Working In Thailand

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

‘competitive’.

Desperation (and lust) can be a cruel master, and

unbelievably  there are still those out there who

still believe these incredible claims and apply

anyway.

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

lucky.

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

exploitation”.

“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

even 50,000?

“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,

and entertainment.

ROGER

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

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

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

accounts.

Peter’s monthly living costs are 47,000 baht a month.

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