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Three Years in Paradise?

July 1st marked my three-year anniversary of living in Thailand! While there have been some challenges, I’m still happy living here, and have no inclination to move back to the U.S. I’m definitely over the “honeymoon phase,” but still prefer the lifestyle I have here.

I was speaking to an American friend the other day on the telephone, and the topic of our president came up. I’m normally not one to discuss politics, and quickly circumvented the discussion. He, half-jokingly, suggested since I’m living in a different country, maybe it’s not my place to voice my opinion anyway. This made me chuckle a bit. After spending 26 years in the U.S. Navy, I think I’ve earned the right to an opinion. I still pay taxes, earn my pension from the U.S., and have family there. Although I live in Thailand, I’m certainly not, and never will be, a citizen of this country, and will always consider the United States my home.

That said, I’ve adjusted to my new, second home quite well. I am woefully behind in learning the Thai language, and it’s becoming a source of embarrassment for me. Despite that, I live in Chiang Mai, and the majority of Thais I encounter speak at least some English. This may be part of the reason for my poor performance, but mostly, it’s just laziness. Motivation has become my Achilles heel.

I’ve spoken to a few people who have, or are considering, moving to Thailand. I think I’ve been here long enough to suggest it may not be for everyone. People tend to think of Thailand as a tropical paradise, rife with coconuts, palm trees, and beaches. They are not wrong! Thailand is this, and much more. The country is about the size of California, and has a very diverse topography. In the northern parts of Thailand, there are mountains and trees, and during certain times of the year, it gets cold enough for a jacket. The southern area is home to beaches and islands, akin to the aforementioned tropical paradise. Bangkok is a huge metropolitan city, with sky scrapers, pollution, and traffic, but there are also plenty of small, quaint towns with friendly people and water buffalo roaming in the fields. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll probably find it here. Sounds awesome, right?!

Well, don’t go selling the farm quite yet. Along with the beautiful scenery, friendly people, and affordable lifestyle, comes some adversity. As good as Thailand’s reputation is for great food, not everyone can adjust to the local fare. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stomach fish sauce. Western food can be expensive, with certain items difficult to find.

Customer service is normally excellent here, but get used to the idea that the customer is not always right. Don’t try to send your food back and expect something new, or your money back. If you have a leak in your plumbing, it may take two or three tries for a repairman to correctly fix the problem. In fact, it will probably behoove you to bone up on your home maintenance skills.

Many people these days are having trouble dealing with the visa requirements involved in moving to Thailand. I have what is commonly called a “retirement visa,” and have to show over 65,000 baht ($2,100) per month coming into my Thai bank account from America. Another option is to have more than 800,000 baht ($21,000) sitting in a Thai bank account for several months. In addition, the Thai government is now implementing a new requirement for health insurance. Just jumping through the hoops to live here legally, can be a tedious, bureaucratic nightmare for some.

Living a good life in Thailand requires a certain mindset. You need to be able to live without all the conveniences of a western lifestyle, and have the flexibility to accept the differences that come with living in a dissimilar culture. Once the honeymoon phase is over, and reality sets in; only then can you really make an informed decision.

After three years, I am certainly not an expert on Thailand. I haven’t even scratched the surface as far as exploring the country and learning the culture. What I have learned is, in my opinion, Thailand isn’t for everyone. However, if you do have the sabai-sabai mindset required to live here, retiring in Thailand may be the best decision you’ll ever make. Living expenses are cheaper, the ridiculous level of social persecution happening in the west doesn’t exist here, and the inherent goodness of the people make Thailand unique.

The point I’m trying to make is, if you are thinking about taking the “Thai-tea plunge” (a silly pun, based on an outdated reference), do some soul searching first. Learn as much as possible through YouTube videos and the Internet (I’d recommend retirecheapjc). If you have an opportunity to spend time here before actually committing to a life-altering move … do it!

Hope you all had a happy Independence Day! Feel free to leave a comment.