Moving to Thailand: Why I’m Going Back

12 months ago, I traded the stifling heat of Thailand for the leafy safety net of West London’s suburbs. I wouldn’t say I made a bad decision. But like many expats returning from a tropical paradise, all I can think about is what I left behind. And why I left it.

Coming home was the weary culmination of a year exploring Asia and realising just how ‘safe’ I’d been playing my life. My passport was stamped to shit, my visa was running out and everything about Asia was a million miles from the home that I considered my own.

It’s only when you’re clung to the back of a Cambodian tuk tuk as it cuts up a group of veering motorbikes that you start to think, “Jesus, London might be plastered in chavvy little shites, but at least it never put me through a real-life game of Mario Kart…

It’s difficult to move to a new country. Especially when that country has such a unique and foreign culture, not to mention a whole new language. There are mistakes I made in Thailand that held me back from ever calling it home.

When you are disconnected from friends and family for the first time, you imagine what’s going on without you. You see the photos on Facebook, the news on the BBC, and you feel like you’re missing out on the lives of those closest to you.

It’s only when you get home that you realise the nature of the illusion. All that you’ve been missing is a semi-occasional ‘catch up’ where everybody shares how little has actually changed. Rarely is it worth waiting for.

It’s a year since I arrived back in London and the only noticeable change is my own rising intolerance to the mundanity of these same old empty streets.

I am paying £1500/month to rent a house full of shagged fixtures, albeit in an area with good schools and a reasonable commute to Central London. It would be nigh on perfect if I had to commute, or if I had kids. But I don’t, and I won’t, so what in the heck am I doing here?

That’s the question I’ve been asking. And that’s why I’ve decided to do the sensible thing… and move back to Thailand.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may be starting to sense a pattern.

‘He gets bored, he bitches about it, he moves to the other side of the world, he rinses and repeats.’

That’s pretty close to the truth. But there are lessons I’ve learnt, things I will do differently.

Admittedly, breakfast on the beach in Koh Samui won’t be one of them:

Breakfast at the Library

So what did I learn?

Well, if you’re thinking of putting a boot through your apartment and escaping to a sunnier part of the world, these reminders will do you no harm.

Adopt the country as your own.

It doesn’t work otherwise. The reason I failed to settle in Thailand was because I never really tried.

I was guilty of treating it as an extended holiday rather than a permanent move. Small decisions like decorating my apartment, or buying new furniture would turn in to a personal revolt. I wasn’t fully committed, which is the equivalent of embracing a life in transit.

You need to put in the effort to make your home feel like home, not simply a residence where you’re staying for a short period of time. And if you work from home too, that means pimping out a proper office. Not getting by on the tiny bloody dressing table that serviced me in Sukhumvit.

Learn the language.

My target is to be semi-fluent in Thai (speaking it, not writing it) within 3 months of touching down. The difference language makes to your overall happiness is incredible. Not being able to communicate is a real pain in the balls. It’s like a wedge between you and the city.

Even though Bangkok is an easy place to get by without speaking Thai, it’s impossible to fully enjoy the quirks and sideshows if you can’t speak the native tongue.

I’ll be taking a year of language classes in Bangkok. It’s dirt cheap (only £500), and it gets me the education visa that takes care of another big stress…

Visa issues are a bitch.

Oh yes they are.

How do you settle abroad if you don’t know where your next visa extension is coming from?

It’s frustrating enough having to exit Thailand every 90 days to get a new visa, but the situation is even worse when you have no guarantee that said visa application will be accepted. I had my extension denied in Singapore and was forced to choose between an education visa, or returning to London. I eventually chose London.

If you’re going somewhere with the intention of settling for the short to mid term future (1-3 years), you better have your visa path mapped out like a hawk – or be prepared to relocate within 14 days and lose your existing deposits.

Make an effort socially.

When you relocate as a couple, there’s less pressure to push yourself in to social circles and get to know new people. You share experiences with each other.

While that is nice, I definitely want to spend more time meeting new people in Bangkok – and to network with the strong expat community. You’ve got to make friends and connections for any city to feel like home. As a couple, it’s easy to unintentionally insulate yourself from all the meetups and events that are going on around you.

I met up with several affiliates on my last trip, including some familiar bloggers like Andrew Wee, Justin Dupre and Nick[y Cakes].

This blog gets a ton of traffic from Thailand, so it’ll be great to catch up with a few more marketing scumbags when I get the chance.

If you miss ‘home’, visit it.

By speaking to a lot of expats you will notice a recurring trend. They move to Thailand, they move back home, and then they move to Thailand for good.

Sometimes this is down to visa issues, but more often it’s a case of homesickness followed by the realisation that home isn’t what it once was.

It’s not just expats that encounter the problem.

Even students who’ve enjoyed the time of their lives at University can suffer from boredom and unrest after returning to their hometowns. You learn a lot about yourself in the time away and when you return, you’re not quite the same person.

