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Wanted: expat stories

Posted by francesstella on 12/3/2010 at 07:41

Hello all,

This is a pretty broad topic: how/why did you relocate to SEA and what has it been like?

I met several expats during a trip to SEA last year. Despite my curiosity I tried to avoid asking the kind of questions I imagine they must get sick of repeating answers to: why did you choose this lifestyle? How did you come pick Asia? What do you do to pay rent? How do you reconcile living abroad with family life? etc. etc. etc.

I noticed there are several people living in SEA who regularly post on Travelfish (starting from somtam) so I thought I'd redirect my unanswered questions here.

I would move to Northern Thailand in a heartbeat, in fact I'm in the early stages of planning: I've arranged to move out of my flat and started looking into work options abroad. It would be uber-interesting to hear other people's stories as a sort on inspiration.

Cheers in advance!

Fran x

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Posted by caseyprich on 12/3/2010 at 08:56


I'm not a SEA expat, but I live in East Asia - Shanghai. My friends who live in Chiang Mia got their start with an internship after graduate school - that was follwed by a full-time position in the same NGO. The visa situation is difficult, repeated trips out of the country to renew, but the pay is enough to enjoy life - and the work experience with Karan refugees and other needy groups is very rewarding according to all their reports.

I chose China because the employment opportunities are greater and the pay is competitive, it will go a longer way back home. But also, it has a proximity to SEA so that every February I can visit for 3 weeks. Many expats here get there start by booking a mid-range job at a university or a language center teaching English. That gets them into the country and within a year or two they've made connections and find themselves employed in a field they find rewarding.

Best of luck to you.

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Posted by francesstella on 13/3/2010 at 02:29

Thank you so much Casey. I'd thought of doing a TEFL course in Chiang Mai, get some proper training & open up opportunities - I'm leaning towards it more & more after reading your feedback. Really appreciate the insight!

Of course, if anyone has their own original story they'd like to share, I'm all ears... err, eyes.



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Posted by somtam2000 on 13/3/2010 at 09:20 admin

We're reformed backpackers I guess ;-)

Thailand for me was an afterthought (and the final stop) to a two year round the world trip in the early 90s and I've been coming here since. Lots of reasons we we settled in the area -- the lifestyle, climate and cost of living are all great (and superior in my opinion, to Sydney, where we are from).

It's no different to living anywhere else really -- once you are legal (visa wise) then it is straightforward to get bank accounts, license etc - jobs can be trickier tho -- we have been quite lucky on that front as we worked a number of different jobs (English teacher/staff at embassy/newspapers/freelance etc) and had some lucky breaks.

We sort of just fell into it really -- a holiday that became a way of life.

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Posted by somsai on 13/3/2010 at 10:32

Choose wisely. Think about what you wish to do and where.

Three months commuting in Bankok was a lot of fun and exciting, but I wouldn't want to spend a year. I've put up with extremely low wages ($200 a month in China) to live in Dali instead of Kunming. I chose Lampang over Chang Mai to force myself to assimilate more.

Living in a foreign country is an opportunity as well as a place to live. Study the language.

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Posted by MADMAC on 14/3/2010 at 20:11

I second Somsai - learn the language. I am deliberately avoiding the Issan dialect and focussing on Thai, but take the time to learn and stick to it.

Outside of Bangkok, viable jobs can be a challenge. I would say go where you can find work you can enjoy. If teaching English is OK for you, then there are a lot of opportunities to do that.

Little, annoyances here can grate after a while. You have to learn to not compare it with where you came from all the time, or you'll get frustrated. It is what it is. A lot of people fall in love at first, and then when they get below skin level of the place they begin to get disillusioned. Wherever you go, you will be living among people. And I don't care where in the world you go, humans all behave in certain ways consistently.

Stay tight with the police and officialdom. You can't win real battles with them here - so don't try.

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Posted by exacto on 15/3/2010 at 00:26

Sometimes it really is more fun to visit a place than to live there. I very much enjoyed my time as an expat in Bangkok from 1996 to 2000, but discovered that during my trips back as a tourist, particularly the two 2-month visits in 2006 and 2009/2010, I had much more free time as well as spare cash to do the things I wanted to be doing and to explore any and every little corner of the place.

Apart from that, I thought the others' comments above were exceptionally insightful and helpful to anyone preparing to live abroad. Cheers.

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Posted by francesstella on 15/3/2010 at 23:23

'Reformed backpackers' - love that.

Thank you everyone for the tips. Somsai, I will definitely make the effort to learn Thai. I'm a bit of a language geek so I'm just hoping I won't get KO'd by tones!

You have a point there Madmac & Exacto. I'm trying to keep my expectations realistic and not pump up my perception of SEA as something bearing very close resemblance to Heaven on Earth (but boy is it tough not to daydream when you're stuck in a gloomy office!). When I will be completely disillusioned, I will know I have succeeded in scraping below the surface ;)

Thanks for sharing your advice.

Take care!

Fran x

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Posted by Sophia_India on 2/6/2010 at 19:06

I moved to Thailand on a whim, i was there travelling and got offered a job teaching so I stayed. It was strange at first but you get used to it, you meet new people, you settle down and it all becomes the norm. I love it!

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