Some tips on settling in to the "Big Mango" and the "Land of Smiles"
Never mind whether you are moving to Bangkok with family or just new to SE Asia, Bangkok is a unique city. It's exciting, vibrant, hot, busy and bustling and you're in for some fun (and possibly some frustrations!)
One of the best investments you can make as an expatriate new to Bangkok is to buy the Bangkok Guide. Compiled by one of the expatriate groups, the Australian New Zealand Women's Group (ANZWG), it is invaluable as a reference to all the things you may need to know about living in Bangkok. You will find it at major bookstores in town at a cost of approximately Bt 1,000. It is also available at the KIS admissions office.
Top Tip to Settle in Bangkok With Family Quickly
Join, join, join... all of the clubs that you may have an interest in. The quicker you meet people, the quicker you'll settle. The people who are already here are your biggest asset to find out about everything (particularly for your local area) and it's a great community - most people want to help and are happy to advise - particularly through the various social groups. There are nationality groups, women's groups, welfare organizations, clubs and societies, Chambers of Commerce, sports groups etc. Please feel free to ask the KIS admissions office for help as well. We are happy to share our experiences!
Bangkok With Children
Thai people love children and this makes Thailand in many respects very child-friendly. When moving to Bangkok with children, you'll note that children are generally welcomed at restaurants and hotels with many places offering special provisions for kids.
There are many, many things to do for children. In addition to activities offered at school, there are independent clubs for swimming, horse-riding, gymnastics, rugby, touch rugby, soccer, tennis and so on. For smaller children there are numerous playgroups in Bangkok. KIS also runs a Bangkok playgroup Monday through Friday. Click here for more information.
BAMBI is a good resource if you have small children. A great place for young children to play is Funarium and another is Kidzania. For older children (and adults) there is also Flow House. Many shopping malls have play areas for children and they often have educational institutes such as music schools or arts and craft facilities. If you’re looking for day trips or outings have a look here for more ideas.
Unfortunately safety standards are not the same as in Western countries, which means you will have to be especially vigilant if you have small children. Pools usually have no safety fence, electrical wires may be exposed and unsafe, pavements have deep potholes, taxis usually have no functional seatbelts and public playgrounds may have old or faulty equipment.
Choosing The Best International School in Bangkok
Amazingly, there are over 100 International Schools in Thailand, so you will definitely want to narrow down your search to a good short list. Choosing the best international school in Bangkok for your family requires you to look at many different aspects.
In Bangkok the main choices of curricula offered at international schools are: The International Baccalaureate (IB), British and American. There are also some schools which cater to specific nationalities, such as French, Swiss (German), Japanese etc. Whilst you may be keen to keep with the national curriculum your children have been studying previously, if you are likely to be a transient expatriate, moving on to another country at some stage in their education, you should also consider the IB. The IB is an international curriculum which is recognized around the world and ensures an increased adaptability and mobility for its students.
IB Programmes and IB World Schools
There are three IB programmes catering to students aged 3-18 years of age:
- the IB Primary Years Programme for ages 3-11 years
- the IB Middle Years Programme for ages 11-16 years
- the pre-university IB Diploma Programme for ages 16-18
IB World Schools in Bangkok may offer one, two or all three IB programmes. This means that not all IB schools provide an IB education for all age levels. A school may, for example, provide general primary or secondary education according to a national curriculum (e.g. American, British, Canadian or Australian) but offer the IB Diploma Programme for its pre-university students. The best IB schools in Bangkok offer all 3 programmes.
Parents should ask whether or not a school has been officially authorized by the IB to offer all of the IB programmes.
Here in Bangkok, there are three schools which are authorized to offer all three IB programmes exclusively; all other IB schools offer either the British or American curriculum in primary and secondary and provide the IB curriculum (the Diploma Programme) only for the last two years of high school.
Over the last several years there has been a large increase in international schools around the world authorized to offer all three IB programmes. If you are looking for an exclusively IB education for your child, make sure you ask the right questions during your visits.
