Bangkok, Thailand Report of what it's like to live there - 01/30/23
Personal Experiences from Bangkok, Thailand
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
This is my seventh tour overseas. I've served other tours in Asia, the Middle East, South Central Asia, and Africa.
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?
Washington DC, USA. It takes about 26 hrs to get from DC to Bangkok depending on flights and routes. While it is a long journey, its relatively easy.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
I live in Nichada, which is a community in the suburbs of Bangkok. On average, it takes me 45 minutes to get to the US Embassy. It can take as little as 30 minutes, and as long as 2.5 hours depending on traffic. While I was initially worried about the horror stories of the commute from Nichada, I found that the typical circumstances that contribute to terrible traffic are often predictable (rain storm, large event going on downtown, or last friday of the month) and can be avoided. Additionally, my colleagues who live downtown often have terrible traffic/commutes themselves for the same reasons - meaning: the nights it took me 2.5 hrs to get home to Nichada, it took my downtown colleagues 2 hrs to get home.
The benefit of living in Nichada is the size of housing (largest in the housing pool), which are generally all 4 bedrooms, with each bedroom having its own bathroom. Some houses have a large den that can be used as an additional bedroom. Most all have maids quarters. The houses all have some bit of yard, and yard size varies. None of the yards are 'great' by American standards but are the best yards you are going to get in Bangkok. Many folks with dogs appreciate the fact that they have a yard and there is a dog park.
The housing here centers on the International School of Bangkok, which is in the center of Nichada. Almost all families that live here send their kids to ISB.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are expensive, particularly for western items. You can find almost anything in Bangkok, but you are not going to find everything at one store. Families learn what combination of stores and local Thai markets work (plus Amazon/Walmart orders) work for them, and quickly get into a rhythm with procuring food. Household supplies are easily found, but western brand home supplies have to be ordered.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing that I can find on Amazon, if needed.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Bangkok is a food lover's city. You can find anything here, and most places will deliver (but not always out to Nichada). No matter what your tastes are, you will find options in Bangkok. Out in Nichada options are far less than downtown, but still plenty of options, particularly family friendly options.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Yes. Thailand is a developing country, and Bangkok is a very large city. All incoming families should expect to deal with some level of local bugs. Cockroaches and lizards getting into homes is common. Mosquitos are the biggest complaint, and they are everywhere all year round.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO, shipping time vary greatly and new family learn not to count on any sort of reliability of shipping times. I've had things arrive in 10 days. Other things, for unknown reasons, have taken 9+ weeks.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Almost everyone uses house hold help. Maids/nannies range in prices from 15,000 Bhat/month to 24,000 Bhat/month. Many folks hire Burmese, others hirer and pay a little more for Thai citizens (because it saves you the hassle of visa issues). The maid/nanny we hired has been an absolute Godsend. Word to the wise: you get what you pay for. Check the references. Interview several.
Note: discipline for Thais/Burmese nannies for your children is always near non-existent. Children learn quickly the nanny will give them just about anything and allow them to do almost anything that isn't hurting them or the house. Set very clear boundaries and expect them to be broken by the nanny.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Nichada residents have access to several gyms, they are okay, but nothing to write home about. Downtown has several larger gyms that you have to pay for. Nichada has multiple pools, one of them 100m.
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've used my credit card everywhere and never had a problem. I've used only a handful of trusted ATMs.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I'm a practicing Catholic, so I can only really comment on the Catholic Churches. We attend Our Lady of Mercy which is about 15mins north of Nichada, and it offers one Sunday English mass and English faith formation classes (CCD). Holy Redeemer downtown (very close to US Embassy) offers multiple English masses on Saturday and Sundays, and CCD. Note that most parishes are open air - so prepare for church to be a hot event.
Multiple other Christian denominations are present, and many offer English services, I just don't know how far away those churches are from Nichada.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I know about five words and I've survived just fine. Google Translate is a wonderful app. The US Embassy does offer language classes.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. This city is not ADA-compliant in the least. Sidewalks are hazard to people without disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Easy to get taxis and I highly recommend the Grab app, its the Uber of Thailand and is also used to deliver take out. Metro is safe and easy.
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?
We didn't have a car for the 1st year and never really missed it. We had a taxi "fixer" that would send us a taxi whenever we wanted to go somewhere and this was still cheaper than car ownership. Eventually we broke down and bought a car to get to church, and have enjoyed having it.
