When you think of a journey to Thailand, you may be more likely to think of young backpackers and TEFL teachers on round-the-world trips than families adventuring with children in tow. But an incredibly low cost of living means that an ever-broadening range of expats are migrating to Thailand to settle down. From retired couples to parents in need of some change, people aren’t just moving – they’re staying. So, what is it about Thailand that’s so appealing?
Alongside family-friendly things to do and be involved in, and the overall quality of family life in Thailand, here are a few of the reasons why expat families are falling in love with the Land of Smiles.
A dazzling culture
Thailand appeals to many because of its year-round warm climate and internationally-renowned white sand beaches. But outside of beach life, Thailand has a rich cultural heritage – made evident by the colourful and ornate temples that dot every town, village and hillside.
Moving between western cities can start to feel like much of a muchness. The same shops in the same big shopping malls, weekends spent bowling or at the cinema, all good fun but with little that stands out between some of the sprawling concrete jungles which often attract large expat communities.
Family life in Thailand centres around food, and in most areas there’s a strong sense of community value. Neighbours get together for meals and help each other with chores; an attitude that has been embraced by expat newcomers.
Though Thailand does have some westernised areas, you’ll never be far away from a new experience. There’s something for children of all ages, whether it’s learning about the fairytale ‘White Temple at Chiang Rai’ or sampling authentic Thai street food and buying pocket money treats at Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok.
The cost of living in Thailand is so low that it’s easy to make the most of everything that’s on offer, whether you and your family want to explore temples and museums or take day trips into the countryside to cycle through rice paddies and spot exotic wildlife. There are also vibrant festivals throughout the year, and no matter where you move to you’re sure to find a lively parade or music-laden weekend to enjoy.
Quality health and education services
In HSBC’s latest Expat Explorer survey, Thailand ranked higher than the USA and the UK for childcare quality, and gained extra points for reducing the overall cost of raising children dramatically. It was deemed much easier to integrate as a family in Thailand than in the UK, and respondents felt that the work-life balance was better in Thailand than in many other countries.
Some might be surprised to hear that expats in this part of the world reported better health and healthcare services than those in other destinations, with Thailand beating numerous others to take 7th place in the league table for health.
Though public healthcare is busy and can involve long waits, the quality of private medical care here is exceptional, and available for much lower prices than private care in the western world. No healthcare in Thailand is free, but if you have international health insurance in place you can keep your family in the care of world-class, English-speaking professionals, leaving you with one less thing to worry about.
When it comes to education, note that a child’s first 12 years of school in Thailand are free of charge, with 9 of those being mandatory. This is true in state schools, but to access international schooling you’ll need to look at paid options. State schools will usually only teach in Thai, which will be a barrier to children and teenagers who don’t have a grasp on the language.
International school prices are similar to those of other locations, and will teach your child Thai language and culture alongside their usual curriculum. This may be American, French, British or German, along with other offerings at certain schools around the country. Alternatively, you can homeschool your children if you wish.
Top destinations for expat families
For many, the go-to relocation spot is Bangkok. It’s a modern, cosmopolitan city with plenty of public transport and ludicrously cheap places to eat and drink out. For new expat arrivals, the high concentration of foreigners – known as farangs – means that it’s easy to join in with sports clubs, language study groups and social excursions with other expats.
Bangkok is also home to some of the best private hospitals in Thailand, and boasts some seriously cheap city centre living. Expect to pay less than $700 (£550) a month for a substantial two bedroom, fully furnished condo overlooking the Chao Phraya river in the heart of the city. For a three bedroom, three bathroom family home near an international school, you’d only need to extend your budget by an additional $100 or so a month.
Chiang Mai is another area with a substantial expat community, and you’ll find plenty of schools, shops and social clubs to help you settle in. A far cry from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is known for its relaxed feel and historic sites, surrounded by rolling green hills and mountains.
This is one of the cheapest cities in east Asia, with rental and utility prices coming in almost 50% cheaper than in Bangkok.
Lastly, if it’s the beach life you’re set on, try Phuket for size. Nicknamed the ‘Pearl of the Andaman Sea’, Phuket boasts stunning white sands and tranquil valleys as far as the eye can see. It also houses stylish accommodation, efficient infrastructure and brilliant schools and hospitals.
Whether your family are outdoorsy adventurers or prefer to spend family time around the dinner table, you can strike up the perfect balance in Thailand. A country where money goes further and climates stay warmer than in many others, it isn’t hard to see why more and more people are settling in the sun.
Tabby Farrar is the author of global travel site Just Can’t Settle, and has lived and worked in Thailand during her journeys around the world.