Digital nomad in Thailand - Steps to freedom

by Henrik Bolte, Software Engineer

Moving to a new country to work may push you outside of your comfort zone, but nothing helps you grow as a person, like disrupting your safe and familiar routine. If you’re wondering whether living abroad might be right for you, please join me for the ride.

Leaving home

I vacationed in Thailand once in 2017 and again in 2019. I already knew that Thailand was a little slice of heaven, but I wanted more than a short yearly holiday.

As a trained software engineer, I am fortunate to have the freedom to work anywhere I have access to the internet and a laptop. In January 2020, I began my nomadic adventure. I left my hometown of Hamburg, Germany. I boarded a long-haul flight to Bangkok, where I decided to spend six months working as a digital nomad.

Known for its long sandy coast on the Andaman Sea, I settled in Ao Nang, a small resort town (population 8,000) in southern Thailand's Krabi Province. I rented an apartment outside the city centre — just 5km from the beach. It had three rooms, air conditioning, a garden, and free parking, and the rent was only $250/month. I felt euphoric.

Covid concerns

In March 2020, Covid-19 gained momentum, and Thailand closed its borders. The German government urged its citizens to return home from abroad. I decided to stay in Thailand against government recommendations and concerns from my family and friends.

I felt compelled to continue my dream journey and see where it would take me. When the city borders closed, tourism slowed, and the cost of living dropped even lower. Because Thailand has excellent healthcare, I always felt safe. Even though I was not allowed to leave Ao Nang, I had fresh air and delicious food. I was surrounded by nature and sandy beaches, so the restrictions didn't change my feelings of freedom.

Life continued

An unanticipated meeting came during my time in Thailand—a woman named Nid (นิด), who later became my girlfriend. We spend a lot of time together during the Covid curfews. Meeting Nid changed the way I experienced Thailand. I was suddenly introduced to the Thai way of life — the language, food, culture, and the Buddhist religion.

Nid took me to the province of Chumphon — a 4.5-hour drive from Ao Nang, where we visited her aunt's Durian fruit farm. The Chumphon province is known for its coral reefs and long stunning coastline. It was magical. I have learned a lot from Nid, including how to access more patience — as Thais never raise their voices. I welcomed new spiritual practices. When I bought a motorbike, I spoke with a monk who made spiritual recommendations for choosing a lucky date for my license plate registration.

Daily routine

Almost everyone I know in IT now works from home. Even my father's insurance company has him working from home. Covid has forever changed the global workforce. For me, I am more productive than ever before. I have the perfect home office set up with furniture I bought from Ikea—yes, even Thailand has an Ikea!

My quality of life has improved dramatically. My monthly expenses—rent, utilities, food, internet, phone, and gasoline are far less than $1,000 per month. I have established a healthy daily routine and enjoy my morning coffee while reading the daily news. Each morning I walk or run along the beach and put in several hours of work before I break for dinner — Som Tum, Paneang Gai, and Pad Thai are personal favourites. I end my evenings with another short block of work, followed by meditation before bed. Life is good here in Thailand.

What matters

Here I am still in Thailand. It's April 2021 — I left home 15 months ago, and my parents and friends naturally worry and miss me. We are entering the 3rd wave of Covid-19. The requirements to re-enter Thailand are complicated— entry permits, quarantine, insurance, possible vaccine passports, paperwork, and much uncertainty and stress. I want to return home, but I'm torn — I love Thailand, and my adventure doesn't feel complete.

Real life

Many remote workers here in Thailand work in digital currencies, web development, and IT. Outside of work, there are always things to figure out—where to get a haircut, do laundry, or get a good cup of coffee.

Top tip

There are 7 Elevens everywhere in Thailand, and they make great coffee! Big C is also Thailand's equivalent to Walmart for stocking up on home supplies.

The biggest challenge of living abroad is figuring out your travel visa. Suppose you plan to open a business in Thailand. In that case, you may qualify for a Smart Visa—a visa specially designed to attract skilled investors, executives, and startup entrepreneurs. People who want to work or invest in targeted industries, including smart electronics, biotech, aviation, medical, environment, and others.

The process for obtaining a Smart Visa is specified by the office of the Board of Investment and is good for four years before you need to apply for a renewal. Most digital nomads start with a student visa or a tourist visa which is suitable for six months. Then you must exit the country and come back if you wish to remain in Thailand. But there is talk of a new Thai visa specifically for digital nomads who can prove ongoing work.

Covid has undoubtedly sped up the revolution of remote working. A true community can be found in Thailand for the digital nomad, with many available co-working spaces.

For me personally, Thailand is the closest thing to heaven. Life is good in Thailand, but there are always challenges — city pollution and traffic, missing family and friends, and adjusting to a new language and culture. Still, the benefits of long stretches of beautiful beach, the low cost of living, and the endless days of sunny blue skies outweigh the challenges of adjusting to a new country. I miss home, but for today and at least tomorrow, Thailand is my home.

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