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Thai Expat’s Guide to Living in the UK

The Thai Expat’s Guide to Living in the UK

Transboundary migration and the movement of labour in search of better opportunities abroad is a common phenomenon in Thailand. According to the Overseas Employment Administration Division, more than 160,000 Thais leave for overseas employment each year. This guide breaks down what life is like for Thais living in in the UK, the working environment, and how to save and send money online to family and friends back in Thailand.

According to the 2011 UK census data, close to 40,000 Thais live in the United Kingdom. Over 90% live in England with concentrations in London, Manchester, and Bath. Some of the destinations to which Thais choose to emigrate include:

Once these people searching for a new life have secured jobs abroad, they regularly make remittances to their families and friends back home. In 2017, the Bank of Thailand records that diaspora inflows totalled 126 billion bahts.

Background

The United Kingdom is one of the most influential countries in the global economy and geopolitics. Its long and fascinating history, intriguing cultural landscape, and its beautiful architecture have always attracted scholars and immigrants from different parts of the world. 

Here’s a quick summary of different aspects of the UK to help Thais considering a move to the country, and those already there.

The political structure of the UK

The British political system has been forged over a long history stretching back hundreds of years. The UK is a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II having been head of state since 1952 (making her the longest-reigning monarch in the country’s history). 

What we know today as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is composed of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The origins of this union trace back to 1707 with the political union of England and Scotland, and the Act of Union of 1800 then furthering this union to include Ireland.

The British parliament is the UK’s law-making body and consists of two houses: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Elections are held every 5 years (or earlier) to determine which of the UK’s political parties has a majority in the House of Commons and can form a government, with the leader of that party becoming the Prime Minister with the consent of the ruling monarch.

Certain political powers in the UK are devolved to regional governments in each country of the union, but the main power resides in the UK parliament which sits in the Palace of Westminster in London.

The impact of Brexit

Driven by the need for collective bargaining power with other blocs and economic cooperation, the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in January 1973. The EEC was renamed to the European Community (EC), and later in 2009 had its institutions absorbed into the framework of the European Union (EU).

In June 2016, Britain voted to leave the EU – a move that has become known as Brexit. On 31st January 2020, Britain officially left the European Union. As a result, the United Kingdom has entered a ‘transition period’ until the end of 2020 to negotiate a new deal with the EU that will likely see the country leaving the customs union and single market for goods and services across the EU.

The impact of Brexit on Thailand’s economy may not be as much bearing in mind that the UK’s share of Thailand exports is only 1.5%. However, there may be a need for trade renegotiations with the EU and new agreements with the UK. Additionally, the UK’s immigration laws are likely to change as a result of Brexit, with extra restrictions likely to come into place.

The weather

Britain has a temperate climate with warm, wet summers and cool, wet winters. Temperatures typically oscillate between 6 degrees in winter to 32 degrees in summer. Winter, spring, summer, and autumn last three months each although you may experience some overlaps.

Coming from a tropical climate in Thailand, expatriates have to acclimatise – especially if relocating to towns and regions in the north of the UK where temperatures are lower.

Healthcare

The UK has a National Health Service (NHS) funded by taxes and National Insurance Contributions (NICs). The NHS provides healthcare free of charge to UK residents. As a working professional in the United Kingdom, you can access NHS services free of charge.

There is also private healthcare to give you more flexibility in the choice of health facility and access to niche and elective treatments. However, you will have to pay out of pocket or use private medical insurance to get treated at these facilities.

The British people

Britons are multicultural, friendly, and easy to embrace people from other cultures and ethnic extractions. Despite Britain being a class-structured society, interactions among people are largely informal. The British have a reputation for being reserved and possessing a ‘stiff upper lip’ when it comes to expressing emotion, and are also very proud of their unique sense of humour.

Culinary traditions are diverse blending the different cultures that make the United Kingdom. Expect foods such as fish and chips, Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding, and shepherds pie as standard in pubs and restaurants. 

In terms of language, the vast majority of the UK uses only English for communication. However, there are also certain local dialects across the country, including Welsh, Gaelic, Scots, Scottish Gaelic, and Irish. Accents and dialects vary (often quite greatly) between different towns and regions, which can be challenging for some expatriates.

Places to live

Depending on your personal preferences and where you can find work, you may find yourself living in England, Northern Ireland, Wales, or Scotland. Each country has a distinct profile.

England

With a population of 55.98 million, England covers an area of 130,395 km². It is the largest country in the UK accounting for over 50% of the entire region. There is no place in England that is more than 75 miles from the sea or that can’t be reached on a day’s journey from London by rail or road.

The top 5 cities in England where you’ll find Thai expatriates include:

  • London
  • Manchester
  • Birmingham
  • Bath
  • Liverpool

 

Scotland

Scotland is the northernmost country in the UK with an area measuring 80,077 km² – covering about a third of the United Kingdom. Its population is 5.454 million people, 482,000 of whom live in Edinburgh, the capital. Important landmarks include the Edinburgh Castle, Loch Ness, Holyrood (the Scottish parliament), and Loch Lomond.

Some of the best cities to live in Scotland include:

  • Edinburgh
  • Glasgow
  • Aberdeen
  • Dundee
  • Paisley

Wales

This is the westward extension of the UK. Only 3.136 million people live in this country whose size is 20,735 km². Cardiff is the administrative capital as well as the financial centre.

The dramatic coastlines, vast forests, and luscious valleys make Wales naturally attractive. Some of the biggest and best cities to live in Wales include:

  • Cardiff
  • Newport
  • Swansea
  • Wrexham
  • Barry

Northern Ireland

Sometimes referred to as Ulster, Northern Ireland officially separated from Ireland in the 1920s. With a population of more than 280,000, the nation’s capital in Belfast accounts for about 15% of the country’s population.

On 31st March 1909 in Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, the keel of the famous Titanic was laid down and construction work began. Two years later, in May 1911, the massive ship was launched. Other attractive sites here include the Giant’s Causeway, the Carrickfergus Castle, and the Old Bushmills Distillery.

The best places to live in Northern Ireland are:

  • Belfast
  • Ballycastle
  • Dundrum
  • Hillsborough
  • Holywood

Cost of living in the UK

Living costs in the United Kingdom vary from location to location, but are relatively lower than in other emigration options such as Switzerland, Hongkong, the Nordic countries, or Singapore. As is to be expected, living in big cities is more expensive than in towns in the outskirts, and living in London is by far the most expensive option. 

According to the Mercer Survey 2019, London was ranked the most expensive city in the United Kingdom and ranked 23rd globally. The components that drive up the cost of living here include food, housing, utilities, clothing and footwear, domestic supplies, transportation, personal care, and recreation, and entertainment.

The average home value in London stood at £467,000 in 2019 compared to an average of £230,000 across the UK Over the same period, the average for Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland stood at £164,000, £152,000, and £137,000, respectively. 

Thai expatriates moving to the United Kingdom must have a clear blueprint of the expected costs. In this way, they can plan themselves, their fund transfers and save on rates and fees

Working in the UK

The United Kingdom is the 6th largest economy in the world and the 3rd largest in Europe with a GDP of $2.74 trillion based on 2019 estimates. The unemployment rate is at 4% and the non-UK working population is about 3.5 million. Here’s some useful information for Thai nationals looking to find work in the UK.

Types of work available

Being a diverse and rich nation the United Kingdom has lots of opportunities for expatriates. On average, the annual salary is about £36,000. The National Minimum Wage for workers aged 25 years and above stood at £8.72 as of April 2020. Earning £70,000 per annum in the UK puts you in the top 5% of the earning population.

The most common jobs in the UK for expatriates include teaching, accounting, nursing, software engineering, architecture, UX designing, and product management.

Work permits needed

Coming from Thailand, you do not have the right to work in the UK not unless you obtain a visa and work permit.  While in Thailand, you need to apply for a visa from the British Embassy in Bangkok.

Once the visa has been approved, your employer in the UK can then apply for a work permit on your behalf. Most work visas require that you secure a job first before you can make the application. Here are the different types of work visas and permits to expect:

  • Innovator or startup visa: This visa is for people who want to run a business in the UK.
  • Tier 2 general visa: People with offers for skilled jobs earning at least £25,000 can apply for this visa. It is valid for 6 years.
  • Tier 2 intra-company transfer visa: Overseas employees of a UK based company invited to work in the United Kingdom should apply for this visa. Its validity varies from 6 months to 9 years.
  • Tier 2 sportsperson visa: Qualified coaches and elite sportspeople sponsored by their national sports governing bodies need this visa.
  • Tier 2 minister of religion visa: Valid for up to three years, this visa is for people intending to work for faith-based organisations in the United Kingdom.

Sending remittance payments back home

In 2017, remittances from the United Kingdom to Thailand amounted to $274 million. This places the country among the top 25 UK remittance recipients, and there are as such a variety of services to choose from when looking for the best way to transfer money from UK to Thailand to support family and friends back home.

