All You Need to Know About Working Remotely from Thailand
Thailand is a mecca for digital nomads, boasting fast internet and cutting-edge cities on the doorstep of beautiful beaches and culturally rich mountain towns.
Thailand for digital nomads at a glance
- Reliable, fast internet
- Relatively cheap cost of living
- Great food
- Awesome beaches
- Tricky visa regulations
- A long rainy season
- Can get busy in certain places
An introduction to Thailand
Thailand is the famous Land of Smiles. It stretches more than 1,020 miles from the misty hills of Burma in the north all the way to the Malacca Strait down south. At its heart is sleepless Bangkok, where noodles sizzle next to steamy muay Thai arenas beneath the golden spires of Buddhist temples. Leave that behind and you’ve got some seriously awesome backcountry to boot. The beaches of Koh Samui and Koh Lanta are the fodder of travel brochures. The jungles of Chiang Mai and Pai are trodden by elephants and dashed by waterfalls.
Add to all that one of the most reliable digital infrastructures in Southeast Asia (20mbps+ download speeds are common) and it should be easy to see why Thailand is one of the world’s top hubs for location-independent workers. Cities like Chiang Mai are now veritable creative centers, with co-working spaces and workshops bursting from their historic buildings. Elsewhere, the southern isles beckon DNs with golden beaches, coral reefs and bungalows, while Bangkok has luxurious condos with pools and skyline views that shouldn’t break the bank.
Connectivity in Thailand
Thailand has some of the best internet in the region. Digital nomads will be happy to find plenty of high-speed connections in co-working spaces and cafes, particularly in major cities and more built-up areas. 4g coverage has also come on leaps and bounds in recent years, with everywhere from the sun-kissed islands to the northern hill towns now linked up.
WiFi in Thailand
The internet in Thailand is a breath of fresh air for Southeast Asia. While you might find some issues in neighbouring Myanmar, Laos or Cambodia, for example, the Land of Smiles remains generally well-linked to the web. In fact, stats from Ookla place it as the 8th-fastest internet in the region. That’s especially the case in bigger cities, where average internet speeds are just shy of 20 mbps download. That’s a whopping increase from a little over 11 mpbs in 2013, which highlights just how much investment has gone into the country’s digital infrastructure in recent years.
There’s still likely to be a sharp decline in the speed of the web when you leave metropolises like Chiang Mai and Bangkok. However, there are signs that things are changing, with places like Mukdahan on the Mekong River, and Sattahip down on the shores of pretty Chonburi Province, ranking highly, with average speeds of over 30 mbps.
4g and mobile in Thailand
Mobile connectivity is a good fall-back option for digital nomads in Thailand. There’s almost no break to be seen in the map of the Bangkok Metropolitan Region until you get to Kanchanaburi Province in the west, or the foothills of the Khao Chamao-Khao Wong National Park going east. That means virtually all areas around the capital are covered.
Looking north, there’s extensive connectivity on 4G and 4G+ all the way until the start of the mountains around Chiang Mai. So, you’re good to go in what’s often considered the DN capital of Southeast Asia, but might find a little trouble venturing up to Pai and Mae Hon Song.
Down south – where digital nomads are now increasingly going for those laptop sessions on the beach – you can find strong signals all along the main coast roads. So long as you don’t venture inland from Hua Hin or Chumphon, you’ll be covered. Phuket is a major hotspot, too, while islands like Koh Lanta and Koh Samui (both up and coming favourite for remote workers) benefit from good links in most of their major resorts.
Visas and documentation for Thailand
The visa situation in Thailand can be a complicated one. The truth is that most digital nomads in the country are using the 30-day visa exemption or a standard tourist visa. The catch is that those are specifically not for anyone intending to do work, so we’ll stop short of recommending that route.
In recent years, there have been reports of extra checks at the borders, and even some DNs getting turned away for trying to enter multiple times back to back. On the other hand, there have also been occasional efforts by some regional governments to communicate that using a laptop to work online for global businesses unrelated to Thai affairs is okay. The result? The situation remains something of an infamous grey area.
Visa and entry types that are available are:
- Visa exemption: 64 countries have 30-day access to Thailand that can be refreshed by leaving and re-entering. Strictly for tourism purposes.
- Tourist visa: Lasts 4 months or 6 months with double or triple entry. Apply before you get to Thailand at the embassy in your home country.
- Education visa: Open to people enrolled on a course in Thailand (Thai language courses are okay) for up to 3 months (can be extended). Lengthy application process.
- Business visa: For those looking to work in Thailand. Requires approval from the Ministry of Labour, business balance sheets and registration, and a Thai work permit.
- Retirement visa: For retirees. Need proof of income >65,000 THB ($2,000)/per month.
