Veterans Living Abroad: Thailand

Thailand is known as the “land of smiles” for good reason. The tropical beauty, gorgeous beaches, majestic temples, great food and fun nightlife has been a destination for veteran expats since Vietnam. The country is famous for its hospitality and balances it’s rich history and modernity in a way that respects the old and brings in the new. I’m not overstating it when I say that Thailand has something for every veteran and every lifestyle. You can live a life of sin in a place like Pattaya or you can live a life of a Buddhist monk in a monastery. What I love about Thailand is that it feels effortless to balance your work, leisure, and recreation time. Thailand is a clear favorite for veterans seeking value, safety, variety of attractions, great food and a place where you can do everything and nothing.

Your options are very open in Thailand in terms of your lifestyle, this is a place you can live out in the country, in a big city like Bangkok, or enjoy beach life. Or you can do a mixture of them and move around the country a bit. I think Thailand has the best food in the world when it comes to all the options and bang for your buck. For the price of a average meal in America, you can eat an unforgettable meal at the best place in town. It’s increasingly popular with veteran expats and more resources are popping up in the country for veterans, expats and retirees.

Visiting the Sanctuary of Truth Museum, there are so many beautiful temples throughout the country and Buddhist sites.

Buddhism dominates the culture and you’ll see monks frequently. Martial arts, mediation, yoga, and massages are all big parts of life in the land of smiles. You can spend a whole lot of time just visiting beautiful temples. The fitness culture is strong and so is the party culture, two things veterans love. The veterans I’ve interviewed here describe being “set free” when they talk about living in Thailand, like stress and PTSD is a world away. The martial arts community is welcoming and Muay Thai is part of the culture. My favorite gym and place to train is Maximum Fitness in Phuket if you want to check it out.

You’re never going to run out of things to do in Thailand, there are cultural festivals, elephant encounters, nature experiences, beach bars, and night markets. There’s a thriving veteran community including three Veteran of Foreign Wars posts, numerous international veterans, and two American Legion posts. Check out this Veterans Bar in Pattaya, a bar catering to veterans, first responders, and police from around the world.

Cost of Living

Bottom line is that you can live well in Thailand off less than $2,000 a month. My estimation is you have a decent lifestyle at like $2,000, a very luxury lifestyle at $3,000. With like $4,000 a month you can be a rockstar. The exchange rate favors the dollar, and it goes a long way in Thailand. If you want to live near the beach most apartments will run you about $500-600 a month with a western toilet, shower, small kitchenette and a balcony. My friend Sean gets his apartment for $200 a month within walking distance of the beach. The best way to find an apartment is to get on the ground though, you can also barter rent here and even ask hotels if you can rent a room long term.

The average street meal, where you’ll eat most of your food will run you about $3-5 and if you eat like a local, your food bill will be very low. Don’t worry you can still get your American cheeseburgers, fires, and pizzas. Western food options are throughout the country. Lots of Thai people eat out every night and some veteran expats that live there never cook because there’s delicious hot food at every turn. Goods and clothing are very cheap since most things are made on this side of the world.

Sample Thai Veteran Budget

  • Rent: $600
  • Electricity: $70 – You’ll need an AC
  • Water: $5
  • Internet: $15
  • Thai Phone: $40
  • Transportation: $50
  • Groceries: $100
  • Eating out: $200
  • Entertainment: $300
  • Gym/Supplements: $100
  • Beer Money: $100
  • Netflix/Spotify: $25
  • Miscellaneous: $100
  • TOTAL: $1,705 –

If you chose to live in Bangkok, the most expensive city your costs will be higher. Numbeo puts your cost of living in Bangkok WITHOUT rent to be around $675 – This feels accurate if you live on the cheaper side. Your overall expenditure will largely depend on what kind of living space you’re looking for. If you’re spending time in the Red Light Districts, you know nothing there is free.

Visiting Wat Arun in Bangkok, Check out my travels on Instagram or reach out.

Where to live?

