Bangkok, Thailand Report of what it's like to live there - 04/01/17

Personal Experiences from Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand 04/01/17

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

This is our third international posting.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

East Coast, USA. Our general route is through Tokyo (about 7 hours) to either Chicago or D.C. (13-14 hours), then one more connection home. About 24 hours in the air. Brutal.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic posting.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Downtown apartment with adequate space, a balcony, near the BTS. There are basically two types of housing--downtown apartments or Nichada, the gated community surrounding International School of Bangkok.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Every single thing you could ever want is here- it may take a hit of time and "asking around" to find it, but I usually can find everything, and things are either cheap or what I would reasonably pay in the US.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

I order good paper towel and trash bags through the pouch, although there is a reasonably well stocked commissary that arranges home delivery for a small fee. There is a very high duty on wine, so the commissary is the best place to buy wine. Beer and other liquor are reasonably priced locally.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Everything and anything you could possibly imagine. Excellent food scene, home delivery through Food Panda. High-end, casual dining, street food...it's all here in Bangkok.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

APO at the Embassy. Thai Poste within country is reliable and reasonably priced.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

We pay our part time housekeeper about $3 USD per hour and she comes 15 hours a week. Availability is good, many Thais, also Burmese (you need to research visa requirements and be in compliance). Nichada housing has quarters for live in help, some downtown apartments do as well.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Downtown apartments have facilities, Nichada has Clarke Hatch (membership required for a fee), most places have pools. Fitness First, Virgin Sports, tons of options, reasonably priced. Due to the heat, most people exercise indoors or swim.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

I use my ATM card everywhere--there is a 200 Thai Baht (@ $6 USD) fee for ATM withdrawals, so I withdraw a larger amount of cash versus small withdrawals, as the fee is the same. You can cash checks at the embassy but the exchange rate is not as good and the hours are quite restrictive, especially if you live in Nichada or are reliant on a traveling spouse to get cash for you. I also use my debit card to buy groceries, except at Makro (a Costco-like store), which only takes cash but has ATMs on the premises.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Within Bangkok and in more touristy areas English is common, once outside of the city you need a bit of Thai to get by.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes, public transportation is not handicap accessible and sidewalks are congested and difficult even for the able-bodied.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

The BTS sky train and the MRT are great, but only serve a small part of the sprawling city. You can get a pre-paid Rabbit Card for the BTS, but need a different card for the MRT, although rumor has it they will be combined soon into one common payment card. Uber taxis are prevalent, as are regular taxis. Moto taxis are also everywhere. Cheap, cheap, cheap.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

You can bring anything in, but Thailand drives on the left side. Small cars are better for navigating small congested roadways and tiny parking spaces.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, easy to set up. Nichada has a contract with True, downtown has other provider options.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Bring or buy an unlocked phone (widely available in Bangkok at MBK mall) and buy a local SIM card- either pre-pay ("top-up") at 7-11 or at mall kiosks, or you can set up a cheap monthly plan with your carrier.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

Excellent and widely available. Many will do in-home visits for a fee, which is a great convenience given the horrendous traffic.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

No bilateral work agreement with US, so mission jobs or telecommuting are the most frequent types of jobs.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Yes, lots of things to do with orphanages and churches. You need to seek them out, but they are there.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Thais dress very well, especially in business settings. The oppressive heat makes this a challenge.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Purse snatching by motorbike drivers is common, but Thailand is generally very safe.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Local medical care is excellent and world-class. Several hospitals have entire services for international travelers and expats. Zika is a worry, but prevalence is low. Dengue is more of a threat. Motor vehicle accidents the worst health concern, Thailand is second in the world, behind Libya, in terms of motor vehicle fatalities, especially of those riding motorbikes without a helmet.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Pretty good for a city of this size. We have lived with much worse.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot, hot, hot and humid, occasional slight (warm) breeze. It is hot 24/7/365...

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Several excellent schools that I am aware of, tons more that I do not have familiarity with. The International School of Bangkok is top-notch, with an excellent facility, and tons of extracurricular activities. NIST also has a wonderful reputation, as does Pattana (British curriculum). There is a French school...tons of choices.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Big community, expats from all over the world, you can find your niche...

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Restaurants, movies, concerts...it's all here. There is an American Women's Club, an Australian women's group, lots of expat options.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Everyone can find a lot to enjoy in Bangkok.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes, a very open culture in some ways ( Thailand recognizes a third gender) but regressive in others (do not recognize same sex marriages for diplomats).

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5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Regional travel throughout Southeast Asia is easy and cheap, Northern Thailand and the beaches are awesome, easy to get away for the weekend. We love Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar...so much to see.

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6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Regionally there is a treasure trove of crafts to buy (Vietnam and Laos in particular), also Chiang Mai. It is more difficult to find handmade artisanal heritage items in Bangkok, much of the shopping is super high-end mall shopping ( and plenty of it...)

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7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Easy living, broad availability of everything, easy travel, great restaurant options, Western convenience.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How debilitating the traffic and the heat would be, how overpopulated and "modern" Bangkok would be at the expense of tradition and heritage.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Glad I had the experience, but will be ready to leave when the day arrives.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter clothes.

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4. But don't forget your:

Umbrella, sunscreen, anti-perspirant, frequent flier number and sandals.

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