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Thailand and the expatriate experience

By Murray Hunter - posted Wednesday, 16 March 2016


Over the last few decades Thailand has attracted expatriates to the country to work, stay long periods of time to explore the country, or retire.

Thailand attracts many young professionals, particularly to Bangkok. Others work as teachers all around the country, some doing online business or some form of short or long term visa. Some operate small businesses with their Thai spouse.

In addition, Thailand has always been a place of interest for the traveller within the SE Asian region, where many like to stay medium to long term, sight-seeing, travelling, and 'just hanging out'.

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Retirement in Thailand is part of a global trend of people relocating from high income countries to lower income countries. There are large numbers of expatriates living all around the country, concentrated within the tourist precincts. In addition, clusters of wealthy retirees live in apartments and villas they have purchased or leased, across the tourist precincts of Phuket, Pattaya, Rayong, and Chiang Mai, etc.

There is also a high incidence of expatriates married to local women, residing in areas like Issan in the north-east of Thailand. Many single men choose places like Pattaya to reside for the excitement of living an entertainment enclave.

The nationalities of expatriates are just as diverse with Europeans, Russians, Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Japanese, and even Chinese.

Just how many expatriates are actually living in Thailand is really an unknown. Various databases exist, but unable to provide any definitive answers to this question.

Various estimates put the expatriate population in Thailand somewhere between 500,000 and One million. Formal estimates tend to be on the lower side, as they tend not to include those overstaying illegally in Thailand on expired visas. An article in The Independent estimates that there are even 10,000 homeless expatriates living in Thailand.

Thai authorities have become weary of foreigners or 'farangs', as evidenced in the tightening of entry and visa regulations over the last two years. Immigration is turning away people from the borders who they suspect are living and/or working in Thailand on short term visas. New regulations concerning persons who overstay their visas are coming into force, banning them from re-entering Thailand for between one and ten years.

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Thailand is no longer the haven for those who want to domicile themselves in the country like before.

For many the dream of living in Thailand has turned sour, where many settlement and social problems have brought abrupt endings their Thai lifestyle.

The writer spoke with an informed member of the Thai Immigration Police who wanted to remain anonymous. He was able to shed some light on the reasons why Thai authorities are cracking down upon, and trying to put some control over the large numbers of people trying to live long-term in Thailand.

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis.

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