Thailand has a lot of options on where to reside depending what kind of lifestyle you’re looking for. You have cooler temperatures and nature in Chang Mai, city life in Bangkok, and a more party vibe in Pattaya. My FAVORITE place in Thailand is Phuket, specifically the Patong beach area. There are vet orgs throughout the country, probably more than I have listed here or in my Veterans Guide to Moving Abroad. There are veterans sort of spread out everywhere but these cities below probably have the largest numbers. A good place to find general information is this Expats in Thailand FB group, it has almost 200k people because Thailand is a very popular expat destination. Lots of veterans find housing through Facebook Marketplace, which is a mix of expats and locals. What I like about Thailand is the fitness expat population, I get to hang out, train and eat with great people from around the world. I’ve made some great international friends in gyms in Thailand, there’s lots of friendly travelers and it’s probably the most frequented country for single female travelers.

Me at Phi Phi Islands near Phuket which is my favorite area in Thailand. See some more pics of Thailand on my Instagram.

Chang Mai

Chang Mai means “new city” in Thai, it’s a mountainous city in northern Thailand that’s one of the best places to live in all of Asia. Chang Mai has a welcoming blend of both the exotic and the familiar for veteran expats. It’s easy to escape the city and head into the mountains, lakes, and wilderness that surround it. There are expat sport pubs, a thriving art scene, backpacker type reggae bars, hip nightclubs, and relaxed patios. Chang Mai is a terrific option for female veterans.

Chang Mai is more relaxed than Bangkok and less of a rushed feel. It’s not as hot as the southern cities and be sure to check out the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1074. There are a lot of digital nomads from around the world that make their way through Chang Mai for a few months a year and an evolving expat population. Chang Mai feels about as safe as a place could feel, the area is blessed with incredible natural beauty, and here is a top 20 things to do list. You’ll feel comfortable in Chang Mai, even with the big influx of expats the locals are very welcoming. For a lot of veterans, it’s the hospitality and kindness of the local population that makes them call Chang Mai home.


There’s a high concentration of foreigners living in Bangkok, it’s a multicultural city. If you’ve seen the Hangover, you know there’s no being bored in Bangkok. Bangkok also has great education, I personally taught English there for a bit and I did my Teaching English as a Second Language certifications there. If you’re looking for a job in Thailand, teaching English might be for you. Check out the Veteran of Foreign Wars Post 9951 in Bangkok. They also have a Facebook Group.

Khaosan road in Bangkok is the famous spot from the movie and a fun place to hang out, crash at a hostel, eat, party or just walk and people watch. One of the cons of Bangkok is there can be times when the pollution is bad. A pro is that it’s generally safe, you don’t really need to worry about violent crime like in America, you just have to keep an eye out for scams. Bangkok is enormous and is filled with temples, history, and modernity like malls and sky trains.


Pattaya is home to one of the largest multicultural populations in Thailand. The beaches in Pattaya aren’t picturesque but there are nearby Instagrammable beaches. Pattaya is easy to get an apartment, lots of veterans but quiet and peaceful, Pattaya is not.  

American veterans first started going to Pattaya on R&R from the Vietnam War. The place turned into a party, sex tourism location and hasn’t really changed. It kind of feels like the areas right outside military bases, strip clubs, cannabis stores, tattoo parlors, massage joints, and some scams here and there. There are people from all over the world and you’ll hear languages from all over. The best part of Pattaya is the Fred J. Estes Veterans of Foreign Wars post. Here are 32 of the top things to do in Pattaya. Personally I couldn’t really see myself living in Pattaya, but there’s no denying a lot of veterans are there.


There’s high quality of healthcare in Thailand and doctors will speak English in private hospitals. You can expect healthcare material to be in English as well as Thai. Your average hospital bill will be a fraction of the costs in the U.S. There’s no penalties for not being covered by healthcare and many veterans use their FMP and then pay the rest out of pocket. You can get pretty much any medication from pharmacies, even things like steroids, weed, and viagra without prescriptions. Getting general medicine will be remarkably cheap and I recently got my teeth cleaned for about $20 US Dollars in Phuket.

Check out the new Veterans First Medical Center in Pattaya that treats veterans through the Foreign Medical Program.


Here is the official Tricare Overseas information for Thailand and Joint US Military Advisory Group Thailand which has a lot of useful information.

There’s also this Facebook Group Tricare in Thailand.

