Pros and cons of expat life in Bangkok

Image of Thai food street vendor by Lisheng Chang via Unsplash

Officially and locally known as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon – which translates as ‘City Of Angels’ – Bangkok has a long history as a favourite destination for expats and tourists. In fact, it was named as the world’s most visited city, with 22.78 m visitors in 2019. While this number was impacted by travel restrictions in recent years, its doors are well and truly open once more.

Its international significance and position at the heart of the business world made it the perfect venue for FIDI’s 2023 International Conference. We had a great time in Bangkok, you can see the recap of the conference here. But for those that are planning on relocating, what can they expect from the city – and why do so many people continue to flock here?

Katarina Osterman, General Manager for Santa Fe Relocation, Thailand

Songkran is Thailand's new year holiday and is a deeply rooted event for the Thai people. For many foreigners (visitors to Thailand) the holidays represents mostly the fun aspect of it – which was originally adopted by children – mad fun spilling water on each other, usually done in public spaces and widely accepted. In reality, lots of people visit the temples to give alms and sprinkle clean or scented water over statues of Buddha to represent purification and good fortune.

Pros: low cost of living

To start with, it is great value. According to Numbeo, consumer prices (including rent) are 62% lower than in New York, for example. This is particularly true when eating out: a meal in an “inexpensive restaurant” costs on average just $3. That doesn’t get you very far in Manhattan.

However, as is so often the case, imported goods are expensive. As Mark Burton, a British expat blogger and three-year resident of Bangkok, points out, Bangkok is an inexpensive place to live as long as you are happy to live how the Thais live. Try to re-create a Western lifestyle in Bangkok, and it inevitably starts to become much more expensive.

Image of Bangkok Canal
Image by Trey Ratcliff via Flickr/Creative Commons

Cons: it can get a little warm

Many expats, especially those from cooler climates, struggle with the heat in Bangkok. While it does not have the peak temperatures experienced in some Middle Eastern cities, the heat is continuous and inescapable - routinely hovering around 40ºC, day and night. Combined with high humidity, it can make for an uncomfortable environment.

Nor is there any relief with the seasons. The rainy season – between August and October – does not cool the air, but brings the added inconvenience of heavy downpours and thunderstorms. So while energy bills are low compared to many other countries, you need to budget for having the aircon running most of the time...

Pichada Rajavechpisal, Customer Relations Manager of Asian Tigers Group, Thailand :

My expat friends love rainy season if they stay at home, as they can turn off the air-con and enjoy the fresh air and breeze during and after the rain.

Image of green tuk-tuk
Image by Mil Amirian via Unsplash

Cons: the traffic

With an average 17,425 residents for every square mile, Bangkok is densely populated – and it sometimes seems that all of them are travelling simultaneously. No wonder that the popular image of Bangkok is one of constant gridlock: a city teeming with tuk-tuks and scurrying pedestrians. But while the streets are extremely busy, this is only half the picture.

For a more complete picture of how typical Thais get around town, you need to look both above and below street level. Below, there is the Bangkok Subway (known as MRT), an efficient and clean metro system. Above, you will find the BTS SkyTrain, a more modern elevated rail system that covers the main inner city routes. Both are air-conditioned and wonderfully inexpensive when compared to metro systems elsewhere in the world.

If you actually enjoy the bustle of the streets, then you will find thousands of taxis, motorbike taxis and the obligatory tuk-tuks, which are also good value and can get you from A to B more quickly than you might think. But it’s still a good idea to avoid rush hour...

Katarina Osterman, General Manager for Santa Fe Relocation, Thailand

During Songkran, most people leave town and return to visit their hometowns across Thailand. Traffic jam in Bangkok no longer exists for the duration of those few days, but a road trip of 150km could easily end up travelling 5-6 hours one way.

Pros: safe, but beware of scams

Despite – or perhaps because of – the number of people on the street, crime levels are generally low, and you are much safer walking around in Bangkok than in either New York, London or Paris.  However, the disparity in earnings makes the relatively wealthy expat an attractive target for scams. Tuk tuk drivers are notorious, for example, of charging polite and naive foreigners exorbitant fees for short rides or, even, pressuring them to buy goods in certain shops, where they receive commission from their ‘sponsors’. 

Armand Guillemoteau, Director of Global Partnerships at JVK International Movers EMEA, Thailand.  

People are calm, kind & polite whatever the situation, making you feel at ease and secure extremely fast compared to many other cites around the world.  On many occasions, I forgot bags in the shopping malls; if someone is not running after you to bring it back to you, it is kept safely till you come back. I have never had someone steal from me.

Sunset drone view of skyrises Bangkok
Image by Peggy Anke via Unsplash

Cons: pollution

One of the most obvious downsides of the overcrowding is the air pollution. Face masks were de rigeur on Bangkok streets long before COVID and the situation appears to be worsening, as the local government has recently urged residents to work from home. Air pollution peaks during the dry, winter months when there is little rain or wind to clear the city air.

Bangkok does not offer much in the way of parks and green spaces either, which might bring residents some relief from the smog. However, in this respect, city authorities do appear to be making progress, with the development of Benjakitti Forest Park and the Green Mile, an elevated walkway that connects Benjakitti with the city’s other main green space, Lumpini Park.

Street Vendor grilling Bangkok
Image by Norbert Braun via Unsplash

Pros: the food!

Food in Bangkok is fresh and fragrant - and it is everywhere. Dedicated foodies can find uptown rooftop restaurants, such as the aptly named Vertigo on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree building. For everyone else, the main attraction is down in the streets, where hundreds of humble food stalls serve delicious, fresh-cooked meals for 30-40 baht. That’s just $1.

Look out for fried banana pancakes, boat noodles, green curry and the ubiquitous pad thai. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even find deep-fried insects, but Thai food stall owners are savvy enough to know that they need to cater to Western tastes. As one blogger points out: “Some Thai food can be very spicy, and many restaurants will offer ‘Thai spice’ and ‘foreigner spice’ so you can choose what’s appropriate for you.”

Armand Guillemoteau, Director of Global Partnerships at JVK International Movers EMEA, Thailand.  

At first it requires some adjustment, but eating street food with Thai colleagues are among my favourite moments in Thailand. Rich in flavors, colours and textures, you never get fed up if you can eat spicy of course and everyone smiles around a table filled with Thai food.


Bangkok is a colourful, exotic, atmospheric city that is constantly buzzing with activity. There is amazing variety, from the modern skyscrapers on the Sukhumvit road to the stunning Buddhist temples of the Grand Palace, from the lurid attractions of Soi Cowboy to the intoxicating smalls and sounds of the street stalls in Banglamphu.

When you also consider that these experiences come at a knock-down price for most visitors, you can understand the appeal of the city. More people come here than any other city, so why not follow their lead? 


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