Long Term Expats guide to Chiang Rai

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The pros and cons

Chiang Rai is slap bang in the middle of Laos and Myanmar, which gives you a perfect opportunity to visit these countries for a weekend retreat etc. This however means that there is no coast and therefore no beach in Chiang Rai. There is a river area where locals like to visit but the water is best to be avoided.

Past 10 years, Chiang Rai become a modern city of Northern Thai. A recent addition to Chiang Rai is the Central Plaza, a new multi-storey shopping complex offering all kinds of modern amenities. The supermarket now offers European food which until recently was unobtainable in Chiang Rai. All kinds of technology are now available; unfortunately if any electronics malfunction then it will have to be sent to Bangkok and can take at least a month before it is returned.

The airport is close by but the flights are limited. Normally you will have to fly to Bangkok first before moving on.
Thailand’s second largest city Chiang Mai is only 2-3 hours drive away, which offers a playground of activities for people wanting to get away for the weekend or Xmas etc. The Chiang Mai airport also offers flights across Thailand and other parts of Asia, relinquishing the need to fly to Bangkok first from Chiang Rai.

Chiang Rai is a lot cheaper than other parts of Thailand whether renting a property or just going out for a few drinks. However the entertainment can be a little limited to the Jetyod area. There are other bars around the town to be explored but are few and far between.


Which part of Chiang Rai is recommended for living?

Chiang Rai is a very big city, driving from one district to another district would takes time up to 2-3 hours. For the elders might need to live in Chiang Rai city which convenience for everything such as restaurant, shopping and the most important is many options of hospitals and health services ,you don’t want to drive 2-3 hours to city from rural part of city to visit doctor at the age of having grey hair for sure.

But now some district has better facilities, big shopping centre are rise, better medical care from local hospital. Chiang Khong is one district that growing up and is one of good option among others district, this district is located away from Chiang Rai city about 1.5 hour by driving (120 kilometre ), it is the district that has beautiful scenic along Mae Khong River and opposite is Lao PDR (Houay Xai) which by the end of 2013 the 4th Thai-Lao bridge connect between two countries going to be finished. Tesco Lotus is a super market that gonna be finished and grand open on 29 July 2013 you can shopping many stuff here without driving to Chiang Rai city.

Chiang Khong district hospital or know as “Chiang Khong Crown Prince Hospital” has a good standard of health care but might not has some specialist doctor they can do some basic health care if there is something more advance than they can afford they just refer you to Chiangrai Provincial hospital or hospital as your options in city. In last couple years properties trading in this district was very popular which means that buying land or any properties near Chiang Khong town or even around the bridge might be very expensive ( some area might be more expensive than in Chiang Rai city) ,but some area like the village away from town still has affordable price.



For foreigners who wish to retire in Thailand:

Initially you must get a nonimmigrant visa from a Thai Embassy or consulate, before you enter the country. Most visas are for one year, but permission to stay is for only 90 days, renewable upon leaving and re-entering the country (often done by walking into a neighboring country; a final 90 days can be taken just before the end of the year after the visa is issued). This is called Visa run which is one of the best thing you can exploit about staying in Thailand. Many people go on visa runs or border runs every day. There are a number of different companies that can help you with this. Just Google “thai visa run” and the city you want to start from like Bangkok or Chiang Rai.

There are two types of visa options for individuals who are interested in retiring in Thailand. The first option is an O-A Retirement Visa which is obtained in your home country before entering Thailand. The second, and most common is the extension of stay based on retirement which is processed at immigration inside Thailand. issued to applicants aged 50 years, with no criminal record in Thailand and over who wish to stay in Thailand for a period of not exceeding 1 year without the intention of working, who have a non-immigrant type visa and B800,000 in a Thai bank account, or a verified income/pension of 65,000 baht per month (or a combination of savings and income).

Note: You have a much better interest rate on a FIXED Term Deposit, which is also acceptable. Bua Luang, mutual funds or money market accounts are not. Retirement visa requirements: application form T.M.72, copy of passport or substitute document, two 4 x 6 cm photos, proof of financial sufficiency, and a B1900 application fee. If the applicant is 60 years or older, income must be not less than 200,000 baht per year (or 20,000 baht per month – sorry if that confuses…).

