26 Reasons I'm not Moving Back to the U.S. and Why I'm Staying in Chiang Mai

I've always told myself, and everyone else that this crazy around the world trip that has me living in Chiang Mai Thailand will come to an end soon and that I'll be moving back to the U.S. in a few years. Well, that was a lie. I had told that to myself because I thought it was the right thing to do, and thought that's what my girlfriend wanted. But this weekend we sat down and had a heart to heart where she said:

"Johnny, I know you're never going to leave Chiang Mai." 

At first I argued that I would, but then gave in realizing that she was right. It doesn't mean I'll never move back to the states, but at least for now, I have no plans on leaving this little paradise we've found...the little mountain town of Chiang Mai, Thailand, and here's 26 reasons why.

26. Two Week Vacations:  

Back home, 2-week vacations are the norm, however, they're a lie. Almost no one I know actually gets 2 weeks off a year, and it's never enough to actually enjoy yourself and truly unwind. What they don't tell you about your 14 days off is that it actually includes weekends, travel time, and get back to prepare for work time.

So imagine if you wanted to go relax on the beaches of Thailand during your vacation. Your 14 day vacation would have to include 3 days of travel, 3 days of getting over jet-lag, and chances are, you'll have to go back 3 days before your work starts to catch up or prepare.

It's just not enough, which is why Americans either just don't travel far in the first place or end up settling for big cities like Bangkok or touristy beaches like Phuket, instead of taking that final step into somewhere really magical like Koh Lanta or Chiang Mai.

Don't go back to work more tired than you left it, come and stay for a month or two instead. 

Miles of empty white sand beach on Koh Lanta, Thailand

25. Commutes:

It's insane to think that it's not uncommon to waste 2 hours of your day commuting back and forth from work. Being location independent means we can work from home, a local coffee shop, or in my case a coworking space 2 minutes away.  We only have 24 hours a day, 16 of which we are actually awake for, why spend 1/8th of it sitting in a car, bus or train?

Wouldn't you rather skip your commute entirely or simply walk a few minutes to work?

24. Traffic:

One of the most stressful and unnatural things in the world is traffic. We laugh it off living in Los Angeles as it's just a normal part of life, but it makes so sense why it should take 1.5 hours to drive 20 miles or why we would put our bodies and minds through that stress.

Nothing in Chiang Mai takes more than 10 minutes to drive to, pretty much ever. 

23. Parking:

One of my least favorite things in the world is paying $20 for parking.

Just leave your scooter wherever you want for free, usually right in front of where you're going. 

22. Parking Tickets:

Even more annoying than paying $20 for parking is paying $120 for a street cleaning ticket because the city is so broke from mismanagement of funds that issuing tricky parking tickets is now one of the main sources of city revenue.

The biggest ticket you'll get is a $10 fine and that only happens twice a year. 

21. Thai Culture:

People from Thailand are super friendly, polite and respectable, especially up in Chiang Mai. It's different in ultra touristy places like Bangkok and Phuket, which is why I don't live there, but in general, Thai people are the nicest people on the planet. I've been chased down the block more than once because I forgot to take my change or left too big of a tip.

Where else do people apologize and then bow to you if they accidently bump into you?

20. International Friendships:

I've learned more about other countries and cultures having lunch with new friends from foreign countries than actually visiting some of those countries myself. Everyday for lunch or dinner it feels like a united nations conference as it's not uncommon for people to be from completely different parts of the world. Not only is it fun and interesting to hang out with people from different countries, but you end up learning so much as well.

I love my American friends, but also love meeting new friends from around the world. 

Celebrating Swedish Midsummer Festival here in Chiang Mai

19.  Thai Food:

I've always liked Thai food, but now that I live here, I've learned to love it. It's filled with different spices, fresh herbs, chilies, garlic, and best of all can be had anywhere, anytime and usually for less than $2. Where in the U.S. can you get an entire meal for 35 baht ($1US)

I know it seems like a little thing, but I never realized how tasteless and pale yellow supermarket eggs were until my sister brought $8.99 a dozen free range farmer eggs. The supermarket eggs in Thailand are just as poor quality, but luckily, you can buy eggs at any mini-mart or local shop for $2 a dozen that have bright yellow yolks that only comes from healthy chickens that aren't government subsidized corn and soy all day.