It is a good idea to ask whether or not a school provides learning support for children who require it. Does the school have a programme in place and the staff available to provide the level of support that your child needs? Is learning support provided in the mainstream programme, or is it provided after school hours? If the school has a strong focus on learning support, how does this affect students who do not require support?
Does the school have accreditation from a third party authority? This is required by Thai law within the first 3 years of operations. The main accreditation agencies for International schools are: the Council of International Schools (CIS); Worldwide Education Service (WES); Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC); New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Please note that "membership" with these organizations does not mean that the school is actually accredited by them. Ensure that the school has gone through the accreditation process and that it is accredited by the organization.
Most international schools teach in the English language but you should consider the nationalities of the staff. Are they all native English speakers? Are they experienced to offer the curriculum they are teaching? Are Early Years teachers specifically trained for young learners? Does the school have a full schedule of teacher professional development in place to ensure their staff are kept up to date with both academic and best practice in teaching? What is the teaching staff turnover?
Size of the Bangkok International School
International Schools range in size from small, with fewer facilities, up to a large out of town campus with over 2,000 students. Depending on where your children are coming from, their ages and personalities, the size of school will be an important consideration.
What is the student to teacher ratio? Are there other support staff in the class, such as Teaching Assistants, carers (for younger students), learning- and language support staff?
Is it a pleasant environment for students, teaching staff and for parents? When you went on your school visit, how did you feel? Did the students you saw seem happy and engaged in what they were doing? Were you and your family made to feel welcome and did the staff answer all of your questions well and with confidence? Were you able to see the classrooms in action? Is there a school community - are parents active and involved in school life? Your gut feeling about the school will tell you a lot!
After School Programmes
Is there a varied and well-catered after school programme for students? Check for extra costs also.
Student Safety and Supervision
Are there adequate security measures in place at the school? What happens at drop off and pick up and are there procedures in place for when someone other than the parent needs to collect a student? Is there a policy on school bullying and is there a full-time school counsellor?
School & Home Life
What are the school hours? Some schools in Bangkok may be a long way from where you plan to live. This may mean your child is leaving home very early in the morning and depending on the commute and traffic conditions, not getting home until quite late either! Make sure you can reach the balance of school and home life that suits your family.
Location of International Schools in Bangkok
You may want to choose the schools you will visit and select one prior to deciding where you will live. Most schools will also offer a bus service, but bear in mind that traffic can be heavy so your children could be leaving the house extremely early. If you already know where you will be living and you don't want your children to have a long commute, you can narrow down the list to the schools that are easily reached from that area assuming that these schools meet other selection criteria that are important for your child. Many expat families opt to hold off on the home location until they have selected the right school for their child. Remember that in Bangkok travel time may be determined more by access than by distance, as certain roads can be very congested and others may flow freely.
Making your final choice
Do take the time to make sure you see a good cross section of schools in Bangkok before you make your final choice. In town vs. out of town; large vs. smaller; your national curriculum vs. IB. While talking to other families for their opinions can help, nothing is a substitute for your selection from the options available and your visit to the schools. Invest some time to do your research, then choose the school that's best for your child rather than what someone else feels is the 'best' international school in Bangkok.
Where To Live
This is basically a juggling exercise and a question of priorities. The traffic in Bangkok can be very frustrating - what should be a ten minute journey, could take up to one hour depending on weather conditions, time of day, day of the week etc. With this in mind, you will need to decide who should have the least amount of travel time. Will it be the children to school, the breadwinner to work, or a compromise? Accessibility to public transport may be important - particularly the BTS (skytrain) and the MRT (underground) as these serve many key points in the city and may be a good option for the office run. If you have a car, or prefer to use taxis, it is often helpful to live near to expressway access - and exit-ramps, so that you can take the (generally!) fast-flowing highways and distance becomes less of an issue.
