Living in Thailand with a Family
Looking to move the family over to Thailand? That is what I did – and I am using this page on the blog to try to put together all the notes and resources I used to get there.
Considering Thailand for your digital nomad family?
It is a popular choice for young and single digital nomads - but we have also found it is open for families as well.
This page will develop with more details and resources for you and your family to research and consider - it is a growing and evolving page on all things about Thailand and your international family.
Immigration & Visa
The big concern many have in any foreign country is how to stay there long term? It isn’t as big of a deal if you are young and single, but with kids and spouses - flying in and out every 30 days is a bit insane.
Our current recommendation is to get an education visa for your kid(s) and a guardian visa for you and your spouse. The catch is - one child per guardian visa (parent) so if you have 1 kid and 2 parents (common) you’ll have to choose the mother or father. We have 2 kids, so it worked out to be 1 to 1 - but if we only had 1 I would pick the mother. The father probably needs to travel for business anyway - and can fly every month to do business in China or other parts of Asia.
Guardian (Parent) Visa Process in Thailand
I’m going through the Guardian Visa option – which means I have kids (not sure how they define guardian relationship – I had to prove I am the father) which are in full time school here and the reason for my visa is to watch over (ie guard in guardian) them.
This is a 1 year visa (still need to see how long the stays are, I believe it is full 1 year stay but every 3 months I need to go to immigration to get a stamp or something, haven’t gotten that far yet).
How to get it?
I need to:
1) Pay for my kid’s school 1 year upfront and get the school to give me an official receipt
2) School normally helps – but I’d recommend you tell the school if they help you with the paperwork or not beforehand. Our school is helping us and has a dedicated immigration office to help parents and kids with immigration.
3) There is some back and forth with getting your kids to convert from tourist visa to student visa (we converted it without them leaving the country – but it was such a headache I recommend having the kids leave Thailand for a weekend to a nearby country and then come back entering on a student visa).
4) Once some processing happens with kid’s visa, etc – you need to go to a Thailand embassy outside of Thailand (I went to Kuala Lumpur) and convert your visa (I was on tourist) to a “pending” guardian visa. It is a 3 month visa which gives you time for step 5:
5) Once you re-enter Thailand on this 3 month “pending guardian visa” – you have these 3 months to use the paperwork to open a personal bank account in your name and deposit 500,000 Thai Baht (about 13,000 usd) and leave it there for at least 30 days. You need to then get some paper (still waiting for mine) from the bank that says “yes, he had 500,000 Thai baht in our bank for 30 days” and then take that with other paperwork to the school, and the school immigration gives you some stuff (I still need to get to this step) and then you go to immigration.
6) **Note – During the time the money was pending in my bank account, my school’s immigration staff told me I need to have an official document to prove I am the father of my daughter. No one seemed to know what it was, but at the end the US embassy in Chiang Mai said they could notarize a letter that says I am the father of my daughter. Template I used is here.
Renewing a Thailand Guardian Visa
After the first year, you can go through this again. I think it is simpler after the first one (have yet to do it) – but there is one bigger step:
You need to have 500,000 Thai Baht in a personal bank account in your name for 3 months , instead of the 1 month for the first year’s. Not sure why they increase the amount of time for renewing it. And that is a requirement for each year going forward. Kind of annoying as you don’t earn interest and can’t really use it for much. And if you are doing this for your wife (or husband) and you – that means 1,000,000 Thai baht per year for 3 months (or a trick is, one person does 500,000 first then transfers 500,000 to the spouses’s bank account) – but still that is 500,000 Thai Baht locked up for 6 months every year.
My Final Steps With Guardian Visa
So a final update on the Guardian Visa
So its been a few months now since I started with all the paperwork and now I have been issued the Guardian visa. The school helped a lot and I had to do a few things on my own, like going to the US consulate to get the proof of relationship to my daughter, as well as the bank letter and bank book.
To finish the article here, this is what happened on the “filing day”.
