An increasing number of foreigners are now living in Chiang Mai, and for good reason. Chiang Mai has been rated among the top 10 most liveable cities in Asia. It has a laid back atmosphere, enjoys a mild climate most of the year, and, above all, is affordable. The Northern Thais are agreeable people and don’t mind sharing their city, particularly if it helps the local economy.
More than 40,000 foreigners from dozens of countries have settled in Chiang Mai, enjoying a well-established network of services, schools, shops and social circles. English is commonly spoken and plenty of locals have become accustomed to ‘farang’ expectations. In this section we cover the essentials for those planning to live in Chiang Mai. Even if you’ve already settled you’ll find our directory of services useful.
The Chiang Mai life
The burgeoning Chiang Mai expat community has created a healthy demand for ‘farang-friendly’ services, including English-speaking lawyers, business and investment consultants, property agents, and various expat-interest groups. There are also six fully international schools, along with several supermarkets which are well stocked with imported foodstuff for fussy foreigners.
Chiang Mai is an ideal blend of small city sophistication without the traffic of Bangkok, inflated costs of Phuket, or insalubrious character of Pattaya. For this reason, it’s popular with retirees, Thai-foreigner families returning to live in Thailand, and young adventurers on a gap year. A significant number of missionaries (mainly American) have formed a comfortable community here, too.
With the right experience and attitude it’s possible for expats in Chiang Mai to start a business, and many foreigners are involved in tourism or export of handicrafts, while teaching jobs are becoming easier to come by. However, don’t expect the same level of opportunity as Bangkok, nor the ‘boutique villa’ lifestyle of Phuket.
The city is a laid-back experience, where locals potter around the old lanes on scooters at a lazy pace, gather in restaurants and bars to socialise, and have access to a wonderful playground of national parks and waterfalls on their doorstep. Parts of the Chiang Mai expat lifestyle are modern and trendy, yet part is also frustratingly rooted in the provincial Thai mentality of yesteryear.