Often the place where we grew up isn’t the place where we feel we belong. But we’re always going to miss the friends and family that we associate with that place.

This time, when I’m feeling homesick, I’ve learnt enough to realise that I can fix it by visiting home for a couple of weeks and catching up with everybody. There’s no need to move back for good.

Nothing crazy or otherworldly will happen while I’m gone. It never does.

Bangkok at Night

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About the author

Finch
Finch

A 29 year old high school dropout (slash academic failure) who sold his soul to make money from the Internet. This blog follows the successes, fuck-ups and ball gags of my career in affiliate marketing.

36 Comments

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  • Cool article! I’ve visited bkk 3 years ago with friends, great place and the cost of living is very affordable. And we almost got lost travelling to koh samed! Wish I could visit the place again soon.

  • I didn’t go to Koh Samet last time, but I did go to Rayong which is just nearby. I loved it.

    Completely empty beaches as far as you could see, perfect sea to swim in… and amazing cheap cocktails. I can’t wait to get back there!

  • Hi Finch,

    I stumbled across this site from a feed on 9rules.com/marketing (one of our company’s sites), this is an excellent post and you have summed up life as an expat pretty well, Im based in Bangkok myself also btw, perhaps we should hook up sometime?

  • Hey Finch,

    I think if you have the opportunity, go ahead and grab it with both hands while you can. There are many in their 20’s or even 30’s who never have the chance due to job (or lack of it), kids/family, lifestyle choice or just plain old lack of adventure.

    * Better weather – Yep!
    * Friendlier people – I find people are friendlier in the North compared to London, but I hear Thai’s are friendly too .
    * Cheaper rent – There are parts of the UK (within 100 miles of London), where you can get good rental accommodation for a third of what you’re currently paying, but I guess you can’t beat the scenery in Thailand.

    Good luck with the move! 😉

    P.S.
    So, is this a permanent move?
    And more importantly, what about your two ‘babies’!?

  • Welcome back mate! The right decision no doubt 🙂 I’ve been an expat for 14 years, and I never plan on going back to live “home”. Way too boring for me. I plan to keep trying new countries every few years, for life. So far still in Asia, next step will be Latin America.

    When will you arrive?

  • Ah yes, this post resonated with me. I felt the same way about Taiwan after living there for 5 years. Similar to your journey, I moved back home (in my case the States). The main reason was I didn’t want to end up like those 50-year-old ESL English teachers with no marketable skills. [shudder]

    You talked about the importance of having a circle of friends. At the time I left Taiwan, most of my foreign friends had already left. That made it easier to go too. I also got tired of dealing with visa hassles. Oh man does the immigration process suck.

    I wanted to learn web design and how to make money online. For me, it was easier to concentrate on studying in the States. When I was abroad, it was too easy to get distracted by travel (I linked to my travel blog).

    However, I’m going through the disillusionment with being home that you described. This is my first time back in the States since that 5-year span in Asia. Already miss it terribly. More than anything I miss the freedom of feeling like I could go anywhere, get into adventures, and meet interesting people.

    When I get a better grasp on affiliate marketing and related things, I’ll hit the road again. Probably South America, since I haven’t been there yet. I envy you for being established enough to go right now.

    Enjoy Thailand.

    P.S. I discovered your blog from a Tropical Talk Radio podcast titled, “How to Make a Living from Affiliate Marketing (Seriously)”

  • David – Yeah, definitely. Whereabouts in Bangkok are you based? I was near Phrom Phong last time.

    Pete – I’m treating it as a semi-permanent move, i.e for the next 2-3 years. It’s tough to plan further ahead than that due to the visa issues. I’d be taking my dogs with me. They’ve already been through UK quarantine so they wouldn’t have to go through it again. Although it is a long flight… pretty stressful for an animal, and not something I’m excited to put them through.

    bangkokbaby – Latin America and the likes of Brazil/Argentina were other choices I had in mind. I really like the look of Buenos Aires. But… I guess Bangkok has me now. I should be arriving there in November.

    Marcus – Disillusionment sums it up perfectly. It’s just such a drastic change of pace going back, right? I know how you feel. It’s been itching at me for close to a year now. Most of my family and friends are tied down to jobs that they can’t leave You just get a nasty sense of being trapped, and when you’ve already tasted what’s out there, it’s horrible to be stuck in the same stale environment. Good luck with your dabbles in to affiliate marketing. Hit me up if there’s anything I can do to help!

  • This is a great read as im fixing to move from oklahoma to puerto rico. I loved alot of the points you made and im going to pass this on to my wife. I love the part about making the city our contry your own that will help for sure.

