When I first moved to Thailand, I knew two other expats. A few years later, I knew many. Only a few years after that, many of those expats had left Thailand, and either moved back home or onto another country.
In other words, while we have already looked at why expats come to Thailand, why do so many expats eventually leave Thailand? Is it usually the same reason for most of them, or are there a vast number of things that cause people to leave?
For that matter, how long do expats usually stay in Thailand before they decide to leave?
Why Do Expats Leave Thailand?
If you read any of the top online forums about Thailand, you will notice there are many reasons why expats leave Thailand.
As there have not been any official studies done on the phenomena, these are the only places where you can get an overall idea.
That or asking expats you know why they are moving on.
These then are some of the reasons mentioned in those forums, and by people I personally know who have also left.
Thai culture and Thai society
Some expats just have a hard time adapting to Thai culture and Thai society.
Let’s face it, as much as Bangkok is an incredibly developed city, and other areas of Thailand are highly developed as well, Thai culture runs underneath all of this.
And yes, in many many ways, it is markedly different than culture in the countries most expats came from.
The relaxed attitude of Thais about so many things rubs some expats the wrong way. The way they respect people older or richer than them, even if they do not deserve that respect annoys them. The way corruption is mired in almost every aspect of Thai life.
All of these things, and many more, do irritate some expats so much they eventually decide to leave.
Overall, though, most expats that leave Thailand do not seem to do so for this reason.
Primarily because it is actually quite easy to avoid a lot of Thai culture, even if you live in Thailand. Just decide to live a western-style lifestyle around predominantly non-Thai people, and that helps avoid a lot of it.
(Of course, I don’t recommend that, but some expats in Thailand do live that way, unfortunately).
One of the big reasons expats leave Thailand is often due to wanting to educate their children in a western country.
The Thai education system is not as good as education in most western countries, and that does include many of the country’s universities.
In addition, if an expat wants their child to have a good education at an international school in Thailand, the cost of fees for these schools are upwards of $25,000 a year. A cost many expats simply cannot afford.
That is why, if they do not want their children to have a typical Thai education or cannot afford an international school, many will take their kids and their wife and move back to the country they came from.
One of the big frustrations for many expats in Thailand is how few opportunities there are to advance at work. Opportunities far less than in most of the countries they were born in.
Many expats in Thailand are teachers and, unless you are highly qualified in another field and lucky, the only thing you are ever going to be able to do is teach. For around the same salary you started out at, with maybe a couple of thousand baht per month increase every year.
Other expats are business owners, but running a business anywhere in Thailand is difficult. Not only are there laws you have to abide by that may not make much sense to someone from another culture, there is so much competition for the services or goods you sell.
When these expats compare how much money they would be making if they were living back home, or how many other opportunities there would be for them to move into other careers, many decide it is time to leave Thailand.
Another reason some expats leave Thailand is simply because their contract ends.
Whether this is a teaching contract, a contract with an international company that moved them to Thailand and is now moving them elsewhere, or a contract with a company that shut down or laid them off, some expats leave because they no longer have a job here.
I have met expats who worked for NGOs. One had been here for 10 years when her NGO moved her to Cambodia. Another was working for the United Nations and the work he was doing suddenly got moved to Africa.
In many cases, when a contract ends, the person has little choice but to leave.
Sometimes someone’s health takes a turn for the worse, and they feel more comfortable getting treatment back in their own country.
(This is probably the one reason I do not understand as Thai medical care is excellent, and far more affordable than places like the United States. Not unless they feel more comfortable getting medical care with family close by and, if they do not have that in Thailand, I do understand that).
The Thai baht has become quite strong in recent years with a decrease of more than 5 baht to the dollar in just the last two or three years.
While that difference may not seem like much to many people, when you are living on a tight budget to begin with, even receiving 5,000 baht ($168) less per month on the $900 you exchange can be the difference between being able to afford rent and not.
Obviously, the strength of the Thai baht does not usually affect expats that are getting paid in baht. They receive the same amount every month regardless of how strong or weak the baht has become.
The people it does affect, however, are those expats living on income from overseas. Particularly retirees who often live on pensions that are not overly large.
Some expats leave Thailand as they get higher paying jobs elsewhere. I know a teacher who moved to Japan five years ago when he was offered a salary treble what he was making in Thailand.
Another expat, an American, moved to France after a friend he met in Bangkok went back home and heard of a job opportunity for a native English speaker he thought the American would fit perfectly. He interviewed, got the job and moved.
When you have family back home, issues can occur that require the expat to move back home. This is particularly true if they have elderly parents.
Sometimes this is a temporary move back home. Sometimes it is permanent. In many cases, it is not a voluntary move, but one they feel they simply must do.
One expat I knew for many years had to move home when his father died, and his mother was having trouble coping on her own. He was an only child, he did not want her to live in a nursing home so back he went to England.
Finally, of course, there is relationships.
I know a few western men who left Thailand after the relationship they were in with a Thai woman ended. Two were married, one was engaged and one had been dating his girlfriend for many years.
Not wanting to start over with someone else and, in their mind, chance the same fate, they moved back to their own countries where they hoped to have better luck.
As you can see, expats leave Thailand for all kinds of reasons, with probably 200 more that are not even on this list.
What is the typical length of time an expat stays in Thailand?
This has as many answers as people living in Bangkok as, again, it depends on their circumstance.
Many people last a year or less, decide Thailand is not for them and either move on or go home. I would venture a guess this is a large percent of expats who come to Thailand to live, as I have met hundreds of them.
Some settle in, enjoy life and stay for three or four years then decide they want to move back home.
This seems to be particularly true for western women as, especially if they are young and unmarried, finding a partner in Thailand can be difficult. Not impossible, as I know several western women happily married to Thais, but difficult.
Others, like me, have been in Thailand well over a decade and some have stayed in the Kingdom 20, 30, 40 years or more.
In most cases, though, I have noticed once an expat gets past the seven or eight year mark, it is more and more likely they will not leave.
Some will just stay on as they are for the rest of their life — a long-term expat.
A handful will apply for, and get, Thai citizenship. This last group though is a minisule percent as, not only is Thai citizenship difficult to get, it is a big commitment to make.
Why do expats leave Thailand then?
There are as many reasons as the number of expats living here.
In other words, if you come to Thailand, and then leave, the reason you choose may be one of these or something else entirely.