What expatriation is like in the beginning

The First 100 Days As An Expat

4 months ago, I did the unthinkable.

I quit my job.

I bought a one way plane ticket to the other side of the world for an open-ended vacation.

And yet, I have been busier than ever.

All my blog posts preceding this one were pre-written content I prepared before embarking on my journey. So I had not written for four months, and it’s time I wrote something here.

I share about my first 100 days, or a little over three months, as an expat.

Month 1: The Honeymoon

Expat Honeymoon Period

Upon coming to Thailand, I embarked on a honeymoon with the country. Everything seemed fascinating and new. The novelty was at an all time high. I already had some friends on the ground, and I started hanging out with them every weekend.

The locals were always smiling and friendly. Easy to talk to, despite the language barrier. I was walking around the city with a spring in my step, proud of what I had done.

I escaped the monotony of life back home. I was free. Freedom had never tasted so good. Short of being able to grow wings and fly like a bird, I felt like I could do anything.

I tackled my travel bug head on. I went to Hua Hin, Pattaya, Ko Samet, and Chiang Mai within Thailand. I used Bangkok as my home base for my international travels and border runs: Vietnam, Cambodia, and Philippines.

I started dating multiple women. Beautiful women that wouldn’t give me the time of day back in the U.S. Many were all too happy to teach me Thai (and I teach them English) while relaxing in a park or in my air-conditioned room.

My palette also expanded its horizons. I explored the food smorgasbord of Thai food at huge night markets in Bangkok. I’ve eaten beef liver, chicken feet, pig heart, frog legs, octopus, squid, and God knows what else. And to think, I refused to eat shrimp before I left the U.S.

Month 2: Renting a New Apartment

Best Condos for Expats

For the first month, I used AirBnB for temporary living arrangements while I hunted for an apartment. In Bangkok, it was easy to find a great place for a reasonable monthly rent. Because they overbuilt condos and apartments, it was a buyers and renters market with plenty of vacancies.

Of course, the real estate agents would never tell you this. They put on a tough front and act like you have limited options, that you have no choice but to pay their asking price.

But as soon as you tell them you are exploring other plentiful options, their facade dissolves like a sugar cube in boiling hot water. They come crawling back with 10 phone calls a day trying to cut you a deal, often coming down by 10-20% in price for an “upgrade” room and throwing in other perks.

I think they put on a brave face to prevent a systematic downward spiral in rental prices. How long this keeps up, though — who knows?

I ended up getting sweet deal on an apartment equipped with amenities like a gym, laundromat, barber, a swimming pool large enough to do laps, a 7-11 with an ATM, and a couple of cafes.

Month 3: Opening a Thai Bank Account

Banking for expats

After getting my apartment set up with electricity, water, and Internet, I discovered that I had to pay my bills by either going to a bank’s branch or through a 7-11. The process was time consuming and cumbersome, so I decided there had to be a better way.

It wasn’t until I came back from a side trip to Vietnam, when my electricity got cut off because I missed the due date on my electricity bill.

I had been gone for two weeks, and the bill arrived two days after I left. The due date on the bill was one day before I returned home.

I quickly paid the overdue bill and called them to turn the electricity back on. Usually back in the U.S. there’s some kind of grace period between your bill’s due date and when they cut off your electricity. But in Thailand, they cut it off one day after you miss a payment.

Once they turned my electricity back on (they responded very quickly, thank goodness), I decided to open a Thai bank account. I had heard from another expat that I could pay bills through the banking app without ever leaving home.

So I went to the bank and asked if I could open an account. They gave me a list of items to bring for my appointment:

  • Apartment rental lease agreement
  • Passport that contains my Thai visa
  • 10,000 baht cash for deposit
  • Another 500 baht for an ATM card

After taking a number and waiting for two hours, they finally called me up. We played 20 questions about me, myself, and my personal information. Maybe they wanted to make me sweat a little, but more likely it was because they are beholden to the IRS’s FATCA law.

Once set up with a bank account, I started paying my bills and rent through the banking app on my iPhone. I was very impressed. Very fast, modern, and first world.

I could even “top off” my 4G data plan!

Reality Sets In

Reality of expatriation

It was around the third or fourth month when the novelty wore off and reality began to set in. I started missing a few things about America.

I missed friends and family. I missed eating cheese. I missed the four seasons back home.

July through October was the rainy season in Southeast Asia, and boy did it rain. Streets sometimes get flooded to the point where you’d need boats instead of cars to get anywhere. Sometimes I would get excited for a date with a particularly pretty girl, or a night on the town with the guys, and it would get cancelled because of the rain.

As I familiarized myself with currency exchange rates, the foreign currency no longer felt like “play money” on a vacation. It became all too real; the need and urgency to earn a sufficient and stable income. So I put my nose to the grind to grow my business and make more money. Sometimes that meant forgoing nights out, and staying home while other expats were partying until the wee hours.

Minor annoyances and pet peeves about the foreign culture creeped up on me until I could not ignore them.

Southeast Asians tend to walk very slowly… at a snail’s pace. Groups sometimes take up the entire sidewalk, preventing me from passing them. It was particularly infuriating when I was carrying bags of groceries or when I needed to get somewhere quick.

Motorcycles sometimes jumped the sidewalk whenever there were too much street traffic. In both directions! I had to keep my head on a constant swivel to avoid getting hit by motorbikes, especially in Vietnam.

Even when ordering in restaurants or dealing with bank tellers, there were all these little cultural differences — or annoyances — that added extra stress to the interaction.

Exciting Future Travel Plans

After my trips to Vietnam and the Philippines, and my mother’s visit in Thailand, I will plan a one-month itinerary through Northern Thailand. More on this in my next post!

 

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