Please Pick Me Something Up from Home

January 1, 2013

We don’t return home to the U.S. that often nowadays, although now with the two grand children we would like to. The long flights are becoming a bit hard on us. But when we do go home, we try to make the best of the opportunity and pick up items that we either can’t find here in Thailand or things that are much more expensive here than back home, or brand name items that just aren’t available here in Thailand. We travel very light on the way out, armed with a few essentials and our list, but are packed to the weight limit on the flight back.

Everyone has their own list of “stuff” to get back home, and your list might differ from mine. Sometimes the list is supplemented to by friends, both Expats and Thais, who knowing that you’ll be traveling home, ask if it wouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience to pick up some “stuff” for them.  I’ll leave the answer to you. But when my neighbor asked me if I could pick up a chain saw for him from Sears, well, I found a polite excuse, something like where we are going there aren’t any Sears stores around (as if any place like that existed in the U.S.)

Since first coming to Thailand, I am happy to say that the list of items that aren’t available here keeps getting shorter, and prices on imported goods continue to drop. But we still seem to fill our airline weight quota coming back. In the hopes that this will give you an idea of what kinds of things we have trouble finding here, and help you figure out what you might want to pack with you when you come, I am listing the things that we try to bring back from our trips home.

Clothes

Bringing clothes bought abroad is especially important if there are certain brand names of clothes that you prefer and that are not available here. I love those Haggar pants that I get from J.C. Penny that have those elastic, expandable, waists. They come in really handy after Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Chinese New Year’s dinners when my waist expands a couple of inches at one sitting.

Also, those Expats of the larger variety (you know what I am talking about) may not be able to find clothes that fit here in Hobbit-land. The biggest (no pun intended) problem is finding underwear and shoes in the really large sizes. I just met a Canadian who is about 6’6” and wears a size 14 shoe. He told me he found one shop in the whole country that had size 13. That didn’t help him though. So he buys his shoes back home. I have a friend who always buys a certain brand of dress socks that he can’t find here. As for me, I haven’t worn dress socks, or real shoes for that matter, in years.

Electronics

You can get most electronic gadgets (laptops, smart phones, mp3 players, tablets, game players, cameras, etc.) right here in Thailand. I mean, just about every shopping mall has a big camera outlet and an Apple Store where you can get Macs, iPhones, iPads, or “i” just about anything else. The trouble is the price (although prices, except for the absolute latest models, seem to be dropping daily – you judge, I just bought a 16GB flash drive on sale for $6).

The Android tablet I have was bought on one of my trips home. It has a 10.1” screen and is exactly what I need. I got it for $295 back home. The similar Samsung Galaxy 10.1” Note sells for 22,000 baht here, or $720.  I was going to write that cameras are cheaper back home. The equivalent of my Olympus that I got at Wal-Mart for less than $300 used to be over 12,000 baht (about $400). But I just looked today and the prices for cameras have dropped big time.   TVs and DVD players are well priced here and since they work on a different system than in the west it is better to pick them up in country. And of course DVDs and CDs are all of the “Long John Silver, the pirate” variety, so they are much cheaper here than back home.

You can buy things quite cheaply off of Amazon.com and eBay of course, and then have them shipped here. But I have yet to develop a large enough trust in the local postal services to attempt that.

Medicine

Prescription meds are fairly priced in Thailand. The imported ones cost about what they would back home and the Thai made meds are much cheaper (but make sure they are of the correct strength and quality – best bought at a good hospital or reliable pharmacy).  As an example, the Thai variety of “the little blue pill” that so many old dudes rely on here costs a fraction of the imported variety (talking about Vitamin “V”, of course).

When I still lived part of the year back in the U.S., I used to buy my prescription meds here in Thailand and bring back enough for the rest of the year. I figured that each year I saved enough for one plane ticket by doing that. When you know exactly what you need you also save the cost of going to a doctor and getting a prescription. Most are available just by going to a good pharmacy and telling them what you want.

But there are many over-the-counter meds that we have come to rely on that are not available here. Multi-vitamins are very expensive here but quite cheap back home. Generic drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen are sometimes hard to come by and they’ll try to sell you an expensive name brand. Things like Glucosamine, something that we old joint-challenged codgers use, are much cheaper back home. And various band named over-the-counter drugs that you might like are not sold here in Thailand (e.g. Preparation-H, Alka- Seltzer, Alieve, Tylenol Cold).

Foods

Here are some foods that we brought back from our last trip. Cheese (about 30 lbs), Pepperoni, hot dogs (10 lbs of the Costco brand, which disappeared in about 2 weeks), Gravy Mix, Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix (for making  a great sour cream dip), and some Large jars of spices. I just wish I had brought back some more hotdogs; they are almost worth the trip alone.

Books

I have always been an avid reader. Maybe that is why I like to write. It used to be very difficult getting the latest books, or even the classics, here in Thailand. And the ones you could get were quite expensive. If you read as much as I do that can be a problem. What I used to do on my trips back home was to go to my neighborhood thrift store or second hand store and pick up lots of used books for 50 cents to a dollar. I love reading mysteries and detective novels and I would come back with a year’s worth of reading from each trip.

Not anymore though. I now do almost all my reading on my PC or my tablet. I have conversion software (Calibre) that can change eBooks to any format, PDF, EPUB, or MOBI or more. I get all my reading material on line and have a friend who has downloaded more than 3,000 eBooks. I think I am set for life. And if you are wondering if your favorite types of books are available electronically, here is an eclectic list of what I am currently reading: Moby Dick, Melville; Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman; The Dexter mysteries, Lindsay; Wolf Hall, Mantel; and Cloud Atlas, Mitchell. Yes, I know, I read a lot at one time, but that’s what hyperactive children do. But it shows that just about anything is now available electronically. So, unless you still like the feel of a paper book in your hands, there is no need for trips to the thrift store to buy used books anymore.

Children’s Books and Toys

Children’s books are another animal though and I think it is nice for kids to hold that physical book in their hands while they learn to love reading. Sadly, good children’s books are hard to come by here. You can go the Amazon way and I would love to hear from anyone who has done that successfully here. Please let us know. Until then, those with little ones might want to plan a visit to a good book store on your next trip home and stock up on good children’s books. This is what I did long ago when my kids were small. Their favorite books were by Richard Scary and Dr. Spock.

Toys are also something that you might think about. There are lots of toys sold here in Thailand but the quality is usually low and I don’t think a lot of them would pass the safety regulations we impose on toys back home. That of course would be your call.

Cosmetics

Each of us has our own cosmetics preferences. My wife, who doesn’t use much makeup at all, still makes a short list. You might make one too. I have mine. If you have ever seen the movie Hannibal you may recall that Hannibal Lector sniffs at the Edward Norton character and condescendingly comments on his after shave, “Something with a ship on the label.” Well, that brand is Old Spice. And the Old Spice after shave and deodorant, not available here, are definitely on my list. Hannibal might not approve but he’s a fictional serial killer so I don’t worry too much about his opinion.

Tools 

Small hand tools of the brands you prefer (I like Craftsmen) can be brought back. I once brought back a lawn mower, but I was crazier then.

Chocolate

And in a category all by itself is chocolate. I have to admit that I am a chocoholic, but I am very picky. You can buy fairly good chocolates here but not the brand I like. When I visit home (or when someone is coming here and asks me “What can I bring you?), a trip to Trader Joe’s is in order. This great store has these 1+ lbs bars of Belgium chocolates to die for. But don’t give me any of those regular bars. It must be with almonds. I usually pick up 10 pounds of the stuff and keep them in the freezer, taking out only one or two pieces a night. It is a type of meditation in will power.

When Thailand begins to carry Trader Joe’s Belgium chocolates with almonds, I may not need anything more from back home.

**********

P.S. I just got the news that our blog, Retire 2 Thailand, had more than 25,000 visits in 2012. I don’t write this blog for profit. My payment is the good feelings I get when I can help those thinking of retiring to Thailand in making their decisions about retirement and maybe then, if it is right for them, making their moves here. This year has been very lucrative. Thanks to all my readers.

Have a good, happy and healthy 2013

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20 Responses to “Please Pick Me Something Up from Home”

  1. ustravelman@yahoo.com said

    Have you or anyone you know used a freight service to move things between Seattle and Thailand. I’m planning to move there in the future and was thinking about using one of these services to move some of my wife and my items (cedar & fir wooden tables, 220 volt table saw, chainsaw, and some other specialty items).

    P.S., we are coming to Thailand in Feb. so if you want us to bring something for you give me a direct e-mail.

    Chuck (Bremerton, WA)

    • Chuck,

      Thanks for the offer but my son is coming soon and he’ll be bringing chocolate. As to shipping, I shipped many years ago and am not up to date on the best shippers. There are many. You will also need an agent here to help you clear customs. If your wife is Thai then the stuff will come in duty free. If not then be prepared to pay something. Make sure you label all your stuff, especially used items. I suggest you either talk with someone who has shipped lately or do your own exploring when you get here. For us, Seattle – Chiang Mai, took just about 6 weeks. And everything got here fine. Good luck to you.

