Thinking "Expat"

retirement in thailand concept "You're an expatriate. You've lost touch with the soil. You get precious. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes."

"It sounds like a swell life," I said. "When do I work?"

"You don't work. One group claims women support you. Another group claims you're impotent."

Ernest Hemingway


If you are thinking of moving to some exotic land as a way of spicing up your life, it could be the best thing you have ever done. Such a move might also prove to be an unmitigated disaster.

I have heard quite a number of motivations for hopping across the big ponds. Bitterness about some aspect of home country politics or lifestyle seem to dominate most conversations. I have opted to steer clear of politics, by the way.

Finances, safety, freedoms, different cultures and exotic women; subjects that usually find their way into a discussion on reasons to move offshore.

Finances - If you are near retirement age and your nest egg is smaller than expected, developing countries can offer you a standard of living much better than you can get at home. Here in Thailand, as an example, it is fairly easy to find a livable house upcountry for US$ 200 and under. Upcountry means any place other than the prime tourist areas such as Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui, Pattaya and Hua Hin. In some of the smaller, less westernized provinces, US$ 100 will get you a small and very livable abode.

Thai food is delicious, usually fresh and very cheap. US$ 2 for standard Thai fare is common. A bowl of noodles may be US$ .50. Western food tends to be done poorly and expensive.

Transportation is cheap, generally. A train ride on the air-con "sprinter" from Bangkok to my home 400 km south of Bangkok is US$ 10 each way. A bus trip on an air-con bus will be a bit less.

Motorbikes of the 100 cc variety are around US$ 1,200. Cars, however, tend to be very expensive. Pickups start at around US$ 15,000. For a nice small sedan, figure US$ 30,000.

Domestic help is cheap. I pay US$ 5.50 for my once-a-week house/yard keeper. Upcountry, Bt 5,000 (US$ 125) is a standard unskilled monthly wage.

Safety - Safety has always been one of my concerns and I thank my lucky stars for Thailand. You might get burgled, have your pocket picked or even get scammed. But violent crimes against uninvolved westerners are so rare it will usually make the front page of The Bangkok Post. In my drinking days, I often found myself on foot in some questionable areas of Bangkok at 03:00 and never had a problem. Just don't go around start fights with Tuk-Tuk drivers!

Medical - In many developing countries, a goodly number of doctors are trained in the west. Couple that with the non-existence of easy malpractice suits/insurance, and you get clinics and hospitals that provide good service, excellent care and adequate treatments for a small fraction of what Statusville offers. A recent visit to the orthopedic clinic at Bamrungrat Hospital in Bangkok (one of the world's finest facilities) cost me about US$ 30. People travel here to get major dental work done and pay for a nice vacation with the savings.

Freedoms - I can only realistically speak for Thailand, but you tend to get left alone here unless you somehow bring attention to yourself. Act like a decent human being and people don't bother you. While the retirement visa process can be inconvenient, it is not nearly so tedious as it was in the past.

Culture - Thailand is a fascinating place. People tend to be very polite, cordial and even downright friendly. Away from the tourist areas, you are less likely to get double pricing. That may or may not be true for housing, by the way. Most Thais are Buddhist and tend to be less than devout. They make merit when the time seems right and tend to follow as many of the "commandments" as is convenient. So you are less likely to encounter rabid fundamentalists here than in most non-Buddhist cultures.

Exotic Women - This subject is usually one of those "by the way" subjects. The women here are lovely creatures, willowy and graceful, a pleasure to the senses beyond any western comprehension. They are also ugly, rude, fat and loud.

But that being said, if you are coming to Thailand because you are bitter toward western women, think again. You can find the "girlfriend from hell" just as easily here as in your homeland.

While the brief picture of expatriation I have attempted to paint is mostly in pastels, another could easily be dark and forbidding. Expats don't automatically find a charmed lifestyle. It can be damned difficult to find a proper house. Getting around on a motorbike in the rainy season is a combination of danger frustration and discomfort.

Getting anything done seems to take forever. Longer if a government office is involved. Unless you speak Thai, prepare to be frustrated on a daily basis. You will have difficulty finding shopping items that you took for granted in the west.

Don't expect your transition to be easy.

Maybe that's part of the bragging rights when you can finally call yourself, "expat"

Making the Move