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.
Your options are very open in Thailand in terms of your lifestyle, this is a place you can live out in the country by yourself, in a big city, 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. It’s increasingly popular with veteran expats and more resources are popping up in the country for veterans.
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. 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.
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 comfortable lifestyle at $3,000 and a rockstar lifestyle at $4,000. 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.
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.
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. I’m going to talk about these three areas because they all have VFW’s and being able to integrate into an already existing veteran network will make your transition simpler. Your military brothers and sisters will absolutely help you. But there are lots of other areas in the country and Phuket and Hua Hin deserve honorable mentions. There are veterans sort of spread out everywhere. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 who is highly revered. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cons of Thailand
- You can’t really own property, it’s incredibly difficult.
- 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.
- All imports are pricey.
- It can be uncomfortably 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.
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 visit for cheap.
- Very safe country, ideal for female veterans.
- Some of the best food in the world.
- Amazing temples and Buddhist culture
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 to trains.
Note: Getting a Thai drivers license is pretty simple if your U.S. license is current, as well as a motorbike license.
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.
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.