Bankok Expat Guide

Living and Working in Bangkok as an Expat in 2020

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, 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. 

Moving to Bangkok

he 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. 

Working in Bangkok

The allure of working in Bangkok has long enthralled expatriates for its progressive economy, a modern yet affordable cost of living and the chance to enjoy a more laidback lifestyle. The Thai capital is one of the most popular expat destinations as well as a top tourist draw, and it's no wonder that even with recent political developments, the chance to move to Bangkok can prove to be attractive to many professionals. 


Driving Thailand's Economy

Bangkok, Thailand is the most visited city in the world by tourists, who are charmed by the majestic temples that sit side by side with skyscrapers, savor the wonderful flavors of Thai food, and enjoy the city's reputation as a major retail mecca in Southeast Asia with its numerous shopping malls.

Bangkok earned its reputation as a great expat destination over the decades as the prime business hub in the Southeast Asian region. As the economic center of the country, a great number of multinational companies maintain their regional headquarters in the city, and many Thai companies are also based in the capital, including PTT, which is listed as a Fortune Global 500 company. Indeed, Bangkok's GDP is nearly three times that of Thailand, driven primarily by the wholesale and retail, and manufacturing industries, as well as real estate, transport, finance, and tourism.

In the Global Cities' 2018 report by management consultancy firm A.T. Kearney, which analyzes what factors drive a city's competitiveness in attracting talent and investment, the city of Bangkok came in 44th place. The criteria was based on business activity such as capital flow, market dynamics and the presence of major companies; human capital in terms of the population's education levels; information exchange which measures access to information via the Internet and media; culture; and lastly, political engagement via political events, think tanks and embassies.


Living and Working in Bangkok as an Expat

Many expatriates who moved to Thailand and choose to live in Bangkok are there as part of a work transfer from their parent company to a regional one, or in a position with the Thailand branch of the many multinational companies that are based in the country. Bangkok also has a thriving financial sector, and as such, it also attracts a high number of foreign talents.

Going to Thailand for a vacation is vastly different from moving to Bangkok to find a job. While many foreigners or farangs continue to try their luck at finding work in the capital, it's highly recommended to secure a job in Bangkok first before packing your bags and jumping onto the first flight to Thailand.


Teaching English

The most popular type of employment that many foreigners come across is that of teaching English as a foreign language in one of the city's many international schools, primary schools or high schools that offer English as a subject.

Should you be interested and have received a proper job offer to teach, you're required to secure a Non-Immigrant Visa Category "B" (Teaching) from the Royal Thai Embassies or Royal Thai Consulates-General in your home country. This visa is specifically intended for foreigners who are taking up employment as school teachers "at the levels below university level in Thailand." For details of the requirements, look up Section 2.4 in the Consular Services section on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand.  


Getting a Visa for Work or Business

The government of Thailand has several types of visas available for those who wish to work or do business in Thailand such as investment activities, just as it has a specific visa for teachers. However, a work visa is not the same as a work permit – you need to get both.

Foreigners relocating to Thailand to do business with a Thai company in partnership, or for investment-related purposes must secure either a Non-Immigrant B-A visa or a Non-Immigrant IB visa.

For expats moving to Bangkok as part of a job transfer or those who secured a job offer, they must apply for a Non-Immigrant B visa. According to the rules of Thailand's Immigration Bureau, an applicant must be in possession of a valid Non-Immigrant B visa or whatever is the required visa or residence permit. The work visas must be obtained at the Royal Thai Embassy or Royal Thai Consulates-General of your home country. The work permits are issued by Thailand's Ministry of Labour. 

Dependents - such as your spouse, parents or any unmarried children under 20 years old – who are relocating with you to Bangkok are eligible to apply for a Non-Immigrant "O" visa. This visa allows them to stay for a period of 90 days up to a maximum of one year.

Please note that foreigners in Thailand who hold either a Non-Immigrant O-X or O-A long-stay visa are required by the Immigration Bureau to report their current address every 90 days. The notification can be done online at or via Failure to do so can incur a fine of THB 2,000 up to THB 5,000 if you get arrested. An additional fine of THB 200 is imposed for each day that passes until you comply with the law. For more information about the 90-Day Report, please visit the Immigration Bureau of Thailand.


