“Danmark” the sign above the entrance reads.
But even though the menu at the hotel includes Danish open sandwiches (smørrebrød), meatballs (frikadeller) and fried pork belly (stegt flæsk) the temperature and humidity level reveals that the location is somewhere more exotic than Denmark – in Pattaya, Thailand.
Inside Hotel Danmark on this warm, cloudy Tuesday morning, about 10 Norwegian men are gathered at a table with coffee, fruit and a sign with the words “Khon Norway” – the people of Norway.
It is the weekly meeting for Khon Norway – an independent association aiming to help Norwegians crack the code to the Thai tax system, Norwegian pension rules, real estate, health care as well as other legal advice when deciding to settle down in Thailand.
Apart from language barriers, Norwegian migrants will meet a flood of laws and regulations which can be difficult to keep track of. Therefore, the association came about in 2008 to provide room for discussing rules and seeking assistance, Edvin Jonassen, the chairman of Khon Norway, tells.
“People come to talk, and if they need further help, we have a lawyer” says Edvin Jonassen, who moved to Thailand in 2014.
Bjørn Arild Michelsen came to Thailand a year after the association was started in 2009, but now he is the chairman of Khon Norway’s election committee.
“It is reassuring that you can get help. Khon Norway can also help relatives,” says Bjørn Arild Michelsen about the association which is also open to help other nationalities to the extent the rules are similar.
As chairman of the election committee, Bjørn Arild Michelsen has to recruit members and board members. He does so through various platforms such as Facebook, advertisement and meeting people in person. And he is proud of the efforts this year, as the association has drawn 36 new members since March 2019. This brings the association to a total of 166 members and 11 active members in either the board or election committee.
Money and TM30
Every Tuesday, many of the members join for the sake of talking, the two chairmen, who are both retired, say. Therefore, several come earlier and leave the association’s regular table later than the scheduled 10am to 12pm meeting.
“The Tuesday meetings are informal and cozy,” says Bjørn Arild Michelsen and adds that the association has an annual general meeting as well as five board meetings.
However, the members also do take the meetings seriously, and every time, there is a minute taker whose notes will be e-mailed all over Thailand to the association’s members.
The hot topics of the day have been wills and the value of the Thai Baht to the Norwegian Krone, the two gentlemen tell.
“Some people are considering moving back to Norway because their economy is tight,” Edvin Jonassen says.
“Since 2010, the value of the Krone to Baht has been almost cut in half from about 5.5 Krone to 3.8 today. It is getting difficult,” Bjørn Arild Michelsen adds.
Furthermore, the group also talked about the news that the rules of the TM30 might be relaxed a bit.
A helping hand
Even though, Edvin Jonassen and Bjørn Arild Michelsen cannot save the Norwegian Krone and solve people’s problems, they are happy to provide a space where people can talk about it.
And when people do need professional help, the association also has a lawyer as mentioned. Well, one of the members is married to a lawyer.
For adequate payment she provides assistance in anything from translation of documents and writing of wills to setting up companies and doing all of the extensive and tedious work of sorting and paying one’s taxes. The latter is the second most common concern, the two chairmen hear about.
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The most common concerns are related to retirement. Pattaya is a haven for Scandinavian pensioners who have discovered that the money lasts longer in Thailand and that the weather is better than in the cold, wet North.
“The most typical thing, people need help with, is spouse and partner retirement. After five years of marriage the wife is entitled to 60 percent of her husband’s pension if he dies. We can help apply for this,” says Edvin Jonassen.
“However, the wife might be labelled as too young if she’s perhaps 30 when her husband dies, and she can still work,” Bjørn Arild Michelsen notes about the problems the widow might face.
Not going back to Norway
A membership costs 1,000 Baht per year. Money that goes towards bringing the deputy chairman to Pattaya for board meetings as he lives far away.
Even though Edvin Jonassen says that his role as chairman requires him working two-three days a week, the two chairmen are so voluntarily.
“We buy our own coffee,” Edvin Jonassen says and laughs.
“Yes, there is no free lunch for us,” says Bjørn Arild Michelsen. “We do this, because we want to.”
“To me, it is something meaningful to do. I have made good friends and relations and it is enjoyable,” says Edvin Jonassen, who is happy to have found a hobby in Thailand.
He started vacationing in the country in 1995 and came back every year since then. Finally, in 2014, he moved to Thailand with his Thai wife after she had lived with him in Norway for five years.
Bjørn Arild Michelsen is not married but he too has a Thai partner, whom he lives with.
“I was fed up with Norway and I had been on vacation in Thailand and loved it,” he says.
Apart from getting out of Norway, both men have discovered another benefit of settling in Thailand: Their health.
“The cold Norwegian winters were bad for my asthma, but here I do not have any problems with it anymore,” he says.
So, when asked if they would ever consider moving back to Norway, without hesitation they say in unison: