Surviving in Thailand: The hard truth

Image thanks to Wheresindy.comMany visitors to Thailand love the easygoing local atmosphere and notice that they get much more pleasure and value for money than at home.
For me it took five years of dreaming to take bold decision to move over here. I remember back home I frequently visited the website escapeartist.com to check if I would be able to manage in the South East.
As it turned out I really felt an escape artist while moving over here, since I had to literally buy my way out of the Netherlands in terms of dormant taxes while liquidating my company.  In Thailand I had to buy my way in, in terms of immigration requirements and fees.
Although I had been in many S-E countries and have lived in Japan for three years, I had never been in Thailand. When coming here at the first times in 2009, I was actually more interested in surrounding countries, such as Laos and Vietnam, which are relatively more recently open to the public. From the start however Thailand turned out te be a good base to commence exploration.
I slowly found out that the South Vietnam (HCMC), although charming in every way, had too much drugs-related crime, to call it save or comfortable for me to live. The North was less tolerant or call it ignorant, or so i felt, towards my companion who is a kathoey.
I found out it would be hard for us to live in Laos, since I needed internet for my business as web publisher. Quite possibly this has changed a lot, but in 2009/2010 internet connection were still quite problematic. In the coming months we will check back again.
Cambodia was surprisingly tempting in every respect, however slowly the awareness arose that for the time being Thailand in terms of costs, infrastructure, safety and social acceptance was the best option for both of us.
It took us another year of traveling to finally decide to settle down in Northern city of Chiang Rai in June 2012.
During my earlier dreaming back home I always worried that my income would not be sufficient and that in order to live here I had to be able to gain additional money.

So how much money does one need to live in Thailand?
Recently on the largest Dutch blog about Thailand expats agreed that 1,150 Euro or US$ 1,530 (฿ 45,000) outside Pattaya and Phuket (and assuming you don’t grow your own food) is the minimal monthly spending including supporting a partner and possibly one child.
For Thai  ฿ 45,000 is a middle class income, but foreigners will notice it is a bare minimum. Perhaps we need to go out and maintain our social network too much.
In my opinion one would need an income of at least 2,000 Euro or US$ 2,650 (฿ 79,000) to build up some savings, since prices are rising. Although on a day to day basis we might not be aware of it, we are quite near the epicentre of the World’s fastest growing economies.

Surviving here
Similar to Western countries, foreigners are not allowed to take a job which could easily be done by a national.
Working for an employer is hard, since you need to have specific skills, besides that many jobs require profound knowlegde of the Thai script and language.

Alternatively it is possible to setup a business, however 49% ownership is the maximum. Lawyers will assist to find loopholes, since in general it is advised as wise not to start business with a Thai partner in life, which is a quite a common mistake. Don’t confuse love and money please.

By far the most popular lifestyle in Thailand is to be retired. There’s a difference in being retired for visa purposes only, starting from age 50 or getting a state pension from one’s home country, which is at age 65 – 67. Many people living here are early retirees, who built up a pension from their job.
Although officially illegal, many expats with the visa status ‘retired’ work to earn (additional) income. Others who have a nicely fixed income from overseas according to Western living standards choose to remain locally active, either for themselves or for their partners and they do not always mind there’s little profit or loss.
For the outsiders this is deceiving, since for the untrained eye it looks that many foreigners are financially well off with their local business, which can be far from the truth.

Due to difficulties in finding employment, second on the list is those who travel back and forth and live in Thailand for mostly working half a year overseas, and staying half a year in the Kingdom.
I am under the impression that these people as well as the people who are working here locally have the best survival chances, since in general indifference, boredom, alcoholism and depression don’t wait around their corner too much.

Ranking third is English teacher, this requires you to obtain a TEFL certificate. English teacher usually doesn’t pay very well for Western standards, if you are lucky you’re able to make the above mentioned amount of ฿ 45,000.
As far as I have understood from friends and acquaintances, it doesn’t matter if you have a British, American, German or any other accent for that matter. Being a teacher requires special skills not really related to the language, but rather in being extrodinary gifted in pedagogy. From the dozens of teachers I have met, I know of only one example was in my eyes gifted enough. She showed to be able to turn learning English the favourite topic of every class solely by playing games, but I have to add she would be able to teach Julie Andrews (Maria) from the Sound of Music a few new tricks.
When it comes down to languages Thai folks are generally rather chauvinistic. Eventough English is the offical language of ASEAN, a kind of EU attempt of 10 S-E Asia nations which involves free trade and open borders by 2015, a few years ago a high ranking official has publicly stated that making English the nation’s second official language as an attempt to promote it’s use might Thailand cause to loose it’s identity. Perhaps he’s right, but the so-called progress seems inevitabe. It might sound bold, but as far as I know Thai high-school students are generally unmotivated and are hardly encouraged by Thai society to learn English. Learning English is seen by many as a compulsory evil. Foreign teachers who don’t know Thai will not easily gain the pupils respect. At public schools as well as private Thai schools everybody will automatically pass and nobody will fail the school year over English. In the last case some students regard that they pay your salary, so as a teacher you just have to cooperate with them ie. not learning English. Still, enthousiastic people might have a good time in teaching, but Why Does The Foreign Teacher Always Smells Like Peppermint by Paul Garrigan draws a caricaturesque picture of the opposite.

What job?
I am not able to advise anyone about finding a job in Thailand, including my own job since it really depends on personal motivation and expertise, oh yeah, and some luck.
In the beginning it is not easy to be sure that you have made a good choice.
As a rule of thumb: Most businesses do not survive 2 years. After seven years there’s a fair chance to think your business is permanent.
If you’re thinking of coming over, below list of occupations of foreigners living in Thailand I came across which might give you some ideas. (Not the illegal one’s please :) )

- Auhtor
- Bar owner
- Bar lady (illegal!)
- Charity foundation worker
- Construction worker (illegal but tolerated)
- Con man (illegal!)
- Cook
- Copy-writer
- Diving instructor
- English teacher
- Farmer
- Gemnologist
- Goldsmith
- Hotel/Guesthouse owner
- It specialist / Webdesigner
- Import – export business
- Male prostitute (illegal!)
- Magician
- Massage parlour owner
- Missionary
- Online Trader (on Ebay)
- Photographer
- Pianist
- Plastic lettering, car coating, pimping
- Poolshark (Playing pool for money)
- (Online) Poker player (semi-illegal)
- Producer of condiments
- Producer of tabacco products (Snus)
- Real estate investor
- Restaunt owner
- Shop owner
- Stock exchange speculator
- Spa owner
- Web publisher (Me)

My luck didn’t let me down. Unexpectedly with the rise of mobile internet my income increased in the last years and in the mean time spendings are less of what I am able to save, but this can ofcourse at any time in the future change. At the moment I spend part of my time helping other people, mostly internet unsavvy foreigners, setting up a small scale business.

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