Readers' Submissions

A Reply To “Arguments In The Thailand V Farangland Debate That Lack Validity”

  • Written by Anonymous
  • August 6th, 2012
  • 12 min read



To keep my reply easier to follow, I'll address Anonymous's points in the same order he did, quoting parts of his argument as required.


Argument #1: Thailand is so cheap and everything back home is so overpriced.

Anonymous writes that the reasons for things being cheaper in Thailand is due to the western world's higher wages and living standards. Obviously that is true, but I don't really see how that invalidates the argument as he seems to think it does.

Yes, western countries have higher wages. But to someone who comes here on long vacation or to live here permanently, I fail to see how that makes any difference to your choice.

Most people do not come here to work in a salaried job. The majority of expats are retirees who are making do on a pension or remittances from home in the form of property rentals or family money. A large part of the remainder are running businesses, in which case the low wages and lack of workplace regulation in Thailand is yet another positive factor in their choice.

Finally you have a third class of expats who are participating in the online economy or telecommuting to their job at home. Stickman is one such person, as am I. For us, the cost of living here is an unadulterated positive. We would be earning the same income regardless of where we lived, it makes sound economic sense to live in an inexpensive country.

For tourists, the equation is no different. Assuming they are returning to their job at home in a month's time, they will be able to afford a much better and longer holiday in Thailand than if they were to choose, say, Broome in Western Australia.


Argument #2: There is so much freedom in Thailand, and so much bureaucracy in our home countries.

Anonymous apparently thinks that freedom extends only to road laws, as this is the only example he really explores. I happen to agree with him in his opinion that there a lot of negative consequences of the lack of enforcement of road laws in Thailand. The roads are deadly, and random breath testing and proper driver training would save a lot of lives.

However, this is not the extent of freedom from regulation that you will experience in Thailand.

I will discuss the bar industry because it's close to most readers' hearts and a very good illustration of the differences between Thailand and the west (in mine and Anonymous' case, Australia).

The cost of living is a good place to start here: Ask yourself why a small bottle of beer in a bar in Thailand will run you somewhere in the region of 50 – 100 baht, whereas in Australia it's more likely to be 150 – 250 baht? In both countries, the wholesale price of beer is around 25 baht per bottle.

Why then are bars in Australia putting a 500% – 1000% markup on their alcohol, where many bars in Thailand are doing it for not much more than 100%? The answer lies, primarily, in overheads. And the primary reason why bars in Australia suffer huge overheads is because of the incredibly strict regulatory regime in the Australian liquor industry.

Before we even get to discussing the legal checks, accreditation courses and regulatory hoops to jump through concerning *running* a bar, first you have to purchase a license.

Liquor licenses in WA and SA are effectively restricted by number due to a regulatory hurdle called the "public needs test". This effectively states that to open a bar, you must illustrate that there is a "public need" for that bar to exist. Probably not so hard to do in a newly-built town, but pretty difficult to do in a metropolitan area where there are hundreds of bars, not many of which are already full.

In effect, to satisfy this public needs test, you will need to purchase a license from an existing business and shut it down, and then illustrate to the licensing body that the shutting of the old bar necessitates the need for a new one. How much this costs depends on the area you are in, but I wouldn't expect to get a lot of change out of $1 million Australian dollars.

So before we even start, 99% of the beer bars in Thailand have become uneconomical because of the extreme expenses involved in setting up a bar. It's for this reason precisely that you do not see any small bars in most areas of Australia. Running a bar is a huge investment only undertaken by national companies who can afford legal teams to fight the regulations and the cost of licenses themselves. Most bars in Australia are owned by Woolworths Limited, the 19th largest retail company in the world.

Once you've done all that you can then begin the process of applying for a proprietor's license. I won't bore you with the details but you can safely assume that it is no doddle.

Additionally, there are umpteen regulations relating to staff training (every person in your bar must have completed an RSA accreditation), the number of security staff, facilities (including a stipulation that food must be available at all hours the bar is open), a certain number of toilets per customer, etc etc.

In comparison, opening a bar in Thailand couldn't be easier. You only need to form a Thai company (which any law company can take are of you for around 20,000 – 30,000 baht, and find someone who would like to lease you land. Effectively, anyone who wants to open a bar in Thailand can do so for less than a week's average wage in Australia. It's so cheap and easy that a large percentage of bar owners in Thailand do it, effectively, as a hobby. If it helps pay the rent, all the better.

The lower cost in overheads come not only from the lack of startup costs, but also ongoing costs. Not only are wages lower, but you need far less staff. Replacing staff is no more difficult than finding someone who wants the job. Maintenance is a pittance in a bar made primarily of aluminium, bamboo and canvas. Any permanent structure made of those materials would be completely illegal in the west.

Last, but by no means least, if you are found in violation of any law or regulation in Thailand, at worst you can expect to pay a small bribe to the police and be asked to fix the problem before they come around next time. In Australia, you would be subject to a fine in the high 5 figures, or even have your license revoked and have to go through the entire application process again, with minimal chance of success.

This is just 1 example of the full extent of regulation in Western countries. Opening other kinds of businesses is no less painful.

When the constitution of Australia was written in 1901, the entire document contained a few hundred pages. Each year now in Australia, around 150 new regulations are passed, adding an additional SIX THOUSAND pages of laws to our society. The Fair Work act, a change to our employment laws passed by the Rudd government soon after they were elected, was 651 pages of new legislation that every employer in Australia needs to know.

