Expatriate Entrepreneur on Living and Working in Bangkok for a Decade

A sense of humor, a good head for business, and an appreciation of learning and travel are some of the things that German-born Karsten brought with him to Thailand in 2006. Read his interview for tips on moving to Bangkok, observing (or not) the local customs, and the cost of living in the Land of Smiles.

Karsten Aichholz

-Where were you born?

My dad is German, my mom is British, they met in Canada. It could have been such an international upbringing. But alas, I was born in a small town in rural Germany and that's where I spent the first two decades of my life.

-In which country and city are you living now?

Right now I call Bangkok, Thailand my home. It took my a long time to stop calling it my 'temporary' home. In fact, it probably took me about 9 years to admit that I might be here for good. Couldn't help but insert the 'might' though. Old habits die hard.

-Are you living alone or with your family?

I'm currently living alone, which saves me a lot of schooling and a little bit of renting expenses.

-How long have you been living in Bangkok?

I first moved to Bangkok in 2006. My first trip there was a weekend trip. Little did I know that it would become my home only two months later. I would have bought a lot fewer fake t-shirts otherwise.

-What is your age?

I'm 34 years old, though people have guessed me to be that age ever since I started growing a beard. 

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Thailand?

Together with a business partner I started a company in Germany in 2004. A short time into the business it occurred to us that Germany wasn't the best base of operations if we were going to serve customers abroad. Since my business partner had completed an internship in Bangkok, we looked into the possibility of moving here. Thailand's Board of Investment convinced us that it was a good idea. Once that turned out to be feasible, we packed our plastic suitcases and made the leap. 

-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?

As a company that received a Board of Investment promotion, the process was a lot smoother and easier than otherwise. Of course that required us going through the whole promotion process which isn't really an option for most people moving here.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

In short, I got a Germany-based temporary insurance before moving here and later on switched to regional plan. I've actually detailed my experiences getting health insurance in a manner not untypical for a German expatriate here: https://www.karstenaichholz.com/health/thailand-health-insurance/ 

-How do you make your living in Bangkok? Do you have any type of income generated?

I run my own company, so that's a bit different. Back in high school I used to be quite addicted to an online game. Instead of dropping out of school to play more games, I decided to go to business school and then combine the business and the gaming know-how to start my own company in the online games space. This way I turned what would otherwise been thousands of wasted hours into thousands of market research hours. Most of them were probably still wasted, but at least it made for a better narrative and ended up making launching the business a whole lot easier.

-Do you speak Thai and do you think it's important to speak the local language? Please add your thoughts on local customs and whether it's important for expats to respect/observe local customs.

I speak, read, and write Thai. Not to the point that I would expect myself after 10 years, but I don't feel significantly impaired in things I'd genuinely like to do. It does help with some work things, but in general Google Translate and the English-speaking skills of people in Bangkok are sufficient that it isn't absolutely necessary. It does, however, improve the quality of your social life a whole lot.

As for local customs, that's a good question. Some 'customs' are in fact laws and I recommend strongly you adhere to those. In general, respecting and observing local customs will make your life a whole lot easier. Over time you'll get a good idea of which ones are important, which ones you'll get away with skipping and which ones you specifically don't want to follow because they conflict with your own values. I wouldn't presume to tell people though which ones fit which category.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes? Describe your favorite recreational activities there or those that are available.

I do miss my family and friends, but am also lucky in having found a lot of new friends in Bangkok. The huge expat community makes this rather easy. Back home I love to go for long runs in the forests on a cold winter's day. That's something I've found a bit harder to replicate in Bangkok. However, there are alternatives that offer things I don't have in Germany - 24-hour gyms being one of my favourite examples.

-Do you have other plans for the future?

Right now I'm traveling through some of the lesser visited provinces of Thailand - Chachoengsao and Sa Kaeo. I always like to see what life looks like off-the-beaten path. I'm also working hard on a blog that aims to share advice with other expats and make life easier for them when moving to Bangkok.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

I'm living in a 63sqm apartment that's a 10 minute walk from my office and a 15 minute walk from the next subway station. Including administration fees I'm paying THB 12,000 / month for the one bedroom places that officially incudes a common area with a swimming pool, sauna and gym.

-What is the cost of living in Bangkok?

I'm glad you asked. I logged every single expense in app over the course of six months to find out how much I spend every month. The answer? USD 2084.12. A full break-down is available here: https://www.karstenaichholz.com/money/cost-of-living-in-bangkok/ 

-What do you think about the Thai people? 

They are as diverse as anywhere else. I sometimes receive a bit more attention due to looking a bit out of place, but it's usually the positive kind. In my experience, Thais are very welcoming to foreigners. In a way, that makes the charm of the place: People not only come and visit once, but often they find themselves coming back and back again, simply because they had such a great experience last time around. I feel a lot of tourist destinations could learn from this. 

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Thailand?

Negative: There's no cold weather. Positive: There's no cold weather. On a more serious note, I enjoy that Bangkok offers all the nice things you're used to back home. I wish traffic were not quite as bad though - it means you really have to plan your life around it if you don't want to spend three hours in a car every day.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Thailand?

Find a job in the tech industry, it's really taking off here right now and offers plenty of growth opportunities. Bring a smile and assume positive intent when something goes wrong. It's often just a misunderstanding or an accident and not because someone is specifically out to get you.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about anything related to Thailand and/or living there?

My go-to recommendations for any visitors new to the country are http://www.travelfish.org/ and http://wikitravel.org/. They are my favourite travel guide websites for Thailand.

For recommendations and impressions beyond mere travel advice, I recommend http://www.legalnomads.com/ (foodie traveler) and http://www.nomadicnotes.com/ (digital nomad). All of these sites tend to cover more than just Thailand, so you'll also get an idea for some weekend trips.