Probably the worst financial disaster in this new century the US Federal Government has given to the American people is Obamacare, sometimes euphemistically referred to as the Affordable Care Act, the worst oxymoron since Military Intelligence. Before Obamacare, there were many Americans that could not afford health insurance. What Obamacare has done is make those that cannot afford it subject to penalties by the IRS. In a very twisted mind, this fixes everything. Oh, and Obamacare makes health insurance more expensive for just about everybody. While obviously I am no fan of this program to control the medical insurance industry in the US, my goal with this report is to provide how Obamacare — ACA for those that support it — affects the American Expat with the requirements necessary to be excluded from the program and the penalties for non participation by those required to buy insurance under the system. While my bias is clear, I hope all can gain useful information, and I am open to differing biases and opinions being expressed in the comments to this posting. Please accept my apologies beforehand if my bias offends you. That is not my intention. The dirty little secret is that Obamacare was, and is, a subsidy to the insurance industry. A way of keeping the insurance companies profitable; of keeping the current US healthcare system moving along priced out of the reach for most American citizens. Those really good private insurance plans offered with some of the better US jobs are now gone or are going, unless you are a top executive. Now, under Obamacare almost everyone is forced to buy a shitty private insurance plan in the Obamacare insurance marketplace online (which currently doesn’t work) or on their own. It will probably help some people with very low incomes, some people will win, but most people will lose bigtime with a higher insurance cost. And if you don’t pay, you will be punished (with fines from the IRS). Continue reading
In 1984, the city of Wiang Kum Kam was rediscovered by archeologists. Before that time, the ancient city was thought by many to be just a myth. For at least two centuries, the city had been almost completely buried because of the many years of flooding from the Ping River that originally traversed right next to it. This was once the fortified capital city of the Lanna Kingdom, built by King Mengrai in the early 1200s. It seemed like the perfect location at the time, along the banks of the Ping.
Unfortunately, the city was hit with flooding problems during the rainy season every year. It was built too close to the river and the city was low lying. Because of this, in 1296 the King decided to build a new city, Chiang Mai, on the opposite shore of the Ping River, in an area thought to be safer from the annual floods. In 1297, the new city of Chiang Mai (which translates to “new city”) became the Lanna Kingdom capitol. The old city was Wiang Kum Kam.
One of our regular comment writers on blog postings on this site, Chuck (aka Thai Stick), is going through a bit marital trauma and would like to contribute a little advice that he has learned from the experience. I am repeating Chuck’s words of wisdom pretty much exactly as he passed them on to this blog.
I just divorced my Thai Wife of 5 Years.
Will not bore you with the details, only that it was Money Motivated.
And wish to inform the Expat Community that the Thai Law has changed concerning Divorce. Before, when one went to get a divorce all that was needed was you and your wife agreeing and signing the papers, same as is now done by Thai people. Now for an expat here in Thailand, there are a lot more red-tape headaches.
For Americans, one of the first things missed when they are living abroad is a good American style pizza. While pizza is made just about everywhere in the world, there is a special experience with a good American pizza and a cold beer that is difficult to duplicate in an exotic corner of the World. Chiang Mai expat Tom Tanner did a thorough investigation of the local pizza scene and his report follows….
A Quest for the Perfect Pizza in Northern Thailand
By Thomas Tanner
I’m a big proponent of Thai food. I’ve been living up in Chiang Mai for 10 months now, and I still enjoy eating Thai food usually three meals per day. But every now and then, I tend to revert back to my roots and crave a hamburger or a pizza. Finding an excellent hamburger here is not a problem – there are many places, at least in Chiang Mai, that should satisfy most hamburger aficionados: Chiang Mai Saloon, Gekko Garden, Loco Elvis and Mike’s are the best that I’ve had, and in that order.
The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a “Free Trade” Agreement initiated by the United States about 3 years ago, and has been strongly promoted by the Obama administration. The agreement, however, has little to do with free trade and much to do with protection of American corporate interests in Asia and the Pacific. The agreement has encountered stiff resistance in several Asian and Pacific countries, but despite that, it seemed to be making steady progress towards completion. Some in the US and Canada have called the TPP a “done deal”.
Many have described the TPP as very evil in its concept, protecting US corporate interests above the interests of the people in the signatory countries, including Americans living within the US borders. Many say the results will be a loss of internet privacy and increased medical costs amongst other extremely uncomfortable results. If you are not familiar with the TPP, I did write an article in the blog about it near the beginning of the year: http://americanexpatchiangmai.com/the-great-american-deception-the-tpp-trans-pacific-partnership/. I am unable to provide many details about the TPP, and the same goes for everyone else, because unlike almost all other trade agreements that have been introduced ever, the terms of this agreement are kept in complete secret. Even members of the US Congress cannot read the terms of this agreement. No media can examine it, debate it, or discuss any of the agreement details. And that also applies to every signatory country to the TPP as well. So much for the “transparency administration.”