  2. Garnet said

    A good article Hugh. One thing I always bring back that you don’t have in the states is tins of English Beer, many of them. Ahhhh ! Oh and I’m always over quota with wine too but the customs men have never stopped me yet !

  3. frank said

    Happy New Year Hugh, my wife likes to pack our bags with the bite size chocolate bars. Of course everything is put in my bags because customs wont bother to check my bags.

  4. Michele Frankland said

    Thank you so much for all your blogs they have been so helpful and entertaining. We have decided to retire to Thailand (Chiang Mai) in three years . We travel to Chiang Mai twice a year for a two week holiday and have fallen in love with this beautiful country and its people.
    I would like to know more about renting an apartment for our retirement …. we have so many things to find out…. We are both Australian, my husband works in banking and I am a phlebotomist. We are retiring in our early 50’s and can not wait. Any information you can give me would be appreciated.
    We arrive in Chiang Mai on the 18th January 2013 for another two week break…. can’t wait.
    I wish you and your family a Happy New Year

    • Hi Michele,

      I don’t give specific recommendations as I try to stay neutral about those things. Some people I know use Chiang Mai Properties to advertise their rentals. You might start with them first and see what else is available (http://chiangmaiproperties.co.th/). I just looked and it seems that they have a large selection. Also do a Google search “renting in Chiang Mai” and see what comes up. Looks like lots. Chiang Mai used to be a buyers market, meaning there wee more rentals available than there were renters. But there seems to have been a boom in Expat population lately so I don’t know what that will do to rental costs. So far it still seems okay. Good luck on your retirement.

      • Michele said

        thank you for the quick response .. I am having a look at rental properties now. Can I ask your opinion on the best areas to live in, as when are on holiday we always stay in the Old City and just walk everywhere or it is just so easy to grab a tuk tuk. I have so many other questions I would love to ask, however, I will find answers to these over time…
        Cheers
        Michele

      • I am “Tolstoy-ing” it and I have retired from and live away from the hectic city life (I grew up on lower Manhattan in New York) so I live about 8K outside the town (towards Hang Dong). If you live outside then you’ll need transportation and I would choose to live in a gated community for safety and convenience. For a short stay living inside the moat is okay but looking at the people there it could be somewhere in Europe. I think living near the university would be okay – did that for a few years. There are lots of condos for rent in that area. (BTW, I never would take Tuk Tuks anywhere. They are dangerous and expensive and you need to haggle with the driver. I would go with the Red Taxis (called “see law” – “four wheelers”, here, “song teaw” – “2 lines of seats”, everywhere else in Thailand). 20 baht per person anywhere in the city. Just tell them where you are going and if they are going that way they will tell you to get in. When you are at your destination just give the driver 20 baht and you’re done.

      • Michele said

        Thank you again , I subscribe to your blog and I find your comments so helpful …
        I hope I haven’t bothered to much with my questions…
        Look forward to the next
        retire2thailand

        Michele

  5. mike said

    Hugh I really enjoy your blog and also recently heard you on Thai Girl Talk. Thanks for trying to educate us.
    My wife is Thai and we are currently having a house built in a moo baan in Ubon. I have not retired yet but planning for it within the next 5 years. I am currently 10 years away from my first opportunity to collect USA Social Security.
    Hugh for me it’s all about the living costs. I just don’t feel I have a good estimate of what it will cost to live there. That’s where the fear comes from and I need to get over it some how.
    I dont mean the large expenses like buying the house and the truck.
    I know it varies with the life style you live but certain things can be estimated. If I eat Thai food everyday in retirement ( I also do now) then my grocery bill should be close to someone else’s that lives there that eats Thai food everyday. If I pay for insurance on a new truck it will be similar to anyone else doing the same.

    Could you blog on actual living expenses? I will treat it like a menu in which some things would apply to me and the information will be useful to me and others won’t be.
    Thanks

    • Mike,

      Good luck with your retirement plans. I have written 3 blog posts (they have turned out to be my most popular) Cost of living in Thailand I, II and III. Go to my blog page retire2thailand.wordpress.com and click on the magnifying glass in the top right hand corner and do a search on “cost of living” and you’ll find them. I will be writing another soon, “Cost of Living in Thailand – Update” because with all the changes, things are beginning to get a bit more expensive.

