What You Need to Consider Before Moving to Bangkok
The prospect of moving to Bangkok, Thailand is bound to stir up feelings of adventure and excitement, especially if you're a professional that's fairly new to live as an expatriate. One of the most dynamic cities in Southeast Asia and the capital of Thailand, Bangkok has enthralled many with its heady combination of modernity and tradition, a more affordable cost of living, a fast-paced economy and the renowned hospitality of Thai culture. Here's what you need to consider before moving to Bangkok.
Making to the Move to Thailand
Bangkok is the capital and the seat of government of Thailand, the world's 50th largest country in terms of land area. Thailand is at the center of a peninsula in Southeast Asia and bordered by Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and the Andaman Sea. Bangkok is one of the world's top tourist destinations and is the number one most visited city in the world for the year 2018, based on MasterCard's Global Destination Cities Index.
One thing expats have to get used to when living in Thailand is the humidity. Like with most countries in Southeast Asia, Bangkok and the rest of Thailand enjoys a warm, humid climate influenced by the South Asian monsoon system. Throughout the year, the country experiences hot, rainy and cool seasons, with the southwest monsoon bringing the rains starting from May up until September or October. During the hot season, temperatures can go as high as 34 degrees Celsius especially in the urban areas like Bangkok, which is exacerbated by the urban heat island effect.
Unless you've visited the capital as a tourist prior to your move, arriving in Bangkok might prove to be a shock to some due who are used to a less crowded living arrangement in their home country. In 2018, there were an estimated 10 million people living in the city that has a land area of around 1,600 square kilometers. Aside from the thriving expats' communities which include Japanese, South Korean, Chinese as well as European and American expats living in the city itself and the surrounding suburbs, there's also a great number of people commuting from the provinces in order to work in Bangkok, increasing its daytime population. Many migrant workers coming from Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar are also living and working in the city.
Transport, Traffic, and Tourists
Bangkok - or "Krung Thep Maha Nakhon" which is the shortened version of its ceremonial name in Thai - is like any other big city in the world that's experiencing rapid development and population growth. It's expected to become a megacity by the year 2030 with the population exceeding 10 million.
As of 2015, around 8.3 million people were living in the city proper, which has a land area of around 1,570 kilometers. That translates to more than 5,300 people per square kilometer. On the other hand, the Bangkok Metropolitan Region (BMA), which refers more to the urban agglomeration of Bangkok as the city and its population continues to expand, cover around 7,700 square kilometers and is home to nearly 15 million people.
With so many people living and working in the city plus the daily influx of tourists, life in Bangkok can get pretty crowded on most days, particularly in central Bangkok. This area is the commercial district and is also home to many shopping malls and high-rise residential buildings popular with expatriates who wish to have a shorter commute to work. Some of the busier streets include Khao San Road, which is lined with street vendors peddling food and assorted merchandise and is one of the popular areas to celebrate Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year which occurs April 13 to 15 annually. The street is also a known public transportation hub for coaches to major tourist destinations in Thailand.
Bangkok is also notorious for its traffic jams, which has been a problem since the 1990s as the city experienced rapid development. The capital now has five rapid transit lines in operation and more being planned by the Thai government and the BMA. Transport options not only include public buses, but also boats which operate on the Chao Phraya River, as well as taxi services that are available as cars, motorcycles, and the auto rickshaws or tuk-tuks. While prostitution is illegal, the city also has several areas known to be red light districts and frequented by many foreigners.
Expat Living in Bangkok
Feedback from expatriates who became long-term residents in Bangkok tells of a more relaxed way of life. While still very much exuding a very urban vibe, the cost of living in the city is still lower than most other countries in Asia such as Hong Kong or Singapore, which recently shared the number one spot along with Paris as the world's most expensive cities to live in. This is according to the latest World Cost of Living Survey for 2019 released by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Based on HSBC's 2018 Expat Explorer Survey results, expats based in Bangkok say they have a better quality of life and more disposable income. Thailand is known for its cuisine and even Thai food sold at hawker stalls has acquired a reputation for being flavorful, unique and very much affordable. Expats also cite a better work-life balance, leaving them with a lot of time for their families, hobbies and other personal pursuits.
There are also many international schools in Bangkok available for expatriate children, offering a wide variety of educational curricula and multi-lingual methods of instruction. International schools in the capital are also comparatively lower than those in Singapore, Hong Kong, and even Indonesia. A 2015 report by The Fry Group for the Center of Economics and Business Research (CEBR) showed that international school fees in Bangkok were 21.7 percent lower at approximately 25,380 SGD that year compared to Singapore which was pegged at 30,900 SGD annually.
Prior to your move to Bangkok, it's best to update your vaccinations as well as those of your family members. While healthcare is relatively more affordable in Thailand and there is public healthcare insurance, having your own international health insurance can provide you with more adequate coverage should any necessary medical treatment be required.
However, one thing that all foreigners should remember upon visiting or residing in Bangkok, or any other province in Thailand, is that despite being nominally under a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, the entire country is currently ruled by the military junta. There are still pockets of protests and unrests that occur sporadically all over, and it's best to avoid being involved in such.
Despite this, the Thai royal family is still very much revered by all Thai people. Lèse majesté is considered a crime in Thailand, based on Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, which states the following: "Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years." There have been reports of people, including foreigners, being convicted of lèse majesté.