Written by an Expat who returned to the UK
As an Expat it is not uncommon to question if you have made the right decision and for many of us we do consider a move back ‘home’. I have blogged and vlogged on this topic numerous times before, and one such post was picked up by a reader who emailed me their own dilemma. In the end they opted to move back to the UK after living in Thailand for 20 years. This is their story.
“I just watched your video blog with great interest. The dilemma of whether to continue to live in Thailand or return to the UK is one I struggled with also.
I first went to Pattaya in 1990, following a messy divorce in the UK. I needed that escape to see new territory and face new challenges. I contacted a large Thai public company. I told them I wanted to come and work for them, and I was shocked when they offered me a senior management position. I sold up everything I had in the UK, and two months later, I was in Thailand. I lived in Bangkok, and my job was exciting and well paid; I had a PA and 370 staff, a company car and a driver. The company took care of everything, work permits, visas, insurance, bank accounts. It was all relatively painless. The only place near my office where I could get an English breakfast was Khao San Road. It was amusing when my chauffeur would park up in the middle of the street, open my door, me stepping out, donning my smart black suit and silk tie, carrying my briefcase, into the heat, the noise and the smells, and sitting down on a plastic chair amongst all the backpackers and tourists. I’d order my eggs and bacon while my chauffeur waited patiently for me in the car with the hazard warning lights on. He had made an arrangement with the chief of local police that allowed us to get away with traffic offences and general mishaps. We once did an illegal U-turn, were flagged down and stopped by a traffic cop. My driver flashed the Police Chiefs personal signed business card, at which point the policeman stood to attention, saluted and waved us along, all for a bottle of Black label Johnny Walker now and then. My job required me to travel all over Thailand and South East Asia, but I found it hard to adapt to the Thai management culture, especially the politics. It ended on my terms when I wouldn’t take a bribe. My divorce had cleaned me out, so I didn’t have much money when I arrived in Thailand. I always had to work, which was a good thing. I enjoyed the routine and discipline of everyday life but still had access to the madness whenever I wanted.
In 1996 I moved to Pattaya, where I started my own business. In those days, it took many hours to drive between Bangkok and Pattaya, they began construction of the elevated section of the Bang Na Trat highway around 1996, but it took a few years to complete. Pattaya was like the Wild West back then, and that’s what made it special. It was remote and very different from Bangkok. I’d never tell my Thai colleagues in Bangkok that I’d been to Pattaya for a weekend; they would have frowned on that, a place they would never go.
When I searched for my Pattaya residence, I was offered condo units with six-month free rent in empty buildings walking distance from the beach. Most streets didn’t even have names or numbers; how we ended up with street names like, Soi Diana, Soi Yamato and Soi Post Office. Friendship Supermarket was the only proper large shop and we had the old Mike’s department store, which was a market. Farm House white bread and processed cheese slices and ham were about, and if you were lucky, you might find HP sauce. If you wanted to buy a car, you had to go to Bangkok. It was an exciting time when an expat with money could do pretty much anything.
By 2000 my business had grown, and I was in Bangkok again. I had a 28th-floor office in a city center tower and employed 150 people. Once again, Bangkok for me became like a pressure cooker, and I missed the freedom that I had discovered in Pattaya, so after a few years, I sold the shares in my company and returned to my serine beach house. I was lucky to have made some decent money, so for a few years, I didn’t do much, a few property deals, and I did some construction, I travelled around southeast Asia, I spent time in Bali. I even set up a couple of successful restaurants and sold them. Eventually in 2006, I was bored and eager to start a new business in Pattaya. By this time I was married to my Thai wife and we had a daughter, life was fantastic, by 2012, I had 80 staff again, I even had another office in Bangkok, we were making a good income. I’d always planned to retire before I reached 60, I worked really hard and managed to build a retirement fund.
I love Thailand, it shaped me as a person in so many good ways, I had a deep and meaningful experience with a monk in a Thai temple in 1993, that changed my whole outlook on life.
I have so many wonderful memories, not just the thrills of traveling, but building my businesses, meeting my wife and raising our daughter, but I saw a decline in quality of life about 2010, attitudes had changed so much for the worse. The Thai authorities were becoming increasingly pedantic and inflexible, even deliberately obstructive, it was so annoying compared to what I had experienced previously, which made it all far less exciting. Prices for everything just went through the roof, as the disparity with the UK evaporated. I realised, that for me, the sparkle had gone, it was a grind, and I missed my family in England even though they often came to visit on holiday.
In all that time I saw so many changes to Thailand, the culture, the politics, the people, and I’ve been partly responsible for the transformation there also. It’s inevitable things change, places change.
When I returned to England in 2016, it was a real shock, how different it was from the England I left so many years before, in some ways it was so much better, in other ways so much worse
It was a big decision leaving our beautiful home near the beach and restarting in England. Especially hard was extraditing my daughter from her Thai education and into a UK system. We sent her a year earlier, luckily she has a British passport, and was able to live with my son in England until we arrived, but in order to claim student loans for University, she needed to have been living permanently in UK two years first. So if you plan to do it, there’s quiet a lot to consider especially where the kids are involved, the younger the better I’d say.
It took a while to sell off all the businesses and liquidate assets. I still keep one of my businesses going there, with four of my former full time staff now working freelance from home. We kept our house there and it’s rented out, but selling the condos during the downturn was a real ball ache especially from the UK.
I retired in 2017 on my 60th birthday as planned, we got a house in England, it was in the city, it was a monumental task to get settled and surprisingly expensive, we needed cars, complete wardrobes, we had to furnish the entire house, plus we had several trips back and forth, flights, visa applications, sorting out properties, visiting family and so on, when we visited Thailand last time it was for 8 weeks, we needed to rent a hire car and use hotels for the entire time so it wasn’t cheap.
There’s a lot less money sloshing around now as I’m living on retirement investments. We still have some income from Thailand, but we now have to be very careful and watch every penny. We’ve since moved from the city to a modest 2 bed bungalow in a small village, I’m sat in my garden in the middle of the countryside, it’s a gorgeous summers day, my wife’s gardening, all I can hear is birdsong and our chickens. My life is relaxed, I answer a few emails in the morning, then we can stay home or go out, what ever we want to do. I have a nice Mercedes, and my wife has a BMW, and I’ve invested in a classic car which I keep in my garage. My family are all within 40 miles of us. I’ve also had three major eye operations on the NHS, my wife is in the NHS, and on track to get her residency, there’s no pressure what’s so ever now, and we’re free to do what ever we want subject to C19?
Do I regret moving back? Absolutely not.
The biggest surprise to me was, how much I love having four seasons, my memories of cold English winters were far worst than the reality, just dress appropriately and it’s actually a beautiful time of year. The only draw back is my wife misses her family, She’s a realist and understands the situation and hopefully it will be rectified once this pandemic recedes. My daughter is having the time of her life, having done two years at college she’s about to graduate from De Montfort University, she plans to go on to do her Masters degree, after which, she’ll have the benefit of a good British university degree, plus her English is perfect now, with her dual nationality she has a choice in the future, of where she wants to live and what she wants to do.
So I just wanted to let you know, that I’ve been through where you are now, I understand what a difficult decision it is to make, the difference being our respective ages, my advice is, to be decisive one way or the other, you’re skilled and experienced, and will either succeed where you are, or you’ll restart here. Both of my sons came back from Thailand and now each run their own businesses.
Anyway, as you can see I have too much time on my hands, but your video moved me so I felt compelled to write to you.
Wishing you the best mate…Anon.”