You can also ask for a fried egg on the side of any dish for 10 baht (30 cents) which instantly makes any dish more nutritious and taste incredible. Imagine asking for that in a restaurant in the U.S.

Food in Thailand is incredible, even something as simple as an egg tastes incredible.

18. Costs to Eat Out:

Back in the U.S. ordering a $7.99 meal doesn't ever cost you $8. And we're lucky if we end up getting change from the $20 we through into the pool, and that's just for a standard lunch or dinner out with friends. Going out for a decent dinner with friends always ends up costing closer to $30 after you factory in tax and tip.

Here in Thailand it's actually cheaper to eat out than cook at home, which is why it's not uncommon to eat out 21 meals a week. 

Breakfast in Chiang Mai at the Larder Australian

17. Weekly Massages:

At close to $100 an hour, I never got massages when I lived back in the U.S. even though I knew they were good for my health and that I enjoyed them. Here in Thailand I get massages at least once a week and sometimes every other day. At $6 an hour there's no reason why you can't treat yourself. 

I can't imagine a life without a weekly massage, it's good for our health and a great way to relax.

16. Farmers Markets:

Instead of the overpriced farmer markets we have in California that carter to trendy moms in Juicy Couture in Thailand there are local markets in every neighborhood that have the freshest fruits and vegetables to eat or juice you've ever seen. Best of all, instead of spending your whole paycheck at whole foods, each bunch of vegetables usually only sets you back a few cents and you'll have a hard time carrying $10 worth of groceries on your own.

15. Tropical Fruits:

Instead of eating artificially ripened mangoes or other fake year round fruits we have in the U.S., the nice thing about local Thai fruit is that they usually come from a nearby farm and go in and out of season like nature intended which means it's always fresh, sweet and delicious when you see them. Some of my favorites are Lychees, Mangosteens, Red Dragon fruit and other exotic fruits you would only normally find at Whole Foods for $14.99 a pound.

Imagine having fresh coconut on a hot sunny day available everywhere for around a dollar. 

14. Coffee Shops:

San Francisco and Los Angeles are known for having great hipster coffee shops, but the ones in Chiang Mai are better and there are far more of them. In just my neighborhood there are 40+ coffee shops, each uniquely themed and decorated and most serve coffee from the farms just a few hours away.  You can also buy grassfed butter from New Zealand if you're into making your own Bulletproof coffee.

Spend a weekend visiting one of the local coffee plantations in the mountains of Chiang Dao to see where they are grown and dried.

13. Coworking Spaces:

I've been to Coworking spaces around the world and the ones in Thailand are by far the best. If you want to network and meet other digital nomads you can just sign up for any of the local coworking spaces and by the end of the week you'll have a new group of friends who are usually very willing to share what they are working on and help you with your projects as well.

Even though the free keg Fridays at WeWork in San Francisco and LA seemed enticing, in reality everyone there was working on their own startups, had their own group of friends and weren't interested in meeting anyone new.

Joining a coworking space in Chiang Mai is like moving into a dorm freshman year in college.

12. Digital Nomads:

The community of location independent entrepreneurs here in Chiang Mai are incredible, it's unlike anywhere else in the world and it's not uncommon to be out with thirty people all running their own blogs, websites or full on businesses any night of the week. Most people in Chiang Mai are just starting out and bootstrapping, but lately I've been meeting people who earn $10k-$50k a month which means the high level networking here is incredible.

The digital nomad lifestyle is like being in college all over again, but this time, we all have money.

11. Hotels and Resorts:

One of my favorite things to do on weekends is spend the day at a resort pool. Even though the Four Seasons in Chiang Mai is still $800 a night and $45 a meal and not much cheaper than it is in the U.S., here it's possible just to pay for the $45 brunch and spend the entire day there using the resort's pool and amenities. Other incredible 4 and 5 star hotels let you use their pools for just the cost of a drink.

Imagine sipping coconuts poolside at a different 5 star resort every weekend. 