Obtaining a Work Permit

The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs stipulates that you must apply for a work permit as soon as you arrive in Thailand. A work permit is typically valid for two years. This can be done at the Office of the Foreign Workers Administration at the Ministry of Labour's Department of Employment. If your company is located in a different Thai province, you must apply to the respective Employment Office of that province.

However, recent changes were made to the Royal Ordinance on the Management of Foreign Workers Employment, which was published last March 27, 2018, in the Royal Gazette and are now in effect. It's known as the Royal Decree on Managing the Work of Foreigners (No. 2) B.E. 2561. In a nutshell, the amendments now allow foreigners with work permits to legally work in any field, anywhere in Thailand, for any employer as long as the work is not among the occupations prohibited to foreigners.

The list of occupations originally contained 39 since the law was introduced in 1979 but was cut down to 28 in June 2018. The changes, however, are still not reflected on the website of Thailand's Ministry of Labour.

Since July 1st, foreigners can now engage in work such as unskilled labor, Thai handicraft production and some forms of manual labor. In the professional categories, they may also be employed in such fields like engineering, architecture, and accounting as long as they possess proper accreditation from the relevant Thai industry authority or trade association.

Foreigners are still banned from selling products in a shop, working as a tour guide or secretary, providing legal counsel, selling via auctions, and working as a trade and investment representative or broker, unless they are hired by an international organization. For more details, please visit Thailand's Ministry of Labour and the Department of Employment.


Cost of Living in Bangkok: More Affordable in Bangkok?

The most recent findings from the Economist Intelligence Unit's annual Worldwide Cost of Living report for 2019 showed three cities, namely Singapore, Hong Kong, and Paris, sharing the top spot for the first time. Singapore previously placed first for five consecutive years. Other cities in Southeast Asia such as Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Manila, Hanoi, and Phnom Penh increased their standing by six to 10 places owing to improved economic growth in 2018.

In the previous year, the Thai capital took 53rd place overall, which some experts attributed to the undercurrent of political unrest that occasionally troubled the city. Despite this, life in Bangkok continues for both the Thai people and expats living in the city.

In a report made by international real estate consulting firm CBRE Thailand in January 2019, it states that most expatriates in Bangkok prefer to live in a "limited number of locations," between Asoke and Thonglor on Sukhumvit Road being popular, as well as Lumpini and certain areas of Sathorn. Similar to other popular expatriate destinations, most expats in Bangkok prefer to rent apartments, houses or condominiums instead of buying real estate.

The Sukhumvit area in Bangkok is home to a good number of expatriate communities, including Western, Japanese, and Indians, and is easily accessible on the Skytrain Sukhumvit line of the city's Metropolitan Rapid Transit (MRT) system, as well as via taxis and tuk-tuks, the popular auto rickshaw. In addition, a good number of international schools in Bangkok are also located in the Sukhumvit area, making it convenient for expat families with school-aged children. 

Cost of Living in Bangkok

Planning to move to Bangkok? Over the years, Thailand's capital has gained a reputation for a more affordable way of life for expats, compared to other Asian cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo or Kuala Lumpur. Nevertheless, is it truly cheaper? For expats preparing to move to Thailand and have chosen to live in Bangkok, asking the right questions is essential. Do you need a lot of money to live comfortably? What's the cost of renting an apartment versus a house for a family of four? Which is more practical - to buy a car or take public transportation? For health insurance, school fees, and food, how much would you have to fork out? This guide to the cost of living in Bangkok should enlighten you.


Before Your Move to Bangkok

You're expected to do your research prior to relocating, of course, but in the end, it really depends on your preferences and budget. Some companies allow their staff to do a familiarization trip to the new country to get the lay of the land, so to speak. If you're coming from within the Asia Pacific region, a weekend to visit Bangkok should at least be helpful.

