Expats will find that their options for accommodation in Thailand are almost as diverse as the country itself. Boasting a robust rental market, with a little patience and a bit of work, new arrivals will have no trouble finding a reasonably priced, comfortable place to live in Thailand.
Types of accommodation in Thailand
From high-rise apartment buildings, condominium complexes and seaside shacks, to standalone houses on large plots – all types of accommodation are available to rent in Thailand. The price and quality of rental accommodation will vary enormously, although there are plenty of excellent deals to be found.
Expats should bear in mind that traffic in Thailand’s urban centres can be extremely congested. Expats should look for a home that is close to their workplace, their children's school or areas of interest such as public transport terminals. The main types of accommodations chosen by expats are condominiums, apartments, detached houses and townhouses.
Condominiums, also known as condos, are a type of accommodation that usually separated into units for individual ownership, but include communal facilities. These units are often fully-furnished or contain certain appliances. Condos often have communal facilities such as pools and other social areas.
Apartments chosen by expats are usually either part of a large development or part of a house that has been converted into separate units. Expats in Thailand will find apartments to suit a wide range of budgets. ‘Service apartments’ are often converted hotel rooms, and can, therefore, cost more.
Detached houses are usually located outside of larger cities. They typically offer bigger spaces, more bedrooms and a small garden. Villas fall into this category. The privacy and luxury associated with detached houses come at an added cost.
Joined by shared walls, townhouses usually form long rows and rise vertically rather than horizontally. This is intended to utilise the often cramped spaces in larger cities. The ground floor space is sometimes used as a parking bay. This is one of the most popular accommodation types in Thailand.
Finding accommodation in Thailand
Whether deciding to find a property themselves or work with a real estate agent in Thailand, expats should have few problems when it comes to finding a suitable home to rent.
Independent house hunters can use local newspapers, property pages and the internet to look for Thai real estate as there are numerous resources available in English. Another approach would be to identify an area that seems appealing, explore the neighbourhood and look for properties that are up for rent.
Estate agents in Thailand will, however, have a better knowledge of the market and will be able to assist in negotiations and the rental process. They are also usually free for tenants since they receive a commission from landlords.
Renting accommodation in Thailand
It can be difficult for foreigners to own property in Thailand, so most expats rent rather than buy. Luckily, local landlords are usually sensitive to the rental needs of expats and do a good job of advertising available properties. Renting property in Thailand is generally an easy process. The rental market is also varied, with plenty of housing available, and often at good prices.
Lease agreements in Thailand might not always be exactly 'formal' and there are a variety of approaches to processes such as deposit money and the length of rental contracts. It is important to keep a few fundamentals in mind, though.
Bargaining is not usually an option when it comes to rental prices in Thailand. Many landlords would rather have no tenants for long periods than compromise on their advertised rental price.
Even if an expat does strike up an informal rental agreement with a prospective landlord, it is still a good idea to have a real estate agent draw up a basic rental agreement for both parties to sign. This ensures that both landlord and tenant are aware of their responsibilities regarding the property, and protects the tenant against unfair eviction.
If any deposit money needs to be paid, the tenant should be sure to take plenty of photos of the rental and inspect the property with the landlord, pointing out any problems to them as soon as possible. Provided the property is kept in good condition, this should help to make sure that the tenant gets their deposit back at the end of their lease.
Expats usually have to pay for their utilities in Thailand, including electricity, water and telephone bills. Energy shortages in Thailand mean that electricity is surprisingly expensive, and new arrivals should be sure to save electricity whenever they can.
Furnished or unfurnished accommodation
Most rental properties in Thailand are unfurnished, as furniture is usually signed for in a separate lease. Half the rent is generally directed towards furniture rental leases as they get taxed at a slightly lower rate. This is more to benefit the landlord, however.
The term semi-furnished would be more appropriate for many of the rentals in Thailand. There are often a few basic appliances such as washing machines or dishwashers, but anything above and beyond that might have to be bought separately.
