For several decades, Thailand has been globally renowned for its pristine white-sand beaches, lush green jungles, and perfect blue skies. It is in the top ten most popular tourist destinations on Earth at the time of writing, and people everywhere dream of flying here for just a few precious days’ lounging on the beach. The thought of living in the fabled Land of Smiles is enough to turn many people green with envy.
Living and working in Thailand is not exactly an unobtainable dream, and every year an increasing number of people visit as more than just mere tourists… From retirees to ESL teachers, Thailand is home to a wide array of long-term and permanent foreign residents. Increasingly, another group has been flocking to Thailand: the digital nomads. Drawn by the beautiful landscape, excellent food, fascinating culture, and comparatively low cost of living, large numbers of these people have chosen to work online from Thailand.
But is it always sunny in paradise? Living in Thailand comes with a few challenges, and before you break out the credit card and book a flight to Bangkok, you might want to pay attention to one or two of the difficulties remote workers are facing these days.
So grab a beer and gather around the BBQ… This article is going to tell you everything you need to know about moving to Thailand for remote work.
Remote Work in Thailand: An Overview
Let’s jump right into it. You probably know a few things about Thailand already, and some of those I mentioned in the intro above:
- Great weather
- Amazing beaches
- Delicious food
- Chilled out culture
The list could probably go on for another fifty bullet points but I’ll let you fill in the gaps with your imagination. The fact is: Thailand is a fantastic place and millions of tourists each year get to find that out for themselves. But what about actually living here? Could it really be as great as you imagine?
Living in Thailand while working online has a lot of advantages that almost seem too good to be true… but we’d be remiss not to mention the various drawbacks. That’s right: Thailand may be closer to paradise than most places, but it’s not exactly perfect.
In this little Southeast Asian country, you’ll find all sorts of things that make life great, alongside a bunch of necessities that you probably hadn’t already thought of: good supermarkets, reliable hospitals, loads of people who speak English, fast internet, etc. But there are downsides. Visas are tough to get, the cost of living rises year on year, and the roads are currently the 4th most dangerous in the world.
Despite those last few things, Thailand is a popular destination for people who can work online. Let’s face it, if you could do your job from almost anywhere, wouldn’t you want to live somewhere like Thailand? Well, read on and see if it’s right for you…
Popular Remote Work Destinations in Thailand
While there are dozens of places in Thailand that attract digital nomads and other remote workers, the three most popular places are: Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and Phuket. Let’s take a little look at each of them.
Until ten years ago, most people hadn’t even heard of this little town in the north of Thailand. Nowadays it’s not exactly a little town anymore… What was once a sleepy enclave populated by laid back northern Thais and a handful of tourists is hyper-popular among digital nomads and regular tourists.
This has been a bit of a double-edged sword, as it often is. While Chiang Mai is in most regards a perfect place for doing remote work, the environment has degraded somewhat. There are a plethora of options when it comes to cafes and co-working environments, as well as great bars, bookshops, and restaurants. However, the once quiet backstreets are now crowded and the blues skies have a tendency to get filled up with smog. Chiang Mai, it seems, grew a little too fast and has struggled to cope with the influx of visitors.
Still, if you come off-season it is quiet and peaceful, and even a short drive into the country will take you to a world totally beyond the one you knew back in town. After all, most tourists hardly bother looking past the famous temples.
Bangkok is one of the most popular cities on Earth when it comes to tourists, and it is also home to the most foreign workers of all Thai cities. Whilst you won’t often forget you’re in Thailand, Bangkok is far more international than any other place in the country. There are myriad opportunities for working with big international organizations here, and the country’s best schools pay exorbitant salaries to their foreign teachers. In other words, this is a lucrative place to be right now.
If you’re going to do remote work, Bangkok is a pretty good place to be. Like Chiang Mai, it has a good infrastructure for digital nomads, as well as plenty to do when you’re finished working for the day. It’s also pretty cheap as capital cities go. The cost of living here is certainly a lot lower than it is in the next destination…
If it weren’t for the cost of living, Phuket would probably blow those other places out of the water as a remote working destination. It has everything you need and more: fast internet, plenty of housing, great supermarkets, good medical facilities, every conceivable kind of bar, café, or restaurant… The list goes on. What’s more, you are seldom more than 10 minutes from a perfect white-sand beach, and the air – unlike that of Chiang Mai or Bangkok – is pristine. There is no smog in Phuket. Not yet, anyway.