You can also check within your network to see if anyone has lived in Thailand before to get some practical advice. Some may recommend living outside the city, such as in Chiang Mai. Check with your company what your relocation package includes. Is there an amount set aside for basic living costs? Will your company shoulder your expat health insurance as well as your dependents? Having an idea of how much to expect can help you create a rough budget so you'll know what you may need to spend money on.

Bangkok is a modern city in every sense of the word. It can get very crowded and traffic congestion is a daily problem. It's daytime population is higher owing to the fact that many workers from provinces outside of Bangkok choose to commute into the city. Being the seat of government, it's also an economic powerhouse, with Thai businesses and global companies maintaining regional headquarters and offices in the capital.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Area (BMA), a government definition of the urban areas surrounding Bangkok, has seen continuous expansion over the years due to rapid urbanization. With no strict zoning laws, some areas in Bangkok have seen tremendous growth, resulting in higher rates for rents and massive land development, including Central areas like Sukhumvit, Sathorn, Siam, and Yaowarat. Thong Lor, in particular, is now considered a trendy area to live in, especially among expats. Its proximity to Sukhumvit Road, where the Thong Lo Station of the Bangkok Mass Transit System (also known as BTS or Skytrain) is located, makes it a preferred residential location.


The Essentials of Life in Bangkok

One thing worth noting is that while Bangkok is not considered one of the most expensive cities to live in, rapid growth and inflation have an effect on the cost of living there. In fact, in the Cost of Living Survey 2019 results released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Bangkok is now in 41st place, climbing from 53rd in 2018. In Mercer's 2018 survey, Bangkok came in at 52nd.

When it comes to quality of life, Bangkok was number 132 out of 231 cities in Mercer's Quality of Living Survey for the year 2018. Many experts attributed this to the political tension in Thailand, owing to military junta's takeover of the government. For 2019, the Thai capital moved down one spot, remaining ahead of Manila, Jakarta and Phnom Penh.


Living Accommodations

Upon the list of concerns when you move to Bangkok is the matter of housing. While Thai people usually understand English, it's better to contact a property agent to scout some potential accommodations on your behalf and to help with the negotiations. However, in the long term, it would be ideal to learn the basics of the Thai language in order to help you get settled better. Speaking Thai – even imperfectly – can go a long way in establishing good relations with your future landlord as well as work colleagues.

For leases, you're expected to pay a deposit worth two or three months' rent is expected, plus one month or two months' rent. The standard lease is around a year but you or your agent can negotiate on your behalf. You'll also need your passport, work permit and proof of income in order to rent.

The past few years have seen the development of condominiums in and around the city that has become popular for expats. Expats who don't have any family members relocating with them find these accommodations to be ideal as it may offer modern amenities such as a gym or pool. Most units also include air conditioning, which would be a relief in Thailand's constantly humid climate.

Most condominium rental fees, excluding utilities, are currently priced at THB 45,000 and up for a two-bedroom unit with two bathrooms in Central Bangkok. One-bedroom units hover around the THB 35,000 mark. However, property managers in condominium buildings are usually limited to the maintenance of common areas. Thus, it's up to the expat tenant to contact the owner for any problems within the unit itself.

If you're relocating with your family, apartments may be more suitable as these usually have two or three bedrooms included. These are quite popular with families and are easily snapped up. Excluding utilities, expect to pay upwards anywhere from THB 65,000 to THB 85,000 per month. Families may want to avoid areas in Bangkok that have many leisure areas such as pubs or clubs, owing to safety and noise issues.


Public Transport

Taking public transport may save you a fair amount of money, especially if you choose to live near an MRT or BTS station.

There are BTS stored-value tickets available, also known as Rabbit cards, and can be topped up with amounts as low as 100 baht per month up to a maximum of THB 4,000. It can also be used at select merchants, including fast food outlets and convenience stores. Other transport options are buses, taxis as well as the ride-hailing service Grab, which has replaced Uber in Bangkok.

With Bangkok's notorious traffic jams, it's a good idea to check out what transport options you have between your office and potential home location. If your journey requires many stops and involves switching between trains, taxis and the popular tuk-tuks, it's best to find a residence nearer your workplace to save time.


