Travel, Teach, Live in Thailand
Many people visit Thailand on holiday or on a business trip and fall in love with the wonderful "Land of Smiles". Thailand has so much to offer: beautiful women, delicious food, great climate, fantastic beaches, tropical islands, outdoor sports activities, a dynamic social life and amazing travel opportunities. It's a wonder anyone returns home! Some don't. In this article I look briefly at six of the more common mistakes people make when they finally make the move to Thailand.
Deadly Mistake #1: Incorrect visa
Having the incorrect visa can be an expensive mistake. It's particularly important to make sure you have the correct visa if you are intending to work or start up a business in Thailand. Seek proper visa advice before leaving home. If you are in the UK I recommend checking Thaiconsul-uk.
They provide excellent support. Of course the same visa rules apply to most other Western countries.
Deadly Mistake #2: Insufficient income
Job options in Thailand are somewhat limited in supply. The vast majority of jobs available to Westerners are low paid English teaching jobs. These can range in salary from 25,000-35,000 baht per month. The better paying IT jobs, which are quite rare, may pay 40,000-60,000 per month. At more prestigious private schools teaching jobs may attract around 50,000 Baht per month, but these are very hard to come by.
If you are a qualified teacher recruited from UK for one of the International Schools in Thailand, you will get UK type rates of around £25,000 - £35,000 per year, depending on experience. This amounts to about 200,000 Baht per month - that is a LOT of money in Thailand. Often the school concerned also provides accommodation and food, much like private schools in UK, which means it's an even better deal, allowing you to save reasonable amounts of money for the future.
So typically, if you go into a reasonable local English teaching job you might expect around 35,000 Baht per month. To put that into perspective the average monthly salary in the UK at time of writing is equivalent to over 136,000 Baht per month. So expect to take a bit of a pay cut!
On the other hand the cost of living in Thailand is considerably cheaper than the UK. You can live on 35,000 Baht per month in Bangkok. Of course what is considered by some to be living may be considered by others to be a frugal existence. If you want to be out gallivanting in clubs or travelling over Thailand, or live in a better apartment you will need more money according to your tastes and requirements. I personally budget 70,000 Baht per month whenever I stay in Thailand, but then I spend quite a bit of time playing golf, diving and travelling.
The other option that people go for is setting up a local business in Thailand. Some people make a moderate success of this. A minority can make a lot of money with glitzy nightclubs, hotels and bars. Of course this requires a lot of knowledge and capital.
I don't particularly recommend starting a business locally in Thailand unless you have a track record of business success outside of Thailand. I think there are better and safer ways to make money in Thailand, such as running your own online business. An online business that generates passive income has the added advantage that you have a lot of free time to enjoy Thailand - rather than being chained to an office or business all day long.
If you are a retiree you need to make sure your income meets the legal requirements for the retiree visa. This needs to be checked by the authorities on an annual basis and they will expect to see satisfactory evidence of your overseas income.
Deadly Mistake #3: No objectives
If you make the move to Thailand it's important to have specific goals in mind of what you'd like to achieve during your stay. There are many people who, after relocating, waste a lot of time and never really achieve anything in Thailand. Too late they realise they've squandered their life savings. It's very important to have some idea of the things you'd like to achieve. These could be specific travel objectives - diving in a certain reef, visiting an interesting area such as Chiang Mai. Hopping to places like Malaysia and Singapore. There could be business or financial objectives you want to achieve.
You may have personal objectives such as finding a wife, getting married and starting a family. You may want to learn Thai or another language. Perhaps you always wanted to write a book or learn a new skill or study for a new qualification.
Don't waste your time in Thailand - make it really count for something. Always have a clear idea of what you'd like to achieve during your stay in Thailand - otherwise after a couple of years you will be moving back home and wondering why you ever went to Thailand in the first place.
Deadly Mistake #4: Mismanage money
A big problem here is that people tend to convert Baht back into their Western currency in their heads. This gives them the impression that they are spending less money than they really are. When you do the conversion everything sounds so cheap - it is - if you are earning a Western salary.
It's also easy to fall prey to other Westerners living in Thailand. If you are freshly arrived with money in your pocket be prepared to have others try to relieve you of it. All kinds of "can't lose" business ventures will come your way, as well as requests to "borrow" money. Loans somehow never get repaid. Keep a very tight hold of your money. I always recommend keeping the bulk of your money out of Thailand. Simply draw what you need to live via an ATM and pay your main bills with your credit card.
If someone asks me if I'm interested in investing money in some project of theirs I always just tell them I don't have any, or it's tied up in property in the UK (which is something I recommend you do anyway). They soon lose interest.
Deadly Mistake #5: No appreciating assets
One of the problems with selling your house to fund your move to Thailand is that you are losing an appreciating asset. Owning a freehold property in Thailand can be done but it is not without its complications. Even if you do manage to end up owning a property in Thailand it is unlikely to increase in value as much as, say, a property in the UK - especially over the long term.
By purchasing a property in Thailand you are also exposing yourself to a number of other potential problems: what happens if the laws on property ownership change (again), what happens if the visa rules change (again), what happens if your visa is not renewed, what happens if there are legal complications, what happens if you want to sell up and move back home? Rental property is very widely available and good value in Thailand, so I suggest most people go that route.
If you currently own a house in the UK (or West) I strongly urge you to keep it. Crunch the numbers and see if it's possible to let the property out, taking into account rental income, tax, management fee and periodic repairs. If the numbers work that's fine. If not you might be better off delaying your move to Thailand until you've paid off a bit more of your mortgage - enough to bring the numbers in favour of letting the property out. There are many options on variations possible here - but ideally you should have an appreciating asset of some kind outside of Thailand.
Deadly Mistake #6: No escape plan
You need some kind of escape plan. The very least this should be is backup money for a ticket home. Ideally keep this money in a different account and don't touch it. Better still, give your escape funds to a parent or sibling and tell them not to give you the money unless it's for a ticket home - preferably they should actually buy the ticket for you. Westerners can get themselves into all kinds of hot water in Thailand - for a wide range of reasons. They might fall foul of the law, lose their money in a failed business, have their heart broken or be robbed blind by a scheming gold-digger. It's at this point many people can get desperate and get themselves involved in drugs and other crimes. Don't get into that position - always make sure you have a clear and bullet-proof exit strategy before moving to Thailand.
In this article I've looked at some of the most common things than westerners get wrong when moving to Thailand. No one can live a perfect life - but you need to make sure your foundation (mentally, physically and financially) is solid before attempting to relocate overseas to Thailand. The same advice goes for other countries in Asia or even to other countries in the West.
Living in Thailand can be a fantastic experience, with a bit of planning ahead you can avoid all the most common errors.
Johnny Farang has been visiting, living in, and writing about Thailand since 2003. He hopes to retire there one day and is working towards that end. Johnny is founder of the site http://www.dreamofsiam.com which he has been running since 2004.