Stickman's Weekly Column June 10th, 2007

Bangkok Employment Options


The vice is slowly being tightened on those existing in Thailand long term on tourist visas. Things are also tightening up on the issuing of back to back non-immigrant visas for those who wish to reside in Thailand long-term, but who don't go on to get a work permit.

The criteria for issuing long-term visas based on marriage to a Thai national have also tightened. Whereas in the past proof of 400,000 baht in funds deposited in a local bank account was all that was required, now a couple must show an income of at least 40,000 baht a month to meet the new criteria. You'd think most couples could satisfy this but it appears many cannot.

For anyone aged under 50 and not married to a Thai national, shock, horror, Mr. Farang, you might actually have to get a job if you want to stay in Thailand long-term!

There is no shortage of work in Thailand for Westerners and anyone who wants a job can get one. You read that right. If you want a job in Thailand, you can get one. The big problem is that the majority of employed Westerners in Thailand have to resort to English teaching.

Yes, you read that right too, I did say resort to English teaching. It is all very well if you want to teach and you're a qualified teacher and / or an experienced teacher, but the truth is that most are not qualified and most people would rather be doing something else.

A good number of the people teaching in Thailand, especially those who have not been fortunate to secure a position at a big name school don’t really like their work. Long, stressful days in a highly political environment for not a lot of money can get even the most patient of us down.

The truth is that the majority of foreigners teaching English in Thailand still earn around the 35,000 baht per month mark. You can get by on this, but it won’t go far when it comes to creature comforts. And frankly, given that many teachers would rather be doing something else, the equivalent of $US 1,000 a month is peanuts if you're working a job you really don't like.

But teaching per se is not necessarily a bad gig and salaries of up to 200,000 baht per month are out there. Yep, you read that right, 200,000 baht per month. That is what the top paid teachers earn at schools like ISB and NIST, with the likes of Bangkok Pattaya where teaching salaries top out at 178,000 baht per month not far behind.

How do you get such a handsomely paying teaching position? The best international schools hire at international school hiring fairs which are generally held around the start of the calendar year, for positions that start around August, the beginning of the academic year. You invariably need to be a qualified and experienced teacher to get such a gig. Alternatively, someone with first class academic credentials might also get a shot. But that's about it. If you don't satisfy that criteria, you're not likely to get one of these prime positions. Only a handful of schools pay such salaries. Remember, some of the big name language mills still start teachers on less than 30,000 baht a month.

Between the language mills and the top paying international schools are several tiers of schools and education institutes. English programs and universities may pay more than language schools and some of the lesser international schools may be less demanding when hiring while still offering salaries approaching the 100K baht per month mark. It does seem that teachers who earn over 45,000 baht per month from a teaching position are happy with their salary.

But what if, like so many people, you simply don’t want to teach?

There are many options, but frankly, none of them are as easy to get into as teaching is.

There is an increasing number of foreigners managing bars these days. Naughty bars that is. For some this may be a dream job. How do you get such a job and how well do they pay?

Some foreign bar managers earn close to 100,000 baht per month but they remain the exception, not the rule. Figure the 50,000 baht per month mark to be typical of what a Western bar manager earns in a bar in the likes of Sukhumvit Soi 4. In what I find tremendously ironic, some bar managers may find themselves amongst the lowest paid in the bar, especially those who earn as little as 30,000 baht, of which one or two bar managers are said to be paid in Pattaya. It is said that Pattaya bars tend to pay less than Bangkok although there are clearly more opportunities down there for such work. The actual salary paid to bar managers might be lower because these days, with all of the crackdowns and concern about being vulnerable, they tend to get the magic little blue book as part of the package.

But even for the biggest party animals, don't think that managing a bar in Thailand is a dream job. Most bar managers work a 6 day week and their responsibilities run from being answerable to the bar boss for the bar's success, to accounting for all money and stock, to looking after little Lek who has found that she has a rash. It's not an easy job and spending every night in a loud, smoky bar with people who may be drinking way more than they should is a challenge most of us just aren't prepared for.

Getting such a job is usually a case of knowing someone within the industry. Experience in the industry in another country, or in a bar or nightspot back home would help.

There are many foreign chefs in the hospitality industry and being hired by the better restaurants around town they tend to be on decent packages. Figure 150,000 baht per month if employed at a big hotel, sometimes more. Funnily enough, one super famous hotel in Bangkok pays at least one of its foreign chefs less than half of that. I have heard of smaller restaurants hiring foreign chefs paying less than 50,000 baht per month.

Of course being a bona fide chef in the West, perhaps also being someone who has made a name for themselves, is a prerequisite to getting such a position in Thailand.