Healthcare Needs

Do check if health insurance is included in your Bangkok relocation package. You can choose to supplement your coverage by purchasing your own private medical insurance locally or choose an international health insurance plan. An international healthcare plan can give you the option to get medical treatment outside of Thailand, in case of an emergency.

Overall, public and private hospitals in Bangkok are affordable and offer great service. The city's reputation as a top tourist destination plus the presence of many expatriates means many medical professionals can speak English.


Food and Utilities

For the most part, food and utility costs are reasonable in Bangkok. The city is a gastronomic haven, and there are plenty of restaurants offering different cuisines. It's quite easy to fall in love with Thai food as it's plentiful and cheap, with a tasty and quick meal at street stalls available for as low as 100 baht per person. Buying at local markets can keep your food expenses low, but there are also Western shops such as Tesco where you can buy familiar staples from home. However, expect these to cost considerably more than their usual prices back home.

Utilities such as water are also pocket-friendly, costing around THB 300 or so. Electricity costs may be higher if you use air conditioning constantly. Internet access and cable TV can be anywhere from about THB 1,000 per month up to THB 2,000. There are the combined Internet and phone packages popular among Bangkok residents that provide competitive rates.

It's not uncommon for many expatriate families to get local housekeeping help. In the case of families with one or both expat parents working, or have several young children, an extra pair of hands is appreciated. Depending on the frequency and tasks involved, hiring someone to help can set you back at least THB 600 to THB 750 per week. In some cases, many migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos or Myanmar who live in Bangkok offer their services part-time to help support their families.

Healthcare in Bangkok

Is it expensive to avail of healthcare in Thailand? It's important to ask such questions before you even start calling the movers. Will it be easier to get access to healthcare in Bangkok compared to other Thai cities? Are medical services more expensive than what you need to pay back home? How does Thailand's healthcare system work? Here's what you need to know about getting healthcare in Thailand as an expat and all about healthcare in Bangkok.


The Healthcare System in Thailand

Thailand adopted a universal public healthcare system in 2002 that automatically enrolled its entire population of 69 million into a universal health coverage scheme. At present, there are nearly 1,000 government hospitals in Thailand, over 350 private hospitals, 10,000 government health centers, and some 25,000 private clinics that provide residents with health services.

Previously, a comprehensive health insurance scheme was launched called the "30 baht project" which charged a co-payment fee of THB 30 for treatment, which was popular with low-income Thai citizens in rural areas. Those who joined the program received a gold card that gave them access to medical services in their health district. The scheme also allowed them to be referred for specialist treatment elsewhere if necessary.

The 30-baht fee was abolished by the then head of the Ministry of Public Health Mongkol Na Songkhla after the 2006 military coup and made the entire scheme free. A proposal in 2012 to relaunch the 30-baht program was opposed by many civil groups.


Public Healthcare

Thailand's universal multi-payer healthcare system carries two types of health insurance: public health insurance under the auspices of the National Health Security Office (NHSO), and private insurance. All Thai citizens are required to be enrolled in an insurance scheme, either in the national health insurance or through an employees' health insurance scheme. The national health insurance is primarily for people who are not eligible for any employment-based health insurance schemes.

How does the country's universal healthcare system work? The "gold card" system covers the majority of Thai nationals, which number approximately 50 million people. Private employees, around 10 million, come under the umbrella of social security while the country's 5 million civil servants and their dependents are given coverage through the civil service welfare system. Public hospitals are included in the network, as well as some private hospitals but not all.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has noted that the country's adoption of universal health coverage has resulted in a more optimistic outcome for the 10 percent of adults affected by diabetes among Thailand's 68 million residents. Those with diabetes may avail of free treatment under the national healthcare scheme. They can also go for routine tests at local health centers, and may also be referred to a district hospital for further treatment. The scheme also provides free screening for cataracts to those aged 60 or older.


Public Hospitals

Public hospitals are under the authority of the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), including general and community hospitals, and some select specialist hospitals. These hospitals generally offer good service and are part of the public healthcare system.

There are also other hospitals that are operated by health organizations or other similar organizations independent of the MOPH where Thai citizens can avail of health care services without additional charges. These include the Thai Red Cross Society, the respective Medical Departments of the Royal Thai Army, Royal Thai Navy and the Royal Thai Air Force; and the Office of the Surgeon General of the Royal Thai Police.