For applicants over 55 years old, proof of 800,000 baht in a Thai bank OR an income of not less than 35,000 baht per month (I’ve read 65,000, but think that not correct) must be presented. The B800,000 must be deposited for a minimum of 3 months before you first apply, and for 2 months every time you renew. A personal income tax return with receipt, proof of pension, proof of interest from bank account deposit or proof of other income from authorities concerned can be used to demonstrate income.


Beautiful scenery in Chiang Rai (Photo:8milesfromhome.com)


If you’re married to a Thai, you need only 400,000 baht on deposit, and proof of income. For a marriage visa, extensions are less: B40,000/month for a male Farang with B400,000 in a Thai Bank. You’ll need a family photo, and your spouse along to sign documents. The bank account can be in your spouse’s name. Total income of not less than B40,000 per month, except for aliens who entered the Kingdom before Oct. 1988, and were granted a permit to stay in the Kingdom, must be shown (again, this doesn’t seem to be hard and fast, especially due to quickly varying exchange rates).

I talked to my lawyer about all this, and he looked at my passport, said it didn’t look right to him, but then only recommended another lawyer. Unwilling to risk a lawyer fee on top of the huge fine, I returned to MaeSai, where the only “ka ratchagaan” official not in uniform took the lawyers card and called him. He quickly backed down.

All this had occurred just before and after the Songkran festival, not yet 90 days from my last report to MaeSai Immigration in January. Fearing further complications, I mailed a letter to maeSai Immigration explaining that nothing in my situation had changed except that my wife was pregnant. Then I bought a ticket to Bangkok.

In Bangkok to continue my fight against what I saw as a travesty of justice, I arrived just before lunch, despite leaving early enough to have ample time. I’d arrived at Don Muang, on Vipawadi-Rangsit Road, and rushed out with my carry-on (no checked bag) to get a taxi to Soon Ratchagaan, also on Vibavadi Road, but the taxi ended up taking as long as my flight! So, I got a queue number and sat down to wait.

While waiting, I noticed a sign saying service was only for local residents and that others should report to their area office. At an information desk, I asked if there were another office where I might discuss my problem, but got nowhere with that enquiry. At 1:00 p.m. I endured the long queue to get back in, but was soon showing my passport to an official who only looked at it in confusion. And you, poor reader, are likely to get confused here too.

I hadn’t reported 90 days after my return, but 6 days after that, and my TM6 “bat ka-ook” departure card had mysteriously disappeared. So, 96 days after my return from the USA, I was charged B3,000 for the 6 days of overstay, and B3,800 for a re-entry permit, plus told to fill out a form and supply pictures I had to go across the highway to get taken. The re-entry stamp filled a passport page, and said I’d permission to stay another 6 months.

Documents Required:

  • Passport with validity of not less than 18 months, with copies of front page, visa, last entry stamp and the TM6 arrival/departure card.
  • copies of completed visa application form TM7 (available from www.immigration.go.th).
  • 2 passport-sized photos (4 x 6 cm) of the applicant taken within the past 6 months.
  • A personal data form and a hand drawn map to your residence.
  • 2 copies of quite recent bank statements, showing a deposit of not less than B800,000, or an income certificate (original copy) showing a monthly income of not less than B65,000, or a deposit account plus a monthly income totaling not less than B800,000. For example if you have proof of 32,500 baht per month in income then you would need to also show proof of 400,000 baht deposited in a Thai bank.

To show more than the minimum amount can be a big help in getting your retirement extension or “O-A” visa approved. The bank statement must be accompanied by a letter from your bank showing that the money came from outside Thailand (2 copies, too).

To show an income or pension of B65,000 per month, you must obtain a certified ‘affidavit of income’ from a consulate or embassy. Various embassies have different requirements for issuing this document, so it is recommended you supply additional ‘evidence of funds’ to the immigration officer (they are aware that some embassies do not ask for supporting documentation when issuing the income affidavit).

