1 August 2016

James King - Expat in Chiang Mai, Thailand

James King - Expat in Chiang Mai, Thailand

James King is a 72-year-old retiree who currently lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Originally from Bristol, England, he lived for 15 years in Cape Town, South Africa and visited Thailand often for business trips. “As I neared retirement I spent more and more time in Thailand because I enjoyed the lifestyle,” he said. At present, he has been living in Chiang Mai in Thailand for three years, first moving permanently in 2011.

Mr. King noted that it is difficult for him to single out one specific difficult experience as an expat in Thailand because there have been many, but he said that most of his challenging experiences had to do with cultural differences between the East and the West. “I had never even visited Asia before 2005 and believe me, for most people, it takes quite some time to adapt,” he explained. Mr. King also observed that healthcare can be problematic for older people. “It is so expensive to get any cover,” he said, adding that the British are used to the NHS all their life, so it can be a shock. “Otherwise, it is much the same as anywhere I would imagine,” he said.

Expatriates who know little about the country that they are relocating to may experience some culture shock and find it difficult to adjust to a new way of life while overseas. It can be helpful for expats to visit their local embassy to see if they can find any programs or activities that can help them settle down in their host country. Furthermore, healthcare can be tricky to sort out while overseas, and expats who want to ensure that they will be able to stay covered for their medical needs may want to consider obtaining international health insurance.

Find out more about James King’s experiences in Thailand in his full interview below.

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: I was born in Bristol, England in 1942 (The middle of World War II). 

Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: Not many people travelled abroad when I was young. There wasn’t the money and folks were recovering from the War. I first went overseas at the age of 25 to Paris but it wasn’t until I got into my 30’s that I started to see the world. After a second divorce in 1988 I decided to visit South Africa which I did many times on 3 month business trips. I finally emigrated in 1995 to Cape Town where I lived for 15 years.

Q: Where are you living now?

A: I now live in Chiang Mai.

Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I moved permanently (nothing is ever permanent) to Thailand in 2011. I first came on business trips from Cape Town starting in 2005 and as I neared retirement I spent more and more time in Thailand because I enjoyed the lifestyle.

Q: How long have you been living in Thailand?

A: I really began living in Thailand form 2008 when I came for 4 months to Phuket and the stays gradually became extended until my final departure from South Africa.

Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in your host country?

A: It’s difficult to single out one specific difficult experience because there have been many. But I think I can encapsulate the difficulties as all arising from the cultural differences between East and West. I had never even visited Asia before 2005 and believe me, for most people, it takes quite some time to adapt.

Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in Thailand? What was your experience with these?

A: Health care is problematic for older people because it is so expensive to get any cover.  If you are British and have been used to the NHS all your life then it will be a bit of a shock but otherwise it is much the same as anywhere I would imagine. Visas and work permits are areas every expat needs to research thoroughly. I liaised with the Thai Consulate offices in South Africa a lot and, although it is a bit tedious, I’m glad I did so I was able to set up the relevant visa and status for myself before any long stays.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I live in a farming village 30kms north of Chiang Mai city with my Thai lady-friend and her father.

Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Thailand? How did you manage to find a social circle in Thailand?

A: Although I am a private person I am also gregarious when the mood takes me so I have no problems making friends. I have lived on Koh Phuket, the North-East and now North Thailand. All places are different. I don’t socialize with other ex-pats at all although I occasionally meet the odd one. It is very different in Phuket which is full of tourists and ex-pats. I am too pre-occupied and have no interest in ex-pat social circles. I live in Thailand with Thai people and generally only see westerners when I go to Chiang Mai city. I can only imagine a lot of ex-pats move abroad and try to bring their country and its culture with them. They would then become cocooned in false environment and lose the value of the whole experience. If that is the case I am sure many of them end up disillusioned.

Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: The North of Thailand is probably the most interesting and diverse part of Thailand. The scenery is beautiful. Mountains, rivers, waterfalls, jungle and much more. It is easy to get around and outside Chiang Mai it is not crowded. Chiang Mai itself, unlike other Thai towns is attractive and extremely interesting with its ancient crumbling city wall, moat, historic buildings, temples and markets. There oodles of night life but not of the garish variety and a huge selection of eating houses/restaurants to suit all tastes and pockets.

Q: How does the cost of living in Thailand compared to your home?

A: Well Thailand is my home. I only think in Baht now and not South African Rands or British Pounds. People talk a lot about how much does it cost to live in Thailand and I wrote a post on the subject in my blog. I have to ask a question straight back. It all depends on your needs.

The cost of a cup of coffee varies depending on where you buy it and the type and quality of coffee. Coffee is not cheap anywhere, say from 40 baht to 70 baht. For a meal in an inexpensive restaurant, a family Thai restaurant or market is the going rate for basic meals in Chiang Mai is 35 to 45 baht. In Phuket expect to pay 50 to 65 baht. For a meal in an expensive restaurant, that’s a bit like ‘How long is a piece of string’. There are some very expensive restaurants in Thailand.

Wine is very expensive in Thailand because of the tariffs but in recent years good deals have been struck and some very drinkable wines from South Africa and other countries like Chile are being boxed in Thailand at reasonable prices. 5 litres of South African white and red called Mont Clair costs 960 baht. But quality wines are still too expensive if you have lived in South Africa for any length of time like me. 20 cheap Thai cigarettes cost about 50 baht. I don’t know what international brands cost.

Q: How do you find the local culture and people in your host country?

A: I have written many blog posts and am in about to publish the middle one of a trilogy of ebooks on this subject. I could not possibly summarise my thoughts in a short interview like this however much I would like to.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Thailand?

A: Same answer as to the previous question.

Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: As I said before, I am home. Thailand has been my home for the best part of 6 years now. Sometimes I think about South Africa and England but I never miss them in the sense of feeling sad or unhappy. If you have travelled much there will always be things that you would like to have from another place which you don’t have where you are in the present. But equally there will be things you may be glad you don’t have, like bad too much inclement weather or crime.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: No.

Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: I’ve answered this in 3a.

Q: What tips can you give other expats living in Thailand?

A: I don’t really like giving tips because like in horse racing the tipsters are more often wrong than right!! But I can say leave your old ideas and prejudices behind. Open your mind and your heart and will enjoy the experience.

Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about your host country?

A: Apart from my own blog www.jamoroki.com? Yes, I have a few. Retire Cheap Asia is probably my favourite http://retirecheap.asia/index.htm