Tips for working as a digital nomad in Thailand

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So you have a dream: sitting on a beach in Thailand watching the sun set as you multitask managing your latest project, talking on Skype with clients back home and updating your Facebook status every hour with another amazing view of your ‘office’, all the while drinking a cold beer that cost you all of $1.

Thailand is beautiful, hospitable and there’s not too many places in the country where a digital nomad can’t access Internet. There are a couple of challenges though. Thailand isn’t the most ‘free WIFI’ friendly country. They’re yet to adopt 3G and the more remote you go the less chance that you’ll get decent coverage, not to mention electricity can be a challenge!

Don’t cancel those cheap flights to Thailand just yet. These are all minor challenges that you can easily overcome, leaving you plenty of time to enjoy those cocktails on the beach.

Book accommodation that includes Internet

This one really goes without saying, but it’s always better to be able to work from where you are staying rather than going out in search of Internet. Depending on where you are staying, free WIFI can be tricky to find. Who wants to waste half their day trying to find Internet connection when you can work from your hostel or hotel and put that time to better use on the beach! You can find hotels in Hua Hin, Krabi, Koh Samui and other major cities with access to the internet.

Bring a smartphone or USB modem and get a local SIM card

As we’ve mentioned, finding free WIFI in many areas of Thailand can involve a lot of searching. Even on Koh Samui, Thailand’s second most popular beach destination, we struggled to find WIFI outside of our hostel. Not even the usually WIFI-friendly McDonalds and KFC were forthcoming. Perhaps we just struck a bad week!

What Thailand lacks in free WIFI it makes up for with an excellent cellphone network. Thailand is yet to implement 3G but their 2G network is fast and has excellent coverage . Even driving between tiny towns on the southeast coast we had almost continuous cellphone coverage. Between towns it often became too weak to surf the internet but as soon as we neared the next town the signal came back.

Pre-paid SIM cards cost between 50-100 baht while a 3 Gig data plan costs around 650 baht per month. That’s approximately $20 per month. Not bad for 3Gig of data! Of course you can get a smaller data plan but for those of us working online we need a little more than 150 meg for a month don’t we!

Ensuring that you have Internet in Thailand is as simple as bringing an unlocked phone you can tether your laptop too or having a USB dongle modem. Put in a local SIM card and you can work anywhere. Well almost everywhere …

Location, location, location

It probably goes without saying but the bigger the town or the more touristy a location, the better Internet and network coverage you are going to find.

Phuket, Bangkok and Chiang Mai are excellent choices if you need to be connected to reliable Internet.

Chiang Mai in particular is a great choice, with probably more digital nomads currently working from there than the rest of South East Asia put together (OK that’s a complete exaggeration but when you look at the list of people currently there working location independently it sometimes seems like that!)

If those destinations aren’t your idea of a dream work location, look for the best flights to one of smaller cities or a relatively popular destinations. Surat Thani, Hat Yai, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Krabi, Koh Samui, Koh Lanta, Koh Phan Nang.

Koh Lanta

Just remember – the  smaller the town or the more remote a location you choose the more difficulties you are probably going to run into.

Take Koh Lanta for instance. It’s a beautiful island with some lovely remote locations. The problem is the more remote you get the less cellphone signal you have, the less reliable the electricity and more than likely, the slower the Internet. Krabi and Ao Nang are another great example. In the center of town you will have great services. Five kilometers outside of town and you are likely to be on generator electricity. Ten kilometers further and you might not have enough cellphone coverage to surf the Internet.

Almost everyone has a dream of sitting in a bungalow on the beach a million miles from anywhere living a simple life. If you are a digital nomad you might not be able to do that on every secluded beach, but I’m sure they are out there. I have a feeling though that if you did find one then you’ll probably not be forthcoming in sharing the location with everyone!

16 responses to “Tips for working as a digital nomad in Thailand”

  1. I spent two months in Thailand as a digital nomad not too long ago and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. The Internet was almost universally terrible wherever I went; “free WIFI” doesn’t mean working WIFI. Buying a cheap phone and tethering isn’t a bad idea… but even when I had a steady connection I found it hard to work with random power failures, endless heat, food poisoning, and other productivity-killing nuisances.

    There is also the matter of interfacing with Thai culture as a digital nomad. I found it difficult to get things done while immersed in a society that prioritizes “sanuk” (fun/easy/relaxing) and dispenses with annoyances large and small with a casual “mai pen rai” (“it’s no problem”; the answer to everything from “the WIFI is out” to “there’s a cockroach in my food”). I had a much better time when I gave up on getting anything done and simply went with the flow. You have to surrender yourself to Thailand; you cannot simply plug in, boot up, and expect to achieve much of anything on any given day.

    What I learned from the experience: Thailand might work if you’re already up and running with a location-independent business but don’t expect to build one on the go. If all you need to do is email once a day and maybe post on a blog then you’re set–as long as you queue up some posts in advance. If you’re looking to do some serious coding, work on design projects, or start an online business, think again.

    That being said, Thailand is beautiful. I just wouldn’t recommend travelling to Thailand with any set goals. Just go with the flow and you’ll have a much better time than I did.

