Our International Editor Emeritus, Zander Ran was once the doyen of the pioneering Thai blogging community and often served up useful copy to eager arrivals. From the Jungle archives, here’s one of his on working here.
CHEAP AT TWICE THE PRICE – EXPAT EXPLOITATION?
by Zander Ran
Once the bug bites and it becomes clear that Thailand is the only place for you, the practicalities of how you are going to make this happen quickly kick in. We all have to live after all, even in paradise, and it is not long before you realise that actually, there is no great demand for unemployed expats here no matter how smart your girlfriend thinks you are, or how well you can drive a bus or how quickly you can lay bricks. And the Thai government has carefully legislated rules and regulations to preclude ‘smart’ foreigners from nabbing all the good jobs. So you have to be either very specialised, very qualified, or able to speak English to get a job here.
“Hey wait a minute! Just speak English? I can do that!”
Well in that case, the options are a little less
daunting and there is work out there if you are
qualified in any way to teach the fascinating
idiosynchracies of the English language. By
‘qualified’, some ‘schools’ ask no more than you be
able to look intelligent, buy a tie, breathe and stay
awake for 45 minutes at a time. (Actually looking
intelligent is over-qualified perhaps.)
And that’s when the problems really start. You’ve got
the job now and maybe at great expense, even a
qualification or two.
“But wait a minute. This can’t be right. Less than a
thousand dollars a month for a full time teacher!
That’s not fair!”
In fact it’s a lot less than fair when here in 2003
there are schools recruiting hapless neophytes with
offers of full time teaching posts for 25,000 baht a
month, which some prospective employers describe as
Desperation (and lust) can be a cruel master, and
unbelievably there are still those out there who
still believe these incredible claims and apply
Real teachers and education professionals of course,
consider such offers as little more than insults, but
they are powerless to stop the abuse of the willing.
You could freelance of course, a route that promises
significantly more income than 25K a month, IF you get
Errr.. One teacher told me that just recently, he was
contacted by a company who send teachers out to the
homes of Koreans living in the Bangkok area. The pay?
300 baht per hour which she described as “sheer
“I can’t think of another word for it. Once you pay
for transportation, however basic, what’s left of this
pathetic hourly rate?” she fumed.
Champions of the profession get very excited when you
suggest: “Well you have to take what you can getafter
all you are guests here, and Thais don’t get even as
much as some of the farangs for teaching.”
“Don’t give me this: “But we earn four times more than
Thai teachers crap,” says one agency director. “Or
that it’s about different cultures and totally
different lifestyles and we have to live with it. It
is exploitation and that’s a fact. It’s not allowed in
my country and I do not condone it anywhere. And
certainly not here, where education is a critical
priority to help develop the nation and liberate the
poor and downtrodden.
“And while we are definitely not amused, we still just
want to work together to achieve at least a minimum
salary of 30-35,000 baht a month. That’s not so much
to ask, is it?”
He says one of the most common questions asked by new
arrivals here is: “Can I survive or live well in
Bangkok on 30,000 baht a month? Or perhaps 40,000 or
“It’s always a difficult question to answer because
each person has different needs,” he warned.
The excellent teacher resource site www.Ajarn.com
provided a comparison of the lifestyles and spending
habits of three resident ex-pats teaching here who
earn in the region of 40-70,000 baht a month.
The three biggest expenses are accommodation, food,
Roger lives in a modest studio apartment at the top
end of Sukhumvit Road, for which he pays 6,000 baht a
month. He has air-conditioning, which he turns on for
about 2-3 hours a day (longer at weekends) and he has
cable TV which is included in the room rent. He also
has a laundry service which costs 750 baht a month.