* Get a bank letter – I needed to go to the bank on the SAME DAY as going to immigration (at least that is why my wife said). She said that when she did hers, and got the bank letter the day before going to immigration, the immigration department made her go back to the bank to get a new letter dated the same date as the day she filed at immigration. This was a challenge because I was planning to go to the bank the day before, make copies, etc, and go to immigration first thing the next day. But – I followed my wife’s instructions and this made me decide to go to immigration in the afternoon.
* I went to immigration at 1:30pm, and there was a ton of people there, but I still was able to get a ticket and able to see the immigration officer on that day. So I prefer that instead of going in the morning and waiting all day anyway!
* Make photocopies across the street – I realized I needed to get photocopies of a few things
– Copy of house lease contract (my school helped to do this for me)
– Copy of bank letter (found out later they just took the original, so I didn’t need this)
– Copy of proof of relationship to my daughter (turns out they didn’t need to keep it, just need to verify it
* I was able to get to the Immigration officer by 3:30pm and brought all my paperwork and copies. I had my own passport and my daughter’s, as well as my bank book.
* It took about 10 – 15 minutes of her checking over everything as I stood there. Mostly smooth, the school really had everything lined up nicely.
* I paid the 1900 Thai Baht fee
* Went to another area to take a photo. Then I sat back down and waited for the passport to be updated for both my daughter and me.
* About 4:30pm I was done, and had another 10 months added to my stay.
* Why not 12 months? Ya, I was hoping to get it until 1 year from the day I went to immigration. I guess they counted the months I was processing my bank deposit? They also asked if I wanted to have the same expiration as my daughter’s – maybe if I said no I could have gotten more days on my visa. Its true – if my daughter’s visa expires, I’m not going to stay here the extra time I have.
Hope this helps other parents!
Don’t Forget – Re-Entry Permit!
IMPORTANT – Plan to Leave Thailand? Need a Re-Entry Permit
Ok, so I thought I was done updating this guide on Guardian Visa for parents in Thailand – but I found out from the school of hard knocks that there was another thing I needed to do – get a RE-ENTRY permit.
How did I find out? When leaving Thailand! The immigration official was very nice, and noticed I had a 1 year guardian visa but didn’t have a re-entry permit. He asked if I was planning to come back to Thailand – well…ya, duh I just got a 1 year and my family is here.
So he pointed me to the immigration desk office and I had to leave the line. The women there were nice and showed me this list of documents I needed (Typing it out after the image)
1. Application Form TM 8
2. Foreign National Formation form (not sure…guess they had this at the desk)
3. Passport copy of:
Thailand arrival stamp
visa from Thai Embassy
The length of stay
4. Passport photo (4×6 cm)
5. Photo copy of TM30 or TM28
I didn’t have any passport photos on me though, so they charged me 200 Baht and took my photo with their mobile phone and said they would get it printed for me to add into the form.
The big decision I had to make was:
Multiple re-entry or Single re-entry?
I picked multiple because I am a business person and plan to come in and out every month or so. The difference was basically money – 3,800 Thai Baht for a multiple or 1,000 Thai baht for a single re-entry. Also not just the money, but the headache of going through this paperwork each time I plan to leave the kingdom and come back.
So, don’t forget this after you get the Guardian visa, or at least bring the cash and a passport photo with you to the airport. I was just lucky to have had exactly 4,000 Thai Baht in cash on me, which this took all of.
My First Experience Re-Entering Thailand As a “Guardian“
(I keep thinking this guide is done but more to add!)
So once I came back to Thailand (I spoke at a conference in Taiwan), it is also an experience worth explaining. Went in the same immigration line, and once up – the immigration officer asked me how long I was planning to stay in Thailand. I said “hmm, a few months, maybe more”.
She was a bit shocked, thinking I was a tourist for a week or two. I then explained I have my family here and I am on a 1 year visa and have a multiple re-entry permit.