You can use Tricare throughout the country and lots of hospitals and clinics know what they’re doing with it. You can use the Tricare Provider search to look what areas in Thailand accept Tricare. If you aren’t sure where to use Tricare I would contact a vets organization in the area you’re looking at and they will be able to point you in the right direction with up to date info.

Foreign Medical Program

The Foreign Medical Program will treat service connected conditions through the VA. To learn a little bit about the FMP check out this official link. In Thailand the hospitals will take the FMP and the best source to get the most up-to-date information is through the veteran organizations like the VFW or American Legions. They will help you process everything and help you get set up with the FMP at the right locations. You can only get treatment and medication that’s service connected or aggravated by a service connected injury.


Thailand has publicly funded medical services but most veteran expats pay for private. If you’re not working in Thailand then you’ll pay for medical services out of pocket or use private health insurance. Some of the more popular health insurance companies are:

Things To Know

Thailand is the only country in SE Asia that was never under colonial rule and the people are rightly and fiercely proud of that. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and has a King.. Images of the royal family are everywhere in the country, and you must never disrespect the King and Queen.

  • Don’t point the soles of your feet towards an image of the king.
  • Don’t step on coins if you drop them, they have an images of the royal family.
  • Stand when you hear the King’s anthem, think of it like Reveille or Retreat on a base.
  • This bears repeating, don’t be disrespectful to the King. Don’t get drunk and steal an image of the king for your apartment.
  • Be especially respectful in temples, dress codes there are important. Men should wear long shorts or pants and women no exposed midriff or overly sexy clothes.
  • Don’t touch anyone’s head.
  • Thai people don’t shake hands like in the U.S. They bow.

Losing face is terrible to a Thai person, they don’t want to be embarrassed. For veterans, this doesn’t present much of a problem because we prioritize respect and look up to our elders. You’re expected to give your seat up on public transportation to an elderly person and they’re often permitted to skip the lines when it comes to food or whatever else. Ensure you give leeway and show extra respect to Buddhist monks, even if they are young. You’ll see monks that are 10 years old, they’re still to be respected.

A Wai is the customary greeting which is a gentle bow. Don’t be surprised if you feel a little awkward initially with people constantly bowing to you. The security guards will even occasionally salute you, which I dig. I tipped my security guard at my apartment and every day for a month we saluted one another when I came back to the apartment, even when I was drunk at like 2 A.M.


Thailand is strict on immigration. You don’t want to get caught breaking any rules or overstaying because you could get banned from the country. Staying in Thailand long-term means navigating a complex journey of visas and bureaucracy. Some countries make it easy to live there, Thailand not so much.

Tourist Visa: When you first go to Thailand you can get a tourist visa for 60 days and extend it to 90. You can do that here through their official website. Many tourists who are going to be there for a while end up doing Visa runs, heading to another country for a day or two and then returning. Flights in the region are affordable. You can also go on a normal tourist visit, without a visa and then go to an immigration center to extend for 30 more days. Which is what I would do your first visit if you want to be in Thailand for a while.

If you’re over the age of 50 you can do a Thai Retirement Visa.

If you want to train Muay Thai you can do a Muay Thai Visa.

If you get a job teaching or working your employer will help you with a work/business visa. Then there are other lesser known visas for religious purposes, medical stuff, volunteer work, education, marriage visas, etc. The visa rules can change, here’s a link from Thaiger with some info or you can head over to official sources.

Education Visa: Some of the ed visas you’ll see marketed are a little scammy, but if you want to learn Thai there are legit schools that will facilitate the process. GEOS is a one that I’ve heard good things about. Honestly if you have the money, you can pay for an Ed Visa then kind of just not go, you know money talks.

Cons of Thailand

  • You can’t really own property, it’s incredibly difficult but you can buy apartments.
  • Water quality in Thailand isn’t good, you can’t drink the tap water anywhere.
  • Farang Prices: People are going to try to rip you off here and there. I haven’t had issues with this but that’s expat life. Usually Thai people are remarkably polite and honorable.
  • All imports are pricey. But you can buy anything and everything.
  • It can be uncomfortably hot, like hot hot.
  • Language barrier: learning Thai is not an easy task. I personally quit after 15 minutes into my first class.
  • Driving is absolute chaos, especially on a moped. They drive on the “other” side of the road. I do not drive in Thailand but you can get an international license.