The cost of his accommodation plus water, telephone,
electricity and laundry comes to about 9,500 baht a
month. He eats Thai food virtually all the time
(sometimes on the street and sometimes in a modest
restaurant) but at the weekend, he’ll get a craving
for a Big Mac and he never goes without his Sunday
roast. His food bill for the month comes to about
5,500 baht. He isn’t a great one for entertainment and
meets friends three nights a week, usually in a
western pub and generally drinks 3-4 beers. He also
enjoys a night in with a rented video on other
occasions. His entertainment bill comes to a very
agreeable 4,000 a month. He’s a regular visitor to his
local internet cafe, which charges the fairly standard
20 baht per hour. It doesn’t sound like much but it
mounts up when you spend about 15 hours a week
answering emails and surfing the web. 1,200 baht then
for internet. He still enjoys using the public bus
system and knows most of the routes by heart. He does
however take the sky-train to and from work, and takes
the odd taxi at the weekend. Total transport bill for
the month 2,000 baht.
He takes a trip out of Bangkok about once a month -
simply to get some fresh air into his lungs. Roger
usually settles on Pattaya or Hua Hin, and will get
there by VIP bus and stay for a couple of nights in a
modest hotel. Total cost for the weekend – 2,500 baht.
His other ‘big expense’ is the visa run, which he
unfortunately has to do because his employer won’t
supply him with a work permit. This works out at
another 1,500 baht a month.
Roger’s total monthly living costs are 26,200 baht.
Tom has made the move from the cramped studio
apartment and now rents a two-bedroom town-house, for
which he pays 8,000 baht a month. He has
air-conditioning in a couple of rooms, and he has
cable TV which he installed himself and costs 1,300
baht per month. Electricity, water and phone are
billed directly from the relevant company. The cost of
his accommodation plus water, telephone, electricity,
cable TV and laundry (a woman in the same street does
it) comes to about 12,000 baht a month. Tom likes a
balance of western food and Thai food. One day he’ll
have a fried rice on the street for 20 baht, but the
next day he enjoys a steak or something more
wholesome. Food is something he doesn’t skimp on, and
in the local supermarket, he’ll stock his fridge up
every week with yoghurts, cereals and a few other
‘tastes of home’. All in all, his eating bill runs to
about 7,000 baht a month. Tom is not all that
interested in socializing but likes to have a couple
of good nights out per week, often staggering home in
the early hours of the morning. He spends in the
region of 7,000 baht a month on the big E. He also has
a computer at home (no need for an internet cafe) and
internet packages come out at about 600 baht a month.
He rarely uses the public non-aircon bus and takes
taxis or microbuses everywhere. This extravagance
means another 4,000 baht a month on Tom’s living
costs. Like Roger, Tom gets out of Bangkok once a
month but likes to take advantage of one of the
numerous hotel packages run by all travel agents. This
typically costs about 3,000 baht for one weekend a
month. Tom doesn’t have to do the dreaded visa runs
because his company supply him with a work permit.
Tom’s monthly living costs are 33,600 baht
Peter has taken some good advice on board – “spend
decent money on accommodation and you’ll spend less on
entertainment’ simply because you’ll enjoy relaxing in
the comfort of your home with a video and a glass of
brandy. Peter rents a serviced apartment on the
outskirts of Bangkok for 15,000 baht a month. For this
he does at least get a living room and bedroom and an
apartment building with full facilities.
Unfortunately, for the sake of convenience he spends
rather too much time in the apartment restaurant,
where meals are in the 80-150 baht price range. At the
end of the month, apartment and food alone account for
about 26,000 baht. Peter never takes the public bus,
preferring taxis at all times (7,000 baht) and likes
to go out at least three times a week to either the
movie theater, a pub, or a nice restaurant with
friends (8,000 baht). In addition, his weekly
supermarket shopping sets him back another 2,500 baht
a month. He is pretty well-traveled around Asia and
can’t really conjure up the enthusiasm for weekends
away, but his one extravagance is reading. A regular
browser in bookshops among newspapers, magazines, and
paperbacks adds another 3,500 baht to his monthly
Peter’s monthly living costs are 47,000 baht a month.