Readers' Submissions

Bad Advice

  • Written by Professor
  • May 26th, 2015
  • 12 min read

The subs that you read on this website have given invaluable advice to thousands of readers. I personally have benefited from much that I have read here, and consider myself helped by much of what is contained in these pages.

But not all.

In my opinion, and this is one man’s opinion only, there is a lot of bad advice on this website that is widely circulated as truth. While many of you may disagree with me, here is my list of often stated things that I regard as so much hogwash.

Never invest in Thailand

There’s a saying repeated here sometimes, that if you want to make a million dollars in Thailand, start with two million dollars.

True if you’re stupid, but there’s money to be made in Thailand. Take passive investing. One dollar invested in the Stock Exchange of Thailand five years ago would be worth two dollars today as the SET index has more or less doubled. That’s better or equal to most other major indices you might invest in.

But maybe you don’t invest in stocks. You build businesses. And everyone knows…

Never invest in a business in Thailand

I’ve invested in two. One is now making 7 figures in dollars and employs over 50 people. The other was just started this year and employs only 10 people, but is close to breaking even and is on target to make a profit this year.

Other friends of mine have started businesses that employ 50+ people and also make 7 figures in dollars.

Now I’m not talking about bars in Cowboy, or dodgy boiler rooms, I’m talking about serious businesses you could start anywhere, and businesses you would not be ashamed to tell your mother about.

That’s the key to starting a business anywhere, including Thailand. Find something you love, something you can bring an added value to, something you’re good at but won’t compete with the locals on. Then set it up professionally. I cringe when I read about people starting businesses without proper legal representation, and then wonder why they’re getting screwed over.

For example, did you know that there are two legal ways to start a business in Thailand without a 51% Thai partner?

The first works only if you’re American or have an American partner. The US-Thai Treaty of Amity allows Americans to have majority up to 100% of companies in Thailand, may engage in business on the same basis as Thai companies, and are exempt from most of the restrictions on foreign investment.

The other way is to apply for approval by Thailand BOI (Board of Investment). If approved not only can any nationality own a majority of a company, but there are also added tax incentives.

If you cannot fulfill either of these, then you must find a Thai partner to own at least 51%. But we all know that…

You cannot trust a Thai in Business

Nonsense. Thais are as trustworthy, or not, as any other nationality. I’ve been screwed over by Americans, Aussies and most recently, a Brit, while have had very profitable dealings with Asians of several nationalities, including Thais.

The first and, one might say, only rule in choosing a partner is “Can you trust him?” One really never knows for sure, but trust is usually something that can only be earned over time. I work with people for a long time, at least a year, sometimes up to 5 years, before I would think about doing business with them. And with Thais, it is important to have a personal relationship also. Thais will screw business partners, but think twice before screwing family and friends.

But trust will only take you so far, and one must always have a back-up plan. That’s why whenever I start a business in Thailand and need a Thai to hold 51% shares, I do two things: 1) get them to sign an undated sale document of their shares that I keep. 2) sign an undated letter of resignation as Director (Thai companies must have at least one Director of Thai nationality). Then if things ever go pear shaped, I can dump the Thai partner and find another one.

Lastly, the Thai authorities do check companies, and whenever a Thai owns 51% and foreigners 49%, that’s a red flag and they will investigate further. If you need to use a Thai nominee, give them 60%.

A few paragraphs ago, I wrote that I always try to develop a personal relationship with my Thai partners. But we all know that…

It’s impossible to have a true friendship with a Thai

A few months ago I was reading a sub and someone wrote that they would never even try to have a friendship with a Thai because, and I am paraphrasing now “Stick says he has no Thai friends, and if Stick can’t find a Thai friend, how can I?”

Now I apologize in advance to Stick for what I am going to say. No offense meant, at all.

Stick is a guy who runs a website catering to the bar scene in Thailand, with much of his revenue coming from banner ads promoting prostitution, lady boys and escort services.

Most respectable Thais would run a mile from a guy like that, and certainly might be very embarrassed to bring them home to their wife or introduce them to their family and friends.

I define a friend as someone I like to hang out with, and vice versa, with whom I share common interests, can be with and not discuss business, who would invite me to their house to meet their family and I would return the invite, would invite me to their wedding or to a child’s birthday party, etc.

Especially a friend is someone I would have no hesitation in asking a serious favor from, and would not hesitate to do a favor for them, regardless of what it is.

I would say I have three Western friends, and two Thai friends. One Thai friend I have done business with to both our satisfactions, and am currently planning to do more business with; the other friend and I have not yet done business together formally, but have often helped each other out in our own respective businesses.

And neither one has screwed me.

But maybe investing in a business isn’t your thing. You have some extra cash but of course you know that you should

Never buy property in Thailand

I’m not sure where this bad advice came from. There’s an old saying that there are only three things important when buying property in any country: Location, location, location.

Yes location is important. Any property in Bangkok not close to the BTS will suffer in value. But I always look for two things in addition: 1) Quality. Try to buy the best you can afford. Get that extra bedroom or a higher floor, because 2) you must always consider resale. That gorgeous funky chick magnet place—it might be great for you, but can you resell it?

