Readers' Submissions

Preliminary Results Of Survey Of Farangs Living In Thailand

Preliminary Results Of Survey Of Westerners Living In Thailand

All material on this page is copyright 2005 by Robert Howard and may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

For any inquiries, contact Dr. Robert Howard.

Thanks to everyone who did the survey. If you have not completed the survey and would like to do so and you meet the criteria, please fill out the form on the link below.

http://education.arts.unsw.edu.au/farangsurvey.htm

This is a preliminary summary of some of the data so far, from about 900 respondents.

One day left until you have to leave Bangkok and already you suffer from "Thailanditis". The prescription: "Live here". Property agent's ad on the door of a bar in Sala Daeng.

Many Westerners have heeded that advice and have settled in Thailand. It is hard to estimate how many in total at the present, but the figure of 100,000 of Western residents is commonly cited. From various embassy estimates, I suggest perhaps 80,000. But many live there only for part of the year.

Living in one's favourite holiday destination usually turns out to be a quite different experience from visiting it for a few weeks each year. One often must work instead of play and the world behind the tourist facade eventually becomes apparent and may not be at all what it seemed. Furthermore, living in Thailand is difficult in some ways for Westerners because it is a developing nation, the culture is so different and the Thai government mainly wants to keep Thailand for the Thais. It really prefers short stay, high spending tourists. Permanent residence is hard to come by, citizenship virtually impossible, and foreigners cannot even own land. However, the main migration concern for the Thai government at present is the estimated one million or so "undocumented" migrants from neighbouring Burma, Laos and Cambodia.

The Western residents fall into many categories, and their stay in Thailand is likely to be quite different accordingly. Some are expats on generous expat contracts, often sent to Thailand by their company. Some are retirees living on pensions and/or investments, perhaps after having visited many times as a tourist. Retirees have been shifting to various developing nations for low living costs and better treatment of the elderly than is typical in the West. Mexico and Costa Rica have many American retirees, for instance.

Some respondents visited as tourists and decided to stay on and to try to live on a local salary. It's a rare case of large numbers of Westerners voluntarily moving to a developing nation and living under quite difficult circumstances, such as relative poverty and sometimes having to do a visa run every 30 days.

The aim of the survey was to find out some reasons why people migrate to Thailand, what experiences they have, why some leave, and how it all works out in the end. The analysis below only covers some of the data and is just preliminary.

The sample demographics

The survey sample to date consists of 895 respondents, almost entirely male and many well-educated, with nearly half having a bachelor's degree. It is far from being a random sample. The age range was 18 to 79 years old, with a median of 43 years old. There were 28 females, some there as spouses of diplomats and expats but a few living independently. Many nationalities were represented. Largest numbers were as follows; 32% from the U.K., 28% from the USA, 14% from Australia, 6% from Canada and 3% from Germany. Nearly 60% lived in Bangkok, with some in Isaan, Phuket, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai and a few other places.

About a third had no job in Thailand. Quite a few worked via the Internet in another nation. About 26% had a local job on a local salary (English teacher, dive instructor, etc), 23% had an expat contract job and 13% were on a retirement pension.

Length of stay

The median length of stay was only 2.5 years, with a range from 1 to 38 years. Most still in Thailand intended to stay for life.

Of those who had left Thailand (about a third of the sample), the median stay length was 1.75 years, with a range of 1 to 20 years.

Reasons for living in Thailand

A wide variety of reasons were given. The most common ones cited were the lifestyle, climate, Thai women/men, and lower living costs.

Lifestyle 52%
Low living costs 42%
Thai women/men 36%
Climate 35%
Thai culture 36%
Dislike home country 26%
To take up job 25%
Thai partner wanted to return 6%

Other cited reasons were the food, for business opportunities, a military or diplomatic posting, for study, and because a Thai partner could not get a visa to their own Western nation. Some specific comments were as follows:

"Lifestyle initially, though it paled quite rapidly."

"Arrived as backpacker, fell in love with the country and stayed".

"Until I left Australia, I had no idea how miserable life was."

On what was most liked and what were the main advantages of living in Thailand, again most often cited were the women, the weather, the people, the pace of life, the low cost of living and the freedom.

Well-being

Two questions were asked; a rating of their own well-being in Thailand and their views on the well-being of other Westerners. Both were actually quite high.