Once you are close to selecting your final home, it is a good idea to visit at different times of the day to see how traffic is and whether your soi (street) has suddenly turned into a one-way street (yes...this happens in Bangkok). How your area connects to the main artery roads will also be important as you could be on a cut through (commonly known as the 'green route') and what you thought is a small, quiet street, in fact, becomes gridlocked at certain times of the day.
KIS International School is conveniently located close to the centre of Bangkok and is easily accessible from many of the main housing areas. The Thailand Cultural Centre MRT station is a five minute taxi ride from the campus and the road links from Rama IX expressway, Ram Inthra and Rajadapisek Road are all close by making even longer-distances journeys smooth. Odd numbered Sukhumvit sois are all in a good location for the school with Sukhumvit Soi 63 (also known as Ekkamai) and Sukhumvit Soi 55 (also known as Thong Lor) in particular being convenient for both their proximity to a BTS station (for getting to work) and for road links to the school. Click here for a map.
You may also want to consider housing in Kesinee Ville Housing Estate itself (where the school campus is located), or other housing that is in very close proximity to the school. Please contact us for a list of agents who can help you find a home.
How much rent will I pay?
Prices vary hugely and not necessarily with any logic! A lot depends on who the landlord is and how much they believe they can get. It is helpful to use an agent as they can negotiate on your behalf (you will need a Thai speaker). Agents generally do not charge fees but are paid through commission from the landlord. Expatriate areas tend to attract higher rental prices and blocks that have a lot of company rentals are also highly priced. In some central Sukhumvit areas you can pay well over Bt 150,000 per month for a nice apartment. On the other hand, you can pay a lot less if you are willing to opt for a different area or an older style property. The best advice is to take time and view a lot of properties until you get a feel for what is available. The same is true of prices for houses. Expect to pay higher rent for more facilities. A house with a pool or a condo with a lot of nice facilities will generally command a higher rent.
House or Condo?
To a large extent this is down to personal preference though, in the city itself, there will be a greater choice of condos and apartments in relation to houses. There are houses in the downtown area which command higher rents, but outside of the downtown area the choice is much bigger and rents more reasonable. Houses often tend to pass by word of mouth and may get rented out before an agent has them on their books. If you do choose a house, be sure that it won't flood in the rainy season. When torrential rain hits the city the sois can quickly flood - even the main artery roads through the city will be under water at times. Ask to visit some of the 'moo baans' (housing estates). These vary in size from a compound of 4 or more houses up to large estates with hundreds of houses. This can be a good option for families as usually it's safe for the kids to ride their bikes around and visit other friends on the moo baan. In addition to the established moo-baan’s many new gated housing estates have been developed along main roads, highways and motorways over the past few years. These generally have security, detached houses, green areas and a shared swimming pool.
If you have a single house, bear in mind that you will need to think about garden maintenance - check first to see if it can be covered in your negotiations on rental price. Otherwise labour in Thailand is generally low cost and you can hire a team to come in regularly to keep your garden area maintained.
What about security at home?
Apartment blocks and condos will generally have their own 24 hour security and often there will be key code entry for residents as an extra measure. In fact, Thailand is relatively safe compared to many other countries and whilst there are some problems with theft it is relatively rare and more often than not, an 'inside job'! Moo baans (housing estates) are nearly always gated and also have 24 hour security. Single houses generally have large gates and walls and residents in some streets may pay for police presence.
What can I expect to pay for my utility bills?
Electricity is likely to be your highest bill particularly if you use a lot of air-conditioning. For a small home with air-conditioning running only at night, the bill can be as low as 3,000 Baht, but for large apartments or houses expect to pay Bt 7,000 per month (and anything up to Bt 15,000) if you are going to have a lot of units running. Also be aware that in apartments and condos you may pay your utilities through the landlord and it is common for the unit charge to be significantly higher than if you pay your bills directly to the provider. So, for example, in a single house, you will pay your bills direct at a lower unit cost which can lead to significant monthly savings.
Broadband/ADSL – is available through several providers throughout Bangkok. Monthly costs vary but budget for around Bt 1,200 per month.
