Q & A with a Digital Nomad living in Bangkok

With the amount of digital nomads coming to Thailand, I thought it was about time I interviewed one of them.This Q&A is with a long time expat who has been living in Thailand for around about 5 years or so.

If you’re thinking about moving to Thailand and need help, check out my Thai friend’s website here, she may be able to help you out.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

28, UK male, moved to Thailand at 23 in 2009 after graduating BSc Physics from Imperial College, London. I hear after a few more years non-resident in the UK my student loan gets wiped, so looking forward to that.

60% of graduates from my course went into finance jobs for top banks, I knew that I’d be miserable doing that and one day wake up finding that I’m 40 and never lived. Friends that I keep in touch with back home went down that route and while their salaries are higher than mine, they never seem to have any money after taxes, high London rent costs, commuting and so on.

My reason for moving to Thailand was to have a higher spending power and better quality of life even on lower wages, and I’m glad I did. I got the idea from reading online gaming forums, there was a travel section with an ‘Ask us about Thailand’ thread.

I saw guys my age posting pics of their apartments, really nice rooms for $300 a month, and their hot Thai girlfriends that weren’t 200lbs or stuck up bitches. So I booked a flight.

 So what do you do currently in Thailand?

On the same gaming forums I noticed a job ad asking for freelance poker writers. When I was at uni circa 2005 online poker was in its boom, so I spent most of my uni years playing that, and knew a lot about it. There is always demand online for content writers if you actually know your stuff, as unique content ranks well.

I started out freelance (paid per word or per article) and after a while asked them if I could take on more hours for a full time salary, they said yes, and then I got that increased later on. Currently I earn $1,800 / month for 30 hours a week, although I work at home with no set hours so if I get projects done quickly, I have a lot of free time.

That’s four times the average salary in Thailand, and I live in a 26th floor condo with a gym, sauna, tennis courts, squash, pool, and ten quid sushi buffet downstairs so in terms of life quality that $1,800 is worth more than it sounds like.

The company I work for is basically an affiliate marketing company, they run six affiliate site – for online poker (www.rakeback.com and www.pokerbonus.com), Forex trading (www.fxbrokersearch.com), fantasy sports betting (www.realfantasyfootball.com), casino gaming (www.findcasinobonus.com) and binary options trading (http://binarybrokersearch.com/). I ended up writing for all of them in my current position as the senior content manager.

What visa are you on?

I alternate between student visas (non immigrant Education visa is the technical name) and tourist visas. Student visas allow for a longer stay and come with Thai lessons, tourist visas you have to fly out and in every 90 days for, but sometimes it’s pretty fun to mix thing up and check out the Philippines, Vietnam, Jakarta, Laos or Cambodia, especially the last two for easy access to “bananas”.

How do you pay your taxes? 

UK citizens aren’t required to pay taxes in the UK if they’re not living there. As for Thailand you’re classed as a tax resident if you say over 180 days – however they are only required to pay taxes on income you remit in the year it’s earned. It’s possible to earn as much as you want working online here and simply not remit it, as legal tax avoidance. Which is great as in the words of Ron Paul, income tax is theft.

Besides that Thailand isn’t providing my source of income, in fact its restricts foreigners from any job categories that can otherwise be performed by a Thai, there is no government benefits system here, no free healthcare, no voting rights, no ability to own land or houses, you can’t own a controlling share of a business, or own a condo unless a certain percentage of the building is occupied by Thais.

There’s also no automatic path to citizenship, permanent residency and a passport, unlike in Western countries. Even those married to a Thai with children have to report to their nearest immigration every 90 days. We’re essentially long-term tourists, never really ‘living’ here in the sense of being accommodated for, so if there’s a legal easy way to avoid paying taxes on income that I earn offshore, I’ll take it.

Do you feel safe working online in Thailand without a work permit? Do you think you’re doing anything wrong?

I interpret the alien labor act to refer to work that actually has a presence in Thailand, and takes jobs from Thais. Online work doesn’t do that, my company doesn’t sell anything to Thai customers. I’m not paid in Thai Baht by any employer here.

Actually when you apply for several student visas they ask for proof of income from outside Thailand to show that you’re not working IN Thailand. Also if you look at the list of what Thailand defines as persona non grata (Google Thai immigration blacklist), on that list are:

  • Those who have no appropriate means of earning a living once they have entered the Kingdom.
  • Those who, having entered the Kingdom to take up employment as laborers or practice other forms of manual work that require no special skill or training, or who violate the Alien Employment Act.

What I draw from this is there’s nothing wrong with having some form of online or passive income (e.g. a blog, adsense site, rent from properties back home, interest from investments etc.) while in Thailand, as long as you’re not doing something manual that could take away jobs from the locals (like being a real estate broker or tour guide without a permit).

A lot of expats will tell you ‘any work is illegal without a permit’ but you have to look at the motivations of these people. Often they’re peddling some kind of Business visa services, or shilling for some BOI company. That or they don’t like the idea of young people moving to Thailand in droves and working in the cloud, something they don’t understand.