Own well-being

Excellent 40%
Good 46%
Neutral 10%
Poor 2%
Very poor
Of others
Excellent 21%
Good 54%
Neutral 18%
Poor 4%
Very poor 1%

On the main disadvantages of living in Thailand, the mostly commonly cited were the traffic, xenophobia/racism, heat, scams, pollution, sex tourists, corruption, and the immigration laws. On their main problems of living in Thailand, the most commonly cited were visas, pollution, learning the Thai language, corruption, and being seen as a walking ATM by locals. As one put it, a major problem was:

"Removing the FREE ATM logo from my forehead."

"Thais regard Westerners with a strange mixture of disdain, amusement, and opportunity."

Integration into Thai society

Many in the sample were well-integrated into Thai society by one usual migration criterion. Nearly half had either married a Thai or had a live-in Thai partner. Of the 28 women, four had either married a Thai or had a live-in Thai partner. Most (55%) personally felt accepted and most felt that farangs in general were accepted in Thai society.

Acceptance of farangs in Thai society

Excellent 11%
Good 48%
Neutral 25%
Poor 12%
Very poor 3%

However, the reality might be a bit different than the perception for many. If we look at the main people respondents socialised with, nearly half (46%) socialised primarily with other farangs and another 5% mainly did with Thais in the bar scene.

And what was most missed about life in the West? Many explicitly and emphatically cited "Nothing!", but most commonly cited were Western food, TV, seasons, the rule of law, family and friends, intellectual conversation, cleanliness, logic, and even snow.

Reasons for leaving Thailand

A total of 286 had lived in Thailand but had left. Their median stay length was quite short, however, at about 1.75 years, with a range from 1 to 20 years. Many had not wanted to leave and would return if they could.

"Right decision for my kids, but personally I would rather be there."

"Forced to leave- Thai family nearly killed me."

Main cited reasons for leaving were as follows:

Financial reasons 39%
Left expat job 25%
Disillusioned with life in Thailand 20%
Visa reasons 11%
Missed life in West 9%
Family (often children's education) 4%

Some specific comments,

"Always a tourist."

"Could not accept being a farang all my life and not being given a chance
to assimilate."

"Not good for young children."

"Thais look down on whites. They don't like us and I got tired of it." "Unfairness, corruption and racism."

"Crime/bad girls."

"The girl told me lies from the first time I saw her. I was supporting her
family and two Thai husbands."

Most (54%) still were happy with their decision to leave but 54% would still move back to Thailand if they won $10 million in a lottery.

Respondents' general comments

Some comments reflect an ambivalence about Thailand and others suggest thatone needs a few years to see if living in Thailand really does suit.

'Heaven and hell in the same place.'

"We are all treading on eggshells."

'Some [farangs] really happy, but many have miserable lives.'

'Thais consider farangs third class persons.'

"Alcoholism is a problem among many."

'There are a lot of bitter and cynical farangs here."

"Good if you can adapt to the culture and way of life."

[I] "see an increasing number of people struggling to survive on a grossly inadequate income; 25% are very happy, 75% depressed and not living in theright place."

"Most farang fail here because they involve themselves with a Thai woman's
family."

"If you want cheap sex and booze, its great."

"Basically to live in Thailand you need money… cash is king."

"Paradise for farang if have money."

"Always felt like a walking ATM."

"Should attempt to live in Thailand only if willing to learn the language."

Conclusion

The stay seems to work out well for many but a crucial factor is length of stay. Many would-be residents perhaps need a few years to work out if Thailand is for them in the long-term. Some cited a four year trial period as necessary.

"Initially great, eventually worse than home. Real honest friendships and relationships sadly lacking."

"Most farangs I know become worn down after ten years or so and return home. Honeymoon period lasts for about four years."

"In the beginning it was great and after four years I had enough."

"Living here is not for everyone. I see many farangs who I don't think should be here because of their attitude. A lot of adaptation is required which is probably why many take their Thai wives home. But I am treated like a king by my wife."

So to sum up, some suggestions for a successful transition are the usual ones for immigrants; be adaptable, take the good with the bad, learn the language, and have lots of money. But in addition, perhaps the trial needs a few years and one should be sure that the bridges back to the West are not burned if it all goes wrong.

Stickman's thoughts:

Good stuff, interesting reading.