5 things I have learned living as an expat in South east asia

5 things I have learned living as an Expat in Southeast Asia

I have been an expat in Southeast Asia for three years now, and there are things that I have learned along the way that have made every move a little easier. They are simple but important things.

Everyone has their own way of getting accustomed to their new place, especially expats. After having conversations with other expats about this, a lot of them said their first word to learn in the new language was coffee! I have to admit coffee was one of the first for me too.


Counting to Ten

Number one thing I have learned while being an expat in Southeast Asia is how to count to ten in Lao, Thai and Bahasa Indonesia. Counting to ten doesn’t cut it though you really have to know how to count higher, as high as the money used.

In Luang Prabang, Laos the money is old and dirty and you have to carry so much of it around because there hardly are any coins. The currency is called Kip and it was kind of easy to remember. Thankfully the numbers in Lao are similar to the numbers in Thai so in Bangkok and Phuket I became a master at money!

In Bali I had to relearn all the number and money figures in Bahasa and the way they count is a little different. The fact that you can actually read the words is much easier

The kiddos have been learning to count to ten in both Spanish and English at home since I can remember. Big Kiddo knows both perfectly without getting mixed up and can remember some in Bahasa. I try and keep them remembering the thai numbers just because its cool trivial knowledge. We are creating a multilingual picture book about numbers and other things, so that they wont forget, ever!

How Much?

The next most important thing to know is how to say “How much is this?” Know that phrase will get you lower prices every time. You just have to make sure you know all the numbers before using it, or you´ll just get confused when they answer “not in English”. One time a lady selling kites told me that the ladybug kite cost 15 thousand rupiahs and I understood 50 thousand. I almost walked away without my change!

นี่เท่าไร? = Berapa harganya? = ¿Cuanto cuesta?



The third important thing I have learned is that while living abroad it is very helpful to know the names of your favorite local dishes and how to ask for them with or without a fried egg. How to ask for not spicy is definitely a must, and when buying local coffee in Thailand its handy to be able to ask for less sugar than the usual.

The kids also learn the names of their favorite foods, they find it really amusing and are always asking me how to say in the other language. For some foods they use Spanish (fideos, juguito), for others English (jelly, muffin), others in Thai (moo ping, pet, gai yang) and now in Bahasa Indonesia (nasi goreng, sate ayam)

Thank You

The other just as practical things to learn are how to say, “Hello” and “Thank You”. Its always nicer to greet someone in their own language, they really appreciate it. In Laos and Thailand saying “Hello” was pretty straightforward but in Bahasa there are different terms for different moments of the day or for what you are doing precisely.
That will take a time to get used to.


Ultimately you really have to know how to give a taxi driver directions. In Bahasa Indonesia, left is “Kiri”, right is “Kanan”, straight ahead is “terus” and here is “di sini”. There are more practical words for getting around but with just these four you can explain to any taxi driver how to get somewhere.

So in conclusion; What have I learned while being an expat in Southeast Asia?

Basically, how get around and shop for food!

What are the things you have learned while living abroad? Did you learn the numbers pretty quick like me?

Here´s a great post about some useful words in Bahasa by Escape Artistes!