Either that or they’re believing what they read on forums, mostly populated by the above two types of people. So it’s hard to find accurate info – but if you dig deep you’ll find reports from people who straight up told immigration they have an online business. When asked if they sell to Thai customers, they said no and were told ‘ok no problem for you’.

There have also been recent statement by Chiang Mai immigration that working online is legal, the only issue is finding an appropriate long stay visa. For the time being there’s no official limit on back to back student or tourist visas, although some consulates are more friendly than others. Everyone mostly uses the Vientiane, Laos consulate as they’re the most welcoming.

What does your average day consist of?

I wake up whenever I want, no alarm, which I love. Then head to the gym which is 50p a time, around say 10am, if I go a bit earlier I see people in suits leaving the building to go to work, and am reminded how fortunate I am to not have to wear a tie and go to an office to prostitute myself for a boss.

After the gym I’ll hit a buffet, these range from a £5-£10 for unlimited BBQ meats, hot pot, sushi, or western places like Sizzler and some pizza joints have buffets too. I like to eat one or two big meals a day to free up more time for other things, and as an intermittent fasting kind of thing.

Then I work from my bed, writing some stuff on one screen while watching The Walking Dead or reading some forums on another monitor. I’m pretty active on Thailand forums trolling older guys who seem to be furious at digital nomads for staying in Thailand. Probably because in their day everyone left school to get a trade and then worked their fingers to the bone until retirement age before even considering moving abroad. So they feel they’ve ‘paid their dues’.

Having no boss I can be on my phone talking to Thai girls on Line or Whatsapp whenever I want. In the evenings I’ll go on dates or get a massage. Going to the cinema here is just a few quid.

How much do you spend per month?

I average about $1100 – $1400. Around $330 on rent and all bills, $300 on food, and the rest on ‘entertainment’.

Why have you decided to stay in Thailand for so long?

Thailand (in particular Bangkok) has the best overall mix for quality of living and living costs. There are places that are a bit cheaper but have less stuff to do (e.g. Cambodia) and places that are better for some aspects like easier visas and a more vibrant culture but are more expensive. (e.g. Philippines).

Overall for the moment Thailand ticks all the boxes. Some people don’t like jumping through hoops with visas so choose Vietnam or Laos. I like those countries but I haven’t been able to find an apartment of the same quality, for the same price. I also love Bangkok taxis, just pocket change to go anywhere safely in an air conditioned vehicle with a meter – without needing a motorbike or have to negotiate a flat fare with a tuktuk driver.

What would be your advice be to anything wanting to become a digital nomad in Thailand?

When you Google working online a lot of the first results are scams, blogs I follow that are actually legit are smartpassiveincome, nichepursuits, and makemoneyontheinternet, by Pat Flynn, Spencer Haws, and Chris Guthrie, they have podcasts too. That will get you started with learning about blogging, affiliate marketing, niche sites, Amazon, all that kind of stuff.

Then find something you’re passionate about that actually makes the internet a better place, and that you can consistently produce good, unique, relevant content about, in a niche that you can rank for.
For Thailand specifically, don’t worry about moody expats telling you you can’t work online, or to ‘get a proper job’. The best communities of young entrepreneurs are in Chiang Mai and Bangkok, there’s an active Facebook group for Chiang Mai ones. Although I find that city pretty boring after a year or so, it’s useful to network with those kind of people as that pushes you forward too.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I’d like to be working for the same company but on the side have more passive income sources, like a Thailand themed blog, podcast or some kind of content / affiliate site. Or set up a site to help digital nomads. I’m pretty lazy to do that but for the time being do spend a bit of time answering questions on forums and in Facebook groups.

For other interviews, check my article about a poker player living in Thailand, or two school teachers living in Bangkok.

23 thoughts on “Q & A with a Digital Nomad living in Bangkok

  1. hippievegan
    15 November, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    The thai authorities aren’t concerned with expats tinkering away on websites, they’re not hurting anybody. There’ve been zero arrests of digital nomads, even when immigration rounded up foreigners at Punspace in Chiang Mai (they thought the foreigners were working FOR the coworking space, when they realised they weren’t, they let everyone go). It would be madness for a country to prohibit remote telecommuting that results in a net inflow of cash to their economy.

  2. Marc
    16 November, 2014 at 5:20 am

    Do you have any insurance in Thailand as it’s hard to find if you live overseas for a long time? I find it all too hard to make money online and have fell for a few MLM schemes. Reading stuff like this really motivates me to leave my boring job and try something new, maybe even teach.

    1. digitalnomad
      17 November, 2014 at 10:25 pm

      I don’t have any. Not that I recommend this to others, but I don’t believe in insurance, the companies often find a way not to pay on a technicality. For example they often don’t cover the #1 risk, riding on a motorbike (but I avoid that as in Bangkok taxis are so cheap and widely available). Also policies are void if the country is under martial law which Thailand has been under for months now and apparently may be for many months to come. Also they factor in costs for stuff like helicopter extraction from remote jungles into the premiums. I barely even leave my room, I’m not a hiking type, I don’t swim in the sea either, my condo pool is massive. Even has a whale in it – http://imgur.com/a/cAzS4

      I’ve heard worldnomads insurance is quite cheap though and Harvie looked into that so maybe he can comment more.