Hotel concierge and management positions are available to the suitably qualified and in these positions your Swiss training is considered more important than your familiarity with the city, which will come in time.

Foreign journalists employed locally typically don’t do that well, at least in terms of making the big bucks, but those working for the big names in the international press i.e. selling their stories offshore, can do extremely well indeed.

Positions in the technology industry exist and there are Westerners doing all sorts of work with computers from programming to network engineers to Photoshop experts. You name it and there are Westerners doing it. The local hires are often paid in the 60K – 100K baht per month band with those recruited from abroad earning more, sometimes a lot more.

The embassies are big employers of foreigners and there is a huge range of packages offered by the different missions. I remember seeing the Australian Embassy advertising a position not that long ago with a salary no higher than the average English teacher earns. Contrast that with say the German Embassy. I met a German fellow not so long ago who works at the German Embassy locally and living in a pad rented at approaching 100,000 baht a month. Embassy paid, of course.

Did you know that many of the apartments in Soi Lang Suan used to go for 80,000 baht a month, irrespective of size? That was because there was a time when a number of embassies gave diplomatic staff a $US2,000 per month housing allowance – and Lang Suan is ideally located close to most of the embassies. Condo owners knew this and priced accordingly. The allowances at embassies are good, and the salaries not bad either. But like I say, there are huge variances in what is paid and in this case it would appear to be better to be German than Australian.

Some embassy positions are local hire positions whereas many, including all the best positions and obviously all of the diplomatic posts, are recruited from the home country, or within the existing diplomatic core.

There are foreign stockbrokers in Bangkok and they do very well too. Figure salaries north of 200,000 baht. I guess this is one industry that pays well wherever you are.

Of course landing an expat position in Thailand is truly hitting the jackpot, at least if earning the big bucks is your primary motive.

Those on expat salaries earn, on average, around the 400,000 – 500,000 baht per month mark and this usually includes all sorts of benefits such as a housing allowance, a maid, a driver, schooling at an international school for kids etc. If you're wondering how such a high salary is arrived at, the formula is usually the lucky employee's Western salary paid locally in Thailand with a 10% hardship allowance added on top. When researching this column I came across one expat whose monthly salary was 1.2 million baht and on top of that he drives around town in one Stuttgart's finest. Lucky bugger!

The major downside to the so-called expat positions is that they tend not to last forever. They’re hired for their Western experience, their expertise and the fresh perspective they bring to the local market. One can only do this for so long because as I suggested last week, after a period of time in Thailand, we change! Thus such positions are not permanent postings but rather for a period of 2 to 3 years. Should one wish to continue beyond this period, the contractual terms may change and the expat becomes a "local hire" at which point most benefits, with the exception of medical insurance, are lost, and the salary package is dramatically reduced! So while a lot of these expats do earn the lofty amounts that allow them to pretty much do anything and have a lifestyle not constrained by limited earnings, it doesn't last forever. Obviously certain types keep such people long term and so the local branches of international law firms, for example, may offer their Western staff salaries that resemble phone numbers indefinitely!

Getting such an expat package isn't easy. Companies often recruit from within their ranks and Bangkok expat positions are sought after, such is the city's reputation. Preference is often given to married guys. HR Departments in international companies across the city have seen what can happen when you get a single guy on a massive salary in this city…

But not all expats earn this much. There are plenty of guys recruited from abroad on so called expat packages who may earn as little as 150K baht a month. The poor souls, how could they possibly survive on that?!

What I find most interesting is the huge range in earnings between those at the top of the pile, and those at the bottom. If you do decide that you need to work in Thailand, it is worth exploring your options. If you can land a good position – and it is not necessarily the best people who get such positions – you really could have a wonderful life here on these lofty salaries. Good luck!

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken of the first bar just before you get to Walking Street in Pattaya, if you had been walking along the Beach Road. Not one person got it right, again. HOPELESS! There are four prizes each week and the first four people to identify where the picture above was taken and email me with the answer win a prize. You can choose from a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod OR a 500 baht credit at Lennie's OR a 500 baht credit at Catz OR a 500 baht credit at Octopussy Bar in Hua Hin. Each of the prize providers is in a different area so please specify which prize you would prefer. Oh My Cod – Khao San Road area. Lennie's – Pattaya. Catz – Pattaya. Octopussy – Hua Hin. This week's picture is back in Bangkok.

FROM STICK MARK II'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick Mark II)

Crass tourists.