Pensioners arriving before Oct 1998 with unbroken records while living here only need 200,000 baht in a Thai Bank when they apply for an extension. Those arriving in Oct 1998 or after, who have obtained a permit to stay on the basis of having 200,000 baht in a Thai Bank, must increase that amount to 800,000 baht before applying for an annual extension.

With your bank deposit books you’ll need the following:
– two photocopies of the passbook page showing your name & account number
– two photocopies of the passbook page showing the current balance
– two copies of a guarantee letter from the bank (your bank may charge for this, but not much)
– a medical certificate issued from the country where the application is submitted, showing no prohibitive diseases as indicated in the Ministerial Regulation No.14 (B.E. 2535) (certificate shall be valid for not more than three months and should be notarized by notary organs or the applicant’s diplomatic or consular mission), or, a medical certificate (health exam administered by doctor at first class hospital) issued in the last 30 days, certifying that the applicant is “not a person of physical infirmity, incompetent, mental infirmity”, with no prohibited disease, including leprosy, tuberculosis, alcohol or drug addiction, filariasis (a tropical parasitic disease which causes elephantiasis; sometimes syphilis is included; the law is the Ministerial Regulation No. 14, B.E. 2535).

If the alien is ill, or has weak health and is sensitive to colder climates or has resided in Thailand for a long period, and is 55-59 years old, special circumstances may be given. Applicant must have no criminal record in Thailand (and the country of the applicant’s nationality or residence), and supply proof that he/she is not a wanted criminal back home (an affidavit from a home country consulate attesting to that suffices).

If married, or with children under 20 (who must live with you), you’ll need papers proving that, and signed copies (including of your spouse’s ‘bat prachachon’ ID card and ‘tambian ban’ household registration). A Thai parent, over 50, can also be a dependent who can help you get a good visa. Proof of Thai nationality for the parent must be provided, with signed copies.

Your Thailand Retirement Visa expires when your Extension of Stay does. You will need to renew your stay in Thailand before your extension of stay expires. This can be done in Thailand. If you cannot obtain your extension inside Thailand, you will have to get a new non-immigrant visa from a Thai Embassy or Consulate abroad. Failure to notify Immigration every 90 days, or in event of change of address, can result in a fine of B2000, or B4000 if you are arrested, plus B200/day until your complied.

Notification can be by registered mail, within 7 days before or after the period of 90 days expires. A self-addressed envelop with B5 stamp affixed must be enclosed. Send to Chiangrai Immigration Office (Visa Extension Section), Tambon WiengPangKham, Amphoe MaeSai, CHiangRai 57130 (tel 053-731008 or 9, ext 23), or your appropriate office. www.maesaiimm.com might be of assistance, but it is in Thai. MaeSai Immigration’s phone is 053-731008 (or 053-731009)

If you want to own a business in Thailand, you can, but don’t have to, set up a company (you’d need Thai partners; 4 of them). Depending on your needs, you can form a Limited Partnership, with a Thai. You should obtain a non immigrant “B” visa before you enter the country, then apply for a work permit here (at least if you are going to do more than just be “owner”). It’s illegal to work in Thailand unless you possess a current work permit – even NGO work or volunteer work (although this is often ignored). It’s wise to check with a lawyer and play it safe!


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Where to Stay

Chiang Rai hotel prices have risen over the past 5 years but some remain reasonably priced. Getting long term discounts can vary on time of year. Christmas is a busy time and most hotels are full.For the budget conscious travellers living 2-3 km out of the town centre in one of the many villages is the best option. The prices are cheaper and a two bedroom bungalow would set you back around 2,000 THB a month but that is the bottom end. Nicer bungalows can be found for 1,500 THB a week, normally with some basic utilities included.

To find houses for rent you need to have friends who can point you in the right direction. Some landlords will probably be charging you more than if you were Thai but that is unavoidable, unless you can get a Thai person to rent the place for you. Most will take you on for a minimum of a 3 month contract payable in advance.Some residence you might have a special discount because most of Thai people don’t want to stay in a house or bungalows that previously has someone passed away they believe it to be haunted.

