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Bupa Global

Your wellbeing guide to living as an expat in Thailand

Working in Thailand

Ever since the military seized power, the Thai economy has been struggling to regain momentum for economic growth. Nonetheless, it boasts the seventh lowest unemployment rate in the world, and only 10% of the country’s population lives below the poverty line.

Thailand’s economy continues to rely on exports, which account for 60% of GDP. These include agricultural products (including fish and rice), textiles, rubber, automobiles, jewellery and electronics, including computers. Surprisingly, only 7% of the country’s GDP derives from tourism revenue.

Thailand has a tropical climate with a hot season from March to May, a cool season from November to February, and a rainy season from June to October. The weather is generally humid, with a mean annual temperature of 28C. It’s worth noting that rural areas of the country become less accessible during the rainy season.

Working in Thailand

Thailand is home to more than 200,000 foreigners, comprising retirees, extended tourists and workers from Europe and North America. There are also many technical workers from Asia, Japan and Korea as well as migrants from the Phillipines and Russia.

Expats can be found in most regions but are mainly found in Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and Bangkok.

Thai is the official language, although several others exist, including Southern Thai and Lanna. Buddhist philosophy is predominant in the region, leading to a relaxed mindset, a contrast to confrontational, tension-ridden Western working environments.

The presence of no minimum capital requirement to start a business, with only four required procedures will continue to attract Westerners who want to work in a paradise location with beautiful beaches and a tropical climate.

Foreigners wishing to work, do business or conduct investment activities in Thailand must apply for a Non-Immigrant Visa at the Royal Thai Embassies or Royal Thai Consulates-General. Holders of this type of visa must be granted a work permit before starting work. There is a visa fee of 2,000 Baht for a three month single-entry permit and 5,000 Baht for multiple entries, valid for a year.

If you intend to make a permanent move to Thailand you can apply for status as a Permanent Resident (PR). This will allow you to live in Thailand without applying for an extension of your stay and will also allow you to buy property without making a bank transfer from abroad. To apply for PR status you must have held a Thai non-immigrant visa for at least three years.

Business/Working Life

Thai office hours are 8 hours per day (or 7 hours per day in the case of manual work). There is an average 42 hour working week.

Employees are given a minimum of 13 paid public holidays a year. Note that Christmas isn’t celebrated or recognized as Thailand is officially a Buddhist country.

Thai people prefer to build personal relationships before discussing business. Often issues need to be discussed at different levels before decisions are made. Respect and politeness should always be shown. Appointments for meetings should be made well in advance and confirmed. It’s best to arrive on time.

Business cards should be offered with the right hand. If you receive a business card, take time to read and comment politely on it.

Conservative business dress is preferred with dark suits for men and plain dresses or suits for women. Skirts should be knee length or longer and shoulder should be covered. Don’t wear black as this is a funeral colour.


In terms of lifestyle, Thailand offers an exciting mix of bustling city life in cities such as Bangkok, mixed with an exciting cultural mix of temples, markets, lively nightlife and relaxing boat and beach adventures. Food options are plentiful and good value, ranging from street food to inexpensive or high end restaurants packed with mouthwatering dishes.

Thailand’s cost of living index (excluding rent) ranges from 32.92 in Chiang Mai to 48.84 in Phuket (compared to an NYC comparison of 100% and a London comparison of 94.82%). Recent incidents have caused concern in terms of walking alone at night and it’s advisable in general not to wander off alone without a companion in remote beach or forest areas.

Thailand offers a breathtaking array of activities including elephant trekking in areas such as Chiang Mai, island hopping around the country’s 5,000 miles of coastline in areas such as Phang Nga Bay, visits to temples such as Bangkok’s Grand Palace, which houses the Emerald Buddha and hill tribe villages in the north of the country. And if that isn’t enough array of festivals, floating markets, ancient ruins and national parks can’t fail to pique your interest.

Thai cuisine boasts an array of aromatic and spicy dishes including Tom Yum Goong (Spicy shrimp soup), Som tum (a spicy papaya salad), Tom Kha Kai (Chicken in coconut soup), Gaeng Daeng (Red curry) and Pad Krapow Moo Saaap (Fried basil and pork). You may also know Thai classics such as Gaeng Keow Wan Kai (Green chicken curry), Yam nua (Spicy beef salad) and Kai Med Ma Muang (Chicken with cashew nuts), in addition to well known Pad Thai (Thai fried noodles) and Khao Pad (fried rice).