Phuket has been home to a large expat community since the 1970s and it continues to grow. These people do all sorts, but in the last few years there has been an increasing number of people who work online. With internet speeds that rival or surpass most Western countries, why not? This all makes it one of the best places to live and work remotely – not just in Thailand, but in Asia.
Thailand isn’t a huge country, but there are many places that would make a great home for remote workers. There are the obvious tourist destinations like Koh Samui and Koh Lanta, but these tend to have few resources for long-term visitors. Whilst great for a short-stay, they wouldn’t be ideal to live in for more than a month or two. Other rural destinations may lack the internet speeds and connectivity, as well as being unreliable in terms of power or water. As such, the three aforementioned places tend to dominate as far as digital nomadism goes.
This is where I have to break a few hearts. Sorry, folks, but working online from Thailand is almost never legal. If you are a digital nomad or remote worker (or whatever else you want to call it), chances are that your job isn’t going to be able to provide you with a long-term visa for Thailand. You aren’t going to be paying income tax here, either, and your situation will thus be a bit tenuous to say the least.
Most foreign visitors to Thailand come on a tourist visa. If you’re from a Western country, you can get a 30-day visa-on-arrival with no payment needed and few questions asked. With a bit of planning ahead, you can make that a 60-day visa from your local embassy. Both of these can be extended by 15 or 30 days with a visit to the local visa office and the requisite fee. However, be wary of those who tell you that it’s possible to just keep on renewing. You won’t get your tourist visa renewed more than once at the visa office and the old “visa run” to Myanmar or Malaysia looks set to be a thing of the past.
Many people are reporting that they have been turned away at the border for having too many Thai stamps in their passports. It used to be possible to leave the country every month or two, but now you face a bit more scrutiny. You might well find yourself turned away, with all your stuff locked up in your apartment and no way of getting to it…
Perhaps a better option is an educational visa. What’s that you say? You’re not a student? Well, to tell you the truth, neither are many of the people on Thai “ed visas.” While I’m sure there are many dedicated students studying diligently at excellent universities across Thailand, there are vast numbers of people who sign up for less reputable schools – I’m talking about the ones with no classrooms yet large upfront fees… Yeah, that’s right. You can buy a 1-year educational visa from many places in Thailand without actually having to attend classes. There are only a few drawbacks to this otherwise foolproof system:
- It can be really, really expensive.
- If you want to do another year, you will need to take a Thai language exam.
- You can’t easily leave the country during your stay.
- When you do leave the country, you’ll be lightly grilled on the way back in.
A few qualifiers on those points: Expense is relative and if you’re making good money, then it might not bother you. After all, what price do you put on living in such a beautiful place? But remember when you plan your year in Thailand that you might have to set aside $1,000 for visa fees. As for leaving the country, that will cost you $30 and a potentially exhausting trip to the immigration office. When you come back to Thailand after your trip abroad, your “light grilling” might involve some awkward questions. At wanderbbq, we’re not opposed to light grilling, but make sure you know what to say to the nice man with the right to ban you from his country.
Where to Stay in Thailand: Choosing the Right House for Remote Work
One of the best things about living in Thailand is that you can pretty much find a place to stay in a matter of days. This may seem too good to be true for those of you more used to the European and North American systems. No, you don’t need references to convince a prospective landlord. You only need rent money and a deposit.
Digital nomads in Thailand will find that the best thing to do is stay in a hotel, hostel, or AirBnb for a few days or a week after arriving in the country. During that time, they can easily search for a place to live. Your local rental agency will be happy to help… but before you try that, jump on Facebook and join the local groups. In places like Phuket, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, there will not only be general forums but also groups specifically for housing. Here, you can see photos and descriptions, along with prices and other relevant details.
In Thailand, it’s common to pay two months’ rent as a deposit, but some landlords will only ask for one month upfront. Prices vary wildly, depending on location and the actual property. Phuket is far and away the most expensive place in Thailand, but if you have come from the UK or USA, you might find it to be cheap. Here, $600 per month will get you a pretty nice house or apartment, perhaps with a shared pool, and certainly not far from a beach. In Bangkok or Chiang Mai, you could find something similar for about half the price.