Pros of Thailand

  • Local goods are really cheap.
  • Public transportation is everywhere.
  • It’s known as the golf capital of Asia.
  • The people are genuinely helpful and welcoming.
  • If you’re a traveler, there are many nearby countries you can affordably visit.
  • Very safe country, ideal for female veterans.
  • Some of the best food in the world.
  • Massages are very cheap.
  • Medical tourism is big here, so if you want dental work, botox, medical procedures, testosterone, or things like that they are readily available and affordable.
  • Amazing temples and Buddhist culture.
  • The malls are really nice.


Weed is legal in Thailand. So if that’s your thing, there are marijuana shops everywhere throughout the country, especially in tourist areas. I don’t personally smoke but it’s important to message because I know a lot of veterans use THC for PTSD. If you’re interested in learning about Cannibus education from a fellow veteran check out my friend the CanniMedic on Instagram. I’m not exaggerating when I say they are literally everywhere.

Tegridy Weed in Phuket, I love Southpark so I’m sharing this. But there are well over 100 weed shops in Phuket so you won’t have to look hard to find one. You can’t walk down a street without seeing 17 of them. The same goes for the rest of the country but especially touristy areas.


How easy Thailand is to get around is one of the best things about the country. You’ll want to download Grab and Bolt, like Uber for Thailand but way more affordable. Thailand has a lot of modes of transportation, including Songthaew which is like a mini-truck and only 10 Baht, pretty much no matter how far you go. It’ll cruise around and you can just wave it down and hit the buzzer when you want to get off. There’s a large bus system that’s easy to use with both government and private options.

The BTS Skytrain in Bangkok goes most places in Bangkok but does get crowded sometimes during weekdays. It’s a better option often times getting around the city than taxis. The MRT is the subway and connects the city to the airport as well. Both the skytrain and the subway are pretty simple to use, signs are in English as well and there are apps you can use. Getting around Thailand is fun, you should try everything from the MotoTaxis, tuk tuks, to trains to ferries.

Note: Thailand drives on the other side of the road, so I don’t drive at all. If you’re on a motorbike or a moped, you need a helmet and you will be pulled over if you ride without one. You can rent a motorbike with a copy of your passport, don’t give them your real passport ever.


Koh is the Thai word for island and is undoubtably one of the coolest things about visiting. You have everything from luxurious resorts to off the grid, no wifi type beach huts. Why these islands are so incredible is that they are affordable to go to. Vacationing within the U.S. is very expensive, vacationing within Thailand is reasonable. You can pop out to an island for an extended weekend and not break the bank. Check out this article of the 21 Best Island in Thailand. A huge selling point for Thailand is you can escape to a beautiful island, public or private and it’s cheap AF.

Thai wrap up

I think veterans should be around other veterans. That’s one reason why to check out veterans groups like The American Legion in Thailand. There is a great veteran community here, I attended a VFW meeting and was surprised how many veterans they had and the participation. Veterans were helping each other out and they volunteer a lot in the local community here. The big problem for veterans in Thailand is that living here permanently is a challenge with the visa and immigration rules. So a lot of the veterans I met, at least the younger ones who weren’t married were doing border runs. Read about Visa/Border runs in my Veterans Guide to Moving Abroad.

I love how respectful Thai people are, I think that’s one reason why a lot of veterans enjoy it here. The quality of life veterans can afford in Thailand is very high. The people are very kind and welcoming and a lot of veterans are loving calling Thailand home. You can also easily travel around the region as flights are affordable. Check out my article 5 Tips for veterans moving abroad and some of my other country guides.

John’s Note: My mission is to provide positive information for veterans about living abroad, resources and information. There are no affiliate links in any of my living abroad articles. I believe sometimes veterans can be healthier and happier outside of the United States. There’s no running away or escaping your problems. But often times, you can heal, grow, and find peace abroad in ways you can’t in the USA. If you’re struggling with your mental health, I’m here for you if you want to talk. You can also contact a veteran organization or chat with the Veterans Crisis Line.

If there’s any veteran resource to add to this article, please email me and let me know. Sign up for my newsletter and look out for more living abroad information. Be sure to follow me on Instagram and TikTok.

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