Chiang Mai is regarded in Thailand as an educational city, with some of the best universities and lower preparatory schools in the country, which brings with it an appreciation for the arts and humanities. Consequently, it is very fitting that Chiang Mai would also have an active Live Theater community, even amongst expats, and it does in the form of the Gate Theater.
The Gate Theater Group is a non-profit organization operated by volunteers bringing performing arts to Chiang Mai in the English language. It is run by an energetic ex-Chicagoan that has had a lifetime involved in live theater performance in New York, Chicago and other cities, Mr. Stephan Turner. In the spirit of strong determination, he built an English language theater company in an exotic environment against all odds, and despite everything stacked up against him, and has developed an ongoing production company that is bringing American theater arts to the Chiang Mai public. The theater group’s website is located HERE.
Is it called “The American Dream” because you have to be asleep to believe it?- George Carlin
a better life found for some Americans in Pattaya
a guest post by Blair Thomas
Connie and Pete have been friends of the family ever since I can remember. Their mission is to “Squeeze the juices out of life” and enjoy every moment of their time on this planet. Over five years ago, they went on a trip to Belize and decided that they loved it so much; they didn’t want to come back.
Over the course of about two years, they systematically sold their home, sent the last of their kids off to college and got rid of most of their possessions. (I bought their dining room table.) At last they were ready, and stowed the remainder of their worldly collectables in a storage unit and left with two suitcases.
They have been around the world at least three times. At last count, one of their favorite places to stay is Thailand. Over and over again, they rave about the wonderful people and the low cost of living.
Visitors to Chiang Mai should not miss traveling outside of the city. The Northern Thailand countryside has much to offer. A trip up to the Golden Triangle, or over the mountains to Pai, or taking the Mae Hong Son “Loop” adds amazing experiences to a holiday in Thailand.
1008 road turns. But who’s counting. The road up to the Pai district of Mae Hong Son Province from Chiang Mai, Route 1095, twists up the mountains through the rain forest and may be a bit of a rough ride with all the curves (but fortunately the road is good). If you are prone to car sickness (similar to sea sickness), you better prepare yourself.
The road to Pai is also beautiful. This is the “rainy season”, so all the forests are lush green. The best time to visit Pai is in October through February.
Eventually you cross beyond cloud height (or so it seems) to the top of the mountains and get an amazing panoramic view in every direction. You can reach Pai from Chiang Mai by bus, but I would recommend a smaller vehicle. One of the tourist vans can be hired with a driver that easily holds about a dozen people for about 1900Baht per day plus fuel. Dividing that up in a small group makes that fairly cheap, and the van driver will make stops or side trips along the way to interesting places. That’s how we traveled on our trip. By van, the drive takes about 3 hours with a few short stops along the way.
Going by motorcycle or motor bike (scooter) can be a lot of fun, but for the low powered bikes, the road will be slow as it is climbing at a pretty steep slope most of the way. So it may be a bit slow going, but that can be fun itself going through the rain forest.
Guest posting by Pamela Torres
Women, who come to Thailand to train or fight Muay Thai, raise your head high and fight for the right to fight.
Muay Thai is referred to as ‘the art of 8 limbs’, because the fists, elbows, knees, shins and feet are all used to confront your opponent, using eight points of contact rather than the two in boxing (hands), or four in kick boxing (hands and feet).
How far back the sport originated is unclear but we’re talking at least 2000 years when tribes around South East Asia used the art to ‘weaponize’ the human body in battlefields. During World War II, Thai soldiers were deployed to other countries and would often practice this martial art with each other. This provided a great source of entertainment for European and American soldiers, who later asked to be trained in the art themselves. As a result, the sport has spread and become very popular worldwide, in the last 100 years or so.
It has now been a year and three months since my wife’s car accident. It was a near death experience for her (and me to a lesser degree as her passenger), but she survived with the loss of three fingers in her right hand. That loss ended her career as a professional chef which she had excelled in her own restaurant in California and in Chiang Mai. It was a difficult going through the medical treatment and recovery and the loss of her ability to work as a chef, but the most troubling aspect of this ordeal was going through negotiations with a big corporation bent on protecting their reputation to the detriment of their customers.
