Living and Working in Bangkok: Your Bangkok Expat Guide

Thailand's capital city of Bangkok is renowned for its temples that offer a stark contrast to the towering skyscrapers. While the city is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia, Bangkok is also a draw for thousands of expatriates who prefer its affordable cost of living, a stable economy, the relative ease of doing business, plus the vibrant culture and warmth of Thai people, and a more laidback lifestyle. If you're planning on living and working in Bangkok, your Bangkok expat guide is here!

 

The "City of Angels" with the World's Longest Place Name

 

Bangkok, Thailand consistently placed first as the most visited city in the world in the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index in 2012 and 2013, and consistently from 2016 to 2018. Therefore, it isn't surprising that the city continues to attract expatriates from all over the globe, who prefer to live an urban lifestyle but still get to enjoy the proximity of the city to the rest of Thailand's numerous beaches and mountains, as well as access to the rest of Southeast Asia.

 

While the world knows the capital by its name of "Bangkok," in Thai, it's called "Krung Thep Maha Nakhon," which is often shortened to "Krung Thep." Its complete name, however, is quite a mouthful at 168 letters long and is recognized by the Guinness World Records as the world's longest place name. The official name means: "City of angels, the great city of immortals, the magnificent city of the nine gems, the seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Vishvakarman at Indra's behest."

 

The country of Thailand itself ranks as the 21st most populous country in the world, with over 68 million people. Thailand also placed 21st overall in HSBC's 2018 Expat Explorer Survey. As one of the most populous cities in the world with an estimated population of 10 million as of 2018, Bangkok has an area of nearly 1,600 square kilometers and a recorded population of 8.3 million as of the 2010 census, and a population density of 5,300 per square kilometer. However, the number of people living in the metropolitan area is much bigger at around 14.6 million, translating to 1,900 persons per square kilometer.

 

Making the Move to Bangkok

 

There's a big difference between visiting Bangkok as a tourist for only a few weeks versus day-to-day living as one of the multitude navigating this bustling metropolis.

 

While the city has always been a magnet for large numbers of foreign residents to come and live in Bangkok for the past few decades, the current expat communities are composed of nationals from the rest of Asia, notably Japan, South Korea, and China. This is followed by European nationals, Americans and those hailing from Africa. There are also increasing numbers of migrant workers from countries that border Thailand such as Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, who work in Bangkok. The city's numbers also swell in the daytime due to workers commuting from the provinces.

 

Like with most overseas job assignments, any foreigner who wishes to work and live in Thailand must get a proper work permit first. They can do this at the Royal Thai Embassies or Royal Thai Consulates-General in their home countries. The work visa they need to obtain is the Non-Immigrant Visa (B) that's specifically for those who wish to do business, invest or work in Thailand. Get more information about visas by visiting the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand.

 

Expat Life in the Thai Capital

 

Most tourists recognize Thailand for its many Buddhist temples, and Thai culture is very much tied to this religion, with 94 percent of the local population identifying themselves as Buddhist. Muslims, Christians and other religions make up the remaining percentage.

 

One thing that expats have to get used to when it comes to life in Bangkok is the traffic jams. The city is quite notorious for its vehicle-clogged roads. In a 2018 report, Bloomberg.com cited the findings of Dutch traffic navigation and mapping company TomTom NV that showed Bangkok as the most congested city in the world followed by Mexico.

 

Private vehicles jostle for space with taxicabs as well as tuk-tuks, in all of the city's major thoroughfares, particularly Sukhumvit Road, which is a well-known commercial and residential area popular with expats and tourists. The tuk-tuks are auto rickshaws that serve as the most common mode of urban transport in Bangkok and the rest of Thailand.

 

Add to this is the continued population growth as the city continues to develop. Aside from tourism, more and more people from rural areas are relocating as well as the influx of migrant workers from the countries surrounding Thailand. Overcrowding is a problem that Bangkok faces, similar to densely populated cities in the world.

 

A more recent problem is the increased air pollution that has blanketed the city. Based on recent news reports, the severity of the smog has caused schools and offices to close, with the government warning people about prolonged exposure outdoors.

 

Increased Disposable Income, A More Affordable Lifestyle

 

Compared to other megacities favored by expatriates such as Hong Kong or the city-state of Singapore, expat life in Bangkok offers more benefits. The low cost of living and higher quality of life are among the perks that many enjoy, as shown by the results in HSBC's Expat Explorer Survey which ranked Thailand in third place when it comes to disposable income, 12th in savings, and 13th in quality of life overall.

 

Indeed, basic goods and services are priced more affordable, allowing more people to save funds or invest. Thai food – even those sold along the street stalls – quite sumptuous, plentiful and cheap. Many expats have also pointed out that despite living in the city, they're able to have a more relaxing lifestyle, giving them a lot of time to explore the country's provinces or to travel through the rest of Asia.

 

The other aspects of expat living, like the quality of healthcare and education available, should also be considered. With Thailand promoting itself as a hub for medical tourism, more foreign visitors are finding their way to the country's hospitals to get treatment. Bangkok itself is home to a majority of the country's doctors and medical providers, including over 40 public hospitals, 98 private hospitals, and nearly 4,000 registered clinics. The country has a universal healthcare system in place but most expatriates opt to get private health insurance for themselves for added coverage.

 

As the nation's capital, there are plenty of schools in Bangkok, including a good number of international schools that address the educational needs of its local and foreign residents. It's also worth noting that many of Thailand's public and private universities are located in Bangkok itself, with Chulalongkorn University and Mahidol University as the only Thai universities included in the top 500 of the QS World Rankings. The King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi was also among the top 400 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the year 2012-2013. 

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