    • phuket nomad says:

      total rubbish! get a 3g sim for your phone…this is your backup. most hotels in the 500-1500 will have free FAST wifi….i have never stayed in one that didnt in the past 9 months and i have been to some pretty remote non tourist spots….and as for distractions – surely those are everywhere and if you cant work here then maby you cant work anywhere!!

      “random power failures, endless heat, food poisoning, and other productivity-killing nuisances.” power cuts are few and far between – maby 15 years ago it was an issue but not now…. yes its hot, its thailand!…i have had food poisoning once in 9 months and i eat everywhere from 30 baht street food to 1000 baht fine dining and everything between. the food poisoning came from KFC…..

    • Dave says:

      I have to take issue with this comment:

      “you cannot simply plug in, boot up, and expect to achieve much of anything on any given day.”

      I’ve been living in Thailand for over eight years now, and whilst some of the negative comments above may once have applied, it is worth noting the following:

      – Fiber optic Internet is becoming increasingly widespread, with speeds that compete with any Western country.

      – 4G will be with us very shortly.

      – Co-working spaces that prioritise ‘quiet spaces’ (i.e. treat it like a library, no Skype / phone conversations) are available.

      – Power cuts used to last for days and were quite frequent. Whilst they do still occur, they are normally for far less time than it takes for a UPS to go flat.

      I’m currently based on Koh Phangan where we have fiber optic internet speeds of up to 50MB and two co-working spaces (https://www.facebook.com/focusinparadise/ and https://www.facebook.com/kohspace) Getting serious work done here is not only possible, it’s a real pleasure!

      – davedub

    • Alexander Synaptic says:

      With more experience I realize my first two months in Thailand were a bit of an outlier. I just happened to go to all the wrong places and have the worst luck. Since returning on a number of occasions I’ve played it safe and stuck to nomad enclaves like Chiang Mai and had nowhere near as much trouble. Renting a scooter cut down on headaches considerably, as does staying away from the worst of the tourist traps. So: I take it back, mostly. Thailand’s fine, just watch out for burning season (in the north) and choose your locations wisely if you need to get work done.

  2. Heleen says:

    My experience is completely different. In Thailand you get free wifi just EVERYWHERE even in less touristy areas! Greetings from a digital nomad in Thailand 🙂

  3. In Bangkok at the moment and, yes, while you can find lots of WiFi hotspots, few are free (even in places like Starbucks) and, in any case, connecting to them seems to be one big time-wasting hassle. I’ve given up and instead just tether to my iPhone’s Personal Hotspot and I use that instead. A bit slower but saves time because you don’t waste time connecting.

    (By the way, the iPhone isn’t unlocked. The iPhone SIM I got with TrueMove (PrePay H 3G+) allows tethering. Cost me 99 baht for 1GB data.)

    As for 3G, it’s widespread in central Bangkok.

  4. JonathanPochini says:

    I’ve been working on Koh Phanghan for over a month. Sometimes the internet was quite slow and there was also a complete black out in the island. But I managed some how…
    I will be back in Thai the 5th of February!

  5. Meegan says:

    Well our new digital nomad hub http://www.kohub.org opened in November 2014 and we have super-fast internet (55 Mb/s) and a dedicated coworking space. Come! Visit! Work!

  6. Thailand is now much more expensive than some parts of Southern Europe so I’d head there. It’s much safer in Europe too where bad things don’t tend to happen so often!

  7. Sheila says:

    I’m in Khao Lak staying at 4.5 star hotel and the wifi is crap….booted off every few minutes. Complaints fall on deaf ears…people don’t care. trying to heed the first posters advice of going with the flow but my patience is running thin….I bet wifi in Afghanistan would be better!!

  8. If you buy a SIM card that comes with internet and wifi (e.g. from TRUE), you get access to a lot of wifi spots throughout the city, including Starbucks. When at a Starbucks, just log into their wifi network (kschotspot) and select your provider (e.g. truemoveh). You can then log in with your phone number and a password (if you don’t know your password, you can have it sent to your phone by entering *871*4#

  9. RayUK says:

    Hi Guys quick question: I want to visit Thailand and Skype a lot while I am there. I intend to Skype from a laptop but I need superfast internet. I understand I can find this in some hostels but I don’t understand the 3G link with laptops. Is this 3 or 4G method just for phones?

    • nunomad says:

      It depends on the mobile phone network and how they operate their service. Some allow “tethering” or “hotspots” where you can essentially piggyback the mobile data service in your smartphone from your laptop. You’ll need to ask someone local which prepaid SIM card offers this. Most do these days but be warned it’ll eat through your data very quickly as laptops tend to look for updates, emails, syncing accounts all in the background. There’s plenty of fast wifi all over Thailand these days especially in the cities so I’d use that where possible. Google “iPhone tethering” or “android tethering” for quick instructions on how to set up your smartphone with your laptop.

      • RayUK says:

        Thanks for your detailed response I really appreciate it. I’ll start looking for that and wifi with 30mgps upload as apparently thats the ideal for my purposes 🙂

  10. Tomas says:

    How do you get visa if you want to be a digital nomad in Thailand? I don’t understand the visa situation and I need to know that…

  11. IKnow says:

    You can not get visa as digital nomad in Thailand, all in this thread work illegal and risk up to 5 year in prison.

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