Cable TV – Most international families in Bangkok opt for a package of international channels through True. Costs vary according to the package but for a good selection expect to pay around Bt 2,000 per month.
Water- cost is negligible
Telephone - obviously depends on usage and with more and more people switching to web calls for overseas, costs are effectively dropping. Local calls are inexpensive.
Mobile/Cell phones - you can set up a contract or pay as you go. You will need to have a work permit if you want to have a contract. Calls are relatively reasonable in price.
If you would like us to introduce you to a Bangkok property agent, please send admissions an email or give us a call.
Should I employ a maid?
Home help is easy to come by and relatively inexpensive. Most maids are Thai but there are also quite a few Burmese maids looking for work. If you are interested in a foreign maid you should check they have all their necessary papers or they will need to do visa runs. The government does 'crack down' on workers who do not have the correct paperwork, now and then. If you live in a large house or have a large family, be aware that you may not be able to find one maid to handle all your needs and you may have to employ a number one and a number two maid. Monthly salaries range from Bt 7,000 per month upwards of Bt 15,000. Ask for recommendations and gather and check the references. Interview several before you make your choice.
Live in / Live out / Full time / Part-time
There are lots of options for your maid. Usually the maid will tell you her preference during the interview. Nearly all apartments and houses will have a maid's room if you want a live in maid. Part-time maids can be paid hourly, daily or monthly. If you have young children it is especially important to get a good referral or a reference you can check. Thai people love children but will not necessarily be very good at enforcing your rules or having the same level of attention towards safety as you may have!
What is the public transport like?
Bangkok has a good and efficient public transport system with the BTS (skytrain) and the MRT (underground) linking main areas in the city. A high speed rail links Suvarnabhumi Airport to town. Taxis are plentiful and cheap (make sure they put the meter on!) and there are lots of buses too though expatriates tend not to use the local buses. For getting out of Bangkok, the main railway line runs North to South through the country and down on through Malaysia to Singapore. In addition, there are several budget airlines running domestic routes. Services such as GrabTaxi is also quite popular.
Do I need a car?
Some companies provide a car and a driver although this is becoming less common as expatriate packages change. A car may not be the best alternative when traffic is bad but many use the time to catch up on work, phone calls or reading while sitting in the inevitable traffic jam! Remember that the “long way around” using the expressways, may be quicker than the shortest route.
Even if your company is not providing a car and driver, many families choose to lease or buy a car in spite of its setbacks during traffic, particularly if they are living away from the main BTS and MRT stations. A car can also be a great asset for weekend trips to the beach, national parks or other escapes from the city.
Driving around town may seem daunting at first, but it’s easy to get used to and many foreigners do drive. Make sure you obtain a local Thai driver’s license as an international license is valid only for the first 6 months.
If you have a driver, they can be extremely useful for carrying out daily chores such as posting letters, paying bills and running simple errands. With the traffic the way it is in Bangkok it is not always easy to do more than one or two 'jobs' in one day so having access to a driver is an easy way to make your day run more smoothly.
What To Bring
What will be difficult to find in Thailand?
Bangkok is becoming more sophisticated by the week with new, sleek department stores and more imported goods arriving fast. It can still be difficult to find attractive larger size clothing and underwear but even this is changing. If you have brands that you can't do without then buy them before you come. Don't forget that tailoring and dressmaking is still relatively reasonable here and if you have favourite clothing there is always the option of having items copied. The weather here is hot all of the time with the locals describing the season as: hot, hotter, hot and wet! Wear plenty of cotton clothing but also bring things to cover your shoulders as it can be 'cold' inside air-conditioned offices, shopping malls, the movie theatre etc.
What not to bring
Check with your moving company about items that may be dutiable or forbidden. There are some strange ones on the list including children’s' toys and golf balls, for example!
Do I need to learn Thai?