Due to the short-term nature of expat assignments, many expats opt to live in fully furnished accommodation.
The standard rental length in Bangkok is 12 months, however, if expats get in touch with the owners directly, they may be willing to accept six-month leases. Depending on the type of accommodation, properties can be leased for much shorter durations.
Shorter leases allow new arrivals to get to know an area, before committing to a long term contract and therefore might be more suitable for new arrivals. A short let usually offer some flexibility in rental length and the property is usually furnished to a high standard.
Condos, where all units are held by a single company, are often a good place to start. Otherwise, there are ‘service apartments’, which are more expensive, but can be rented out as short or long as necessary. Another option is Airbnb, as this offers a variety of options while bypassing agencies that may charge a commission.
The rental process
After deciding where to live in Thailand and the type of property they want to rent, most expats will research properties online and contact local estate agents who will set up viewings.
Once a suitable property has been found, and an agreement has been made with the landlord, the estate agent will draw up the contract. Before the contract can be signed, the estate agent may need to check references and do some background checks. Usually, a deposit equivalent to two months’ rent as well as the first months' rent will be taken before the start of the tenancy.
References and background checks
Unlike in the West, it’s uncommon in Thailand for potential tenants to have to produce references or to be subject to a credit or background check. If renting monthly, or on a short-term basis, the landlord may require expats to give over some documentation as a precautionary measure. This is to prevent people from skipping town and not paying their rent.
To avoid any delays, it’s important to check what documents will be needed in advance and to make copies of these documents.
All reputable estate agents will use a standard contract that gives protection to both the landlord and tenant, but all the same, it’s important to read the agreement carefully and raise any queries with the estate agent before signing it.
Expats should be prepared to put down a deposit equal to two months’ rent. They are often asked to pay their first month’s rent upfront as well. The landlord may deduct expenses from the deposit to cover the cost of repairing any damage to the property, paying for a professional clean, removing anything left behind by the tenant, or replacing lost keys, etc.
Keep in mind that a law was passed stating that if a landlord owns more than five units, houses, or townhouses, they can only collect a one-month deposit. Landlords must return the deposit if there’s no damage, however, they aren’t legally obliged to pay interest on it.
Utilities in Thailand
Expats should note that utilities such as electricity and water, are generally not included in the rental price. Before moving in, confirm with the real estate agent or landlord that all utilities are set up, switched on and ready to be used come move-in day.
It’s suggested that expats should take electricity readings when moving into their accommodation to ensure that they are not charged for power used by the previous occupants. In Thailand, the most expensive utility by far is electricity. Expats should keep a close watch on their electricity consumption or may find themselves facing a hefty bill.
In “service apartments”, the utility meters are often outside of the apartments themselves, so expats must ensure that they are reading the correct meter. In Thailand, the bill for utilities may be inflated by the landlord, who also has control of which service providers to use. It may be best to ask for the original copy of the expenses from the service provider.
Bins and recycling in Thailand
Recycling in Thailand is essentially non-existent. There are still many outdated regulations on the production of plastics within the kingdom, and there are still no laws enforcing recycling.
Recycling businesses in the private sector are growing successfully in many larger cities in Thailand, but their success is based largely on community-level interaction. There are several recycling companies based in and around Bangkok and other larger commercial centres. There are substantially fewer recycling companies in rural provinces.
If there are recycling centres in the town or city, expats need to sort the recycling themselves. Yellow bins are for recycled plastic, tins, and glass. Green bins are for organic waste. Grey bins are for hazardous materials.
Buying property in Thailand
Buying property in Thailand is not usually an option for non-permanent residents. Foreigners are allowed to buy a condominium in their name, but only in certain complexes. Most expats, even those intending to stay long-term, generally opt to rent instead of purchasing property.
To buy land in Thailand, a non-resident has to pay the purchase price of the property as well as meet certain other requirements depending on the type of property. Given the country’s relative instability and changing laws, expats who are adamant to buy property in Thailand should make use of a local lawyer and an estate agent.