You do not need a car to enjoy Bangkok, and in fact, I wouldn't recommend you drive in the city as its awful in my opinion. However, the highway system in Thailand is one of the bright spots of the countries infrastructure. The highway system is good, and you can take long car trips with ease. The highways are almost like the States with gas stations on easy exits and rest stops. It's great. Weekend beach trips are glorious.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Easy and cheap. With a good sponsor can be arranged on the day you arrive.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Get a local provide and switch out your SIM.
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?
Don't have pets, other than a hamster, and I'm not paying to take him to the vet.
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?
US Embassy folks should consult with the Community Liaison Office.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots. There are many NGOs in Bangkok.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Rarely is it formal, only a few zealots wear ties. However, shorts are never acceptable in a business setting, and I would say are not acceptable in decent restaurants. Almost every man will get some suits and slacks made at the incredible tailors here in Bangkok. No need to invest a ton in clothes before coming out here.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
As far as crime, I've never been worried, and feel very safe. I'm sure there is petty crime, like any large city.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Yes. There is no real ambulance service. You need to get the ER? Realistically you are on your own. There are a few 'big' hospitals that people swear by (like Bumrumgrad), which are massive and look very nice, but I've found the quality of care to be very mixed. Sometimes is great, sometimes its not. Outside of Bangkok, expect developing world type hospitals.
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?
It's poor. There is pollution and the burning season every year. .
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Thais are very sensitive to people food allergies and take them very seriously at almost all restaurants.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Tropical. It never gets very cold. Half the year is in the 90s with near 100% humidity. And yes, you do 'get used to it'.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is a huge selection and the Embassy has over 46 approved schools. Do your research.
I send my kids to ISB (International School of Bangkok) and regret it. What was once a great school, has transformed ideologically into something that doesn't work for my family, but that is just us. If you have a child who is suffering from gender or sexual identity issues, this school will be very welcoming and affirming to your child. In my opinion, if you hold traditional values and/or are proud of being an American you will find yourself at odds (often) with ISB. It is, in my opinion, fully woke. In my opinion, they teach controversial topics in all grade levels, starting in pre-K.
I have been impressed by academics in some areas (math and foreign language) and less so in other areas (science and social studies). The school's biggest pro is its activities. The sports, band, clubs are absolutely incredible. There is something to do for every child here. Unfortunately, for us, the battle with ideology has overshadowed all of the positives, and had we known what we know now, we would have made a different choice.
The good news, and my sincerest hope for all parents is to do your research. There are many wonderful schools here. If you are Christian, look at ICS. If you want the big school with lots of activities and, in my opinion, a lesser dose of indoctrination look at Patana.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Several schools offer support, opinions are mixed. Do your research, be honest with the school about the abilities of your child, and speak with other parents before making a choice.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Pre-schools are available, and they can be costly. We sent our youngest to pre-school at ISB and other than the small early injects of ideology, it was wonderful.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. Everything they could want, you just need to research and find it.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Massive. Lots of expats here from everywhere in the world. Morale seems mixed. Single men love it here. Single woman not so much. Married couples with kids morale is a direct correlation to their happiness with the school their kids are in, and that is true anywhere in the world.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's honestly a great city for everyone. There is truly something for everyone here, you just have to find it.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, but Thailand does not recognize same-sex marriage. While homosexuality is widely culturally accepted, as is transgenderism, same-sex marriage is not legally recognized and this is often surprising to same sex couples coming to Thailand. It will affect the visa of the non-sponsored spouse.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Thais are famously friendly, and I have always found them to be so.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
No, the Thais are a very open people.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
I'm honestly not a fan of the city of Bangkok, but the rest of Thailand is beautiful. Get out and see it. The beaches are beautiful. The jungle covered mountains are amazing. Get of out of the city!!
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Stop being a tourist and go visit an orphanage and help. Volunteer at an NGO. There is a lot of poverty here, and there is nothing better to do with you time than something to help those in need.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes, lots of people buy lots of things. I'm not one of them.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The schools. Do your research. Speak to parents who hold the same values you do, and make as informed a decision as you can.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but would have chosen to live downtown and sent my kids to a different school
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
bug spray, lizard traps, patience for things never really being fixed correctly.