Your current editorial was a real whiff of fresh air. I’ve been out here over ten years and for about the last three I have been thinking I was the only one who was offended by the appearance, attitude, and behaviour of some expat and tourist scum (I’m sorry if that seems too strong) who have absolutely no respect for their hosts – and not a lot for themselves. Most restaurants in Hua Hin close on holy days, not because they cannot serve food but because they are sick and tired of hearing farangs shouting (and that is not too strong a word!), “Well, I’m NOT a ****ing Buddhist, so why can’t I get a drink with my food!” – it is a classic example of: If you have to ask the question there is no way anybody can give an answer – so they close, along with the bars.

Imagination vs. reality.

It amuses me just how many westerners living in Asia sincerely believe that they are more attractive to the local ladies than the local men are. When a nubile 20 year old Chiang Mai beauty takes up with a middle-aged guy with a 40+ waist, you have to wonder why she has turned her back on the tall handsome Thai lads of her own age. In richer Asian countries like Korea or Japan, the motives behind certain relationships are not as obvious but the end result can be just as painful for the unsuspecting western guy when he discovers that his young girlfriend or wife turns out to be a manic depressive or an obnoxious domineering control freak. It is no coincidence that certain types of women are not popular with their own men. At the end of the day, I guess it is easier for some people to believe what they want to believe rather than look reality in the face.

Who are you tipping?

My gal works in an expensive eatery in Siam Paragon and she says the wealthy owners keep all the tips and just give the staff a paltry pittance for a salary. Why are they so greedy and curmudgeonly to their workers making them work long hours for a small remuneration? Terrible eh? Why tip them you think. The customers tip them well but they never see the tips.

Bank loans in Thailand.

Catching up on your recent columns. In your essay about banking in Thailand, you mention: "Getting a loan from a Thai bank as a foreigner is difficult, but doable." Well, that's not true any more, unless the junta reversed their decision. After the September 19 coup, the junta said not only no more loans to foreigners, but no loans to Thai women married to foreigners, with the manager of any bank branch violating that order liable to three years in prison. I know this because my farang friend upcountry, who'd been living in his town for more than a decade, working the same job and with a family, was about to receive a loan worth millions of baht to purchase some land and build a house. The loan was all set to be approved when the coup occurred, and the bank manager explained the situation to him. This may have changed since then, though.

Good luck trying to get anything back!

Girl goes home to visit her parents. She talks about her farang boyfriend. He crazy loves her and is going to marry her. Every little gift she brags about and shows off to her parents. In western culture the bride's family pays a dowry to the groom and / or his family but in Isaan it's the reverse. It's called a bride gift. As soon as the girl proclaims to her family about marrying her farang boyfriend, everything he gives her from then on is considered to be a wedding gift. In Isaan culture, coz they are poor, if a marriage doesn't go through then ALL BRIDE GIFTS MUST BE RETURNED. In the early stages of a relationship make sure contact and rapport is established with the girl's mother. Then one day tell the mom. "I give up. Too many problems with your daughter. Please ensure she returns all my 'wedding gifts'".

Airline policy or Immigration rule?

That bit in your column this week about Jetstar requiring passengers from Australia to show proof of an onward ticket or appropriate visa: The same thing happened to me when the wife and I flew back here from Hawaii on China Airlines. I had a long-term visa, so that was no problem, but I got to thinking about all those backpackers who fly into a place like Thailand and then travel overland to other countries, shopping for a cheap ticket home in another country when the time suits them. So I asked the check-in staff what would happen in that event. They said the passenger would have to buy a return ticket on the spot or else not be allowed to board. They said the passenger could then get it refunded in Bangkok. Well! I have a suspicion there would be a penalty involved, although I didn't ask about that. That was the only time that's happened to me – it certainly did not happen to me this week in Shanghai upon check-in with Thai Airways – but I've heard of it happening to others from time to time. It does seem to be an airline policy rather than a strict government regulation.

The ultimate party pooper in recent times has been the early closing times with bar areas in Bangkok closing at 1 AM. For guys who work hard year round and look forward to their week or two a year in Thailand, such closing times really do curtail their enjoyment. Well, things may just be changing… The first positive is that for the time being, Bangkok's most popular bar area is open until 2:00, but unofficially, many bars are now open until 2:30 AM. Yep, there has been a real turnaround at Nana Plaza.

At Patpong, the gogos are now open until 3 AM. If you're turfed out of Nana at 2:00 and still want to party it will only be a few minutes in a taxi to get to Patpong at that time of night.

And perhaps of even more interest is the strong rumours suggesting Pattaya is going to become a special entertainment zone with 5 AM closing times for all bars and clubs. It is unsure when it will be announced officially but it will most likely be after they announce the police re-postings, in a week or so. City Hall is said to be rushing this new regulation through before Dana's imminent arrival in Fun City later this month.