10. Costs of Accommodation:

When i lived in LA, my rent ranged from $1,200 a month for a crappy studio to $3,000 a month for a rented house in an okay neighborhood that I split with a roommate. Now I live in a brand new condo with a pool, gym, rooftop garden and a sauna in the equivalent neighborhood of 3rd Street Promenade or the East Village in New York where everything is walkable and for less than $500 a month. Larissa and I have been looking at moving into a bigger unit and for $1,000 a month which is unnecessary to spend in Chiang Mai but would be a small crappy place back in the states, you can get a 3-story modern townhouse here.

Instead of spending half your paycheck on rent, why not use that money to travel?

09. No Responsibilities:

Possibly my favorite thing about living in Thailand is the lack of day to day responsibilities I have here. If you didn't want to, you would never have to do laundry, clean your house, drive, shop for groceries, or do any of the other chores that often take up half of your weekend. You can get your apartment cleaned weekly here for $60 a month, your laundry washed and folded for a few dollars and simply just not do anything you don't want to do.

Eliminating day to do chores frees up your time to do what you actually love.

Spending the day at The Veranda High Resort

08. Vacations, Holidays, Trips:

Aside from life already being kind of like a full time vacation, since you have to leave the country every 3 months for visa runs, we're forced to take an international holiday at least 4 times a year. I've made it a point to visit different countries every trip and I usually try to stay at least 2-3 weeks so I really get to explore and see the country. If I had stayed in the U.S. my vacations would have consisted of going to Vegas for the 15th time or to New York for the 5th.

Imagine seeing a new country every 3 months on a mandatory holiday.

07. Location Independent Income:

The best thing about starting a business while traveling is it forces you to make your income location independent and because of the time zone difference, semi-passive. If I was in the U.S. I would be tempted to import inventory and package it in my garage to drive down to the post office to send out myself, but since I'm all over the place I've been forced to learn how to dropship items and create other online businesses that don't require my physical presence.

Imagine being able to run your businesses from your laptop anywhere in the world.

06. Tax Exempt Income:

Discovering the tax loophole known as Foreign Earned Income Exclusion has made it so the first $100,800 I earn every year can be excluded from taxes which basically means, as long as I travel for more than 11 months a year I can save $30,000 in taxes essentially getting paid to travel.  The government allows this because if you're not in the U.S. you're not using taxpayer services. And to be honest, as long as the U.S. keeps wasting money on things like the war in the middle east I'd rather keep my money to myself.

Imagine getting paid $30,000 a year to simply travel, and using the money to fly your family to you instead or go home just for weddings and holidays.

Spending the summer in Europe and getting paid to do so.

05. Health Insurance:

I've lived most of my adult life in fear of getting sick or injured and not having health insurance. I looked into buying a plan for $400 a month but then realized that even if something did happen, I didn't have the $20,000 to cover the copay. Health care is the U.S. is a broken system as shown in Sicko and other documentaries which is why "Medical Tourism" exists.

It's often cheaper for Americans to fly to Thailand to get medical or dental care done without insurance than it is even with insurance back in the states.

Imagine having the peace of mind knowing that if the worst happens, you can actually pay for adequate care without going into debt. 

04. Sunshine and Weather:

Living in a warm tropical climate and getting 360 days of sunshine every year just makes me feel healthier. Being able to get 20 minutes a day of sun stabilizes my vitamin D levels, being warm makes my joints feel like they've forgotten years of sport injuries and being able to walk everywhere makes me feel alive.  I hated living in cold climates and even in San Francisco where it gets down to 7 degrees celcius, I grew up without heating and hated it.

Imagine never having to go through another winter again and being able to lay by the pool almost any day of the year. 

03. New Experiences:

Whenever I visit my friends back in the U.S. and ask what they've been up to, they usually answer, "Same old, same old." I can hardly believe them as in the past 8 months I didn't see them, I had traveled to 3 different countries, accomplished new goals, created a new business, wrote a book, recorded 32 new podcast episodes, wrote 60 new blog posts, hiked a mountain, scuba dived, or did something else notable and exciting. But when my friends say they've done nothing new they usually mean it and have been going to the same bars while working the same job they hate.

Imagine having so many new exciting adventures, stories and accomplishments that you just smile and nod saying "same old, same old" as well.

On a visa run/vacation to S. Africa for the Holidays

02. Being Debt Free.

Everyone I know in the U.S. has debt, and if I lived there, I'd be in debt as well. Some people think it's okay to have student loan debt, or that it's normal to have a mortgage or car payments or that it's okay they have $20,000 on a credit card that has 0% financing and I used to think so as well, but now I realize how free it feels to be completely debt free and be able to actually save and invest.

The biggest reason why I'm able to save $3,000-$10,000 a month and put it into investments or even just a savings account is because my costs of living are so low here in Chiang Mai. If I lived back in the U.S. my monthly expenses would be 8x what they are now for the same quality of life and I'd be tempted to spend the rest of it on crap I don't need, gadgets, clothes, a new car, and other things that seemed essential when living back home.

Call it the urge to "Keep up with the Joneses" or watching too much Keeping up with the Kardashians but I know for sure, even though I know logically it doesn't make sense and that I truly don't need it to be happy, I know 100% that I would end up spending money on things instead of experiences, and not saving for my future.

My goal is to save up enough money to be able to take care of my future family, have kids without worrying about the cost of sending them to the best schools, be able to take my wife on vacation wherever we want and live in a house that we actually own. Growing up in a poor family and living in the U.S. I never thought it would be possible in this lifetime to ever become a millionaire, but living here in Chiang Mai, networking,  meeting people smarter than I, and keeping my expenses low while growing  my business, and investing my money, I now see the light at the end of the tunnel. By living in Chiang Mai at this rate I will become a millionaire in the next 5-10 years which is something that wouldn't be possible with the high costs and taxes in the states.

Imagine being able to save 90% of your salary instead of spending it paying rent and bills.

Buddhist Temples in Chiang Mai and the monks that live there remind us to live simply.

01. I'm Happy and Stress Free.

From the moment I get off the plane in Thailand, and every morning when I wake up, I'm happy. I used to worry and stress about money, the future, fitting in, not having enough, and being accepted but now I've carved my own path and found a true paradise.

I'm surrounded by great friends, positive, well traveled people, entrepreneurs and get to spend everyday with the love of my life. I don't have a boss, a schedule, responsibilities, and get to live in a place where most people are genuinely happy, stress free, and choose to be here.

I don't know if Chiang Mai will be your paradise, but if you're not happy where you are, move. You're not a tree, you can pick up and leave and I've carved the path for you. If you don't know where to get started, read how I quit my job, packed my bags, and moved to Thailand to pursue the good life on the cheap Scuba Diving and doing Muay Thai in my first book: "12 Weeks in Thailand." Then if you're curious how I went from the simple life to starting a business, becoming an accidental digital nomad, and going from $200 in my savings account to where I am today, read my book "Life Changes Quick" or if you just want the highlights, check out my blog post "How I afford my life of Travel" which sums up 7 years of figuring this stuff out so you don't have to.

I'm truly happy living in Chiang Mai, it's home.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. I don't know where I'll be in 5 years and might even be back in the U.S. by then as things change, but for the first time I'm admitting to myself that Chiang Mai is my home and has been now for almost two years. I love it here and sincerely hope that each and everyone single person reading this finds your own paradise whether it be there in Thailand or somewhere else in the world.

Keep in touch and let me know what your favorite thing about Chiang Mai is if you're been here or what you don't miss about living back home.

Warm Regards,

Johnny FD

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  1. The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion will save you around $20,000 not $30,000
    I think you were including self-employment taxes which you still have to pay.

    1. Hey James, I think you might be right! But $20,000 is still a pretty good chunk of change =)

    2. Johnny I totally agree! I'm taking advantage of it as well. People think I'm nuts when I talk about having to leave the US after 30 days or so. I'll be moving to CM in September, now living in Chiang Rai. See you!

    3. Hey James, let me know when you make it out to Chiang Mai. I've been going back to the U.S. for just under 4 weeks at a time and it's been fine...even though it's a bit more comfortable to stay for 6 weeks or so, in reality I get to see everyone, do everything in 30 easily.

