-Where were you born?
I was born in California, USA.
-In which country and city are you living now?
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I came to Thailand as a single woman, but I became very fortunate and met my husband, nicknamed Golf. We married in Bangkok and the year after that our son Aidan was born in a Bangkok hospital.
-How long have you been living in Thailand?
For four years.
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Thailand?
Reading travel stories online, seeing photos and reading about the experiences of others who had come to live and work as English teachers. It sounds like I was armed with a lot of information, but I really was flying by the seat of my pants. I had just come from India less than a year later before coming to Bangkok the first time and I was expecting Bangkok to be just like New Delhi. I was pleasantly surprised that Thailand is far from being like India!
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Fortunately the school sponsored my work permit. It was a hassle to go to a neighboring country such as Laos or Malaysia to get the proper work permit, and there are loads of paperwork that my employer must provide. Sometimes the immigration laws can be a pain and be confusing, but it all got done in the end.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
It was not difficult because my employer paid for my insurance. Maternity, however, was not covered, but the prenatal and hospital bills were manageable. There is so much information out there for expat insurance that it's really quite easy to get you and/or your family adequate coverage.
-How do you make your living in Thailand? Do you have any type of income generated?
I held two jobs in Bangkok, both of them teaching English at private bilingual schools.
The first job was one I had found on the Bangkok Post newspaper online when I was still living in the United States. I had submitted my resume to the email in the job; the director of the school called me on the spot and we had an overseas interview. I had arrived in Bangkok with no guarantees that she would hire me for sure, but I gave myself a one month window of time to find employment teaching English if this job didn't work out. Fortunately it did work out.
I secured my second job just before the term's end at my first school. A number of situations had cropped up at this first school that I could not stay any longer. Since English teachers are in such high demand, I found my new job easily.
-Do you speak Thai and do you think it's important to speak the local language? Please add your thoughts on local customs and whether it's important for expats to respect/observe local customs.
In Bangkok, you're surrounded by English and many Thais speak enough English that if an expat were not fluent in Thai, they'd have no problem. However, I gave learning Thai my best shot. I bought many Thai language learning materials (recommended is Benjawan Poomsan Becker's Thai for Beginners and Thai/English Dictionary for non-Thai speakers) and I also hired a private tutor. I befriended Thais and followed along in their conversations and chimed in when I could. But Thai is a horrendously difficult language for me to learn. Other westerners picked up on it quickly, but I had trouble with it. I did the best I could and Thais appreciate that effort very much. It's also practical; you don't get cheated as often if you can distinguish yourself from a tourist.
With regard to following customs, it is my strong belief that when you choose to live in a host country, you must adapt and be polite on their terms. We are the guests, after all. That means adopting behaviors that are respectful of the Thai people. The more thoughtful and considerate you are, and you demonstrate that you are trying, Thais will forgive you for almost any faux pas you make. The following points are the absolute basics to get by in Thailand:
- Remove your shoes before entering temples, homes, classrooms (except international schools) and some businesses (you will see shoes outside the doorway or a shoe rack indicating the establishment requires shoe removal).
- Do not point your feet at other people, sacred objects or Buddha images.
- Do not touch people on their heads.
- The concept of ‘saving face' is extremely important in Thailand. You must keep your cool and maintain a normal tone of voice whenever possible. This can be very difficult in frustrating situations (and you will encounter many!) but you will get further if you maintain your composure.
- Joking about or speaking negatively of the Thai King or any members of the Royal Family is a big no-no. Thais revere their King and consider him to be the father of their country.
- Wear modest dress when visiting a temple. Long pants and skirts are preferable and remove your hat before entering. We women need to keep our shoulders covered, no plunging necklines. Always remove shoes before entering a temple and never point your feet at the Buddha image or at any monks (you shouldn't point your feet at any person while in Thailand).
-Do you miss home and family sometimes? Describe your favorite recreational activities there are or those that are available.
Yes, sure. I miss my family and friends. It can be lonely in Thailand for some expat women who arrive here as singles. I also missed good Mexican cuisine and roasted or baked comfort foods (condos generally do not come equipped with the ovens we westerners are accustomed to).