A fire broke out in Nana Plaza in the vicinity of Erotica Bar on Thursday night. Apparently it started in one of the air-conditioning units. Smoke wafted down into Morning Night Bar and they were forced to stop serving for a short period of time. The boys in red attended and fortunately there was no major damage and no casualties.

Bargain of the week, in fact bargain of the month because it will be available until the end of June, is the Green Mango Nipple Shot which is available in the Big Mango Bar for a mere 40 baht. How many bars offer shots at such bargain rates these days? Now if they had really wanted to make it interesting they could change the way that the drink is served…

5 Star Bar in Cowboy is doing periodic shows now with a 15 minute number at about 9:30 PM. The girls start off by filing on to the tables and one by one very slowly cross over to the stage wearing only a shawl where they dance for 2 slow songs. They then exit slowly the same way, via the tables. It's a well conceived show that makes use of the whole bar but it isn't original. They used to do this show, oooh, about 5 years ago!


Thai dating at ThaiFriendly.com

Angelwitch is NOT the only bar in town to play a handful of German rock songs. People sometimes point to this when trying to find a reason to criticise the plaza's most popular bar. MANY bars play German rock music. The Scorpions are German after all!

A movie was being filmed in Cowboy last night with filming due to stop around 9 PM. I've no idea what the movie was or who was in it. Rumour has it that it may be a Korean flick. This seems to be an annual occurrence and there is always some star seen in Cowboy which seems to be the most popular of the current bar areas for filming. Sylvester Stallone & Hugh Grant are just two big names who have filmed there in recent years.

The Big Mango is one of the first bars in town to stock Smirnoff Ice, the new Vodka / juice bottled mix not dissimilar to Bacardi Breezers. They're available at a very reasonable 120 baht a bottle – I would expect other venues to sell them for at least 150 baht a bottle, if not more. It should be noted that the different flavours have a different alcohol content. The lemon flavour runs 5% alcohol while the lime is 7%. Why is that?

Raw Hide and Long Gun, two bars owned by the same person, seem to have swapped roles. Whereas in the past Long Gun was the premier venue with the prettiest girls and the raunchiest shows, there seems to have been a total reversal and you now see the said stars in Raw Hide. With expensive drinks the norm in Cowboy these days, it should be noted that these two spots still offer Heineken at 90 baht an hour before 9 PM. In fact both bars have a very good line up from as early as 7:30 and either is a good choice to start the night.

I hear rumours of a new gogo bar in Patpong in the area where that fetish bar was. I have not had a chance to go and check it out yet. If the fetish bar has gone, I imagine many will be suitably upset.

John Burdett's latest novel is out in Bangkok now. If the name doesn't ring a bell, this is the author of the very popular "Bangkok 8" and "Bangkok Tattoo". And to make it a greater deal than usual, the trade paperback – that's the large sized paperback edition is usually sold for 595 baht but both Bookazine and Asia Books have it at 20% off. Yep, I picked it up for a mere 476 baht. It's called "Bangkok Haunts" and from what I have read so far, it's pretty good.

Security in shopping centres in central Bangkok is increasing to new levels with security checks at both the entrances to shopping centres as well as within some individual stores! Siam Discovery Centre is one such spot. In addition to bags being checked upon entry, the popular Loft store is checking customers as they enter too.

Poor old Phuket continues to get negative raps I'm afraid. A good friend was down there last week and had little good to say about the place, citing the touts, the high prices and the general harried atmosphere as not being to his liking at all. He felt that while it is great for singles, for couples who want a relaxing holiday he felt it was just too stressful. He did confirm that Patong remains lively and that BangHer Road is still the popular spot for party animals.

Given that more Americans read this website than almost all other nationalities put together, here is an update on the situation with the application of US passports. Passports in the US are issued by a regional passport centre (or should I say center?) depending upon which state the person applying resides. Most normal passport processing is currently advertised within 10 – 12 weeks (up from a guaranteed 4 weeks in the past) and 'expedited' is advertised at 2 – 3 weeks (up from 10 days). Some passport offices won't accept the expedited application with a date of travel within 5 weeks, although good things are being said about the San Francisco office with one reader who requested the expedited service through that office receiving his passport in his mailbox in 7 days. The documentation requirements are quite clear on the website and you can fill out and print the application from there. The current processing times change faster than they update the website, so it may be worthwhile contacting a local office for the current queue in your specific region. Here in Bangkok, the American Services section at the embassy has said that it's still two weeks for people here and that the long waits are only for those applying within the US.