As these public facilities provide free to low-cost treatment, it's often difficult to secure medical appointments, and queueing may sometimes take hours. While basic English is understood by most of the staff, accurate communication may prove to be difficult for expats. It may be prudent to ask the help of an interpreter should you need to seek treatment at public hospitals.


Private Healthcare

Most, if not all, expatriates choose to have private medical insurance during their stay in Bangkok. This provides an added safety net to the mandatory health insurance provided by companies. Many private hospitals in Bangkok are also affiliated with local and international health insurance companies, making it easier to seek treatment and to reimburse claims.

Most hospitals expect you to pay the costs upfront for basic consultations, medication, and minor treatments, or make a down payment for any in-patient treatment or surgery. Thus, it's a good idea to have a separate cash account available or a separate credit card for such expenses.

Many expats also advise carrying your insurance documents and health card at all times, plus a copy of your passport and work permit, in case of emergencies. Once you've settled into your new home, make a list of the nearest private hospitals in your area, your workplace or your child's school, and note down the hospitals' emergency numbers. Should you have any particular illnesses or allergies, make sure to have a copy of it on hand as well. The public emergency number for Thailand is 1154 for medical emergencies. The tourist police can be reached at 1155 for emergencies.


Primary Care and Vaccinations

Unlike in other countries where primary care and secondary care are available, Thailand does not have something similar. Those who have private health insurance choose to go to a private clinic for their health concerns. Finding a general practitioner (GP) to serve as your primary care doctor may be easier by asking for recommendations from friends and fellow expats.

However, even before you make the move, it's advisable to get vaccinations for some tropical diseases. As Thailand has a tropical climate, you may become more susceptible to illnesses such as influenza, hepatitis, dengue fever, malaria or encephalitis. Do ask your doctor for advice on what diseases you should be immunized for, as well as any other illnesses that you may catch. It's also best to get a prescription for a supply of any necessary medicines that should last you for the first few months in Bangkok in case you're unable to purchase them in Thailand.

Lately, Bangkok has been experiencing extremely hazardous levels of air pollution, which had residents scrambling to purchase masks, air filters, air purifiers and the like. If you suffer from asthma or allergies, please ask your primary physician for advice or see a specialist when you arrive in Bangkok.

Thailand is also a popular retiree destination. A recent report from the Thai Examiner in December 2018 stated that a government committee made a proposal that will require expatriates holding Non-Immigrant O-X or O-A long-stay visas to have mandatory health insurance. The proposal is awaiting presentation in the Thai cabinet.

However, this plan is seen to adversely affect the expat retirees who have made Thailand their home for a good number of years since it will be undoubtedly difficult to secure health insurance due to their age and any medical conditions they may have. This will also affect their visa status in Thailand.


Private Hospitals

Thailand is one of the many countries in Asia known for its medical tourism*. Many foreigners hailing from Western countries go to Thailand to avail of a wide variety of medical treatments, including open-heart surgery, cosmetic surgery, and fertility treatments at costs significantly lower than those in their home country. Currently, there are 64 accredited hospitals – most of which are private hospitals – that cater to medical tourists, whose numbers reached 3.5 million in 2018 alone.

The country's drive to be a top medical destination also puts the spotlight on its private hospitals. The best private hospitals are located in Bangkok and have first-class facilities as well as high-quality modern equipment. Some of the most well-known private hospitals in Bangkok include the Bangkok Hospital Medical Center, Bumrungrad International Hospital, BNH Hospital, and Phyathai 2 International Hospital. A good majority of the staff at these facilities can speak English as well as other languages in order to provide assistance to a global clientele.

*Please note Now Health International does not provide cover for medical tourism.

Educational System in Bangkok

Relocating to a new country as an expat, albeit temporarily, can be stressful. Moving halfway across the world with your entire family raises the stakes even more. For expat parents, the availability and quality of education are of absolute importance. How does the educational system in Thailand measure in the global rankings? Would it be easy for their children to be admitted to a top international school? Here's a primer about the education in Thailand and the schools in Bangkok available.