Leasing properties should be done properly by a reliable lawyer. They charge about 5,000 -10,000 baht. You take the lease to the Amphur(or District Office) together with the nor sor sam or Kanut and register it; they then stamp the document on the back. The land cannot then be sold unless the lease is cancelled. A lease without doing this is totally useless. The lawyer would take the title deed to the Amphur and get it legalized. The wife or owner should then sign another 30 years lease dated from the end of the first one (you can renew a 30 year lease).

Most wives would agree to these procedures by explaining to them that if they died, they would not want their husbands thrown out! At the end of the thirty year lease, all you have to do is get a lawyer to take it to the amphur again. A virtual 60 year lease should cover most peoples lifetime and the wife can leave the property in her will to the children; if you die the lease could be terminated and the property go to your children.

Having someone who speaks the local language is a huge benefit as even Thais who speak reasonable English will misunderstand what you are trying to say a lot of the time, particularly regarding technical information such as computing or building work.Language will be a barrier specifically when it comes to employing tradesman to work on your house or garden etc. They won’t speak English and can often be lazy. A watchful eye is wise to make sure they are not cutting corners. On the good side the charge is often 25% of what it would normally cost in the west and in general they are pretty competent and trustworthy.



Things that you should know when living in Thai’s village

Many villages have an appointed president that takes care of “village business” such as street lighting (bulbs) or pot holes etc. Electric bills are normally delivered to your door which has to be paid at your local 7-Eleven store. If your Electric bill is less than 200 THB for the month then it is free! This was introduced to help struggling Thais…..and nomads. Water bills are normally collected by a villager on a motorbike, which can seem at little strange the first time if you don’t know why they are asking you for money. It is normally less than 100 THB for 3 months.

Chickens often roam free in the villages and can be a little bothersome, but soon you’ll hardly even notice the constant blare coming from the horny little cockerels. Most people own at least one dog which has a tendency to bark a lot to keep potential thieves at bay but are no problem once you become familiar.

There are a lot of public holidays in Thailand which normally include festivals or free music events for the villagers. It can be a fun way to spend an evening and also to introduce one’s self to the locals.

Most streets in Thailand have at least one daily speech that is given over a very loud megaphone by the president. When looking for a place to rent or buy, it is advisable to check how close the tannoy is to the property as these announcements can be as early as 6am. They are useless to anyone who doesn’t speak Thai but are normally just about local events and council issues.



Getting a pay and go Sim Card for your phone or tablet is cheap and easy to do. 7Eleven stores are everywhere and sell “One2call” Sim Cards by AIS which is the local mobile phone company, just ask for a “One2call” Sim card and you will be understood, normal cost 50 Bht.

Top ups can be bought as scratch cards for 50 Bht or higher denominations can be asked for and a till receipt with a 12 digit code will be given. You simply dial *120*12 digit code# then press call. Providing your phone accepts the Sim you’re away! There is also a package service with AIS for internet data. Visit http://www.ais.co.th/12call/en/simcard-one2call-netsim-3g.htmlfor prepaid packages.

If you’re seeking a more permanent internet solution for your home then there are several ways of doing it. The traditional way of getting it through your land line would be through the Thai state-owned telecommunications company TOT, Unfortunately in the more remote areas that are slightly out of town there may not be landlines, but this would normally only be an issue if you were buying land on a new development. Buying or renting a house shouldn’t be a problem for landlines.

Mobile internet can be used if a landline is not present; DTAC is the company that provides a dongle service whether for Air cards or USB Dongles. A DTAC Sim Card can be bought at mobile phone stores. Failing that, an antenna can be put on properties which are the same size as a TV aerial from a company called C.A.T. Compared to Europe and North America the internet speeds in Thailand are considerably slower but are fine for most internet usage.

If you can’t live without a bit of Western TV then you are in luck. European and American Television can be received through a satellite dish which can be installed by a company called True Visions. Depending on the package you buy you can have a wide range of viewing from Sport, Movies, American and British TV.

Some Thai laws that resident expats should know

Buying a vehicle and registering it is easy if you have a non-immigrant visa and either a work permit or a proof of address form. You’ll need copies of your passport main page and visa page, and (usually) a letter from immigration. If you have a tourist visa you cannot own a vehicle in your own name.

