Moving To Thailand Before You’re 30
Two weeks ago Stick wrote a column about the “lost generation”. People moving to Thailand at a fairly young age, working here for a long time, and then possibly losing the opportunity to move back to their home land or anywhere else, either because they cannot imagine themselves living back in the Farangland taking part in the rat-race, or because they simply have not acquired the right credentials with their jobs in Thailand to find suitable employment in another country. This sparked some interesting reactions from readers published in the column the week after, as well as a submission by Ryan who was struggling with the question of moving here at a young age.
As a 27 year old who’s been living and working here for a few years now, I figured I’d give my two cents worth. I was introduced to Thailand in 2004 through an exchange program from my university (briefly explained in an earlier submission I wrote). After completing my exchange I went back home to receive my degree. Although intrigued by Asia in general and Thailand in particular, I had no intention of moving back to Thailand straight away. I figured I would get a job like everyone else, maybe in a multinational company, and hopefully find an opportunity to work in Asia several years down the road.
However, after being home for about a month, a family acquaintance who had just started a company in Bangkok heard what I had studied, what my interests were and that I had lived in Bangkok for a while. He came over just before Christmas and asked me whether I would be interested in working for him for a while. Since he had only just started his company he couldn’t pay me much, but as I had no working experience yet, and this usually is one of the things demanded in The Netherlands to get a decent job, I eventually decided to take him up on his offer. My logic was that I would be on a 1 year contract and could always come back after a year if things didn’t work out. The salary wasn’t great, 25K a month, but housing was provided by the company. I started working here in June of 2005.
After 6 months my salary was increased by 10K, as I had taken on some more responsibility, but it was still far from great. While 2006 was coming to an end, I started to wonder where this was going. I wasn’t too happy with the work I was doing, and the salary was not about to get a lot higher any time soon. Also, the company didn’t seem to be in a very healthy position financially, so I started looking for other things in Thailand, which is not easy when you’re not working for a multinational willing to send you overseas. I also considered Singapore, as this is where my fiancée comes from. The good thing was that I already had a job, so there was no rush in finding something, but I did know that I needed to do something different if I did not want to jeopardize my future career opportunities.
I was fortunate enough to be offered another job by one of my clients who wanted to get more in-house expertise, and they offered me a salary which is more comparable to what I would earn back home. The job also allowed me to perform more organizational and managerial tasks, which is what I wanted. I decided to take them up on their offer, and this is what I am still doing today.
I will not deny that I have been lucky in the way things have progressed for me so far, but like I already mentioned, if I has not been offered my current job, I may not have been living here anymore. In my opinion, there are a number of issues that one should never lose sight of when moving to Thailand, or another country, especially when you’re still at the beginning of your career like I am:
* Never become too complacent. Thailand is known for its relaxed living, both personally and professionally. The stories about people delivering sub-standard work because “it will be accepted anyway” are numerous, and it can be tempting to adopt a similar style of thinking. Who doesn’t want to earn a nice pay check while only putting in a few hours of “real” work a day? If you are at the age where retirement is not an option for another 20 to 30 years or more, this can be a dangerous way of thinking. You don’t know whether several years down the road you will still be living here working your cushy job. If you ever have to move to another country where the standard of work is higher, you will have to be able to deliver. Employ the same work standards and ethic here in Thailand as you would do back in your home country, and strive to further your career like you would do in Farangland. Failure to do so can seriously reduce your options in the long run.
* Don’t accept a job in Thailand which you would never consider doing at home. This holds true for most people anywhere, as doing a job you don’t like will only make you miserable, but especially for people just starting their careers. We all know that many foreigners who want to live here become English teachers, and if you like being a teacher and see it as a possible career path then this is a good choice. But if what you really want to be is a mechanical engineer and really don’t like teaching, then don’t become an English teacher in Thailand just because you want to live here. You’ll be better off working at home for a while, building up a reputable career and making the move to Thailand at a later point, either through (early) retirement or because your chosen job allows you the opportunity to work here. Set long-term goals and work towards them, because reaching your goal (in this case, working in Thailand) is one thing, but holding on to it is another. At least make sure that the job you take in Thailand is related to your professional interests.
