Renting your home

You can nearly always find a comfortable and inexpensive place to stay anywhere in Thailand.

As a newcomer, you will most likely start out in a relatively expensive condo or house – primarily because you still need the creature comforts we are used to back home: air conditioning to keep cool, air-tight windows to keep the mosquitoes out, security guards to keep out unwanted visitors, laundry & cleaning services and access to the gym and swimming pool.

Many hotels and guesthouses will have a monthly rate, about equal to 10 times the daily rate. It’s a good way to start exploring the city and to give you a little time to find something better (and cheaper) longer term. Often you will get just a hotel room with ensuite bathroom and a little balcony (which usually isn’t big enough to sit in). You’re paying for the furnishings, the beautiful setting and facilities, and the personnel who are at hand to deal with questions or help you with various services.

If you are prepared to live a little outside the city center (or even in the outskirts) then the prices become much cheaper… but you also won’t get all the conveniences thrown in – you will kind of have to fend for yourself. You’ll probably have to sort out your own telephone and internet line, maybe even buy your own furniture (you might get a fridge and a small cooker and a bed).

So the cost can add up to roughly the same as renting everything, including the furniture, fridge and TV, for a year.

My advice is to find a nice small room or condo in the center and rent it for no more than six months. In Bangkok, expect to pay around 12,000 – 20,000 baht ($400-$700) per month. In Chiang Mai about 4,000 – 10,000 baht ($150-$350).

And then use this as a base for exploring the city more extensively. The best way to find great long-term accommodation is to travel around the area first and see what’s available. You will also start to get a feel for what the relative costs are, depending on location, size and quality of the house or apartment, and the furnishing and facilities available.

If you sign up for my Settlement Package then we can help you do this. There are many bargains to be had if you scour the Thai classified ads on the internet. What we save you in rent alone will probably pay for the service, so it’s win-win all round.

You probably won’t need cooking facilities – there are so many great places to eat out, costing as much as it would to buy the ingredients and cook them yourself. Most people don’t bother.

As a rule of thumb, the higher you are the better (because of the mosquitoes).

For the same money as an apartment of condo, you can get a partially-furnished 2-bedroomed house with a small garden in a nice neighborhood, usually about 20 minutes outside the city center (of Chiang Mai) – an hour for Bangkok. For a little extra ($700 in Chiang Mai, $1,000 in Bangkok), you can get a nice house in a beautiful, established secure gated community.

Buying your home

Thailand is growing… fast! This means that the cheap rentals won’t last.

Sure, many more properties are coming on stream – especially large-scale projects offering rental accommodation ranging from very basic, low-cost rooms to extravagently luxurious condos and houses in the gated communities.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the cost of renting will creep up inexorably, at least in line with inflation.

So at some point – and fairly soon – you should seriously consider buying your own property.

This isn’t so easy in Thailand, but it isn’t all that difficult either.

The easiest and most secure way to do so is to buy a condo or a house in a private gated community. You may not own property outright in Thailand, but you can own 49% of it, so long as a Thai citizen (or Thai company, which is legally a ‘person’) owns the other 51%.

This means that – so long as 51% of the owners in an apartment building or gated community are Thai, the other 49% can be foreigners. Thais may own the majority share of a property, but very often they will rent out the condos or houses to foreigners. So you could still end up living in an expat enclave with the only Thais in sight being the receptionists, cleaners and security guards.

In Chiang Mai, there are plenty of new 2-bedroom houses with gardens being built that are selling for around 2-3 million baht ($100,000). In Bangkok, expect to pay about double.

If you are a bit more adventurous and prefer to ‘go native’ (as I did) then you can buy a separate stand-alone property (with or without a house). There are still many bargains to be had. It’s not unusual to find something twice as big for the same price, or a similar, older, Thai-style property for half the price.

The main problem about owning your own stand-alone property is that you can’t. Only a Thai person can. And there are various ways to do this legally.

One is to establish a Thai company and purchase the property in the name of the company. But you still can only own 49% of the company. So technically, your property will be majority owned by some Thai person. So long as you keep control of the contracts and deeds and have an agreement in place whereby the majority owner grants you all the decision-making powers then you will have no problems. It’s just a bit complicated and expensive ($2000 to set up the company, another $3000 p.a. for auditing and maybe another $1000 p.a. for visa fees).

One great advantage of having your own company, however, is that you can then apply for a business visa and work permit – and use the company for running a business. Allow another $6000 per year to cover minimal running costs and taxes. Keep in mind that, in order to continue to renew your business visa, the company must make a turnover (not a profit) of around 1 million baht ($33,000) per year. If not then you have to leave the country once a year to apply for a new one-year visa.

Other ways include having the deeds registered in your Thai partner’s name and she (he) then leases the property to you for a period of 30 years. It can be renewed for another 30 years, but there’s no way of knowing what will happen in that time. You may have fallen out by then, or one of you may have died by then. Whatever property you buy will eventually revert to your Thai wife’s or husband’s estate. This is probably okay as most couples end up with a child or two anyway – and it’s customary to register property in one of the children’s names anyway.

Another possibility is what’s known as Usufruct, where the registered Thai owner grants you the legal right to use the land anyway you see fit (usually for industrial or business use, but it is often interpreted to mean residential use as well)… for the remainder of your life. You can’t sell the land, but you can live on it and develop it.