Yes and no! It will depend, to a certain extent, on your lifestyle here but bear in mind that most taxi drivers do not speak English. It is certainly worthwhile learning some basic Thai to make communication with taxi drivers and shopping a little easier. Some basic Thai does not take long to pick up and most people find it enough to get by. Keep in mind that Thai is a tonal language and even though you think you are pronouncing the name of your street correctly, if it is not the right tone, your taxi driver may not understand! Some students in International Schools in Bangkok choose to learn Thai while others do not. It's not mandatory for non-Thai students!
The Bangkok Guide lists all the available options, from Thai language schools to private instructors, for learning Thai.
What kind of food will I find?
The food here is excellent and there is every type available from local Thai food at street stalls to sophisticated, haute cuisine dining. Almost every nationality is catered for from Arab-Middle Eastern right through to Vietnamese. There is plenty of good western food to be had and lots of fast food joints and delivery services. Restaurants are regularly reviewed in local magazines such as the Big Chilli, BK Magazine and Bangkok 101. Along with the variety of food and venue, prices also range from a few Baht up to several thousand Baht for excellent dining with fine wines in some of the world’s top venues.
Is street food safe?
You'll get different advice from different people and a lot will depend on what your constitution is like! Much of the street food is cooked in front of you in very hot oil and will most likely be OK. Avoid food that has been left sitting out in the pollution and heat. As with many things in Bangkok, ask for recommendations. If you want to try street food it can be amongst the most delicious and most reasonably priced you are likely to find anywhere.
Bangkok is a shopper’s paradise. There are well-known areas for almost anything you can imagine and if you can't buy it, you can probably get it made. Ask for recommendations and talk to people who have lived here for a while. The Bangkok Guide has an excellent section devoted to shopping information for all commodities.
Food shopping is well catered for in both the large supermarket chains (Tesco Lotus, Big C, Foodland, Tops ) and in the smaller independent food stores such as Villa and other smaller importers such as Food Glorious Food.
Holiday And Leisure
What is there to do? Places to visit?
Thailand offers many opportunities to experience something new. From elephant trekking to scuba diving, visiting remote hill tribe villages to walking the pristine white sands of a tropical island, it's all here just waiting to be explored and enjoyed. Visit the special festivals for something different: elephant polo, the mask festival, rocket festival, lantern festival, through to the jazz festival - there's something for everyone. Check out the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) website for more information.
Things to do with children
There are many things to do with children in Bangkok varying from western-styled theme parks such as Dreamworld and Safari World to the Crocodile farm, Siam Ocean World, cycling at Railway Park, swimming in Bangkok's numerous water slide parks, wakeboarding, horse riding, rock climbing, even ice skating at the Esplanade Shopping Centre. The Nancy Chandler map also has some good ideas and the company produces some handy activity cards to give you ideas on how to fill up the school holidays. Dip into the 'Exploring Bangkok' section of the Bangkok Guide for more information on things to see and do with children and for locations and website addresses of all of the above and more.
One thing to be aware of when travelling with children; most taxis do not have seatbelts. You can book a regular taxi with seatbelts - ask for recommendations and see the private taxi section in the Bangkok Guide. Also, bad traffic jams means that you could be confined in a car or taxi for a long time so be sure to take plenty of things to keep children amused and refreshed.
In general, all foreigners require a visa to live in Thailand. A work permit is needed for anyone who will work here, even as a volunteer. Obtaining a tourist visa is relatively easy, but as these are valid only for shorter periods. Most international families will obtain a non-immigrant visa. These can be valid for 3 months and don’t allow you to work but with the right documentation may be extended for one to three years, after which you can apply for a work permit.
Students enrolled at a school in Thailand may obtain an education visa and one parent may obtain a visa as a parent/guardian based on the student’s visa. For parents/guardians considering living in Thailand on a guardianship visa, it is advisable to obtain a non-immigrant visa before departing for Thailand as it is not possible to transition from a tourist visa to a guardianship visa without leaving the country and returning with a non-immigrant visa. Once your child is enrolled at KIS, our HR manager would be happy to support you and your child in obtaining an education visa, if required. For more information on visa requirements please refer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs