Living in Bangkok

My last eight years have been spent in Chicago. We love Chicago. We knew this was going to be hard. 

This year Steph & I made the decision to move. Looking back, I think the decision was a culmination of our wanting to travel more, wanting a cheaper way of life, a means of escaping our jobs at the time and the knowledge that had we not made the move then, we probably never would, we really love Chicago. 

So our notices were duly handed in, our shipping booked and our condo rented out. It all seems so straightforward on paper, over the next six months we were taught a quick-fire series of lessons we hadn’t asked for or even remotely considered, the outcome of which, culminates in the knowledge I’m going to pass on here. It is certainly worth it, but there are things to know going in that people don’t talk about when Moving to Bangkok, so let’s get to it. 

Living in Bangkok aerial viewBEFORE YOU GO

VISA

Let’s begin with your paperwork; visa entry here is easy but convoluted. Be ready for more paperwork than you currently get paid to do in your nine to five. You’ll sign a million papers and still not have something they need, come the embassy visit. After collating my background police checks, university records and certificates plus employment contracts and endless photos, I went to get the visa. The London Thai Embassy is tiny, and you can show up without an appointment, it’s actually no issue but remember to take the fee in cash plus extra just in case. You’re also not explicitly told in advance that you need to wait until the following day to collect it. mailing is not an option. Book a cheap hotel or find a couch to crash on. 

SHIPPING

If you’re moving to Bangkok you may well need to transport a few boxes of your personal belongings. Don’t even shop around, I can tell you now the best company by a long way is Seven Seas Shipping. UK based, but dealing worldwide, they can’t be beaten on price and customer service. From the USA, we had been quoted between $2500-$5000 for our 14 boxes, Seven Seas did it for $1400, provided boxes and collected them a week after booking. 

Living in BangkokDo be aware the Thai government has a pretty strict set of rules about what you can bring in tax-free, the main rule being, ‘the Thai government will make up the rules on any given day with no explanation’. Avoid packing electrical equipment and alcohol. They seem to really hate you bringing good stuff in!

If you were thinking of just bringing an extra case be prepared to pay more than you initially think. We had DHL ship out a third case for around $150, they picked it up from our house and it arrived in Thailand the day after us. What we didn’t know however is that we would have to wait another 3-4 weeks to actually receive it, deal with the Thai DHL office (with minimal English speakers) and have to pay additional charges and ‘taxes’ that no one could actually explain or breakdown. In total this cost us another $280. If you only have a little extra luggage compare the cost of extra baggage with your airline (also very expensive when flying to Asia, approx. $40 PER kg depending on the company) and add extra to anything you are quoted to buffer for the taxes.

ACCOMMODATION

When you arrive in Bangkok you’ll need to find a place to live, and the general rule no one mentions until its time to sign, is landlords here want 3 months rent in advance as standard. Save up a good $2000 / £1500 and bring it over in CASH for this purpose, that’s about 60,000THB as it stands today. There is sometimes an option to pay via credit card but the preference is cash and the landlord may refuse alternative payments. Most 1-2 bedroom apartments range from 18,000 to 25,000 per month. As with most things here, this is up for negotiation. Go in at 2-5,000 less and agents will most often come down. It’s most certainly not a bad deal, around $600 / £400 per month, for a nice little place, usually with a rooftop, swimming pool and gym. It’s also good to note that apartments come fully furnished most kitchens don’t have ovens here, Thai’s tend to boil and fry everything. Keep this in mind before you pack all your baking trays and saucepan sets! Quite a few people we know bought small mini ovens soon after arriving starting around 5,000 THB.  

MONEY

You’ll want at least 8-10,000THB per week to begin with to cover eating out, transport and setting up costs. And if you are arriving with no shipping, there’ll be plenty of things to buy initially, from sheets to supplies. Living in Bangkok shot of bank notes

There are just so many things you don’t think of until you realize you’re without, examples include, but are not limited to: bed sheets and pillowcases, a bath, an oven, craft beer, a cup, pans and plates, a bottle opener, wine, a chopping board, quiet, efficiency and the NFL. Of the many things listed and many more not, you can eventually find them all, but it takes time and cash. 

ONCE YOU ARRIVE

SHOCK & AWE

It’s inevitable, moving to Bangkok isn’t easy, you are going to be overwhelmed. That being said, don’t let that scare you, it will calm down, or at least it will feel like it. 

Living in Bangkok mopedsWhen we got here on day one, we took a walk around Phra Kanong, our local area. We had been flying for 14 hours, traveling a total of 22, slept in the hotel for about three, then went for a stroll. My mouth was on the floor the whole time. Bangkok streets are dirty, grimy, so loud it’s tiring and most of all, busy. We walked, looking at the dilapidated buildings rusted to hell, wires hanging from poles so dangerously they look like a something from a natural disaster report on CNN, all this contrasting with posh looking high-rise condo blocks filled with the wealthier classes looking down, it all seemed so incomprehensible. Buses flew past crammed with far too many hot and sweaty people, while the breezy clean Skytrain whisked overhead. I remembered visiting Dubai years before, seeing the new town, with the skyscrapers, malls and beaches, then going across the invisible but highly conspicuous line to old Dubai, with its street markets and laboring locals, a clear social divide, but also a geographical one. The same division exists here, but there is no segregation, I’ve never seen anything so extreme. 

Living in Bangkok outdoor cafeEvery street here has at least two or three fun bars to chill out in, cafe’s to get affordable coffee at, or restaurants to enjoy local or western food in. The malls are a super option for budget meals, most costing around 55TB ($1.50) per meal. In the same malls, there are some superb restaurants from all over the world. Thong Lo is known for its high-end food and rooftop bars, Ekamai for it Japanese food and epic sushi, and W District at Phra Kanong for its eclectic selection of world food in a fun outdoor court. The best advice I can give is to keep exploring, try new things and the more you do, the better you will feel. It takes time, so don’t panic. 

SHOPPING

One of the biggest surprises I had on arrival, is how many western stores there are in Bangkok.  7/11 stores rule the streets, and the malls are filled with Dunkin Donuts, Boots, H&M’s and McDonalds. The biggest surprise though was the existence of Tesco. At On Nut, just one stop on the BTS from us, is a huge Tesco Lotus, selling anything and everything you could ever need, from Ketchup and Cornflakes to office shirts and Head & Shoulders. If you ever need anything, this is a good place to start. We compared the food prices here with local street market food and found there’s not a big difference, so for the sake of a few pennies, and a week on the toilet, we get most of our food from here. Add to that the fact they now do delivery and online shopping…

Living in Bangkok night market food being eaten by girlThat being said, one of the most fun and tasty experiences is a walk around a night market, if you want to find delicious treats, experiment with food and be in awe of the colors and smells of Bangkok, head to these however, not your weekly shopping location!

UTILITIES

Once you have a roof over your head and some food in your fridge, you will need to think about your weekly/monthly outgoings, thankfully, none of the main outgoings here cost too much. Electricity will be around 1000TB monthly ($30), water comes to about 100TB ($3) and your Cable/Internet etc usually around 900TB ($27), with one phone sim card included for unlimited use. True H is who we used, and they seem to offer the best deals we could find.  

Living in Bangkok our apartmentYou will also have to pay for the internet installment, 600THB ($18), get a SIM card initially, 600THB ($18) and buy your  drinking water, 80THB p/month ($2.50). (Obviously all of these numbers can vary depending on your provider, consumption and accommodation.)

GETTING AWAY

Moving to Bangkok doesn’t mean staying in Bangkok, for most people, half the reason for moving is to use it as a base to travel far and wide in Asia. If you need to escape the hustle and bustle in the first few months however, but maybe you’re still awaiting visa or work permit finalization, where can you go cheaply, nearby, and feel like you’re really away.

Living in Bangkok escaping to ko sametTwo places that spring to mind are Ko Samet, and Hua Hin. Both are close, Samet is a 3/4 hour drive and a short 10-minute speedboat ride, Hua Hin is more like 4 in a taxi.

Both certainly doable on a weekend. The beaches at Ko Samet are lovely, as are the Mojitos, and the National Parks and Vineyards at Hua Hin make it a nice city escape. Both of these locations will have full articles in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

That’s it from us, as we learn more we’ll update this piece, and let us know if you are moving to Bangkok and want to know anything else! We’re here to help!

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Rich and Steph