If you are placing a bet on who will win between my wife or one of the world’s biggest auto manufacturers, it would be smart to bet on the corporation, and in this case that is exactly how it turned out. My wife was driving a car that in our opinion has an inherent defect (it is top heavy) with faulty steering caused by human error either at the Mitsubishi factory or at the Mitsubishi dealership, yet they are not being held responsible for the damage they have done to my wife, the consumer that put her faith (and life) in the hands of Mitsubishi, the driver and the victim.
This fruit is almost completely unknown in the US, but Gac is a Superfruit amongst fruits, giving us amazing levels of essential vitamins and antioxidants. It is a native of Vietnam, and grows throughout Southeast Asia and in China. In Thailand, it is called Fak Khaao and is still unusual to find in the markets. It is also sold in China, and is known as the Chinese bitter cucumber, cundeamor, and bhat karela.
Asking around to sellers that know me in my local market didn’t get me very far, and no one knew where I could get it. When the Gac fruit does make an appearance at the market, I can spot them from quite a distance as they are very bright orange-reddish in color and stand out amongst fruits. Gac fruit apparently ripens only once a year in the months of December and January when other nutrient-providing fruits and vegetables are no longer in season. They seem to be found more in special markets catering to organic and health-oriented foods.
Everywhere in Thailand, as well as in some other Asian countries, it is a mandatory tradition that before you enter a house, you first remove your shoes. The same applies to Buddhist temples, and sometimes in very small shops. And never step on the threshold, as this is considered impolite. Always carefully step over the threshold. Reasons why can get a little complicated, but it has to do with the spirits in the home (which are in almost every Thai house) and stepping on the threshold could offend them and bring bad luck to the living residents of the house.
When I first came to this small city, it was the ancient crumbling city walls and the moat surrounding it all that which made Chiang Mai so incredibly interesting for me. In order to get into the “Old City”, I have to cross a bridge over the moat which is full of water. The moat today has fountains built into it that are lit at night, with tropical trees shading the area as a beautiful historical park. It is one of the most magical places on Earth. When walking around the moat, you can easily put yourself into another century. This is no Disneyland; this is the real thing, much of it unchanged from an era far predating my home country. Chiang Mai is an amazing place. Chiang Mai, which translates into “new walled city”, was founded on April 12, 1296. That was about 300 years before William Shakespeare was writing for the theater and about 500 years before America was born. Our little town is a very old place. King Mangrai, the first monarch of the Lanna Kingdom, founded Chiang Mai at the location of small trading settlement of local people, and immediately developed a plan for a fortified city protected by walls and a large moat.
Despite plenty of press releases about how governments around the world are signing up for the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), times are changing and resistance to this program is mounting.
Perhaps it is the “Snowden Effect”, which is building resistance around the world to the over-reach of the US government into the private lives of individuals. FATCA is a parallel intrusion to the US spying on personal emails and telephone calls of many millions of American citizens and citizens of other countries. FATCA is a massive survellance of mundane financial information of every American citizen or green card holder and their immediate family living outside of the US borders. Originally, FATCA was initiated to fight money laundering, income tax avoidance and any other activity deemed illegal by US authorities.
The surveillance is also directed towards any American owned company and its officers overseas that have authority over the company’s banking. Financial penalties for non-compliance are severe, not just for individuals that do not report, but also towards foreign financial institutions, exchanges and trustees handling American assets that do not comply.
The Bank of Thailand has deemed that Bitcoins are not a currency, despite evidence to the contrary throughout the world. The Bank of Thailand, the governing body that regulates financial transactions in Thailand, made this conclusion at a board meeting earlier today. Consequently, any transactions using Bitcoins in Thailand are now forbidden. The Thai Bitcoin trading company, Bitcoin Company Ltd. has shut down all operations.
The following Bitcoin activities are now illegal in Thailand:
- Buying Bitcoins
- Selling Bitcoins
- Buying any goods or services in exchange for Bitcoins
- Selling any goods or services for Bitcoins
- Sending Bitcoins to anyone located outside of Thailand
- Receiving Bitcoins from anyone located outside of Thailand
Note that if anyone living in Thailand owns any Bitcoins, the currency has become instantly worthless in a legal sense as no one can send the money to anyone within or outside of Thailand.
The Thai government has not been shy about censoring the internet and restricting other practices generally accepted in other parts of the world, so this may not be a surprise to some involved in cutting edge online business. However, this action by Thailand appears to be the first time any country has outright banned the use of this digital currency.
Moving permanently or near-permanently to Thailand from America or Western Europe requires big adjustments for the new expat. For some that have moved around a lot in their life, it may be a little easier since they have been through it all before. For those of us that make the big move like this only once or twice in a lifetime, it requires a new level of flexibility. Many of the courtesies and expectations we learned growing up back home have to be put in the background as we make our adjustments. Thailand is a very different world from Europe, America, Canada, Australia — anywhere in the West.