The Educational System in Thailand

The Thai government, through the Ministry of Education (MoE), oversees the country's educational system and offers basic education for free. Compulsory education consists of 12 years, with nine years of primary school and the first three years of secondary school. Thai children usually attend preschool or pre-primary which are the nursery and kindergarten levels. However, these are not free.


The Public School System

All local schools in Thailand follow the national curriculum set by the government, with all subjects taught in the Thai language. The first semester of the school year usually begins in May and ends in October, and the second starts in November and ends in March.

The basic six years of primary school are called prathorn and usually designated as P1 to P6. Secondary school is known as mattayom, with levels ranging from M1 to M6, and Thai students usually graduate at age 17. Core subjects for the first nine years include maths, science, social studies, religion and culture, technology, career and foreign languages such as Korean, Japanese, Chinese, French, and German.

Upon completing the first three years of secondary schooling (M1 to M3), students are required to take the Ordinary National Educational Test (O-NET). The examination covers all the compulsory subjects from primary grades to the lower secondary levels

The last three years in high school from M4 to M6 are not mandatory but a considerable number of Thai children go on to continue their studies. The M4 to M6 levels are divided into two streams: academic, and vocational-technical. Those who choose the academic track take up studies that will prepare them for higher education. The vocational and technical stream aims to equip students with the necessary skills and knowledge if they want to take up employment immediately.

Students who choose to pursue tertiary education may apply to any of the 170 public and private universities in Thailand. Many of the public institutions receive financial support from the Thai government. One of the most prestigious universities in Bangkok is Mahidol University, which was listed in the 2015 QS World University Rankings as one of the world's top 100 universities to study medicine. Chulalongkorn University is deemed as the best university in Thailand and was ranked 45th in Asia based on the 2017 QS World University Rankings.


Private Schools

Private schools in Thailand provide a good middle ground for expats and Thai families who may find international school fees rather steep but would like to expose their children to a more diverse setting. The quality of education is good, and student populations provide a good mix of Thai children and foreign students, which allows for increased exposure to the local language and Thai culture. The average cost of education in a private school in Thailand can be anywhere from THB 400,000 to THB 800,000.

Most private schools charge admission fees, and some are affiliated with religious institutions such as Catholicism or Christianity, which means the curriculum may include religious instruction. In addition, private schools also offer bilingual education in both English and the Thai language but the quality of their English programs may vary between institutions.

A considerable number of private schools are located in Bangkok, with most following a Western curriculum depending on their origins. As such, there are schools that follow the American school curriculum, British educational system or European program.

Thai private schools do allow admission of expatriate children. However, it has been noted that tuition fees for expats are slightly higher than those for Thai nationals. Children born in Thailand, or from one or both parents of Thai descent, qualify for free education provided by the Thai government. Should your child be eligible, enrolling them in a Thai school requires the child's birth certificate and your house registration document or Tabian Baan.

If you wish to home-school your child instead of going to a formal school, it's perfectly legal to do so in Thailand. You only need to submit an application to home-school to the Ministry of Education, which should indicate the curriculum you and your child will follow. Children who are being home-schooled must register for exams with the appropriate national examinations board. The MoE conducts yearly assessments for home-schooled children.


International Schools in Bangkok

Finding an international school in Thailand for your child won't be difficult as there are over 160 such institutions all over the country as of 2016. However, the majority of international schools are located in Bangkok.


School Fees

The cost of sending your children to an international school in Bangkok is considerably lower than in Singapore. 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. The CEBR reported that the average cost of education in Thailand in 2015 was at THB 550,000.

International schools in the country are loosely categorized into three "tiers," based on a number of factors including school history, local and international accreditations, the quality of its facilities, funding received, and the educational level of its teaching staff. However, it must be noted the rankings are mostly subjective.

Schools that supposedly belong in the top tier have school fees that may go as high as THB 1.5 million per year, while Tier 2 institutions range from THB 400,000 to THB 800,000 annually. Tier 3 schools may cost anywhere from THB 150,000 to THB 300,000 a year. 

