Life in Thailand: A Guide to Survival!

Before Joanne Hart went to teach abroad in Thailand, she spent 14 years lecturing and teaching Psychology at home in the UK. In her words, “I gave my life to my job and I missed out on those care free years during your 20s when people go find themselves and travel the world.”

She had lived and worked briefly in Mexico before starting her career, but life took her down a different path and left her with an itch she couldn’t scratch. After some major life events occurred, she decided that the time was right to make her dream a reality, to scratch that itch and to stop creating reasons why I couldn’t

Of course it wasn’t without it’s challenges, and she admits there have been times when she has struggled, but she ultimately loves her life in Thailand. Read on for her survival tips to help you achieve the same dream.

I moved from the UK to teach English in Thailand almost five months ago now. I love my job, I love the people and I love my life but living here has proven to be challenging at times. There are a few things that I wish I’d realized before I came which would have perhaps made the transition a little more comfortable. So here are my top tips for survival!

1) Pack Smart

teach abroad in Thailand
Joanne (middle) with her coworkers in Thailand.

Don’t listen to anyone who says that you can buy everything when you get here. That may be true if you are going to be living in Bangkok but it is not true for those of us living in Northern Thailand. For example I managed to destroy a week’s worth of pants (underwear to you non Brits!) and it was a mission trying to replace them. Although there were hundreds of pairs on sale at the market none of them were made from cotton. Cotton is like gold dust here. I found some eventually but I had to go to the mall and spent a small fortune. So bring a decent supply of underwear with you, especially if you are any larger than a UK size 10 or have a cup size bigger than a 34B.

Not sure if Thailand is right for you? Download our free Country Comparison Chart!

Download now

Compare salaries, cost of living, benefits, contract length and more for 60 of the most popular countries to teach English abroad.

how to teach english abroad

I had the same problem when trying to buy work shirts. Everything is made from polyester or viscose. Trust me when it hits 35 degrees outside and humidity levels are obscenely high you will want to rip the polyester/viscose mix from your body. It will stick to you like an extra skin and make you sweat like you never knew possible. Yet this is the material of choice for most clothing sold on the markets here! Go figure! Make sure you buy short sleeved cotton shirts/blouses before you come and make sure they do actually have sleeves. This is because you have to cover your arms at work. I didn’t know about this before I came and I haven’t been able to wear any of the smart work clothes I brought with me a) because they have no sleeves b) because most of it is made from polyester/viscose and c) because most of the outfits sit above my knees and not below!

2) Bring an external hard drive

My next top tip for survival is to buy an external hard drive before you come and fill it full of your favourite movies, TV shows, music videos and music. You can’t rely on having internet that works in your apartment. So for those evenings when the apocalyptic storms descend and those days when it is too hot to step outside, you have some form of entertainment. Get a Kindle too and fill it full of books. I would also download an App to your phone like Thai Lite which will help you with basic communication. It speaks for you when you press the button and has actually been pretty helpful as my Thai is shockingly bad!

3) Just let it go!

teach abroad in Thailand
Joanne with one of her students in Thailand.

Let that insanely irritating song from that equally as irritating film “Frozen” become your Mantra. Yes guys “Let it Go!” Things happen here that will frustrate you and drive you crazy but you just have to let it go! For example Thai people spend an inordinate amount of time on their phones scrolling through Facebook, taking pictures of you, taking pictures of the children, taking selfies, uploading all these images onto social media and taking phone calls. All while you are teaching or whilst they are supposed to be teaching! There will also be times where things happen and you’re not told about it or if you are it’s at the last possible moment and your told in Thai! In fact there are many things that could drive you crazy if you let them but life is too short! As soon as one of the children smiles a beaming smile at you, tells you that they love you or a random person tells you that you are beautiful, you’ll forget about it anyway!

Follow Joanne’s teaching tales on Facebook at Tales From Thailand.