  • You know what, you’re right about the “nature of the illusion.” I never knew what to call it back in the day when my college friends would post pictures of them partying and having a good time. I used to be so bummed out when I couldn’t be a part of it. When I did get the chance to hang out with them, it wasn’t the same as how FB showed it. Sometimes I still get a little down and out when I see certain posts but I’ve gotten a firmer grasp on things, and by hearing you call it an illusion finally brings a sense of peace for me. Thank you, Finch.

  • The rumor is that you have a thing for little boys and thailand is where you want to be?

  • By the way, can you elaborate on why/how your visa got declined in Singapore? That’s kind of worrying me, cause I guess it could happen to me as well…

  • bangkokbaby – What kind of visa are you on? I was using the standard 90 day Tourist Visa.

    They’re really cracking down on the whole ‘180 days in the country, then 180 days outside’ policy. But if you have a different kind of visa, I’m sure you’ll be fine.

    That said, if you’re using the Tourist Visa, Laos seems to be the least strict embassy for getting an extension. Singapore is notorious for clamping down.

  • Pretty interesting. I’ve been living in Vietnam past half year and I’m leaning towards moving back to Bangkok after Affiliate Summit.

    It’s an amazing city. Too bad most people think it’s just a poor country where every other chick’s a ladyboy.

    I’m doing the education Visa as well. Something else you can consider is Muay Thai. The bigger Muay Thai schools offer the same education visa if you go to class 2x a week. It’s good for the people that don’t really care about learning Thai and rather stay in shape.

    Lets meet up in a few months

  • Damn, I made the same mistakes in Germany by just thinking it was a temporary thing and insulating myself from what I could have done. Languages, friends, etc.

  • Ngo – I saw a few non-language ED options, but I wasn’t aware of Muay Thai. Is that what you were taking? How are the visa issues in Vietnam?

  • Actually lived in Thailand for the first 6 months last year. I was staying on Sukhumvit 29. Loved it there, but I had too much money on not enough focus. A recipe for disaster in BKK…

    Now I have my focus back but have pissed all my money up the wall.

    Regrets?… some… should have engaged the community a bit more.. I’m an excellent programmer and sys admin.. but shit at marketing/affiliate stuff.

    Now I’m back in UK… just finished a 13hour day after disaster at work. It’s a decent management position in a really cool company but I now have absolutely no freedom!

    Good luck with your return. Bangkok has a draw that no other city has ever come close to for me…

  • http://www.thailandmuaythai.com/moreinfo/thai-visa.html

    Pay for 3 months muay thai training in advanced and you get issued your 1 year visa. I believe they have em for diving school, massage school, cooking classes, etc.

    I haven’t decided my route. I’m leaning towards Thai classes but actually at a proper Thai university for social reasons ;-).

    Vietnam visas are quite easy to get. I’ve been living off a 6 month visa and I’m in process of getting a 5 year visa for $200.

  • why not check out the Philippines? I moved there from the US about 3-4 years ago to take my internet marketing career full time. Labor is cheap, Everybody speaks English (get taught english since gradeschool), and Filipino’s are considered to be the one of the friendliest in the world. Not to mention that it’s host to a few of the best beaches in the world. If you’re concerned for your safety, i’ve already visited 7 different islands…and I don’t even speak Tagalog… never felt safer in my life.

  • What is this a fucking lifestyle blog now? Cutting edge moving tips by Finch. You know most people “relocate” to a lower cost of living because they have to, and with the glut of useless 500 word status updates collecting dust on your blog I’m beginning to wonder.

  • Dude, don’t make me laugh. Do you know how much it actually costs to relocate to the other side of the world for a couple and two dogs?

    I notice how you take the pessimistic angle – the “lower cost of living” – when in reality most people relocate for a better standard of living. Have you tried it?

    You did hit one nail on the head though. I’ve merged my lifestyle blog with this affiliate blog, so yes, it’s not all going to be affiliate tips. What part of the post title didn’t get that across?!

  • Let me know when you’re in my neck of the woods for some ice cream treats.

    Neverblue’s next contest is in Phuket, so we might be meeting up pretty soon.

    I had a hot fudge sundae at Island Creamery and you and Sakura came to mind.

    Toodles,

  • “Do you know how much it actually costs to relocate to the other side of the world for a couple and two dogs?”

    No…I was kind of hoping you’d fill us all in on your next post.

    “I notice how you take the pessimistic angle – the “lower cost of living” – when in reality most people relocate for a better standard of living. Have you tried it?”

    You’re right, that was the chosen angle. You’re one “I miss bangers and mash” away from throwing away the entire expense and effort by getting homesick and bailing out. Doesn’t mean you will, but that’s a constant threat when you not only change location, but try and adapt to a new and very different culture.

    “You did hit one nail on the head though. I’ve merged my lifestyle blog with this affiliate blog, so yes, it’s not all going to be affiliate tips. What part of the post title didn’t get that across?!”

    Sweet! 1 out of 3 aint bad!

