With tens of thousands of foreigners retiring to Thailand every year, most retirees will find the first few months difficult. Thailand is a vastly different culture than any western culture and even different from cultures like Korean or Japanese. Thus, when retirees first retire to Thailand the first few months can be difficult. Everything is different, most experiences are strange and you’ll spend your first months of retirement wondering “Did I do the right thing? Honestly, yes, you did.
It will take getting adjusted to, but, you will. Meanwhile, in the first few months of retirement culture shock, here are the most common difficulties you’ll experience and how to get around them.
The Heat – The main thing every retiree from practically every country mentions when they first move to Thailand is the heat. It’s brutal. With an average temperature of 90 degrees most of the year and temperatures reaching into the 100s in the hottest months, for retirees, the heat feels terrible.
The main way to acclimatize to it is spend most of your time in air conditioning in the first few weeks, while you get used to all the other strange things going on. Then slowly but surely, take a walk down the street, go to the local shop, take a bus instead of a taxi, stay in your apartment with the windows open for half an hour and you’ll slowly get used to it. For most retirees, they not only eventually get used to the heat but they grow to love it as they realize, in December, they’re never going to be shoveling snow again or shivering in their barely warm apartment.
The Language Barrier – Very few Thais speak good English and, in the rural areas, this is even less common. But, speaking Thai isn’t necessary, as Thais have loads of patience and will spend ages by pointing and smiling to figure out what you want. In seven years of living in Thailand, and particularly before I spoke Thai, I spent half of my day pointing and smiling and always got what I wanted. Thais love to help westerners and are thrilled you chose to live in their country, so 99% of them will do their darndest to make your life easier. Plus, if you really find it frustrating, sign up for a Thai language class. You’ll make loads of new friends (a lot of retirees take Thai classes) and you’ll soon find yourself being able to have a chat with the lady at the fish stall. And how fun is that!
The Slowness of the Culture – For retirees who come from fast-paced countries and particularly for those who’ve just retired from a stressful job, the slow pace of Thailand and Thai culture can drive them crazy. Everything in Thailand takes twice as long as in the west, and usually comes with ten times the paperwork. However, there is method in their madness. The faster you move, the hotter you get and the more you sweat. Not worth it. Really.
Besides, there’s something relaxing about sitting at the phone company waiting to get your cell phone connected, especially as they’ll often come with glasses of iced water and snacks. Go with the flow, take a deep breath and, as your blood pressure goes down, you’ll wonder why the heck you loved fast-paced anyway.
Thai Food – If you don’t like spicy food then much of Thai food will blow your head off. Just like with the heat, take it slow and try just a mouthful at once. As your taste buds become used to it, you’ll enjoy the fiery taste and wonder why you liked the bland taste of western food. Or…….if you hate spicy food, no worries. Learn the Thai words “mai pet” (pronounced ‘my pet’) and the cook will make sure most of the spices normally in the food are not put in yours.
Or……go to one of the tens of thousands of restaurants that serve western food. Pizza, fish and chips, burritos, burgers, spaghetti – everything is available here, and still at a fraction of the cost of the west.
The Traffic – Particularly if you’re in Bangkok, the horrendous traffic jams will drive you nuts. In other cities, traffic is pretty much like the west but, if you decide to retire to Bangkok, be prepared to spend time sitting in traffic. There are easy ways around it though. Don’t travel before 9:30am or between 4pm and 9pm. This way the time you spend in traffic jams will be at a minimum.
Plus, remember to always have a book or a crossword puzzle with you, and you can spend the time sitting in the back of a taxi doing something useful. After all, that taxi drive might take an hour but it’s still only going to cost you $2.
There are difficulties you will experience as a retiree in Thailand, but they don’t have to be insurmountable. Just remember, the first few months living anywhere new are always trying. The difference with Thailand is the weather is gorgeous every day, things are cheap and Thais are lovely. With these three things already so wonderful, you’ll get used to the culture shock eventually and never want to leave.