* Most western countries have nice pension plans, 401K schemes, or other forms of social security that will help you safeguard a stable income after you retire. In Thailand, this does not exist. I know there are some forms of pension plans available, but as some readers have already pointed out on this site, the money isn’t even going to be enough to reach the requirements for a retirement visa, so if you want to stay here, you will have to come up with your own savings plan. Some people think it’s strange that I am pre-occupied with this at the age of only 27, saying I shouldn’t worry so much and that I still have my whole life ahead of me. The truth is that nowadays people get to live well into their 70’s and 80’s. I have no way of knowing whether I will get that old, but if I do, I need to be able to support myself. Assuming you work until the age of 65, you have to cover for another 15 to 20 years of retirement in which you have to support yourself with money you’re making today. This means I can save another 40 or so years, to pay for 20 more. In other words, I’d better start saving. By this logic you will have to earn a high enough salary to put away considerable savings, not only for your immediate future, but also for retirement. You may have to invest some of these savings as well, as putting your money into a savings account, with the existing interest rates, is only going to reduce its real value over time.
* Don’t live your life like you’re on a permanent holiday. I know this has been mentioned many times before, but it cannot be stressed enough. Working in Thailand is, at least on the surface, not that much different from anywhere else. Your employer pays you a pay check and in return he expects you to show up for work, fresh and on time, and deliver work of a good quality. Now, if going to the bars 5 nights a week would be detrimental to the quality of work back home (not to mention your health), why would it be any different here? Also keep in mind that in Thailand your colleagues will scrutinize your behaviour much more than they would in the west. You are the foreigner with the bigger pay check and usually a higher position in the company. They expect a certain type of behaviour from you which they can respect, which does not include showing up drunk at work every morning and sleeping with hookers every night. If you make your colleagues or, god forbid, your subordinates lose respect for you, you’re going to have a hell of a time getting anything done, and might well be on your way home to Farangland before you know it.
I fully agree with Stick that if you want to move to Thailand at a young age you will have some serious thinking to do. As far as money is concerned, I don’t think that anyone should move to Thailand if there is no prospect of earning a salary of between 60K and 70K baht in the near future. This excludes (semi) retirees of course. One can conclude it is hypocritical of me to say this, since I came here first on a salary of a meager 25K, but like I said, after about 1.5 years I started to realize that if this didn’t change soon, I would be in serious trouble in the long run. It is ok to move here for less than 60K if it’s either for a short time, or if you know that you’ll have plenty of opportunity to increase your salary to that amount in the short term. But if you want to live here for a long time, I believe less than this amount will cause problems at a later stage.
I’m not saying that you cannot live on less money. You can most definitely survive on 25K a month, even in Bangkok, but like I said before, you’re also working for that new washing machine your wife would like to have, your (future) kids’ college fund, your retirement and all the other things you need savings for.
You can compare moving to Thailand with investing money. If you put your money in a savings account or bonds, the risks of losing your money are low. Therefore, the return on investment (interest) will be low. If you invest your money in riskier items like options or futures, you would expect a much higher return on investment, because the risk that you will lose your money is far greater. Moving to another country, leaving everything behind and starting a new life can yield great benefits, but also carries great risks, probably greater than staying at home. Therefore your “return on investment” (salary minus cost of living), should be high enough to warrant these risks and allow you to have other options if things don’t go as planned. 60K would in my opinion be the minimal amount to achieve this, and with rising prices across the board you will need more in the future.
Finally I believe it is important to keep an open mind about your future. Many people come to Thailand and refuse to consider ever leaving it. One has to realize that the future is unpredictable and that somewhere down the road it may be wiser to move away than to stay here. Whether this is due to (un)employment, better schooling for your children, political instability, or whatever other reason doesn’t matter. Keeping your options open and your career on track will increase the chance that, if required, you still have a choice to go somewhere else (not necessarily your home country) and not become one of the “lost generation” as Stick so nicely put it.
Stacks of sensible advice here!