- Dependent visa: For the spouse or dependent children of Thai nationals and others.
Where to work as a digital nomad in Thailand
You won’t be short on places to set up the laptop and start smashing those Trello cards in Thailand. From Bangkok’s Scandi-cool cafés to swinging hammocks right next to the sky-blue waters of the Andaman Sea, there are all sorts of spots…
Some say Thailand is the veritable home of the co-working space. And it’s true: You can hardly swing a plate of pad Thai without hitting one in Chiang Mai. But that’s the city with the most, ranging from the casual canteen-office of C.A.M.P. to the intimate M-A-N-A coffee shop-style establishment.
In Bangkok, a whole clutch of spots is now on offer from Sukhumvit to Thonglor. They’re usually busy with expats, creatives, and local Thais looking to network and share ideas.
If you go for the islands, the co-work options tend to be a bit more chilled. Take the likes of KoHub in Koh Lanta, which is part beachside retreat, part tropical-themed office space.
Thailand has caught the European bug for café culture in recent years. There are stylish little coffee houses and eateries all over the place. These tend to have fast internet and often welcome digital nomads as a major customer base. Chiang Mai’s Old City, areas like Khaosan Road and Thonglor in Bangkok, and Phuket Town in the south all have fantastic cafés with comfy seating and quick WiFi. Head outside of cities and major resorts and you’re likely to struggle – the local coffee stalls simply don’t have the infrastructure for working remotely.
Tech stuff for digital nomads in Thailand
Laptop kaput? Wondering about plug convertors? Look no further than the guide below, which details all the ins and outs of Thailand’s techy stuff.
Thailand has a 230V/50Hz mains supply. Annoyingly, there are three individual plug types in the kingdom. The most common is the two-pronged round plug (Type C), though some regions use the two- and three-pronged square plugs (Type A and Type B). That’s why we’d recommend getting a universal converter that can handle all sorts.
Alternatively, call ahead and check the situation where you’re going to be staying. It’s common these days for hotels and Airbnb rentals to have international plug fixtures that will let you use European and American standard sockets straight in the wall.
Security and accessibility
Stats show around 74,000 URLS are currently blocked by official court order in Thailand, giving the country a markedly bad record on the internet censorship front. Still, most mainstream resource sites, news sites, and government portals are still available. Notable exceptions include some portions of BBC, CNN, Wikipedia and Yahoo!, which were deemed in violation of stringent laws that outlaw any defamation against Thailand’s royal family.
VPNs can help bypass those. However, the further you are from the place you’re trying to connect to, the slower those sorts of networks will be. So, accessing European, British or American sites through virtual connections can be a bit of a drag.
Repairs and shops
Don’t worry too much if your laptop breaks down while you’re traveling Thailand’s two largest cities. Both Bangkok and Chiang Mai have plenty of repair shops. Perhaps the best place to look for them is in trade malls like Pantip Plaza and Meechok Plaza. Alternatively, there are premium shops in lots of major shopping centers across the capital, selling official Apple, Android, and other mainstream computing wares.
The situation is different if you’re down on the islands of the gulf or Andaman. From there, you’ll likely need to make for the nearest big town, like Nakhon Si Thammarat, Surat Thani, or Phuket Town, to find any sort of tech or repair shop. They simply don’t exist in the beach resorts.
Cost of living in Thailand
Thailand fits neatly into the midrange when it comes to average costs in Asia. It’s not up there with premium destinations like Hong Kong, but also isn’t as cheap as Cambodia or Vietnam.
You’re likely to find that your outgoings vary considerably depending on where you want to settle. In the remote-work haven of Chiang Mai, the abundance of condos and DNs means you’re looking at about $1,059 per month. Bangkok is likely to be much more, in the region of about $1,486 per month. For the privilege of living close to the shimmering beaches of Krabi and Phuket in the south, where hotels are generally more expensive, you’ll need to budget about $1,400-1,500 per month.
- A Chang beer in a bar in Bangkok: 120 THB ($3.60)
- A two-hour boat to an island in the Andaman Sea: 1,000-1,500 THB ($30-45)
- Meal for two in local restaurant with drinks: 400 THB ($12)
Travel basics for Thailand
Thai is the official language of Thailand. Some older tribal languages and dialects are still spoken in the hills of the north, along with Laotian in the extreme north-east of the country. English is common in the bigger cities and main tourist areas, especially in Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Phi Phi, and Phuket, where you can also expect to see a lot of signs and advertisements in Russian (thanks to all the visitors from Moscow!).
Weather & climate
Thailand has two distinct seasons: The wet season and the dry season. They come to different parts of the country at slightly different times of the year, but roughly speaking, the sunnier, more pleasant months are from November through April. That’s when the islands are bustling with holidaymakers, and when prices are at their highest. From June onwards, you’re likely to experience heightened rainfall and some seriously humid days, though you’ll pay less for everything, from accommodation to flights.