She asked me to show her – and I did. She even had to go to another officer to ask for how to handle this (is it that uncommon?!), but finally, she took care of everything and I could stay. I asked her if I had to rush to immigration office to get a TM30 like the other times I enter Thailand, and she said no need.
To cover all school choices in Thailand would be a massive book in and of itself. We have found plenty of choices - and feel Chiang Mai is the most family friendly - for local Thai people as well as for international families. In our research, we found more people based in Bangkok (foreigners and local Thai) looking to relocate to Chiang Mai for a more relaxed and affordable style of living.
For us, we compared schools in Chiang Mai to Shenzhen, China and costs were significantly more affordable. But not just price - the teachers all seem to come from US, Canada, Australia, Europe and were so friendly - combined with Thai TA (teaching assistants) there were very kind.
The international schools all were full time English, with a government required 1 class of Thai a day. Many also had Chinese class options and can do 5 days a week of Chinese school.
Transferring Schools in Chiang Mai (With Guardian Visa)
Looking to Transferring Schools with a Guardian Visa?
One of the trickier things we have learned about being on a guardian visa is if you want to change schools! The whole family is on this visa, so we have to be extra careful not to get in any immigration issues.
What kind of issues? So my wife Wendy asked in a Wechat groups about the transfer process and the other Chinese mommies warned her to be careful. What has happened with others is they switch to a new school, but didn’t get the old school to agree / acknowledge and then immigration came to their house and deported the whole family back to China!
So with that in mind – we are being told to go through the following steps:
* Having that cash in the bank (500,000 Thai baht for 3 months, per guardian visa. Same
* Having a certified true birth certificate of each child from the Thai embassy or other approved place.
* Here’s the important one – a letter dated the SAME day from BOTH schools to acknowledge and approve this transfer. It isn’t anything about money, but seems the deal would be that the old school is approving of this transfer and all their financial and other admin duties are done.
We are still learning this transfer process as we may move schools soon. We will keep you in mind.
Chiang Mai also was a good choice for us because we wanted a self standing house with some yard to play in. It has the USA suburb feeling where we live. The only issue is there isn’t really a walking environment. You need to have a bike (motor bike) or a car. I have been getting by OK for the past month on Grab taxi (Uber) and just stocking up more on groceries. In China, we would get vegetables every day, here we need to try to stock up for a week.
Finding A House to Rent in Thailand
Many people have asked us how we found our house in Thailand (we are in Chiang Mai) and I thought I would share the story and give some tips for other friends (and specifically families!). It is HARD to move a whole family – we have done it a few times now. I cannot imagine digital nomad families who are constantly on the move – such a massive effort to synchronize a whole family – but anyway – let’s focus on finding a house in Thailand.
Traveled here with just the wife first (seconds as a holiday!)
So we didn’t just pack up the family’s life belongings and fly here. We came over just the 2 of us on an exploration trip. Tried a few different locations (airbnb and friend’s places) to see how the neighborhoods were, costs, lifestyle, and of course to check out the schools.
One crazy part of our move was we had to do it in less than a month (found out schools start in early August here instead of our September timeframe) so it was a scramble. Worked out that a friend of a friend owned a nice house that was ready to move in and we got a 6 month contract. So on the return back we moved in right away.
We didn’t use any websites – but later we did end up moving again (documented on the v-log) and found a new place simply by my wife being in a bunch of “mommy” groups in Facebook and Wechat. Plus agents are in those groups and once you start commenting on posts about renting a house – they will hunt you down and help.
So in summary – we didn’t use many websites – I did search online a bit and then agents will contact you back – most of the time the places online aren’t available and then they show you other places, etc (you know the game) so I recommend not renting until you come for a week or two at least and then use social media and friend networks to find a place.
A Big Bummer Has Been Burning Season
In about Febuary to April there is a burning season here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is rough, we first encountered it in 2019 – and – to our misfortune it was the worst year on record for it