License plates (แผ่นป้ายทะเบียนรถม หมายเลขทะเบียนรถ or simply ทะเบียนรถ), required by law, display the name of the province where the vehicle is registered. Owners register in the province they live; this isn’t necessarily that of official residency (as shown on a house registration). If a car is sold or given to someone else (permanently), and the new owner is living in a different province, the number usually changes. You get a license plate with two Thai consonants, 1 to 4 numbers (from 1 to 9999) and the name of the province where it was registered.

Some consonant combinations aren’t used as they form negative words: for example, “จน” means poor, “ตก” means fail or fall, and “ศพ” means corpse. Eight different types of vehicles are officially recognized, and show differences in plate types; some have only one consonant, others another number in different style, and there are diplomatic plates, but unless you’re really into vanity plates &/or lucky numbers, you really needn’t worry your pretty head about all that.

When you buy a car, the dealer arranges paperwork to register the vehicle, for you. You provide signed copies of your Passport, Visa, and Work Permit or proof of residency (including the house registration – tambian ban – of your landlord). If you don’t have a work permit, take your rental contract (or home ownership papers) to the Immigration Office (you’re supposed to register your address there anyway) and get a proof-of-address document; the fee is B500.

If you decide to buy a car in Pattaya or Bangkok but live in ChiangRai, you need to obtain a letter from MaeSai Immigration before you change the papers stating you live in ChiangRai. To get this, take in your passport, 2 photos and a lease or other papers proving your local domicile address. There’s no charge for this letter, which they will usually provide right away.


The Vehicle Registration Office of the Department of Transport must see your original documents, but, rather than let them out of your hands, you take copies and the originals to the Registration Office, where they stamp and certify the copies. These certified copies are all the dealer needs to complete the registration. The annual vehicle registration fee is governed by the engine size and the type of vehicle, and both the vehicle registration sticker, issued by the vehicle registration office (which shows the year of expiry in large figures) must be displayed on the left hand side of the windscreen.

When a new car is registered, you will be given red license plates until your registration is complete – normally about one or two months. When they’re ready, go back to the dealer to have the permanent plates fitted and collect the registration book. Some dealers can be slow providing new plates. As strictly according to the law, you may not drive at night or outside your home province on temporary plates If you’re buying a car through payments, the lender will hold the registration book until you finish paying, at which time they’ll transfer to your name; but you may need to re-provide all that paperwork. And, to obtain car finance, you’ll need a Thai guarantor.

Some suggestions: Be wary about buying a car other than through a reputable manufacturer’s dealer or a second hand dealer of note. Maybe buy a used pick up first – they’re cheaper as tax on them is lower. The driving style here can take some getting used to, you might want to teach someone else (i.e. spouse or lover) to driver, and there’s a definite chance of it getting banged up at bit. Buy a popular make Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi), as it’s easier getting service for them. Automatics are harder to find, but a lot easier to teach someone how to drive! Go for a small engine – most likely most of your driving will be in town or on the highway – you don’t need lots of horsepower, or to race kids from Bangkok. Save on gas. Consider LPG – it’s WAY cheaper. As of now 2015 there are more than 20 LPG gas stations in Chiang Rai city.

Insurance: There are two types of insurance in Thailand, the Government mandatory 3rd party insurance and the comprehensive insurance which is not mandatory but highly recommended. Both insurance types are arranged by an insurance company and there are many such companies with offices in Phuket and agents everywhere! At first, or for the first year with a nice car, you might want a high level of insurance. After a year without any claims, your rates will go down (maybe 30% less).

The mandatory liability insurance costs only about 1-2,000 baht. If you sell your vehicle before the insurance expires, there’s no refund – the insurance is carried forward to the new owner. It is unwise to drive without adequate insurance; if you have an accident without insurance, there’s no limit to your liability. There can also be a fine for driving without insurance (up to B10,000). After a year, don’t forget to renew! All that applies to motorcycles, too, except that no comprehensive insurance is available in Thailand for motorcycles. You must, though, have the mandatory government insurance.


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One Response

  1. Daniel Stehura