Thailand: Where have all the Expats Gone?

Thailand. A beautiful paradise where life is easy, food is cheap, and the people are friendly right? Wrong. Over time, the land of smiles has turned into the land...
Thailand expat


A beautiful paradise where life is easy, food is cheap, and the people are friendly right?


Over time, the land of smiles has turned into the land with the best smiles money can buy. The hordes of tourists and expats descending upon Thailand for the last 15 years has radically changed many of the things that used to so enchant people. It’s not the Thai’s fault. It’s inevitable and it eventually happens to every popular destination.

Food and beer that was once cheap, has become increasingly expensive; as has the rent in popular destinations. Land ownership is impossible, long-term visas are becoming more difficult to obtain, and there has been ongoing political issues since 2007.

These days, more and more foreign expats living in Thailand are picking up stake and looking for greener pastures. They are noticing many of the neighboring countries have laxer visa regulations or better business and investment opportunities.

Why the Expats are Leaving Thailand

Visa Hassles

While it was once relatively easy to stay in Thailand for long periods of time, these days they are continually making it more and more difficult. Most younger expats used to just stay in Thailand on short-term visas and make a quick border run (or sometimes even use a service without them ever having to leave the comfort of their own homes) every thirty days to renew. This is no longer an option as the Thai government has since taken to only giving 15 day visas when entering overland and, even more recently, has stopped allowing more than one overland entry without a valid reason. The time of quick border runs in Thailand has come to an end.

There are a few options available for long-term visas but they are generally reserved for retired or semi-retired people over the age of 50 with proof of funds, foreigners married to locals, students, and foreigners hired to work for Thai companies. This is a useful resource to learn all the details about long-term Thai visa options.

Limited Income Potential

Another big issue for many expats living in Thailand is the limited earning potential they face and the inability to own full rights to their business or land. Most expats find it extremely difficult to find any kind of gainful employment other than teaching English, which barely pays living wages. Whether it be from lack of Thai language skills, biased hiring policies, or lack of jobs in an expats chosen area; most expats turn to the option of starting their own business.

One of the initial problems with owning and operating a business in Thailand is that, as a foreigner, you cannot own more than 49 percent of your business, and in some cases 39%. The same goes for your home or land. This is a big sticking point because if you ever have a problem with your Thai partner, you basically have no rights in the Thai courts.

Political Instability

Not a lot needs to be said about the current political landscape in Thailand. Just pick up an international newspaper or do a quick search online. Nobody wants to live in a place that could potentially erupt into civil war at a moment’s notice. Somehow it just doesn’t make for the best night’s sleep. Thailand has been experiencing political turmoil since 2007. If you have been entertaining even the slightest thought of moving to Thailand you should already be aware of what’s going on, if not, you better start reading up. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any immediate end to Thailand’s political issues. I’m no political science major, but even I know martial law ain’t a good thing.

Rising Cost of Living

While once Thailand was a place where life was cheap and expats could live comfortably on modest salaries or savings, this is no longer true. Over the last ten years, Thailand’s cost of living has been rising at an alarming rate. Rent in many of the popular expat areas is inching closer and closer to prices you might find in the US. Beers cost $2 or $3 now instead of $0.50 or a buck. Food gets more and more expensive every day. Gone are the days of living for $1,000 a month in Phuket or Pattaya. These days, you are probably struggling if you don’t have at least $2,000 or more.

Lured by Neighboring Countries

When comparing Thailand to some of its neighboring countries, it gets easier and easier to see why the expats are leaving. Take for example Cambodia’s lax visa regulations. One year, multiple-entry business visas can be obtained by just about anybody for a nominal cost of $250. Malaysia is also another promising option where foreigners can own 100% or their land, home, and business.

Unless Thailand starts welcoming expats with open arms again, it may soon find itself with very few left calling it home.

Brett Dvoretz

A long time traveler and recent expat, Brett wandered through over 25 countries before he decided to settle in the little beach town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. After struggling through the process of setting up a new life abroad, he decided to start Expats and Aliens to help other expats find the info they need before making the leap.

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2 Comments on this post.
  • Richard Westwell
    24 January 2016 at 3:54 am

    Dear Brett. It is very obvious you know very little about Thailand. Live here like I have for 13 years and then write about it, you may know a little bit more.

    • Brett Dvoretz
      20 May 2017 at 2:47 pm

      Hey Richard. I don’t claim to be an expert in all places. This is just what I have experienced myself and learned from many of my expat friends who are moving away from Thailand. I also know that many of the things I mention are indisputable facts. Thailand has experienced much political instability over the last 10 years, the prices are most certainly rising, getting a long term visa is more of a hassle than places like Cambodia and Laos, and getting a business visa is even more difficult unless you are sponsored by a company. Feel free to share your experience here.