Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Expat, Thailand, Colombia 

Expat living: Thailand vs Colombia

I have lived on and off in Thailand for eight years, and visited Colombia five times, spending in total a year there. They remain my favorite places on earth, both cheap, beautiful and interesting.

Selecting a country to live in is of course very much a matter of personal taste, but I will try to be as objective as possible in this post so you can make up your own mind. 

Right: A dancer at the Medellin Flower Festival.


Thailand is known as the "land of smiles" where almost everyone you meet make you feel welcome. Thais are among the friendliest people on the planet, being very helpful and easy going. They are also a very accepting and tolerant of alternative life styles.

Colombians are generally friendly and helpful, and curious about foreigners since not many visit them due to the stigma of drugs and violence. However, it is a macho culture which can quickly escalate small disputes into real trouble.

Beauty of nature

Both countries are in the tropics and have diverse type of nature; beautiful beaches and islands, majestic mountains, and lush rain forests. Colombia also has some areas with desert like climate. The Thai perfect beaches are hard to beat, but the Colombian parts of the Andes mountains makes it the winner for its postcard perfect views.


The clear winner here is Colombia, with most of the population living up in the mountains, where there is a constant spring-like climate. You don't sweat or feel cold, and no heating or cooling is needed for your home. All the seasons have about the same weather, with rain coming twice a week all year around. I'm guessing it is perfect for agriculture.

Thailand is very hot, especially in April and most of the summer. Being up in the mountains makes little difference. It rains a lot during the summer and is very dry during the winter.


Both countries are cheap, and can be extremely cheap if you are happy to live like a local. I found the below prices at budget supermarkets in Chiang Mai, Thailand and Medellin, Colombia. You can make more comparisons at Numbeo and Expatistan.

What adds up in the end is the cost of your home and all the lunches at the local restaurants. This makes Thailand more affordable than Colombia. A minimum budget in Thailand is $1000 per month, and in Colombia $1500 per month.


30 eggs, TH $3.70, CO $4.24. 1 L orange juice, TH $2.00, CO $2.65. One grilled chicken, TH $4.50, CO $2.65. 1 kg tomatoes, TH $1.80, CO $1.06.  Can of tuna, TH $1.00, CO $1.48. Soda drink, TH $0.40, CO $0.79.  Local beer 50 cl, TH $1.10, CO $0.95. Ice cream, TH $0.50, CO $0.50.


Cheap local lunch menu, TH $2.00*, CO $3.18. Normal local lunch menu, TH $4.00, CO $4.24. Cheap western food lunch menu, TH $5.00, CO $5.83. Subway sandwich 6", cheapest, TH $1.67, CO $2.12. Big Mac combo, TH $4.62, CO $5.30. 

* A local person typically eats for $1 in Thailand, but meal sizes are small and do not include a drink, so the price has been adjusted up to be fair.


Simple doctor's consultation, TH $17, CO $19. Rent of furnished 1BR apartment, TH $330, CO $715. Taxi ride 15 minutes, TH $5.00, CO $5.30. 3G phone subscription per month, TH $13, CO $20. Movie ticket, TH $4.00, CO $4.24. Electricity per kwh, TH $0.17, CO $0.18.


Both countries offer a wide variety of international food at high quality. However if you are like me, you will try to save some money and eat at the local restaurants most of the time, and here is where the big difference is. Colombia has the bland meat/beans/french fries/rice dishes of Latin America, and Thailand has a big variety of curries, soups, salads, meat and noodles that taste better and feels healthier.

Below: A typical Colombian meal. Grilled chicken, potatoes, rice, arepa, coleslaw salad and fruit juice. Served with ketchup and honey. $3.50.

Below: Khao Soi curry soup with noodles, chicken, bean sprouts, onions, fermented vegetables and herbs, at a shopping mall in Chiang Mai. $1.35.


Both countries are corrupt, there is no doubt about it. In my experience they are about on the same level. To get things moving along quicker you need to grease some palms. You just have to accept this, and see it as part of your normal expenses. In the end it is not a big percentage of your budget anyway. And sometimes it also works in your favor, for example when you get stopped by police for a traffic offense, and can immediately continue after paying $15.


Thailand is the clear winner. You can walk around any part of town any time of day or night, and you can hike in the forests without any special concern. In Colombia you need to be careful where you go at night, and being in remote areas is outright dangerous, risking robbery or kidnapping.


Thai women are petite and slim, so if that rocks your boat then Thailand is where you should be. They are also extremely approachable, welcoming to foreigners, flirty and have a great sense of humor. However, if you share my taste, the Colombian women are in a league of their own: voluptuous, relatively tall, with curly black hair and well dressed. But it is too bad that they are part of the Colombian macho culture, because this makes them very unapproachable. They will typically immediately reject you, and continue to reject you until they think you have made enough of an effort to be worthy of their attention.

Below: Traditional Thai dance in Chiang Mai.


Learning the local language is a must for anyone living abroad, although surprisingly many do not bother. How can you fully appreciate a culture before you can at least understand the language on a basic level? 

I find Spanish to be a very beautiful language, and one that is easy to learn, up until the point when verb forms are introduced. With a basic vocabulary of Spanish, not focusing on perfect grammar, you can get very far in Colombia. After a few months of training you will be speaking with the locals.

Thai is a very difficult language to learn, mostly because of all the foreign sounds, and it will take you a year or two to get to a basic level.


Both countries have great infrastructure, but don't expect the same kind of attention to detail as in the west. Roads, water, sanitation, electric grid, telephone system, internet access, hospitals, schools, etc, you name it, it is all there.


Thailand is Buddhist with lots of beautiful temples. It is a peaceful country that focuses on long traditions of compassion and introspection. The general attitude is to be accepting and flexible, and to not worry too much.

Colombia has a heritage of beautiful colonial style towns and is very progressive with new technology and modernization. It is a strongly Catholic culture with many churches and historical buildings. 

Both countries have a positive outlook; Colombia on the verge of overcoming its past violent times, and Thailand overcoming its poverty. People are generally very hopeful about the future, as the last few generations have seen great improvements.


Both countries are so westernized that you can find all kinds of pop, rock and jazz, both imported and local. However, if you happen to live in a rural area you will be exposed to a lot of local style music. The Thai traditional music is very hard to relate to, and just doesn't do it for me.

Some of the traditional Colombian music can be equally boring, but most of it is quite good, especially salsa. 


Colombians are the kings of partying, and the entire reason some of the expats live there. Beer is cheap, party favors are easy to find, and the night clubs are packed with people drinking aguardiente and dancing salsa. There is simply no equivalent in Thailand.

Real estate

In Thailand you can not own land as a foreigner. Most expats either lease the land or write it in their spouse's name. However you can own the house on the land, and you can own an apartment in a building.

In Colombia you can own, buy and sell property without restriction.


Well, I am still living in Thailand after all these years, so I voted with my feet. But it is by a slim margin and I will probably visit Colombia again in the future.

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