There are two ways in which an expat can handle the massive shock of living in an exotic culture so different from back home: You can look at the huge changes in your lifestyle as something new and rewarding, expanding your thinking and realizing new dimensions to our short life of experiences, or you can have the strength to hold on to the things you know are “right” and not letting the influences of your new surroundings change your thinking or the way you live your life. Who is to say which is the right approach? For me, I am doing my best to embrace my new culture and be open to new ways to stumble down my life’s path. Not easy for an old guy. But I can also understand those that rigidly retain all the values and lifestyle they learned back home.
Now that I have been living in Thailand for a decent amount of time, I can reflect on how other Expats have handled the big shock when making this Tropical Kingdom their new home. I have seen a pattern with specific stages of living here that seem consistent, at least for the expats that embrace their new country. For Americans, it seems like we all fit into these stages somewhere, and for some, we remain in a particular stage for a very long time. Not all of us reach the final stage, and I have certainly not completed that stage myself (but I’m working on it).
In the West, “Truth” is the most important consideration for everything. Lying is considered totally unacceptable in any situation. “Just the truth, and nothing but the truth.” If a person is put into an uncomfortable or inconvenienced position because of the truth, so be it. Americans are on a never-ending struggle to uncover the “truth”. History is constantly revised to show the real “truth”. Truth is upheld as a sacrosanct principle, perhaps one of the very foundations of Western Civilization.
The Thai model for truth is totally different. To understand it, you have to understand the concept of “saving face”. This is a hugely important idea in Thailand, and is an idea in which politics, business, academics, the military —- everything, is built around. “Losing Face” means anything that can cause a person to be exposed, put in an uncomfortable situation, be caught doing bad things, look stupid, look ignorant, or be associated with people who act improperly. Losing Face must be avoided at all times, and for Americans bent on finding out the whole truth, this often creates a bit of conflict. In Thailand, if an expat is going to immerse themselves into Thai society, they are going to have to make changes in their thinking. Saving Face/Losing Face is a far more important factor in Thailand than the absolute truth.
In a small farm village of Doi Lor (written also as Doi Lo or Doi Lhor), not far from the towns of Mae Wang and Sanpatong, about an hours drive from central Chiang Mai, is a unique museum, under the shadow of Thailand’s largest mountain, Doi Inthanon. The name “Doi Lor” means mountain view, and the area has the most prominent view of this mighty mountain to the West. This is one of my favorite areas of rural Thailand, and I want to introduce it to others.
The Ganesha Museum in Doi Lor is actually more of a temple than a museum, but unlike other Thai temples, this one is primarily dedicated to ancient Hindu religious symbols, especially the God called Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god.
Americans are strapped with the highest medical care costs on the planet, but the citizenry has been told repeatedly for at least fifty years or so that it is the “best medical care available anywhere in the world.”
The truth is that American medical care is OK (especially for the wealthy), but certainly not the best care available anywhere for the non-rich. Medical treatment in places like India, Thailand, Mexico, Costa Rica and a host of other countries have built reputations for excellent care at a fraction of the cost in the US.
“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you”
- Joseph Heller, Catch 22
Exile from the “Land of the Free”
by Victoria Ferauge, Franco-American Flophouse
republished with the permission of the author
It’s no much fun being an American abroad these days. It seems like every time we open a newspaper, read the headlines on the Net, or talk with other Americans in our host countries, it’s bad news followed by more bad news. Even the most level-headed and loyal are beginning to wonder if the U.S. government and the American homelanders really are after us.
The latest is a little amendment that two U.S. senators decided to slip into a U.S. immigration reform bill (S. 744: Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act). Guess they decided that while they were working on immigration that they might as well strike a blow against emigration. Kind of implies this mentality: once we’ve got them (migrants and their children), the U.S. needs a way to make them stick around and never EVER leave.
It ain’t like it used to be. Today’s retirees look at the 401K savings they worked so hard on over the years nearly disappear and suffered gigantic equity drops on the home they spent 25+ years paying for each month. We’re part of the Baby Boomers generation that had so many opportunities in the last part of the last century, only to see it pretty much crumble over the last ten years or so. CNN Money reported that 90% of our generation said they were hit by an unanticipated economic event that took a huge dent into their retirement savings, to the tune of an average of $117,000. Over 40% were hit with 5 economic events that socked them for an average of $144,000. Almost all of Boomers are in the same boat.