I own two properties in Thailand. One in Phuket where an identical condo has just sold for 20% more than I paid, and a condo in Bangkok which I bought several years ago and regularly get offered 30% more than I paid. My goal when buying property is never to make a killing, but pay all my expenses so that I live rent free and perhaps can make a bit extra when I sell.

Of course, what’s the point of owning a business and property in Thailand if you have no one to share it with. There’s lots of ways to find a girl friend, but everyone knows that you should

Never form a serious relationship with a girl from a bar

Like all bad advice, this one has a grain of truth in it. Many girls in bars are greedy and immature, and not ready for a relationship with a foreigner.

Your goal is to find the one who is. She is probably not the prettiest, sexiest or one with the biggest nay nays. I would guess she is older, close to or over 30, with a child or two, and has only been in the bar a short time, 3 months preferably and definitely less than 6.

Young Thai women can be very immature. For whatever reason, they do not grow up as fast as western women (some might say this is a good thing). A Thai girl in her early 20’s might have the maturity of a 15 year old. She is not ready for a relationship with someone older and from a different cultural and socio economic background.

The girl must be ready to leave the bar. A girl who enjoys the “easy” money, the drinking and dancing, is not ready to settle down. An older women, with a child, has no interest in the bar scene and is looking for a long term relationship. She will know and understand the give and takes of relationships.

But we all know, having read so many times

Never take care of another man’s child. No Thai man would.

I’m not sure where this piece of wrong and untrue advice came from. I suspect that many men meet women in bars who tell them their Thai boyfriend got them pregnant and left them, so the men come to believe that all Thai men leave their women.

This is called “sample bias”. Let’s say there are 100 Thai women who get pregnant. 90 of them marry their boyfriend and settle down to raise their family in a village somewhere. The 10 whose man leaves them end up in a bar where they tell you “Thai man no good.” After hearing this 10 out of 10 times you come to believe that all Thai men leave their girlfriends. But this is because you never meet the 90 men who marry and support their girls.

I don’t know the true statistics, but I talk with the girls in my office who have children and they all have husbands.

But if you meet one of the 10, and decide to try for a relationship with her, why should you support her child?

This is a fact. A Thai woman, especially one from Isaan, has two major priorities in her life: 1) to take care of her parents and 2) to raise a child who will take care of her.

Her parents have raised her from birth, and she owes everything to them, not to some stranger she just met. This emotion is incredibly powerful, and we non Thais sometimes find it extremely difficult to understand the depth of this obligation.

Similarly, this woman wants and expects her child to take care of her as she ages. You will leave her or die before her, her child will be there long after you are not.

If you cannot understand nor accept these truths, that you are 3rd priority after her parents and children, you have no business attempting a relationship with a Thai woman.

But if you can and do, then you will understand that helping her take care of her parents and children is no different from, and cannot be separated from, taking care of her.

But when you take care of her

Never ever give her a credit card or ATM card

I once asked a Brit who was happily married to a Thai woman for many years the secret of his success. He said “simple. I put everything in her name. The car, house, bank accounts. She controls everything, so she has no need to do me harm”.

I absolutely do not recommend doing this with someone you just met. But if you are in a relationship over time, and the women has proved herself trustworthy, one of the strongest ways you can bind her to you is by giving her a credit card. Yes, she can burn you, but you have chosen wisely, haven’t you?

I gave my girl a credit card 3 years ago, after we had been with each other for 6 years. She treats it like gold, never abuses it, and always asks my permission before using it.

The last piece of advice, I would like to think is good advice.

Never follow blindly what others have to say. Listen to everyone and make up your own mind.

Good luck and

Take care


Stickman's thoughts:

Your comments go against most of what I have seen and experienced and against what most people I know in Thailand have seen and experienced – and we're talking a large cross section of people here.

OI would speculate that your comments are based on the circles which you mix in – as a professor in business, you know some folks who were elegantly successful in the States and when they came to South-East Asia they tasted success too. I think the key thing here is those who did very well in their homelands have a better chance of success in other countries, especially if they were at the top of their field. And the point you have about having pre-signed letters ceding shares or their directorship sounds like control to me…and that is never a good thing.

In terms of friendship with locals, seriously, I know some people talk – boast even – about having Thai male friends. When you ask them about these friends, often you find that they are the friendly neighbourhood guy who everyone knows or the guy who they often see across a crowded bar and might have said hello to once or twice. It's hardly a definition of friendship! Hey, I'd love to have made Thai male friends but it just didn't happen. And the reason for that? Beyond women and football (and I am not that hot on the latter), most Thai males and I just didn't have that much in common. The few people I know who do genuinely have Thai friends mostly met them at school or university in the West.

I think you make some fair points but at the same time it's easy to refute generalisations when you use absolutes. There are always exceptions in life and the truth is probably somewhere nearer the middle.

I maintain that you should be careful with all of the topics you have covered. YES, it is possible to do well with any of these things – and in the case of property I think a lot of foreigners have done well. But in a foreign country with a language you don't understand, where the rule of law is not always followed and so much in life is about who and not what you know – and given that so many foreigners have come a cropper in the past – I think it prudent to err on the side of caution.