What your apartment fee covers should be stated in the advert and agreed in the contract. Most rents cover internet, TV, and pool cleaning fees, but you’ll probably have to pay for electricity and water separately.
I mentioned that Thailand is currently ranked as the fourth most dangerous place in the world for driving. The locals seem to prefer driving on the wrong side of the road and often at high speed. As such, you should proceed with care.
Renting a motorbike in Thailand is what most foreign visitors do as it works out cheaper than renting a car (obviously) and is somewhat more convenient. Whilst it can be difficult to park a car and traffic tends to move very slowly at rush hour, motorbikes just whiz about and park wherever they please. If you’re going slowly, you should be fine and most accidents just result in a few scrapes and bruises. The bad ones are usually the result of fast driving and maybe a too many cheap Chang beers.
The cost of bike rental can be expensive if you pay per day ($7/day) but if you pay per month, it is very affordable ($70/month). Cars typically go for a minimum of $28/day, with discounts also available per week or month. Of course, it depends on the quality of the vehicle.
Remember to get well-insured before you visit Thailand and always carry your driving license. The police often conduct “random” checks (read: they view foreigners as an extra source of income) and having your license will save you the $33 fine that inevitably follows. Remember to smile and be polite and in most cases they will wave you on.
Internet Speeds in Thailand
While it may be tempting to think of Thailand as one of those developing Southeast Asian countries where the power goes out every few hours, it is in many places rather developed. Unlike its neighbours, power cuts are uncommon here and the internet is lightning fast. In places like Bangkok and Phuket, you will find that a decent internet package is cheap and will cover all your needs in terms of working online. What’s more, internet outages and “slow days” are extremely rare. You’ll get faster speeds and more reliability for $30 per month in Thailand than you would for $100 in most Western nations.
As for data, it is pretty easy to set up a SIM card in Thailand. Avoid the airport and other tourist areas, if possible. These people will gladly sell you a SIM card and set it up, but you will get a poor deal (by Thai standards). Instead, head to a mall and find a shop run by one of the big phone companies like AIS. These people will most likely speak English and be able to get you on an attractive package. You can usually get very fast speeds with lots of data for around $15 per month. This will certainly help you to get your remote work done when you’re out of your house.
Although I’ve said that internet speeds are excellent, remember that this may not be true of hotels and cafes, where the connection is shared between many people. It is quite common in these places for it to be very slow, and you may want to tether your phone to your computer and work from that connection instead. Otherwise, plan on doing the bulk of your work from home or at some sort of co-working space, of which there are many in the big digital nomad destinations.
Other Perks for Digital Nomads
Life isn’t all about work, and here are wanderbbq we are determined to help you find a way of living that is – above all else – satisfying. Money is nice, but being happier is better. In Thailand, you will find beaches everywhere and opportunities for hiking, climbing, and socializing. If you like drinking, there are always bars nearby with ice-cold beers, and if you prefer coffee or tea, there is no shortage of cafes.
One thing that you often hear from expats in Thailand is their surprise at how much there is to do here. Let’s say you love salsa dancing… It’s a pretty niche thing in Asia and in most countries you’d only find one or two opportunities in the capital. But in Thailand, you find that sort of thing everywhere. It’s one of the perks of living in a place with such an international population. Whether you enjoy golf, yoga, or board games, there are so many options across the country. This of course frees you up from the curse of the remote worker: social isolation. It’s pretty easy to socialize in Thailand, and that is just another reason why this place is such a draw for people who have the freedom to work anywhere.
Summary: The Pros and Cons of Working Remotely in Thailand
Right, let’s pull all this together in some sort of tl;dr format as, let’s face it, if you read the whole thing, you’ve probably been sitting here for the last hour… and who even does that nowadays?
So here we go – the pros and cons of being a digital nomad in Thailand:
|Beautiful country||Dangerous roads|
|Friendly people||Hard to get visas|
|Fast internet||Smoggy in Bangkok or Chiang Mai|
|Cheaper than back home||More expensive than in neighbouring countries|
|Great restaurants, cafes, bars||Er… sunburn?|
|Good hospitals, supermarkets, etc|
In short, Thailand is pretty much perfect if you are looking for somewhere to live and work for a few weeks or months, and if you’re willing to cough up for an “ed visa,” you might even be happy here for a year. However, as a long-term prospect, it is not the easiest place to choose. Still, Thailand is very much worth the trouble that comes with getting a visa.