I’ve probably received a dozen emails since Black Friday from people interested in relocating to Thailand to play poker. I figure it’s easier for me to just write a post for everyone rather than try to answer these emails one-off.
First off, I DO NOT recommend moving to Thailand to play online poker. Online poker is illegal in Thailand as are all forms of gambling (other than the state lottery).
Now with the disclaimer out of the way . . . I know lots of people living in Thailand who derive either their entire income or a portion of their income from playing online poker. Hell, I was sitting in a True Coffee Shop (True is one of the largest telecom and cable providers in Thailand) in the middle of Bangkok and watched some random guy multi-tabling Rush Poker on FTP on a public internet terminal.
Your chances of getting into any real trouble playing online poker in Thailand are pretty low. As they say, “It’s a farang problem.” In other words, it’s a foreigner problem. Thais don’t really play online poker so it’s just those crazy farangs wasting their money as far as the cops are concerned. It doesn’t impact the locals so it mostly flies under the radar.
Although gambling is illegal in Thailand everybody gambles. In fact, just last month the chief of police was fired (ahem, I mean reassigned to an inactive post) after claiming to be unaware of illegal casinos operating in Bangkok. An unusual denial considering everybody knows about the casinos. The denial prompted the editor of one of the largest English language newspapers to publish a list of illegal casinos district by district in Bangkok. It also didn’t help when a member of parliament produced undercover video inside one of the illegal casinos and claimed to know exactly which police and other members of the government were getting kickbacks to look the other way.
So that’s a very long-winded way of saying, I don’t suggest that you get involved in gambling in the Kingdom but if you ignore my advice you should understand what the risks are. Thai jail is not a place where you want to end up. The locals call Thai jail “The Monkey House” which is somewhat of a misnomer because you are probably treated more humanely in a zoo than you are in prison.
So my two pieces of advice to those who want to live in Thailand and play poker:
- Don’t ever talk about playing poker for a living.
- Don’t ever talk about playing poker for a living.
A good number of foreigners who get done up for crimes in Thailand get ratted out to the cops. That sweet girl you’ve been dating? Yeah, she’ll rat you out in a heartbeat when she becomes your ex-girlfriend. Have a beef with another foreigner? Don’t put it past him to use your illegal activity as leverage.
Keep a low profile. Don’t talk about what you do. Don’t live too lavishly and draw attention to yourself (jealously can be a bitch). If people ask, tell them that you have some real estate investments back in the US or get a job teaching English so you appear to have a source of legitimate income.
So, you’ve decided you’re willing to risk the Monkey House and make a go of it in Thailand, what else do you need to know?
First off, you need a reason for staying in the country. Thailand’s rules on tourist visas changes quite frequently but the general trend is to make it increasingly difficult for foreigners on tourist visas to get back to back visas.
Typically, people get a tourist visa (outside of Thailand) and have permission to enter the country for 60 days. That can be extended to 90 days at an immigration office in Thailand. At the end of their visa they cross the border into Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, or Malaysia and obtain a new tourist visa giving them another 60 days (extendable to 90).
More and more the local consulates and embassies in neighbouring countries are declining back to back tourist visas. Too many people were abusing it and staying for years in Thailand on tourist visas.
Another option is to get a legitimate job in Thailand and obtain a proper non-immigrant visa and work permit. Teaching English is pretty much your only choice for a legit job unless you know your way around the system in Thailand and can get other work. Even then, it’s not easy.
I stayed in Thailand on a student visa. I enrolled in Thai language courses (about $1000 for a year). This makes you legal for about a year but you need to go to the immigration office every 90 days to extend your visa.
Never, ever, ever sever your banking and credit card relationships in the US. You may not be able to process payments through those accounts but you will most certainly need US banking relationships sooner or later and they’re very, very difficult to set up with no US address.
I highly recommend a service from a company called, PayTrust. They’re owned by Intuit the same folks who bring you Quicken and Mint. What they do is give you an address in the US and you can change all of your billing addresses to PayTrust. When your bills or other correspondence arrives at their offices they scan your bills and convert them to PDF so you can view them anywhere in the world.
