. I now have a Thai driver's license, which eliminates the subordination of one Thai Way. I very much enjoy Thailand even if it presents some of the frustrations of the Thai Way. Just move on, accept, and learn.

So much for my midnight soliloquies.

I am a firm believer in learning about the country you live in.  Some people argue that you only have a binary choice of behaving exactly like a lower-class Thai or acting the way you did back home.  In my opinion you don’t have to forget who you are to acclimate to a new place.  Learning new things doesn’t crowd out the old stuff.  For example, it is very helpful to fully understand the way Thais drive.  With that knowledge you can adapt your driving style to be safer and more efficient.

I speak Thai and have lived here most of my life but I live a life which is neither exclusively Thai nor Farang.  Eventually you get to a place where you live a blended life encompassing the best of both worlds but it does take some time and effort.

Interesting observations about the guy who expressed disdain for Thailand.  I have noticed that people who are rigid authoritarians and view the world as black or white often find Thailand hard to deal with.  Those people often do better when ensconced in a fortified expat community, but that begs the question of why they are here to begin with.

Personally I view the Japanese wartime presence as an occupation but not a more comprehensive colonization.  Interestingly I knew a lady who grew up in Government House (Baan Phitsanulok) which was gifted to her family by King Rama VI and stayed in the family until 1942 when I believe the Thai government “bought” it for a nominal price.  I think the Japanese were also interested in it as an embassy or something.  After the war they did not get their home back for whatever reason.

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