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.

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