In Thailand opening up a bank account on anything other than a non-immigrant visa and work permit is hit and miss. One day you could walk into a branch and all you need is your passport. Next day you can walk into the same branch and they might ask for a mountain of paperwork. That said, many people report good experiences at the Kasikorn Bank branch on Sukhumvit near Soi 33.
Some people have told me that they have no problems processing payments via their Thai bank account. I’ve never done it because I’ve kept my European bank accounts and had no need but supposedly it can be done.
Well, in case you aren’t already aware, Americans owe tax on income earned anywhere in the world. That’s right, you could have a job in Thailand teaching English and you’ll have to report that income to the US IRS and pay taxes on it. Plus you pay Thai taxes too.
It’s not too bad though. Most countries have a reciprocal tax treaty with the US. That means that if I work in Thailand and earn $100,000 and pay the Thai government $25,000 in taxes I can deduct the $25,000 from the amount I owe Uncle Sam.
Additionally, foreign earned income is subject to an $85,000 (last time I checked) exemption from taxes. So the first $85K you make is essentially tax free in the US.
If you live in a state with a state income tax you should discuss with your accountant what your options are for avoiding this tax. Some states are very aggressive and operate under the assumption that your time overseas is simply temporary and that you intend to return to that state thus you are subject to taxes even if you don’t live there.
Breaking the state government’s grip on your income usually involves establishing a residence in another state (preferably with no state tax) prior to moving overseas. But be careful because even having your primary care physician in the state could be enough for the state to claim that you never severed your ties to the state.
I guess the best advice for all of this is to go see your tax guy/gal and ask how to minimize the taxes you legally owe.
While everyone complains about not having 4G here in the US, Thailand is still dreaming about rolling out 3G. There is limited 3G coverage in Bangkok but that’s about it.
Cable and DSL internet is okay in the bigger cities like Bangkok, Pattaya, etc but is spotty (at best) outside major metropolitan areas. Even in Bangkok expect outages.
A few of the more hard core poker players I know have a cable or DSL line as their main connectivity and use a 3G modem as a backup.
To be honest, the internet connectivity in Gibraltar was far, far, far worse than Thailand but if you’re used to blazing fast speeds and get angry when your 4G phone has to jump down to 3G when driving through the mountains, Thailand’s connectivity may cause you severe distress.
Playing in Thailand
As far as I’m aware none of the major sites blocks Thailand. Full Tilt’s website was blocked in Thailand (by the Thai government) but the poker client worked.
However, that is a risk. The Thai government filters internet traffic in the Kingdom. Most of their efforts are directed at pornography and anything deemed disrespectful of the monarchy. Officially there are over 75,000 websites blocked by the Thai government with the unofficial number being much higher.
And don’t think they won’t block a site because it’s too big. YouTube was blocked for almost a year because of a video that mocked the King. The Economist seems to regularly run articles that question the acts of the monarchy and The Economist website will be blocked for a month and local news agents will refuse to carry that edition of the magazine.
Working in Thailand
One of the biggest problems you’ll probably face is justifying your stay in Thailand. Unless you’re north of 50 years of age you can’t really retire to Thailand. If you’re not retired then the Thai government will be curious as to how you’re supporting yourself while you stay in the Kingdom.
I’m no legal expert and I’m certainly no expert in Thai law but from what I have seen from various people who are experts in Thai law, work done online and conducted outside of Thailand is not seen as work.
Working without a work permit is illegal in Thailand and will get you deported. I’ve even heard of people volunteering for charity work getting into trouble as that is considered working. In another case, a bar owner who didn’t have a work permit himself, was ratted out by a competitor who noticed that the owner was carrying boxes from the back of the bar to the front.
The online world has sort of passed by the Thai legal system in this area. Since being able to work in a place in which you are not physically located was not something the framers of the law had anticipated it falls into a grey area that, at the moment, is not considered working.
So you can play online poker and you are not working. If you’re a graphic designer or programmer you can take on work from overseas clients and not be considered to be working in Thailand. You could do poker coaching or writing for online publications and as long as they don’t involve Thai owned businesses then you aren’t officially working in Thailand.