Some international schools also serve as boarding schools, especially for students who may come from neighboring countries in Asia. Among these are the American School of Bangkok, Ruamrudee International School, and Harrow International School.


Academic Curriculum

The academic curriculum in international schools requires approval from the MoE. For the most part, Thai language and culture are included as a core subject and is mandatory for all Thai students at every academic level. Non-Thai citizens are not required to study the Thai language and culture.

About half of the international schools in the country follow the British national curriculum, while a good number implement the International Baccalaureate programs, such as the NIST International School. The rest of the schools either follow the American curriculum, or those based on the German, Australian or Singapore programs, to name a few. 

Transport Options in Bangkok

Moving to Thailand means seeing the city through a resident's eyes, and thus a different perspective. For expats moving into Thailand's capital of Bangkok, this means questions about whether rumors about the city's traffic situation is true, and the reliability of the public transport system options.

Would getting around Bangkok be easier and cheaper with a car? Getting to know the Bangkok transport system means learning how to navigate its dizzying network of highways, roads, numerous sois (side streets) and troks (alleys).


Airports: The Gateway to Thailand

Bangkok's reputation as one of the top tourist destinations in the world is as strong as ever. Tourism is one of the city's economic drivers, and the capital city serves as the gateway to the rest of Thailand.

The Bangkok International Airport, known as Suvarnabhumi, is one of Asia's busiest transport hubs, with over 64 million passenger traffic in 2018. Thai Airways is Thailand's award-winning flag carrier and operates out of Suvarnabhumi. Don Mueang Airport, which was the former international airport, reopened to accommodate domestic flights in 2007 and has since resumed international flights mostly by low-cost carriers.

Chiang Mai, one of the most visited provinces in Northern Thailand, also has its own international airport. The Chiang Mai International Airport operates flights to and from destinations like Hong Kong, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and as far as Doha.


Take the Road: Buses, Taxis and Tuktuks

Bangkok is continuously expanding. As more people move into the city, its road infrastructure and public transport system are struggling to keep, resulting in congestion

One thing that expats have to get used to when relocating to the city is that the streets and roads are much more narrow – and yes, the stories about Bangkok traffic jams are absolutely true. There's also the growing problem of air pollution that poses health risks to its residents. Despite these problems, Bangkok is one of the most liveable cities in the world, climbing to the 89th spot in ECA International's Liveability Survey for 2019.

The most basic public transport options available used by residents and tourists alike are the public buses, the majority of which operate under the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA). Aside from buses, the BMTA also operates minibusses, vans, and songthaews, which are passenger vehicles adapted from pick-ups or large trucks. Buses operate within the Greater Bangkok area, and there are separate bus services that provide transport to all provinces in Thailand from Bangkok.

While buses are cheaper than the Skytrain, they're more liable to get stuck in the city's notorious traffic jams. Those that offer the lowest fares are not always air-conditioned, which makes for a very uncomfortable ride in the prevailing humid climate. Minivans and minibusses provide a link to the suburbs outside of Central Bangkok, where there are also a sizable number of expat communities.

Car taxis are also available but aren't exactly cheap and can get stuck in traffic as well. It's not unusual to see passengers hopping out of taxis stuck in the street, and simply walking to their destination if it's a short distance.

The other taxi variants are the motorcycle taxis, and the tuk-tuks, which are motorized tricycles. Motorbike taxis have their own regulated ranks, and fares are usually fixed or negotiable. With tuk-tuks, one will have to bargain with the tuk-tuk drivers for a mutually acceptable fare to your destinations.


Go By Water: Boat Services

Commuting by boat is quite popular in Bangkok, due to the traffic gridlock. These boat services are used by tourists and residents alike, with different types of boats offering different services.

For the most part, these watercraft navigate Chao Phraya River, the major river in Thailand. The most popular boat service is operated by the Chao Phraya Express Boat Company, with fares costing around THB 10 depending on how long is the journey. Unlike other road transport options, these water taxis can stop wherever you want, and pass by the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, and the Royal Barge Museum.


