Thailand is a shopper’s paradise! There are huge shopping malls with modern stores, stocking every day wear as well as high end clothes and accessories. For those on a tight budget, there are the markets – some of them in dedicated shopping centers in their own right (like MBK in Bangkok, or the outdoor “weekend market’).
Smart malls sell all the top brands of clothes and make-up and watches and suitcases and utensils, etc. etc. These items will probably cost the same as back at home. The higher end not-so-well-known brands are also available and cost considerably less than at home. And the stuff that caters for the ordinary people is usually dirt cheap.
There are even Amazon-style online shopping sites that deliver items direct to you, either inexpensively or for free. Some items are remarkably cheap, but prices are on catching up with the West, primarily because of the stronger baht, but also because of shipping costs and import duties that can add considerably to the cost of an item.
There are some things that you should bring with you, either because they are cheaper at home or simply not available in Thailand. Electronic appliances and specialized cookware (e.g. juicers or mixers) for instance as well as musical instruments or any professional-quality audio equipment or cameras. (Remember that Thailand has 220V/50Hz electricity, so you will need to buy a converter if you are from the US.) Sex toys cannot be purchased in Thailand either. Motorbike jackets and leather boots are probably worth bringing with you.
It’s usually a good idea to make a list of the things you will want in your life and compare the prices at Amazon or eBay with what it might cost in Thailand. Many online suppliers won’t ship to Thailand, so best to take the unit with you.
Also keep in mind that shipping heavy or bulky items can be expensive, and you still have to add about 10% import duty (40% for “luxury” items such as shoes, clothes, bags, etc.) plus 7% tax on arrival. Second-hand goods are also taxed, but your personal items will usually be waved through. If you choose to settle here then you are allowed one duty-free shipment of personal effects, but only during your first year of residence.
Cars and motorbikes and bicycles are more expensive than in the US, but perhaps about the same price as in the UK. It’s very difficult to buy second hand cars because they are expensive. However, you can find a decent 15-year-old car for about $3,000 – the cost of repairing and maintaining a car is usually quite cheap; and taxes and insurance don’t usually exceed $60 p.a.
Furniture is usually cheap, unless you want good quality – in which case, it can still be quite cheap. Index and Modern Form are top end stores that sell leather sofas for $600 up; 5′ beds range from $150 to $300 and a good quality mattress will set you back $200-$500. Or you can go to the Weekend Market in Bangkok or Baan Tawai in Chiang Mai and buy solid hardwood furniture for about half the price (a large solid wooden wardrobe will cost around $350, a rocking chair about $100).
It’s usually good value to get all your clothes tailor-made. My daughter had a silk prom dress custom made for $130, I usually get smart trousers made for around $30 a pair, and a suit for $130 up, depending on the quality of material you use. If you show the tailor the design you want (e.g. Boss or Armani), they will cut the suit to the exact same design. No one will know but you.
Banks and Money
For a so-called developing country, the banking industry is probably one of the most sophisticated in the world. You can withdraw cash, transfer money, pay bills, check your account at any ATM anywhere in the country… or online, or using a smartphone app.
Banks are open seven days a week, some until 8pm at night. Most banks will allow you to open an account, regardless of whether you are a tourist or a resident. Some banks will require you to show a work permit, but these are usually specialist banks catering specifically for Thai residents.
There are a few things to keep in mind, however. Firstly, you can withdraw money from any ATM using your foreign credit or debit card – but you will be charged 180 baht per withdrawal and you are limited to 20,000 baht per day.
If you use a different ATM machine than the bank you opened your account at then you will be charged 10-30 baht per withdrawal. Transfers to other banks also cost about 25-35 baht per transaction. And even though it’s the same bank, each region in Thailand is distinct. If you open an account at Kasikorn Bank in Bangkok, say, and then walk into a branch in Chiang Mai they will tell you that they cannot help you.
You can withdraw and deposit money (for an extra fee), but they can’t do any account-related business. They are separate companies that just happen to have the same name – or so it seems.
Transferring your money to Thailand is a bit tricky. The company I use now is TransferWise. They seem to be the most reliable so far. I tried some other companies, but they didn’t seem as professional or they had a dubious track record.
You will get a far better exchange rate than your bank (or credit/debit card) will give you. It’s imperative that you open a bank account in Thailand (which you can easily do, even on a tourist visa). And then all you need to do is transfer money as and when you need to and make fee-free purchases with your debit card or withdraw cash directly from an ATM when in Thailand.