If you’re headed – like so many digital nomads – for the northern city of Chiang Mai, you should also know about the infamous burning season. It lasts from January to March and can see air pollution levels skyrocket thanks to agricultural fires on the outskirts of town. It can get so bad that a lot of folks even decide to high tail it to another part of Southeast Asia entirely.
Thai food is legendary around the globe.
It’s on the streets where it’s at its best. Hit Yaowarat Road or Chatuchak Market in Bangkok and you’ll be immersed in plumes of lemongrass, ginger, green tea and black-bean sauces. Down on Khaosan Road, you’ll find the ubiquitous pad Thai sellers, offering their famed noodles with egg and peanut for just 40 THB ($1.25) a pop. Then come the spicy khao soi rice dishes of Chiang Mai, and the prawn-filled tom yum soups of the south, and the international cuisine that’s served up in pizza joints and pasta cafes all over the major resorts.
Don’t worry – you won’t go hungry!
Where digital nomads love in Thailand
Nomads get a whole load of different places to pick from in Thailand. The kaleidoscope of beaches, turquoise lagoons, and palm-fringed coves in the south is nothing like the bird-echoing jungles of the north. And neither of those are like the heady energy of Bangkok or Pattaya. Here are just a few of the stand-out spots the Land of Smiles has to offer…
Where else? Chiang Mai is sometimes credited with single-handedly bringing the digital nomad movement into the mainstream. Most guesses are that there are thousands of DNs here at any one time. They’ve basically colonised the districts of Santitham and Nimmanhaemin, which are filled to bursting with sleek condos and bohemian cafes (great internet all round, of course!).
Bangkok actually just trumps Chiang Mai on NomadList these days, touting slightly faster internet (24 mbps on average). But the vibe here could hardly be any more different than up north. BKK is a sprawling, giant of a city, with tuk-tuks purring through its lanes and steamy noodle stalls on the street corners. Areas like Thonglor and Ekkamai are being established as the DN hubs, with pool-ready condos and good nightlife.
One of the more accessible islands of the Andaman region, Koh Lanta is a long, thin stretch that pushes past the mangroves on the far side of Phang Nga Bay (think 2 hours’ boat from Krabi). It’s become a favorite of the DN crowd in recent years thanks to its chilled vibes, low-cost bungalows, and the brilliant co-working of Koh Hub. Try to look to stay around Long Beach or Khlong Khong. Further south is more for honeymooners.
You’re just as likely to find lasagne and carbonara in the eateries of Koh Tao, which is a hint at the international crowd that regularly return to the island. It all started in these parts thanks to the diving, which is considered world class. However, digital nomads are now coming more and more, in search of beaches and jungled hills that are far less busy than, say, Koh Samui a little to the south. Average internet speeds on Tao hover at about 21 Mbps, so what was once an issue might not be any longer.
Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, but it actually feels more like an extension of the mainland. Beaches on the west coast include Patong (the place to party) and Surin (for luxury villas overlooking a gorgeous Indian Ocean). On the east coast are the gritty port towns that serve the Andaman Islands, which is where DNs often look for good-value condos. Be warned that a scooter of your own is probably a must – Phuket has a taxi cartel that can make getting from beach to beach a real nightmare.
Accommodation for digital nomads in Thailand
Thailand has plenty of accommodation options for the budding digital nomad. There are even co-living establishments popping up in the mainstay areas of Chiang Mai and Bangkok. But if you’re keen to get on the hunt for a pad to call your own, be sure to check out the following:
Everything from beach-side cottages on Koh Samui to slick condominiums with pools in the heart of Bangkok are on offer on the share-economy service Airbnb. A lot will even come with up to 50% discounts on the price if you book monthly, which can be great for DNs or travelers on that 30-day visa exemption. Just be warned that short-term lets aren’t actually allowed in the capital, so anyone booking for just a week or so might run into some administration problems.
Thailand isn’t hailed as one of the world’s top sun, sand, sea and culture destinations for nothing. It’s been one of the most-visited countries in Asia for years now, so a well-rounded range of hotels and B&Bs is in the offing. Check them out on Booking.com, which has a nifty map feature that will let you see how close your prospective stay actually is to the beach. Rates will usually increase considerably in December and January, which is the middle of Thailand’s main high season.
Thailand is one of the world’s top digital nomad destinations. Home to Chiang Mai – the original DN place – and Bangkok – where oodles of remote workers now frequent the street-food markets and condos of Silom – it’s a good all-round choice with pretty quick internet. Oh, and you’ve got stunning beaches and immersive mountains to check out to the south and north.