Reality versus the dream for expats in Thailand

Reality versus the dream for expats in Thailand

Reality versus the dream for expats in Thailand

Thailand’s reputation as an expat haven is traditionally based on the four S’s – sun, sea, sand and sex, but where there’s good there’s also bad.

For several decades, the so-called Land of Smiles has attracted expats from a selection of European states as well as the USA. Typical Thailand expats include middle-aged oil and gas workers looking for comfort during furloughs, American ‘snowbirds’ alighting at the beginning of the cool season and staying for a few months each year and UK retirees seeking warmth and cheap living. Refugees from their home countries’ tax authorities and ex-wives along with digital nomads make up the numbers, along with those relocating for business reasons. Just a few arrive because they’ve always been fascinated by Asia and its diverse history and culture.

Most new arrivals settle in happily and live the lives they’re promised themselves, but it’s not all sunshine and bougainvilleas. Hard truths hit in from time to time and need a reality check before they spoil the dream. Perhaps the worst hard truth is Thailand’s immigration system, with its various options not quite fitting in with expats’ needs, whether they’re working, retiring or studying. According to local expat forums, the system has its rules, interpreted differently in every provincial immigration office as well as changing on a regular basis.

Thailand is almost unique in Southeast Asia as regards the lack of Western influence as it was never colonised by a Western power. One result is that corruption Asian-style has been allowed to run unhindered for centuries, to the extent that it’s an undying part of the culture. From giving a small gift of cash to get a project underway to paying a little extra for a fast visa service, it’s unavoidable, mostly harmless and you’ll never change it. Much more irritating is the Thai love of reams of paperwork necessary for even the simplest tasks. The ‘paperless office’ is rarely found, and the forest felled to create the resulting mountain of useless forms is Amazonian.

Mention the Thai concept of two-tier pricing during an average expat get-together and you’ll have unintentionally started WW3. Of all possible reasons for a screaming match, this hits top place for its sheer unfairness. From tourist menus to national park entry fees, it’s an in-your-face indication of racism to many expats as well as to visitors. Producing your Thai drivers’ license used to work for some, but nowadays it’s pay up or go away time, with losing your temper the worst possible reaction as it makes everyone, yourself included, lose face. However infuriating your situation and wherever you are, raising your voice or even attempting to explain the issue will get you absolutely nowhere, with walking away the only sensible answer.

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