For me personally, I saw an equity drop in my house by about 45%, wiping out my big retirement nest egg from the house completely. I know of many others that were similarly hit by the drop in the US housing market since ’06. I also was hit with my drop in the 401K savings, which sunk by about 80% over the ten years following 2001. My situation is pretty much what happened to nearly everyone of my age. It has created a whole new dynamic to our retirement plans. Is it any wonder that we are pessimistic about the American economy?
Living in Thailand for me is pretty good. There are many things and experiences that are possible here that would be impossible to find — and a bit unbelievable — in America, but there are always some things that are hard to find or expensive in Thailand that are simply taken for granted back home. It is natural to miss some of these things.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love living in this magical kingdom of Thailand and have no desire to move back to my homeland. It is just that there are some things America has that just can’t be found in other places.
Here’s my short list (leaving off the obvious, “F & F”, friends and family), and I would appreciate others adding to it. Maybe those from back home coming to visit us in Thailand will then have some good ideas of what to bring us, or at least prepared for us when we go back for a visit:
Thick soft crust juicy Chicago style pizza. Has to have pepperonis. And lots of cheese. (Pizza Uno and Papa Johns come to mind).
A great bottle of Northern California Red Wine (sorry, but the wines of Australia, Chile, South Africa and even Europe cannot begin to match the special goodness of a Napa Valley Cab).
Alluring landscapes, charming people and rich Asian culture—Thailand is a paradise in many ways. But, like anywhere else, if you don’t have money in your pocket it can be a rough and tough experience.
Even if you’re collecting a steady pension check, social security payment, or trust fund payout, there’s always the fear that the U.S. dollar or another home currency can lose value against the Thai Baht…so it’s important to find some sort of income stream locally. The future prospects for the economy in Thailand seem much more optimistic that in the US, the UK or in Western Europe. A perfect situation would of course to have diverse income flows in several currencies (and maybe a few Bitcoins as well), but perfect is hard to come by.
Starting your own business is one option. But—notwithstanding the truth about entrepreneurship…you either have it, or you don’t—in Thailand there are special considerations to take into account.
…Lately, I have been contemplating and researching the implications of being an Expat as it relates to State income taxes (no problem understanding Federal income taxes). It seems that many states may consider someone to be domiciled in their respective state even if that individual is no longer residing in that State. If someone still has a banking relationship, and/or is still registered to vote and has a driver’s licensed issued from that State, my understanding is that the State in question could expect that individual to file and pay state income taxes (again even if they no longer live there)….
As no doubt every American expat understands, the United States requires every American expat to file a US federal tax return for their worldwide income (meaning including income not earned in the US). This citizen-ship based demand for tax filing is being decried by many, and is the toughest tax demand on expats of any country. Only if your annual income is less than USD $9350 (single person) or USD $18,700 (joint return) are you exempt from filing. You will not have to pay taxes on income earned outside of the US if it is $92,900 or less, but you are still required to report to the IRS what you earned even if it is very little (this is truly an over reach by the US government, but as an expat we don’t have a representative going to bat for our interests).
And most expats are aware of the FBAR rules that require expats to report any bank account or other financial assets that have an accumulative value of USD $10,000 anytime within the year.
Another question arises about STATE income taxes. Many States, like my home state of California, are very aggressive about abstracting income taxes from their residents, and often the burden of proof about residency is on the citizen. You are guilty until proven innocent, so what is the situation for an expat that used to live in the State and maintains a mailbox or friends/relatives address in the State as a connection back home?
Like most Americans, I am no fan of big American and European pharmaceutical companies. In the US, by controlling the FDA, the AMA and elected politicians, they have made the industry of medicines a very profitable and colluding oligopoly to the detriment of the American public, often ruining the lives of the ill and elderly. To my delight, when moving to Thailand I found that the market for buying meds seems to be much more relaxed. The result: medicines that are out of the reach of many in America because of price, or not available at all because the FDA restricts their distribution, are readily available to the public in Thailand. It ain’t perfect in Thailand, but it is a heck of a lot better than back in the ‘States. That gives a traveler from America an opportunity to make life for themselves back home a lot better.
If you are coming for a visit to Thailand from the US, you can save a lot of money by stocking up on your meds here (just make sure you have documents to keep the police state off your back when you return). It is also good to have a small supply of the “contingency drugs”, the medicine you are likely to need as things happen in the future. If you can legally buy the meds you need in the US, you can buy them in Thailand easier and much cheaper than back home.
You will usually find both the brand name pharmaceuticals you have in the US (running typically about 10% of the cost in the US) and generic brands (could be as low as 1%). With that huge price difference, it can make a major lifestyle difference for many Americans, and might even be able to save enough that it pays for the trip and holiday completely.