Integrity Legal

21st Mar 2009

There you are, sitting in your cubicle, daydreaming about packing it all up and moving abroad. As an expat who has been living in Asia (Korea and Thailand) for nearly 2 years, I arrogantly believe that I can speak as an authority on living overseas. So here it goes…

Thail Alphabet

Thai Alphabet

Learn The Language: By the Numbers

Many people come to Asia and try to get by not knowing any of the local language (most people don’t believe me when I say this, but it’s true). When I lived in Incheon Korea, it was damn near impossible not to learn a great deal of Korean because Koreans (particularly outside of downtown Seoul) just don’t speak much English. The first few weeks I probably lost 5 pounds just because I couldn’t order food. Don’t make this mistake learn some of the local language before going to the country. A good tip: learn the numbers first. It is amazing how many transactions boil down to simply pointing at something and saying a number.

The fate of some unfortunate foreigners in Thailand

The fate of some unfortunate foreigners in Thailand

Be wary of some long time foreigners

This tip really applies more to Thailand than Korea. In Thailand there are a number of less-than-reputable expats living in the country. They are often short on funds and will use a newbie’s naiveté as a means of bilking some money out of him. Learn to ignore the line, “I’m just short right now, I’ll get you back tomorrow.”

Also, beware of anyone involved with drugs (usually this only applies to foreigners). Nearly all Asian governments despise drugs. Those Korean cops may look innocuous on the street patrolling what seems to be Mayberry, but when it comes to drugs, they don’t mess around. Right before I left Korea, a Canadian was caught with 1 marijuana plant. I believe he is still in jail and that was a year and a half ago.

Party Thai Style

Party Thai Style

Enjoy the Nightlife, but don’t let it suck you in

In Korea: its booze. In Thailand: its girls. The party seemingly never ends…until you wake up face down in a urinal at 5 am 50 mile away from your home with no money. When I was in Korea, I went out in downtown Seoul and woke up on the other end of the Peninsula, luckily I found myself ensconced with an attractive lady, so that dulled the pain of a 2 ½ hour train ride home, but just barely.

Partying with the Ladies of Bangkok

Partying with the Ladies of Bangkok


In Asia, if you are a Western guy:  Welcome to Paradise. If you are a Western Girl: Welcome to reevaluating what’s attractive

A girl I met in Korea said that when living as an expat she and most of her friends had come up with the “Korea Curve,” meaning that a guy who might have been a 6 on a scale of 10 back in the West, was suddenly catapulted to an 8 or even a 9 in Asia. Supply and demand also comes into play, a far larger supply of women are around for most men because they can choose from the locals as well as the female expats. Conversely, most (but not all) Western women are not particularly attracted to Asian men. From what I’ve heard from other expats, apparently Europe is a much more even playing field, if not more slanted toward the ladies, but this is conjecture on my part.

Thai buddhist temple

Thai Buddhist temple

Chill out and take it as it comes

You are a stranger in a strange land, don’t expect everything to be like it is at home. Some things about living overseas are great: good food, beautiful women, and likely a more laid back job. Meanwhile, some things about living overseas can make you crazy. In Thailand, simply walking down the street can be like pulling teeth. The Thais are so relaxed that walking isn’t the correct word for the way in which they traverse the sidewalk, meander is a more correct description. As a westerner accustomed to walking for the purpose of getting somewhere, the insanity that can arise from walking behind a slow moving Thai can be agonizing. Learn to take a deep breath and realize: the reason you moved here was to get away from a hurried lifestyle.

I would encourage anyone thinking of becoming an expat to do it, but know this: it will not always be paradise. Luckily, for the adventurous it can be the experience of a lifetime.

5 Responses to “5 Things Every Wannabe Expat Ought to Know”

  1. lee chappell says:

    Great blog Ben and so accurate, can you add a section on “the way of the Thai” that if you ask for something you have to be specific as to when you want it, in the west you can tell your staff I need this file and 5 mins later hey presto, but here, OMG, ask the same request and 5 days later you finally receive requested item, oh the joys :)

  2. Graeme Eaton says:

    Five good tips,but lets expand a bit. Learning the language by numbers is good but if you’ve invested in a thai-english book, throw it away and buy a pencil and paper and write down what you want to learn in a way you understand.Don’t be dissapointed if your misunderstood,the most popular phrase between thais is “what did you say?”
    Some long time expats are here because they can’t go home.Give them a wide berth or at least don’t get sucked in.
    Sex,drugs and rock and roll.Been there,done that(not into drugs but was on the way to alcoholism)Suddenly realized you don’t need to be pissed to have a good time and chase girls.It also helps when the best looking girl in the room is actually a boy.
    On the subject of girls,not every girl is available and a lot that are, are only interested in the bulge in your back pocket.Some also have husbands.
    Too many people seem to expect to be able to get the same things as they did back home.Remember this is a different culture,different ways of doing things,different priorities and loyalties,you can’t change them,YOU have to compromise but don’t go over the edge.Don’t ever forget where and who you are. Also remember not all thais are bad and not all farange are good
    If all else fails, you can always go home!!!
    I apoligise if my comments offend any one.
    Graeme Eaton.
    Stem to sterN Marine Engineering,

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