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The pros and cons

Chiang Rai is slap bang in the middle of Laos and Myanmar, which gives you the perfect opportunity to visit these countries for a weekend retreat. 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.

Over the past 10 years, Chiang Rai become a modern city of Northern Thai. A welcome addition to Chiang Rai is Central Plaza, a new multi-storey shopping complex offering all kinds of modern amenities. The supermarket now offers European food (albeit expensive) which until recently was unobtainable in Chiang Rai. All kinds of technology is now available; unfortunately though, 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 and though it is changing, the flights are limited. Normally you will have to fly to Bangkok or take a bus to Chiang Mai 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.

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Which part of Chiang Rai is recommended for living?

Chiang Rai is a very big province, driving from one district to another district can take up to 2-3 hours. For elders, it is best to live in, or close to, Chiang Rai city which is  convenient for everything such as restaurants, shopping and most importantly many options of hospitals and health services ,you don’t want to drive 2-3 hours to the city from a rural part of the province to visit a doctor if you are having a heart attack.

But now some districts have better facilities, big shopping centres are rising, better medical care from local hospitals. Chiang Khong is one district that is growing up and is one good option among other districts, this district is located about 1.5 hours away from Chiang Rai city (120 kilometre ), it is a district that has beautiful scenery along the  Mae Khong River and opposite is Lao PDR (Houay Xai) which is connected by the 4th Thai-Lao bridge. There is also a Tesco Lotus, a super market where you can buy many things without driving to Chiang Rai city.

Chiang Khong district hospital, known as “Chiang Khong Crown Prince Hospital” has a good standard of health care but might not have some specialist doctors.  They can do basic health care but if there is something more advanced than they can afford they just refer you to Chiangrai Provincial hospital. In last few years property trading in this district was very popular which means that buying land or any property 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 areas like the village away from town still has affordable prices.

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For foreigners who wish to retire in Thailand:

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 (we do not recommend this) 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. This is issued to applicants aged 50 years and over, with no criminal record in Thailand 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.7, copy of passport, two 4 x 6 cm photos, proof of financial sufficiency, and a B1900 application fee.

For applicants over 50 years old, proof of 800,000 baht in a Thai bank OR an income of not less than 65,000 baht per month 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.

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

If you’re married to a Thai, you need only 400,000 baht on deposit, or proof of income of at least B40,000/month. You’ll need a family photo, and your spouse along to sign documents. The bank account can not be in your spouse’s name.

Documents Required:

  • Passport with validity of not less than 18 months, with 2 copies of every page, visa, last entry stamp and the TM6 arrival/departure card.
  • copies of completed visa application form TM7.
  • 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 proof of income 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 (USA, UK and Australia no longer do this). 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).

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)

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. 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 15 days before or 7 days 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),  MaeSai Immigration’s phone is 053-731008 (or 053-731009).

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 4,000 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 let Retire In Chiang Rai help you to negotiate the terms.  In some residences you might even get a special discount because Thai people don’t want to stay in a house that previously had someone pass away they believe it to be haunted.

Leasing land should be done properly by a reliable lawyer. 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 people’s 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.  Retire In Chiang Rai can provide a person to negotiate, explain and oversee the work being done.

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Things that you should know when living in a Thai village

Many villages have an appointed head man that takes care of “village business” such as street lighting (bulbs) or pot holes etc. Electric bills are normally delivered to your door which can 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 loud speaker is to the property as these announcements can be as early as 6am. They are useless to anyone who doesn’t speak Thai and are normally just about local events and council issues.

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Communications

Getting a pay and go Sim Card for your phone or tablet is cheap and easy to do. 7/11 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 Baht, 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.

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.

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. 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 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.

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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.

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 might go down.

The mandatory liability insurance costs about 700 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.

Edited from an article by Dr. Manta


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