    4. I'm living and working in BKK with a work permit. I'm not a tax expert but I think I only need to be out of the US for 183+ days a year to not have to pay taxes up to $97,xxx. Maybe this is because I'm paying Thai Taxes and collect a paycheck from a Thai company? Could be worth looking into to open a Thai Company and giving yourself a work permit thus allowing you more free time in the states if you want. I know it's a royal pain and may incur Thai taxes but may be worth it for you for visa stuff and also US travel. Then again I could be wrong about everything here!!

    5. Hey thanks for the idea, it's worth looking into if we ever want to spend more time in the U.S.!

  2. hey Johnny my teacher! I was your student in SF, just want to say, your blog is always mind-blowing! Seeing your blog will always force myself to reflect on my life and ask myself what The X am I doing now. In fact, reading this article of yours right in my office, in front of my computer... I am a bit speechless about my life. I can't tell you all the details right here. But I have been asking all my friends to read your blog, and no one can disagree about your attitude towards life! Keep going Johnny! Thanks for such a "wake-up" post again! Catch up later!

    1. Hey I'm so happy that you've been following this blog and sharing it with your friends. It's hard sometimes to remember what life was life back in the corporate grind back in California but your comment was a good reminder. Keep me posted on your progress and if you haven't already make sure you read "Life Changes Quick"

  3. Hey Johnny. Those are plenty of good reasons for sure but for me the reasons to hold me back are #1 no easy/cheap residency like Panama #2 bad internet/lag common to south east asia/australia (I'm a gamer). If not for those two things then its very tempting to set myself up out there longer term like you have. I hope they can fix #1 because for me visa runs are a far bigger waste of time than commuting.

    1. We'll see what happens with the visa situation in the upcoming years!

  4. I absolutely love everything you've written here. I live in the Bay Area and spent 2 of 4 months in Thailand in Chiang Mai in 2011 and dream of going back to live often. You're so right about meeting people from around the world there, the massages, the weather, Thai people, healthcare here, 2 week spot on. If I could figure out how to make a decent living there, I would move in a heartbeat. Thailand was the best country I visited in my year long trip in south asia. I loved riding around Chiang Mai on my scooter, the ride up to Doi Suttep, going to the nearby lake lined with restaurants where you can have 3 Changs for 90 baht while you watch the sunset with the locals.

    1. Hey Tashia i'm glad you got to enjoy Chiang Mai for as many months as you did! If you know this is where you're stress free and happy, make it a plan to come back. This is how I did it:

    2. CM is my little piece of Paradise too! Love living here. Only recently returned after few years in Isaan, where do the Digital Nomads hangout? and how novice friendly are they? Where do they organize their meet ups?

  5. The true name of two-week vacation is too-weak

    1. hahaha love the play on words, as it's absolutely correct. My old boss used to tell me I had to take vacation days as it was piling up...and ask me to take the next 8 fridays off...."but then just come in anyways.'

  6. I wanna learn more about being location independent. That sounds really interesting.

    1. Hey Chloe, keep following the blog, or listen to the Travel Like a Boss Podcast ( for interviews with other location independent entrepreneurs!

  7. I certainly will. This has served as an eye opener for me and I've been thinking about making money thru online entrepreneurship. I just didn't know how to start. But hey, thanks!

    1. Also check out the post I wrote to my friends and family when I started:

  8. Agree 100% The ( no heating growing up ) really struck a cord. The food, the freedom, networking ,meeting new people from everywhere and general healthy life style are definitely a pull for me. Great article!

    1. I hated not having heat growing up and never want to go through that again. But the pulls and the pros are the true reason I love it here so much. Glad you enjoyed the write up!

  9. Hi Johnny, nice post. As you're considering staying here for the long term and clearly have the financial ability, have you thought about getting the Thailand Elite Visa for 5 years?

    1. I've thought about it a lot actually, but don't want to commit for 5 years. If it was for 2 years I'd do it in a heart beat.

  10. Hey Johny, unbelievable. We have to pay first 1000$ to know how to learn dropshipp. it sounds not really confidently

    1. Education costs money, I spent a lot more learning how to get a job.

  11. Hi Johnny, I was planning to go to taipei to grow my app business but after I saw your interview and now read this inspiring blog post I'm seriously considering Chiang Mai! I hope I'll see you there some time :) This was not the last time stopping by here for sure!


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