And unlike Thailand, authorities in Western countries are simply never willing to look the other way if a regulation has been violated. There are many laws in Thailand which are intentionally left unenforced, because of the realisation on behalf of police and lower-level politicians that they are better left that way. Prostitution is a stark example. Despite being illegal in Thailand, the sex industry here is far more out in the open than it is in Australia, where it remains legal but regulated to within an inch of its life.

As for Anonymous' claim regarding visas, that "Farangs don't even have the ability to live in Thailand for 3 months without having to make a painful 10 hour bus ride to Burma for a visa run, so I really struggle to appreciate the argument of 'freedom' in Thailand", well, that's just plain untrue. It is true only for tourist and non-o visa holders.

People living here under marriage, parental, business and retirement visas do not have to perform visa runs every 3 months. Tourists, of course, do. I wonder if Anonymous thinks that tourist visa holders can stay in Australia permanently without ever having to leave? If anything, Thailand puts far less burden on people staying here permanently than western countries.

A very good friend of mine, a pensioner from the UK, tried unsuccessfully to emigrate to Australia to live close to his son, a naturalised Australian citizen. He was unsuccessful due to his age, and after using up 2 consecutive tourist visas, was denied a further tourist visa for a period of 3 years. He now lives in Thailand, permanently, on a retirement visa.

So again, the freedom to live here permanently is precisely the reason why so many choose to do so. I can easily attain a business visa here for myself for less than 30,000 baht per year, which would allow me to live permanently in Thailand, renewing yearly. No investment is required. If I tried to do the same thing in England, I would need to invest a minimum of 200,000 pounds sterling, or 10 million baht.

So I would have to beg to differ with Anonymous over the levels of "Freedom" in Thailand. It is certainly true that the laws of Thailand are quite conservative in terms of things that a western liberal might consider "Freedom". Free speech, certainly, is somewhat restricted in Thailand. Laws regarding drugs are very severe. But in terms of the regulatory burden facing individuals and businesses going about their every day lives, Thailand is a veritable Galt's Gulch in comparison to most Western nanny states.


Argument #3: Women back home are so prudish, whereas Thai women don't discriminate with my age or looks.

In this respect there is not really as much difference as everyone thinks between Thailand and the West. In Australia, as with most everywhere else in the world, women overwhelmingly attempt to "marry up". Women place far less emphasis on looks than men do. While they appreciate a pretty face as much as anyone, women are far more practical in terms of searching for a mate. And in terms of both education and salary, very few women are willing to accept a male partner who is less accomplished than they are. Given that the proportion of women graduates in comparison to men is rising in both countries, it's becoming increasingly hard for educated women to find a mate they deem suitable.

You do occasionally see this writ large in the increasing numbers of unpartnered women in their 30s in Western countries. They already come close to outnumbering male graduates – but since men typically don't care much about their wife or partner's educational accomplishments, far more graduate men marry non-graduate women than vice versa. Therefore, these women find themselves, in their 30s with a biological clock ticking, and nobody they are willing to settle for. This is the primary source of the stereotypical angry 30-something western female that many readers here dread.

The real difference between Thailand and the West is the sheer number of women with post-high school qualifications. In Australia, 56% of all women have some kind of post-secondary qualification, of which about half of those are university bachelor degrees or better. Almost none (outside of remote Aboriginal communities) would have failed to complete high school.

In Thailand, the number is far, far lower, and even those who do hold bachelor degrees can barely claim to be educated due to the appalling state of Thailand's tertiary education sector. A big majority of the women you might meet in your daily life as an expat did not finish high school, let alone university.

The reason this matters is not because of them though, it's because of us. It's a fair estimate that not a lot of Stickman readers (the professor excepted) of working age are high-earning, educated professionals. The reason I know this is because educated professionals on high salaries in the West do not typically leave their high earning jobs to come and live in Thailand – unless they are sent here by their company. They have no need to. A large percentage of points #1 and #2 as discussed above do not apply to them. Most of us are small-time entrepreneurs, retired, ex-blue-collar workers and similar type occupations. I don't think it's letting the cat out of the bag to say that the reason Thailand was so attractive to many of us is because we weren't exactly curing cancer back at home.

Our experiences in the West are coloured by our social standing in the west. Many of us were never considered hugely attractive to Western women because we didn't earn enough money, or didn't have an MBA, or by some other arbitrary measure we failed to meet. So obviously our opinion on Western women is going to differ somewhat that the opinion of someone like Richard Branson or David Beckham, because our experiences have been much different.

In Thailand, by contrast, we are a catch to many women regardless. Anonymous is right that it's probably not a lot easier to find a well-educated, wealthy Thai woman here (unless of course you are well educated and wealthy yourself). But what it is a lot easier to find here is the love of a lesser educated, relatively poor woman, because there are tens of millions more of them here in Thailand than there are where you originally came from. And they see you – a man who at least finished high school, and probably has some other kind of qualification such as a trade, and is wealthier than most Thais – as something of a handsome prince. Especially when you consider than many of these Thai women are already single mothers, and therefore couldn't even reasonably hope to find a life with a tuk tuk driver who regularly beats her.

So in summation, I'd just like to say that Thailand is probably better than a lot of people such as Anonymous give it credit for. There are a lot worse places.



Stickman's thoughts:

I enjoyed the original article but at the same time I think you have put together a decent, honest response.