      1. 18 November, 2014 at 4:08 am

        the only two I found were digital nomads and WideWideInsure who will insure you as a digital nomad. They are not too expensive either but as ‘Digital Nomad’ said, they most likely will not offer insurance for a country that is under martial law.

  3. HMRC
    16 November, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    There is no such thing as tax avoidance by being non resident, you have to pay tax somewhere, HMRC would be down on you like a tonne of bricks, and I have forwarded on your details to them.

    1. 16 November, 2014 at 4:53 pm

      uw0tm8?

    2. Libertarian
      17 November, 2014 at 3:32 am

      See the wikipedia for ‘tax avoidance’ or ‘perpetual traveller’

  4. Pascal
    18 November, 2014 at 5:47 am

    any 24/7 co working spaces in lad prao?

    I find it hard to get anything done in my room, usually just end up taking a nap instead of working

    1. 18 November, 2014 at 7:02 am

      lol co-working space. Next you’ll be asking us how to live as a vegan in Bangkok and information about crossfit gyms.

      1. Pascal
        18 November, 2014 at 9:01 am

        lol figured your blog was going downhill anyway since you started interviewing “digital nomads” 😛

    2. digitalnomad
      18 November, 2014 at 6:47 pm

      Not aware of any in Ladprao, think they’re only in central, expat orientated areas like sukhumvit / thonglor. e.g. hubbathailand, 63bangkok and thehive. There is 3g (4g now too) everywhere so if you can find a quiet cafe or coffee shop tethering your phone to your laptop and working there is an option. Or a library. Internet cafes are 15b/hour, some 24/7, hard to find one without mosquitoes and schoolkids playing world of warcraft tho’.

  5. Pascal
    18 November, 2014 at 5:49 am

    also how do you get your money?

    my clients pay to a bank account in my homecountry and that might be trouble later down the road. any advice?

    1. digitalnomad
      18 November, 2014 at 6:50 pm

      Skrill / Neteller / poker sites. Transfer from those to my Thai bank account.

  6. BKK
    18 November, 2014 at 9:36 am

    Is that apartment above 300$/month?
    It looks really good for that price. Can you tell me the name of that building

    1. digitalnomad
      18 November, 2014 at 7:05 pm

      Actually $260 before bills, I can read and write Thai and found a good deal on Prakard. But there are many nice places for $300 on year leases 30-40 mins from the centre of town (call that Asok BTS). Here’s a couple examples http://www.ipremium-srp.com/ , http://www.nonsiresidence.com/

  7. digitalnomad
    18 November, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    I have some internet haters trying to report me for breaking laws they think exist, so I won’t put too much info out there. Keep following Harvie’s blog maybe he’ll put up a full review of the place after I move out 🙂

  8. Pascal
    19 November, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    wow youre getting that place for about 8k a month?

    that seems like a pretty good deal… Im trolling prakard right now with google translate!

    I think I know the building and will probably be moving there at the end of the year, maybe we can meetup for a beer when Im there 😉

    1. digitalnomad
      21 November, 2014 at 10:50 pm

      Yeah, 8.5k. Agent was surprised, said it should be at least 10k but the last tenant ran out on the contract and left it dirty so the landlord lowered the price. Also it doesn’t have a balcony which Thais really value, but I don’t care about, clothes dry fine by an open window. Don’t want to be another farang statistic ‘falling’ from a balcony either. Couple months ago my year was up and the landlord offered to let me extend for another year at the same price, couldn’t turn that down so I’m still here. The max I’ve seen studios go for is 12k on noticeboards downstairs in English.

      1. Bangkok
        21 April, 2015 at 11:30 pm

        i dont get it

        you write review on poker stuff and get paid?

        1. 22 April, 2015 at 12:28 pm

          Yeah he does, he uses the same method I used in my new Work in Thailand eBook.

  9. 20 November, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Great interview guys. I’ve been in BKK for over a year and I’m finding it hard to network with like minded individuals. Meaning, young expats and entrepreneurs. Most people I run into are low life tourists. Here today, gone tomorrow. Maybe I should check out one of these “third places.”

    Great blog, just subbed. Keep it up!

  10. Tim
    28 January, 2016 at 2:24 am

    Good stuff!

    Right now I’m staying 3-4 months in Thailand every year. Then I go home again to work for next trip. I have one website up and running that I’m making some money of, and doing a second one now that I started 2-3 months ago. I have told myself that when I make about 500-600 dollar consistently over Internet, I will move to Thailand permanent.

    I did make some money on Fiverr too. But that work was just to repetitive and boring. (Did translation from English to Norwegian).

    Would love to come in contact with someone who can make a living with their websites.

  11. 11 November, 2016 at 12:41 am

    Great interesting stuff,
    Not to keen on Bangkok myself it seems very noisy and polluted and so busy, its interesting that digital nomads stay for such a long time in Bangkok. Keep up the good work.
    Dean

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