This week we have a new supporter of the column. IdeaCon is run by Kristian, an expat Dane with 9 years of experience in business matters in Thailand. He has seen so many foreigners making the same mistake – investing their money in the most common business for foreigners in Thailand, a bar, restaurant or guesthouse. After 12 months or less they realise they’re not earning any profit and either they return to their native country or they try to improve their business. Some succeed and some just waste even more money. Kristian specializes in assisting these foreigners setting up a successful business using a genuine idea that is unique to Thailand – so they will have no competition. You can contact Kristian at [email protected] for further information or take a look at his website.

Another popular Bangkok website has called it quits. David, the main writer and owner behind Mango Sauce, has decided to move on to bigger and better things. This continues a trend with Bangkok based websites either changing hands or simply stopping for good. An announcement on the site stated that David had been unable to make adequate income from the site and that it was no longer a viable venture. He had indicated that the site would remain online permanently but within 24 hours of posting the message the site had become inaccessible. Checking earlier today it was back online again. Weird.

An almighty fight broke out at the New Wave Bar in Sukhumvit Soi 7 this week. A Scandinavian and an African got into a fracas and it has to be said that the African got the better of his opponent. The two drifted outside the bar to settle the score once and for all but unbeknownst to the African there were 4 or 5 big friends of the Scandinavian waiting. Mr. Africa did not back down and the scene was set to get really ugly. A number of customers, including me, settled our checkbins and got out of there fast!

I notice that many of the motorcycle boys around town have changed the colour of their vests from an almost universal citywide orange to either green or blue. Orange might have been garish but at least you could see the vests at night, which cannot be said for the blue or the green.

Quote of the week comes from someone who has changed. "5 years ago I would side with a farang in solidarity with my foreign brothers but now I find myself joking with Thais about some of the visitors to Soi 4. I help my staff write loving emails to several different guys. I correct their grammar and try to word begging letters in politer terms."

It looks like the state religion thing has been forgotten. A good thing methinks.

Miss Udon is here to answer questions surrounding anything that confuses you in Thailand, particularly issues of the heart. Feel free to send questions in for her to answer and get the perspective of a Thai female. You and I may well disagree with what she says. The purpose of this section is to provide a Thai woman's perspective!

Question 1: After living in Thailand for about ten years, married to a Thai woman for the first seven, and single for the last three, I have little difficulty meeting Thai ladies, and I find I am able to make friends quite easily, with ladies from both the bars and elsewhere, but I find ALL these ladies want some form of permanent and long-lasting relationship – they all offer to take care of my apartment (it takes me just twenty minutes a day to sweep and dust), and to cook for me (I like to eat out because I have friends in the cafes and at home can cook farang / Thai food myself), to do my laundry (which costs me about 250 baht a week locally – by another friend…) and also, of course, to take care of me, which, at my age, is no big deal… However, I enjoy female company and I enjoy dating ladies (dinner, cinema etc.), and I enjoy taking them home (usually to their home) afterwards… but ALL these ladies want to come to my home – and to stay…! In Europe I previously had little difficulty dating ladies on these terms but, in Thailand, it appears to be impossible – and it seems to make no difference where I meet these ladies. So, my question is: Do older Thai ladies (aged 30 – 50) accept western styles of boy / girlfriend relationships? And should I persevere? Because it seems to be impossible to say to a Thai lady on the first date, ‘I am not looking for a wife…’ – they just don’t hear me!

Miss Udon says: If I say no, this kind of lady does not exist then someone might argue with me. So I better say some Thai ladies may accept what you are looking for and they must be someone who got divorced because they have had experience being together with a partner all the time and they don't want to do that anymore. Just like you! But I think the number of them will be less than those who never gave up searching for the right guy to get married and try again. You can find the girl that you are expecting but it's difficult and you will have to search hard!

Stick Mark II says: This is one of the best questions I have read. If we look at Thai women in relationships, they tend to look long-term and it tends to be younger women who are in a relationship for fun. I think the type of women you are searching for are out there but for sure, they are hard to find. Again, I thought this was a really excellent question.

Bangkok's Internet landscape is not the friendly, welcoming environment it once was. The farewell of a popular site this week is a symptom of the growing discontent felt by many. It used to be that Bangkok's websites were places were friends could be made and where useful information could be found. But nowadays it seems that the Bangkok online neighbourhood is an unsafe environment where people say things behind pseudonyms that they would never ever say in the real world. The unwritten code of what is said online staying in the online world and not going over into people's private lives seems to be an ideal from the distant past. I'm sorry to say that Bangkok's internet landscape is fast becoming a hornet's nest.



Yours,

Stick Mark II