Chiang Mai is buzzing at the moment. As soon as the rainy season was finished more and more foreigners started coming here. These are not only tourists, but expats wanting to stay somewhere nice and comfortable for a while, in a cool, but still warm climate.
Life in Chiang Mai is easy, easier than what you might imagine. There are condos to rent everywhere in the city, there are pubs and clubs, there are interest groups for digital nomads, entrepreneurs, volunteers, and travellers, there are supermarkets with western food, gyms, hospitals with English speaking doctors, and if you have kids you can send them to one of the international schools. If you want you can have your piece of the west here, or you can easily immerse yourself in the culture.
If this sound like a place for you, these are a couple of things you should know before you come and settle here.
One of the most important things you should think of before you come here. This is also the most frustrating part of preparing for the move. The visa regulations change all the time, and they change suddenly, without any warning, so keep your eyes and ears open when you apply for your permission to stay in Thailand.
Many expats stay here on the tourist visa, which is easy to get, but it means you need to leave the country every other month for the, so called, visa run/border run. If you don’t have much time and money this might be a costly, time-consuming and – worst of all – very boring process.
If you are intending to work in Chiang Mai as an English teacher then your employer should help you to apply for the non-immigrant visa B. That gives you a permission to stay for a whole year.
There are all kinds of other visas, like retirement visa, permanent residence and visa on arrival. Check with the Thai embassy in your country for details, and remember – do not overstay your visa, as it always equals a fine.
Chiang Mai is really cheap to live in. At the moment I rent a small studio in a nice, new apartment building, in the north of town. It is a room with a bathroom and a balcony. The monthly rent is 4,000 Baht, plus utilities – electricity depends on how much I use the air con, water is 200 Baht a month. During the winter the total amount is 4,500 Baht, during the dry season it is from 5,500 to 6,000 Baht.
You can find slightly cheaper accommodation, or go a little bit out of town and even rent a house. There are also 2-3 bedroom condos, with kitchens and big bathrooms, which are usually available from 10,000 Baht a month.
I bought an almost new scooter – automatic Honda Click. It cost 27,000 Baht, but you can get an older, and cheaper bike for around 16,000-20,000 Baht or you can rent one for 150-200 Baht a day. The gas is very cheap and it costs me 100 Baht a week.
If you don’t fancy riding a scooter, you will have to hail a songthaew or tuk-tuk. Songthaews are big, red cars, and they are a little bit like buses that will take you everywhere. Here is a useful advice: a short journey by songthaew should not be more than 30 Baht. Stop the car and tell the driver where you want to go, if he agrees do not ask about the price, just get on. If he tells you a price, and you think it is too high, wait for another car.
Tuk-tuks are a little bit more expensive and the drivers usually charge around 100 Baht for a trip.
4. Food and drinks
Food is one of the cheapest things here. You can get a decent meal for only 20 Baht. As it is Thai food, it is always delicious and there are plenty of choices everywhere. You can buy rice with vegetables and meat, or just a quick snack. You won’t go hungry here.
Another thing the city is quite popular for is the many coffee shops in Chiang Mai. Quite a lot of them are hubs for expats, where they spend their days working on their laptops. The cafes have internet and spaces to work on. Coffee is usually around 50-60 Baht.
Going out is the most expensive part, in my opinion. A beer in a bar costs 70 Baht, a cocktail anything from 120 Baht. Thai beers and whiskeys are not the best and you might get sick of them really quickly. If you want to buy an imported beer, like Guinness, that will cost you around 200 Baht.
If you want to do some shopping, then there is no better place than Chiang Mai. The city is full of shops and shopping centres and you will find everything here, no matter what your budget is.
6. Spending your free time
If you have enough time to travel around Asia, then you will have plenty of options to do so. The Chiang Mai International Airport has flights to Laos, Cambodia, Burma, China, Hong Kong, Singapore. You can also fly to any of the islands in the south of the country.
If you are after a cheaper option to travel, then you will easily find buses here that go to Burma, Laos and Cambodia.
The north of Thailand is worth exploring. If you drive a motorbike then you can do the Mae Hong Son loop, and explore other places on your two wheels. Trains and buses are also widely available and you can catch one easily to your chosen destination.
7. What can you do for a living here?
If you are not one of those lucky people, who earn money while designing websites, scrolling Facebook, or selling goods from Thailand abroad, but you still would like to live here and earn some money, then becoming an English teacher in Thailand is one of the options. All you need is a bachelor degree and a TEFL certificate. Unfortunately, it is harder for non-native speakers to find a job, but it is not impossible and with a right attitude you are able to find it.
Otherwise, you can open your own business, but that is more complicated than you can imagine and requires a lot of paperwork and dealing with the bureaucratic Thai system.