Eating out in Thailand offers a plethora of restaurants and street food options. When eating in a restaurant it’s important to remember that all dishes are shared. Thais eat slowly and take as much as they can eat in one or two mouthfuls, then move on to another flavour. Forks and spoons are generally used, but knives are rare as the food has been cut up before serving. Some dishes are eaten with your hands.

Restaurants are open at key mealtimes and street food is readily available at most times of the day.

Accommodation/Where to live/Housing

Popular living areas among expats include Chiang Mai in the foothills of northern Thailand, which has a temperate climate and is only an hour’s flight from Bangkok. Koh Samui is also popular, with a beach culture and lively nightlife. Bangkok offers a modern, affordable cosmopolitan atmosphere.

Accommodation is either comprised of condominiums or villas at varying price levels. X, Y and Z offer affordable options.

Getting Around The airport rail ink provides a 160km/h service that accesses 8 stations, covering a distance of 28km. Thailand’s train network is quite extensive and reasonably priced and in the capital, the MRT subway and BTS Skytrain make travel around the city more comfortable.

Thailand has a variety of bus options, including air conditioned coaches linking all major and minor towns and cities. Hiring a car is relatively inexpensive and taxis are plentiful and reasonably priced. Custom transfers can also be arranged by limousine. Tuk tuks can be found throughout Bangkok and boats and yachts are also available for rental.

Customs/laws to be aware of

Motorcycle hire is common in Thailand but it’s worth bearing in mind that most road traffic accidents involve motorcycles.

There are severe penalties for drug related offences (possession, distribution and manufacture) and can even include the death penalty.

Cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed in recent months so it’s important to read information and advice published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre before travelling.


Thailand has English-speaking GPs, dentists and opticians. Major provinces will have at least one private hospital, with more in tourist destinations. The Thai healthcare system comprises government health services, non-profit health organisations and private sector medical treatment.

Government-funded healthcare is good but waiting times may be long and facilities not as good as in private hospitals. For non-Thais, charges will apply but will be less than in a private hospital. Wards will be mixed and shared unless extra is paid for a private room.

Private healthcare is excellent and Thailand is one of Asia’s leading medical tourism destinations.

In an emergency, call 191 for the police, 1155 for the tourist police (available 24 hours) or 1554 for Ambulance and Rescue. Visit the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website for the latest advice for British people living in Thailand. Lost or stolen passports should be reported to the nearest police station.


Thailand’s official currency is the Thai baht (THB). A wide range of national and international banks (including Citibank, Deutsche Bank and HSBC Thailand) give a variety of options for opening current accounts.

Although a work permit is officially required, it’s possible to open account with just a passport and at least 500 Baht. Once the account is open, you’ll be issued with a debit card for use at ATMs (which are available throughout the country) at a fee of 300 Baht. A monthly charge of about 50 Baht may be charged if your account falls below a certain balance. Online banking isn’t common in Thailand and only requires a username and password (rather than additional safety PIN numbers).

Most banks are open between 8.30am and 3.30pm Monday to Friday, except on public holidays, though some branches may be open at the weekend.


Personal income tax is payable on all income from employment or property in Thailand. Resident taxpayers who have lived in Thailand for more than 180 days must pay tax on domestic or foreign soil. Non-resident taxpayers only pay tax only on income earned in Thailand. Individuals whose income falls below 150,000 Baht are tax exempt and the top rate of personal income tax is 35%.


A child must have one Thai parent and be considered a Thai national to qualify for free state education. Although the education standard is high, all teaching is done in Thai, so many expats opt for private schooling.

There are two types of private schools. Thai private schools teach the Thai curriculum. Private international schools are also available at primary, lower secondary and upper secondary level, with pre-school facilities often available from age three. The curriculum depends on the international standard the school has adopted but generally maths, English, science, history, geography, art and PE are studied with one or two languages.

[All reported figures were accessed in May 2016 and will be validated in May 2017. We make no claims as to their accuracy as they rely on third party sources.]