Reasons you might want to send remittance payments

There are many reasons Thai expats send money home. Many of them leave their families in search of greener pastures and have to send them some money to get them going or even bring them over to the United Kingdom. Here are some of the reasons behind the remittances Thais make to their home country:

  • Family maintenance and savings
  • Medical expenses
  • Tuition fees and other educational expenses
  • Buying homes
  • Capital for business startups
  • Contributions for social causes
  • Investment in securities and other assets
  • Helping families with travel and relocation expenses

What to watch out for

When making remittances back to your family and friends in Thailand, you want to make sure you use a reliable transfer provider. By comparing your options you can find both the cheapest way to transfer money to thailand, while also ensuring the security of your funds. Here’s a list of things to look out for to avoid being scammed:

  • Platform security: The security of your funds is the topmost priority when making international transfers. The platform should have bank-grade security.
  • Exchange rate: How much your recipient will get in bahts when you exchange your pounds is important. High street banks can charge margins as high as 5% thereby reducing the amount your beneficiary gets. You can get far better rates by using online money transfer services.
  • Fees: Charges on international transfers can quickly add up, as on top of the exchange rate markup many providers will charge an additional flat fee. Look for a provider who charges minimal fees in order to make sure more of your money makes it home. 
  • Speed: How fast your funds get to your recipient can be an important consideration if your recipient needs funds quickly. However, if speed is not much of a priority you can go for the slowest but cheapest transfer method.
  • Payout option: When sending to Thailand check the payout options available. For instance, sending large amounts over £2,500, directly to a bank account is usually the best option, but if you’re sending smaller amounts, cash transfers can be more efficient.
  • Customer reviews: It is important to check what other customers are saying on sites such as Trustpilot before using a provider. Look for red flags such as unresponsive customer service, poor rates, delays in delivery, and other such comments.

The best services to use

You can send money to Thailand from the UK using either a bank or a specialist money transfer service. Often people choose to use their bank because they’re familiar with the service, unaware that banks are an extremely expensive way to send money abroad.

  • Money transfer services: Money transfer services save you money with low fees and a great exchange rate. For instance, you get two fee-free transfers when you sign up to Azimo, and low fees for all transfers thereafter. Sending £5000 to Thailand with Azimo will cost you just £0.99, which is up to 90% cheaper than banks and other providers. To learn more, read our review of Azimo.
  • Banks: You can use banks such as Barclays, HSBC and Nationwide to send money abroad. With fees of up to £40 per transfer and exchange rate margins of around 5%, this is rarely a good choice.

How to save money while living in the UK

Moving to the UK is not cheap and living expenses can quickly add up. To make savings and have more money to send home to friends and family, you need to explore various ways that will help you cut costs. Here’s a summary of ways you can save your money while living and working in the UK.

Share a house
Get a local bank account
Cut on your household bills
Minimise eating out
Plan your travel
Make a budget

Summary

Moving to the United Kingdom as a Thai expat can be one of the best decisions and most rewarding experiences of your life, but only if you consider your options and plan ahead. You will not just enjoy the beautiful scenery of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but you will also be part of one of the most progressive and vibrant economies in the world.

Opportunities to grow your career are plenty and unemployment levels are in the regions of 4%, one of the lowest in the world. Whether you are looking for teaching, nursing, accounting, information technology or managerial jobs, the UK job market will match your skills with the right openings. 

When you’ve had your visa and permits processed and have begun working, you should quickly think about the best ways to cut costs and save money. The money you put together abroad can help your family back home to cater to several needs and even save some for a rainy day. 

Using specialised money transfer services to send money home gives you a fast, secure and cheap way to transfer money across borders. For instance, Azimo offers excellent exchange rates and fees starting at £0.99, with instant or one-hour delivery to 80+ countries. It’s regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and uses the latest in anti-fraud and encryption technology.

Disclaimer:

MoneyTransfers.com has an active affiliate relationship with Azimo, and receive compensation when a user signs up at their service. This comparison & analysis has been made independently and the affiliate relationship with Azimo has not influenced the rankings of the services.

Jonathan Merry

Jonathan is the founder and editor of MoneyTransfers.com. Jonathan is highly experienced in the currency transfer market, having previously worked in the FX trading industry, alongside being an avid traveller. Using his knowledge he identified a need for transparency and further education to help people save money on their money transfers, leading to the creation of MoneyTransfers.com