      • Mike said

        Hugh,
        Thanks for the quick and thorough response. I have done as you suggested and read your previous “Cost of Living” articles. They were very informative especially the second one.
        I am guessing that you will update the prices as they are reflected today. I would also be very curious to understand which categories are your largest expenses.
        Food 10%, Vehicle Expenses (fuel, licensing, insurance, maintenance) 30%, Home maintenance 30%, Clothing 20%, Entertainment 10%

        My thinking, is for example, that if food is cheap and accounts for 10% of your monthly expenses of $2000 then it wouldn’t be much of a concern.
        If it turns out that home maintenance required 30% of your budget then it would be something I would investigate further and try to account for in my budget.

        I have to be honest with you. When you said on the Thai Girl Talk pod cast that your monthly budget was $2000/month it made me hopeful.

        I have been projecting “Essential-For necessities” expenses at $1000/month and “Discretionary-For desired but optional spending” Expenses at an additional $1000/month. I am hoping to find out that your expenses may be in line with my self imposed estimates.
        Thanks
        Mike

  6. Mike,

    There are no set rules to how much or what percent of your expenses you will spend on anything. You’ll just have to test that out – which is why I always suggest a trial retirement period.

    Everyone is different. We have spent a lot of money on building bungalows for guests and family and the upkeep of our large garden is not cheap. We used to keep endangered tortoises (now returned to the wild) and their food cost about a hundred dollars a month. Most people wouldn’t have those expenses.

    I have a friend living on about $400 a month, with a Thai family to care for. I know another who spends about $5,000 a month – lots of nights out with women and alcohol.

    I could live much more cheaply than I do – but why? This year, with a trip back to the states, a large tax bill (sold some stock), gifts for relatives’ weddings, and a vacation to Malaysia – we broke even for the year. If every year is like this then all will be fine.

    I don’t give financial advice. It is against the law unless one is certified. But here is something I have found out that works for me. After considerable study on what things cost and what your estimated expenses will be, take that number and multiply it by 1.5. You will probably be close to what you will actually spend.

    Good luck.

    • mike said

      Hugh,
      I agree that if I could live comfortably off my expected Social Security check that I would be a very happy person.

      I feel the same way you do. Why live to a low standard if you don’t have to. I certainly have no intention of trying to bank any part of my income. Breaking even is my goal! I have savings and simply hope to be able to make it last a lifetime as a supplement to my retirement income.

      The last thing I want to do is find out 15 years into my retirement that I was broke and wishing I had worked 6 years longer to increase my retirement income.

      You referenced using the multiple of 1.5 once I figure out my living expenses and I agree with that philosophy. I also try to use a USD to Baht of 20 in my effort to account for currency exchange and Thailand’s higher inflation rate.

      Unfortunately or fortunately (it depends at how you look at steady employment) I don’t have the opportunity for a trial retirement period. I’ve worked for my company for over 30 years and once I leave there will be no going back. I am lucky because it’s up to me when I leave. So I am trying to be sure I know what I am committing myself to. I just need to get an understanding of what the actual cost of my Essential Expenses are. I guess like everyone else it’s: food, clothing, electricity, water, internet, telephones, medical, vehicle expenses, home-health-life insurance and home maintenance.

      Discretionary Expenses are something I can control if I need to. Hobbies, travel, extras.

      Thanks again. I’m really looking forward to your cost of living update.
      Mike

  7. Gary said

    Glad Thailand has worked out for you. I retired there after 28 years in the Navy in 2007 at the age of 45 and left in 2010. Might give it another go when I’m 62.

    • Gary,

      Sometimes the time is right but the place is wrong, and vice-versa. It’s great when they both come together though. Good luck to you. My son is a Marine – thanks for your service to our country.

  8. Su Yang said

    Hi Hugh,

    Excellent topic. Congradulation on a successful year for the blog.

    Su

  9. Su Yang said

    On a related subject, during my recent brief visit, most of the big box stores and street vendors have everything I needed. However, I find most of the products to be at a lower material and construction quality.

    No complaints though. The foods were excellent and the people were always friendly and respectful. Apart from the haze, the weather is always hot and sunny, as oppose to 7 degrees F where I am now. I just want to hop right back on the plane and high speed track back to ChiangMai.

    The Powerball jackpot is raising again……..time to buy = )

    Su

  10. Eric said

    Hi Hugh,
    Great blog here and I enjoyed reading it very much! I started visiting Thailand since 2005 and that was to Bangkok only. Recent years I have been to Hatyai many times and i love the laid-back lifestyle as compared to my home country, Singapore. I agreed with you that on average a day, I only spend about 100-200baht for expenses.

    I am considering retiring to Thailand too but Im only 28years old this year. Still a long way to go for me. God knows why I had fallen so madly in love with Thailand.

    I assume you can speak very fluent Thai by now. As for me I can only speak the very basic stuff, enough to get by.

    I’m looking forward to your next post!

    Regards,
    Eric

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