Some of my favorite recreational activities include going to the cinema (Bangkok has some of the finest theaters I've ever seen!) art galleries and performing arts, getting Thai massages and beauty treatments, or shopping and taking weekend trips to the beach or the mountains. I've seen most of Thailand and have done all the touristy bits such as taking a five-day trek up in Mae Hong Son and sea kayaking in Phang Nga Bay. If you like adventure and exploring, then you will never be bored with living in Thailand. What is also wonderful is the fact that other countries are so close by; you can take a long weekend in Hong Kong or Singapore and be back to work on Monday.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I'm writing a guidebook for expat women living in Thailand. Right now it's called The Expat Woman's Guide to Living in Bangkok, but I am expanding the market to include all of Thailand. Most websites and guidebooks for expats in Thailand are for men since there are far fewer women residing here. The Expat Woman's Guide to Living in Bangkok is available now at my website (see links below) and the full Thailand edition is slated to be published in January 2009.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
You can find a decent place to live in Bangkok for as reasonable as 8,000-12,000 baht per month, with highs to the ceiling. The condo building you see below was where Golf and I lived for awhile and the one-bedroom unit cost us 9,000 baht per month. It included use of the swimming pool and there was a Tops grocery store in the complex, which was very convenient. This was in the Lad Yao area of Bangkok, near Mo Chit District, so it was out of town just enough to be less expensive than accommodation closer to the city center. It was also closer into town than the outer suburbs where I lived for my first job.
The high rise condo tower where Golf and I rented a one-bedroom unit.
A friend of mine lived in a serviced (maid and laundry services once a week) furnished one-bedroom apartment by the Major Cineplex - Pahonyothin near Central Lad Prao shopping center and pays 15,000 baht per month. Her commute to work was 15-20 minutes and she shared the taxi fare with another teacher at the same school. Her home was located in a good area and she had a reasonable commute to her job every day.
-What is the cost of living in Thailand?
The cost of living in Thailand varies tremendously. Bangkok is the most expensive of all the cities; however, the cost of living in Thailand will depend on your salary and the lifestyle you choose. Many multinational corporate executives earn several hundred thousand baht per month and many English teachers earn as little as between 25,000-30,000 baht per month.
An English teacher with a few years of experience under her belt should command about 45,000 baht per month, where if your university degree is in Education, at a private school you could earn 55,000-60,000 baht per month. Many teachers tutor on the side and that brings in several thousand baht per month more. A qualified teacher working in a reputable international school can expect to earn in excess of 100,000 baht per month plus benefits.
Many expats will be fortunate enough to receive accommodation benefits as part of your employment package. However, many more of you will need to pay for accommodation out of your salary which will likely be your largest expense. If you work for a multinational company, your employer will likely give you a generous living expense and your flat, house or condo can run up to 80,000 baht in rent or more, but it will be well within your budget.
How you eat will also determine your monthly expenses. You can eat from the street vendors or buy food to go at your local outdoor market and a meal will cost between 20-40 baht. Snacks are around 10-15 baht. This is the cheapest way to eat and this is how I ate during my work week - cheap and simple.
Restaurants will vary widely in expense. A basic Thai restaurant will likely be less than 120 baht per person, but there are also fancier Thai restaurants and prices will go up from there, much more if alcoholic beverages are part of the meal. Restaurants offering western fare usually cost about 250-400 baht per person and the really nice restaurants you are likely to spend a minimum of 1,000 baht per person.
Many expat families hire a maid whose duties include cooking for them, so eating out is not an issue and is likely more cost effective and healthier than dining in restaurants every day.
Overall, you will live OK, if a bit frugally, if your minimum salary is 35,000 baht per month (less is OK if your employer pays your housing) don't eat at nice restaurants every day and take the bus often. As an example, a few years ago, I was last making 45,000 plus 2,500 for housing expenses and was able to save about 20,000 per month. I went to movies regularly, had beauty treatments, went out to eat at decent restaurants every weekend and traveled outside Bangkok every chance I got. My lifestyle was excellent compared to how I was living in my home country.
Those on executive salaries can live quite luxuriously, if so chosen, and there is a wide range of earnings, saving and spending.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Thailand?
- Cheap cost of living
- Thais are generally very easy going and friendly, always happy to help
- Beautiful temple architecture, beaches, mountains, waterfalls
- Deep rooted traditions and culture
- Delicious Thai food every day!
- Fresh tropical fruits
- Seeing sights every day that you would never in your home country - an exoticness, if you will
- Political and government instability
- Noise and air pollution in the larger cities, especially Bangkok
- The heat and humidity can get tiring
- Some aspects to Thai culture and the way some Thai people conduct themselves is such that most westerners will never, ever understand
- Corruption is rampant
- Western women have a tough time finding clothes and shoes that fit properly
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Thailand?
Keep an open mind and be willing to accept ways of thinking that are quite different than your own. You will learn new levels of patience and decorum that you never knew you had within you.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Thailand?
- The Expat Woman's Guide to Living in Bangkok
- Paiboon Publishing (The Publisher for Southeast Asian Languages and Cultures.)
- Thailand Voice (Promoting the best blogs in Thailand)
- Thai Visa (Fantastic source for expats in Thailand)
- Ajarn.com (for those expats in the teaching profession)