    Alright, so I think it’s fair I say something nice. I hope you have a safe move to Thailand. It sounds like with the expense (and ongoing Visa issues) that it’s a huge commitment you feel you’re ready to take and the payoff would likely be more rewarding than sucking it up in the UK paying someone else’s mortgage. I agree with the move as I do it often and it helps to have a change of scenery. If I’m ever in the area, I’ll let you know.

    Meanwhile, let’s see some dating case studies!

  • First, i like this blog a lot. you have a mix of helpful tips not just centered on the biz alone. (never take small experiences for granted right? you never know when an event happens and those small experiences come in handy)

    truth is i just wanted to share what i get all this.

    i recently left corporate employment. 5 years in management and i find myself a senior manager at 28 but it was just not what i wanted anymore. i was working 16 hour days, slaving away when knowingly everyone is dispensible regardless of how good you are at your job.

    so about two months ago, after a failed attempt last year (i came back only to regret it), i jotted down what i wanted. to be honest right now, i still am clearing that out with myself.

    what i am doing now thou is i move from one city to another, stay for 3 months and move to the next. i will settle back here in PH. i love it here. but i wanted to experience new things too. i was able to connect with previous clients and my work is mobile now so i can go wherever i want and not really worry.

    i’m glad you have a variation of posts in your blog and be able to find connection on each and every one of em. they are helpful in different ways. im regularly visiting your blog now since i found it.

    thanks again for posting helpful stuff. the snark is what i love best.

    cheers!

  • Can I ever relate to this. I packed up and moved to Nottingham last year and I only made it 3 months. I felt like the world back home was missing me and I was missing it. I was losing touch with friends and connections. I was homesick like no one’s business.

    Then I got home and realized it was a huge mistake coming back, but it was too late. Now I am wondering if I should have just stuck it out and gotten over that sense of “unbelonging.” C’est la vie, I will never know.

    The trick is to never live with regrets and just do what feels natural. 🙂

  • Cool post mate.

    I’ll be moving away from my home country Brazil to Thai January next year and your post pointed me out some stuff I need to get ti right: VISA and lanaguage 😉

    Will see …

    Anyhow, perhaps we might have a chance to meet there. I’m still not sure where I will want to start off my trip. Bangkok, to be honest, doesn’t really strike my fancy, I believe I’d prefer something a bit quieter, but we’ll see

    Anyhow, let us know how this new adventure in Thai pans out 😉

    cheers!

  • An education visa (for Thai language classes) can be had for around 17,000 baht (that’s with classes included with the paperwork done for you). All you have to do is go down to the immigration office every 90 days and pay 2,000 baht or so.

    Don’t be afraid to learn how to write Thai. http://pattayapunter.com/753/thai-alphabet/ – I bought it for like $15 or something like that. Really easy way to remember what everything stands for.

    Every time I come back home it’s such a let down. Tough to relate your experiences when all of your friends think going out to a local is as good as it gets.

    You’ve got the right idea though, enjoy it.

  • Holy shit, so many affiliates in Thailand/Vietnam.
    Been living in Vietnam/Saigon for the past 4 years myself 🙂

    It’s time for some aff conventions in Saigon haha

  • Hi Finch,

    just discovered your blog. Agree with what you say about moving to Thailand. I moved here this summer,staying several months. Ive been to Thailand several times before but this is the first time I’ve done a long term stay here.

    Like you I’m considering learning Thai on an education visa. I think that’s the best way to stay here for the more longer term – or else learn something else like Muay Thai or whatever. But learning Thai isn’t a bad investment.

    Agree with what you say about mundane streets of London. Actually I love London (my home town) but South East Asia makes everywhere in northern Europe seem drab and bland. Nothing much going on, economy asleep. The people asleep as well. Ok perhaps in the summer, but as for the winter…

    Really great blog you have here, so much valuable info, amazing!

  • Back in UK after 5 years in Russia, Greatest country I have ever lived in and I’ve been in most.
    UK:
    WHY does everything close at 5pm??
    Why is it so COLD and damp?
    Why are the people so small minded and insular?

    I’ll stop at that, no more moaning, but my next stop is Thailand too, Weather Places and People what more could you ask for.. Go for it Finch!

  • thanks for this post, i am looking at moving to Koh samui and was trying to figure out the visa situation. now i found a school where i can take thai lessons and that is one less thing to worry about.

    thanks so much!!

  • Profound and sobering article. I’ve been back from SE Asia (TH, Laos, Cambodia) now a month and I’m bored to tears. Home is never the same once you’ve been to places that a lot people only can dream about due to whatever reasons.

    I’ve also been to India, Nepal, Bhutan and China. I feel restless here in the USA. I may finally pack it up soon and go back for good in a few years and make BKK my home. Of course many elements have to fall into place for that. I pray it all does.

    Thanks!

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