Take to the Sky: BTS and the MRT

The development of the country's rapid transit and rail systems was the response to the growing problem of traffic in many of the major cities in Thailand such as Bangkok. The BTS Skytrain, Thailand's first rapid transit system, began operating in 1999, and the underground Metropolitan Rapid Transport (MRT) opened in 2004. The Bangkok Airport Rail Link started running in 2010.

Trains in Thailand service the entire country via several long-distance railway lines, all operated by the State Railway of Thailand (SRT). Hua Lamphong Railway Station serves as the main hub for trains going to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, northeast to Nong Khai and Ubon Ratchathani, and east to Aranyaprathet.


BTS Skytrain

The most popular mode of transport is the elevated BTS Skytrain, which currently has two lines. The Sukhumvit line runs south from Mo Chit Station, covering Phahon Yothin Road, Sukhumvit Road to Samrong Station, which is a residential area popular with expatriates. The Silom line goes east from the National Stadium Station, passing Ratchadamri, Si Lo, Narathiwat Ratchanakharin, and Sathon roads, and terminates in the Phasi Charoen district.

The current fleet of BTS trains consists of 52 four-car trains. On average, daily ridership on the Skytrains is around 650,000 to 700,000 and continues to increase as more people move into Bangkok. There are plans to extend both the Sukhumvit and Silom lines, which will add 46 more four-car trains between 2018 and 2021.

To pay the fare, there are BTS stored-value tickets are also known as Rabbit cards, and available in Student, Adult, and Senior versions. Both Student and Senior versions have restrictions on use, and those who wish to purchase these may be asked to show a valid ID. The Senior Rabbit card can only be used by Thai citizens aged 60 and above.


Metropolitan Rapid Transport (MRT)

In contrast to the elevated Skytrain, the MRT operates below ground and primarily serves the Bangkok Metropolitan Region. Currently, there are only two lines consisting of the MRT Blue Line and the MRT Purple Line, with a total of 35 train stations running along 43 kilometers of track.

Compared to the Skytrains, daily ridership on the MRT is more modest with 287,000 passengers recorded in 2017. However, the plans to extend both the Blue and Purple Lines and the addition of four more lines - Orange, Pink, Yellow and Brown Lines – are expected to boost passenger traffic.

Tickets for the MRT come in the form of the MRT Plus card that uses RFID contactless technology and round tokens good for single journeys. The MRT Plus card can be topped up and the fare is calculated depending on distance traveled. There are tickets available for adults, students, children, and senior citizens, with 10 percent off for students and 50 percent discounts children and the elderly. There are plans to create a joint ticketing system so passengers will only need to use one ticket for the MRT and the Skytrain.


The Bangkok Airport Rail Link

From the airport, there are different forms of public transport available to get into the city or to other provinces in Thailand. The Bangkok Airport Rail Link is a commuter rail line that connects Suvarnabhumi Airport to Phaya Thai (BTS) station by way of Makkasan Station (MRT Phetchaburi). The Airport Rail Link is open from 6:00 am to midnight, with trains leaving every 10 minutes during peak hours and every 15 minutes during off-peak times and weekends. Fares range between THB 15 to THB 45 depending on the distance traveled. Visit Bangkok Airport Online for more information.


Driving in Bangkok

While the cost of getting a car in Thailand isn't as prohibitive unlike in Singapore, vehicles still come with high import taxes. Thus, it's not such a big surprise that most expats living in the city choose to take the available transport in Thailand instead of driving a car. Many expat retirees who made the move to other Thai cities or provinces that are less congested end up buying a car to have reliable transport.

If you want to get a car and drive in Bangkok yourself instead of hiring a driver, you can use your international driver's license up to one year only. After that, you need to get a Thai driver's license at the Department of Land Transport (DLT) and submit the needed documents and pay the fee. If you send an authorized representative with a letter, this will incur an additional stamp fee of THB 10. Please note that in Thailand, driving is on the left-hand side of the road.

You need to attend a class on safe driving and take several written and practical tests. Once you pass, the license is good for one year. You can have it renewed for another two years and a further five years after that. For more details about getting a driver's license or renewing it, please visit the Department of Land Transport (DLT).