But, as I mentioned, it is a grey area and could be clarified at any time or the government might just get a bug up its ass and decide that there are too many foreigners living in Thailand working illegally on the internet. So keep that in mind.
Thailand is a great country but it has the potential to become very volatile very fast. The country is undergoing a lot of change at the moment.
First off, former PM Thaksin Shinawatra is trying desperately to get back into the country after being overthrown in a coup in 2006. His sister was just elected PM in July and the new government has been doing everything possible to lay the groundwork for his return. If that happens, another coup isn’t too farfetched.
Second, Thailand’s King, the longest currently reigning monarch in the world (over 65 years), is in ill health. The Thai people loooooooooooooooooove the King. He’s been instrumental in keeping the country united. When he dies (he’s 83) all bets are off. Nobody is really sure of what will happen. It could be a peaceful transition of power to his son or various elements could seize upon the power vacuum and try to wrestle control of the country.
In other words, be ready to leave on a moment’s notice. I lived in the middle of last year’s red shirt protests and felt relatively safe so I’m not recommending being skittish but do be smart. In any sort of power struggle I would not be surprised if foreigners became an easy target in order to whip people up into a nationalistic frenzy.
Not that they would come to your home with pitchforks and torches or anything but power struggles usually involve a scapegoat. Sort of the “Those freeloading foreigners who come to our country and buy up our land and drive up prices are causing all of the problems, “ speech.
And don’t think it’s unlikely. Just a couple of months ago a leader in the former government was asked about having foreign observers oversee the elections and he told the press that he didn’t see a need for them as he doesn’t respect foreigners.
There’s an old saying in Thailand amongst expats, “Don’t ever keep more money in Thailand than you can afford to lose. “
Words to live by.
Don’t Get Too Intoxicated
Drink up all you want. Just don’t fall in love with Thailand.
In the Hangover II there’s a quote “Bangkok has him now.” Every expat in the audience cracked up when I watched the film in Bangkok because we all know what that means.
Thailand is a beautiful place. Beautiful beaches. Beautiful islands. Beautiful mountains. Beautiful jungles. Beautiful people.
All of that often becomes intoxicating. It’s like a drug you can’t quit.
I’ve seen people throw their lives away there. They can’t go back even if that’s the only thing that would save them. That’s what happened to Ron “The Mad Yank” Fanelli.
I guess I have a hard time feeling the sympathy for Fanelli because I’ve seen loads of Fanelli’s here in Thailand. Much like Las Vegas, Thailand is intoxicating. But like any intoxicant, it can be dangerous if you let it control you.
People who spend a lot of time hanging out in casinos or card rooms might be slightly familiar with the phenomena that I’m talking about. You know that guy who might have been a decent player in the past but just can’t cut it anymore? The guy who is always looking for a stake and can never seem to pull themselves out of the hole?
That’s a mild form of intoxication. They don’t know when to call it quits. They refuse to go and get a job or straighten their life out. As they spiral deeper they can no longer support themselves on hand outs or the goodwill of others so they hold on to their old lifestyle even tighter and tighter resorting to anything to keep in the game. Eventually they turn to booze and/or drugs to cloud out the reality which only accelerates the downfall.
Thailand is overflowing with guys like this. Some you see sitting in outdoor bars at 10am on a Tuesday. Some turn to crime. Some even become homeless (rumors are that The Mad Yank was close to getting evicted from his Phuket apartment) like this German guy, Michael, who was a frequent site on Sukhumvit Soi 22 (word is that he’s since moved to Pattaya).
Like they said in the movie, Bangkok has him now.
Don’t be that guy. Don’t fall in love with the lifestyle. It’s like proper bankroll management. Those who practice good bankroll management seem to stick around to see the next session. Those that try to be “balla” and throw cash around like drunken sailors eventually are creeping around the tables asking for a stake.
Like I said, I cannot recommend to anyone that they move to Thailand to engage in online poker. That said, it’s a great place and I hope the above didn’t scare anyone away from visiting or moving to Thailand.
If you have any specific questions or care to post some helpful travel /relocation tips please feel free to ask/share in the comments section.