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Getting to Thailand and the Visa Process (Thailand Tuesday Installment #4)

Now that you have all the background information about our move to Thailand I’m guessing some of you might be wondering how much it cost to get set up here? Any intrepid travelers out there looking to expatriate and explore the world outside their home countries? Read on and you’ll see what it cost us to make the move to Thailand and to get our household set up.

Before I get into the financials I should let you know about the visa restrictions here in Thailand. If you are a citizen of the U.S., Canada, the U.K. or Australia the requirements are the same, but that doesn’t mean they are easy.

Visiting for us is easy enough. You can get a 90 day visa from the Thai embassy or consulate in your home country for $40 for a single entry or $80 for 2 entries. Additional entries can be arranged once you are here in Thailand. If you are just looking for a vacation you do not need a visa prior to arrival, you can get a 14 day “visa on arrival” on your way through immigration at Suvarabhumi Airport (yes that really is the name. Thai can be quite a tongue twister) or if you are heading elsewhere in the Kingdom at whichever airport you land. In both cases you must have proof of onward travel out of the Kingdom by the time your visa expires.

Permanent Thai Visa Options

Those looking to make Thailand a more permanent home have limited options. The first (and most utilized) is to make border runs every 90 days to renew your tourist visa. If you are looking to explore SE Asia this can be fine, but if you aren’t crazy about traveling every 90 days it can be a pain in the butt. The second option is to find employment here in Thailand in which case you can enter on a non-immigrant B visa. This type of visa is good for 1 year and must be extended annually. A third option is the non-immigrant ED visa which is granted to those studying in the Kingdom. The study of the Thai language is included under this type of visa which makes it useful for those who can’t qualify for other types of visas. This visa is also good for 1 year and must be renewed annually.

The fourth option is good for those over 50 years. It is a non-immigrant O-A type visa. It is also good for 1 year and must be renewed annually. And the final (for the purpose of this discussion) type of visa is the non-immigrant O visa which is granted to those visiting, caring for or staying with spouses, parents or children. It is also good for 1 year and must be renewed annually.

In addition, all foreigners in the Kingdom on any of these visas must report to the immigration office in their province once every 90 days to verify their address. And for even more fun, it is required that those on a non-immigrant O visa have 400,000 Thai baht in a bank account 90 days prior to their yearly visa extension. Those on other types (B, ED and O-A) are required to have 800,000 Thai baht in an account for 90 days prior to their yearly extension.

Is all that a hassle you might wonder. Yes it is, but one worth enduring in my opinion. With that out of the way let’s get to the meat of the matter, how I got here and set up the family.

Financing Your Thailand Start Up (Well Mine Anyway)

The very first financial requirement you will have is the airfare to get to Thailand. Naturally this will vary based on where you are coming from, what airline you choose to fly and what time of year it is. We flew Cathay Pacific from JFK (a 20 hour flight) and the cost for 3 tickets in June was $2969. Of course we could have decreased that by 1/3 because our daughter was only 1 year old at the time and could have flown as a lap infant.

Let me recommend to you that if your child is under the age of 2, but is walking or crawling, you get a seat for them. 20 hours is a damn long flight for an adult and for a child that age it is an eternity. Being able to put her in her own seat at times was a god send. We also got 2 extra checked bags and 1 carry on by buying a seat for her. Since we did not ship anything this was also helpful. Yes I know paying for the 2 extra bags would have been cheaper, but all together we felt it was worth it.

The next financial hurdle is having the money for the visa requirement. Once the money is deposited in the account it cannot be spent until after your visa extension is approved. So, that was roughly $13,000 tied up in an account and untouchable from June 7th until September 4th. If you don’t mind you can then simply leave that money sit for as long as you are in Thailand, thus meeting the financial requirements each year. Thai savings accounts are currently paying 0.75% interest.

Where to Live

There a lots of options for living when you move to Thailand. Bangkok, the capital city, has pretty much everything you would find in a western city of comparable size (12 million people), loads of awesome restaurants, shopping (if that’s your thing), excellent and cheap public transport (better than most U.S. cities) alongside all the wonderful Thai cultural destinations. Chiang Mai to the north is much quieter and laid back, has a growing arts community and is much cooler, being in the north and the mountains. In the south you can have your pick of a multitude of scenic island locales, or if you want to “go native” there are plenty of towns and cities in the northeast of Thailand where foreigners are still rare and life is much as it was decades ago.

We choose Bangkok for the convenience along with the fact that my wife wanted to work and it is the best place to find employment. It also has the greatest concentration of international schools, which isn’t important now but will be in the future. And it is where most of our friends and acquaintances in Thailand are located.

Excluding the tourist locations in the south (Phuket, Krabi, Samui) Bangkok is certainly the most expensive place in Thailand. Rents are not cheap for Thailand, but would be quite reasonable by most North American standards. Food is definitely a bargain here compared to the West, although it is still more expensive than throughout the rest of Thailand. And imported items are quite expensive. If you don’t want to spend $1500 per month on food you need to stick with a primarily Thai diet, but that’s no burden as Thai food is so delicious!

We began our stay at a small hotel on Sukhumvit Rd, the main road in Bangkok. Our plan was to use that as a base of operations while my wife found a job and we found a permanent place to stay. Turns out we only needed to stay there for one week at a total cost of $418.60. Not bad for a large suite complete with kitchen, king sized bed, breakfast and a balcony. Try to find something similar in NYC, Vancouver, Dallas or Toronto.

One week turned out to be perfect. My wife found a job within 3 days and we had our new condo within 6 days. Unfortunately it wouldn’t be ready until the 24th which was still 10 days away. No problem though, my in-laws had yet to meet their 1 year old daughter so off we went to my wife’s hometown while waiting for the condo to be ready.
Find out the differences between Bangkok and small town Thailand next week. Plus I’ll finally be revealing how much we spent to set up our home here. You might be surprised.

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