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Moving to Land of Smiles: How You can Earn a Living in Thailand

Probably the most frequent question I get from people just thinking  about moving to Thailand is how does one earn a living here.  Thailand is paradise for many, including myself, but it cannot be a paradise if you don’t have any money and you don’t have a job.  In that situation, it could be Hell.

It is cheap to live in Thailand once you have learned where to find housing and how to feed yourself.  It does not seem cheap to some visitors that just come here for a holiday vacation, stay in really nice hotels and eat in the hotel restaurant.  It also is not cheap for single guys that discover the charms of Thai women.  A lot of single guys that led a pretty lonely existence back home find Thai women to be an answer to their prayers.  Thai ladies are beautiful and very charming, but they are not cheap.  If you have a Thai girlfriend, you better have money and a steady income.

It is different with me.  I have been married for quite some time to a Thai woman I met in the US.  She is closer to my age, and we have the same goals, and we work together to achieve them.  We both have had small businesses in the US, by ourselves before we were married and together afterwards.  So for us, the transition to living in Thailand was fairly easy.  We continue having small businesses together in Thailand, and enjoy doing them while making a pretty fair income.

I get a social security check right now that totals about $1800 a month.  That by itself is more than enough to live comfortably in Thailand.  In ten years or so, my wife will also get a check from social security, so we are OK.  But we have the realistic fear that American dollars may not be worth much in the near future.  The way the tyrants run our country, I think it is just a matter of time, and I am pessimistic about any positive changes happening.  (However, I keep hoping for the best.  If Dr. Ron Paul is elected, there may be some real hope).

So when you are considering employment or any other activity to support you and your family in Thailand, you can lower your requirement from what you would need in America substantially.  Today in America I think a family of four needs to have $50 or $60 thousand a year to live OK.  In Thailand, you can do well with a quarter of that, and live like a king if you have a third of that figure.

So what is available in Thailand to those that are too young for social security or a pension, and have had not enough time in their life to yet accumulate a treasure to support themselves?  This may be the single most important question to ask yourself before escaping to the Land of Smiles.

Here is what I see as the most viable ways in which to make a living here in our little tropical paradise:

  1.  Teaching English.  This is one job in Thailand that is very much in demand for native English speakers.  There are not enough teachers to fill the need.  Anyone with a college degree can easily get a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Certificate and get a job that can support themselves.  And if you don’t have a college degree, you still may be able to do it if you have enough smarts and ambition.  A lot of English language teachers in Thailand earn a fair wage, and often supplement that with private English lessons in their home.  Sometimes teaching jobs can provide you with free housing, and all the jobs should supply you with a Thai work permit.  One of the best sources for English language teachers is Ajarn.com.  (Ajarn means “teacher” in Thai language). They tell everything that you need to get started teaching in Thailand, and they have lots of job listings.
  2.  Start your own business.  I would recommend this for people that are comfortable being an entrepreneur, which certainly is not everybody.  There are lots of things to buy in Thailand that you can take to the US and sell.  Artwork and any handicrafts do well because they are so cheap in Thailand, and can be so expensive back home.  Thai craftsmanship is excellent, and it is good to find a niche that has your interests and you can be enthusiastic about it.  I have seen many successful small businesses selling Thai clothing, candles, wood carvings, ceramics, Buddha statues, and orchids.  Beautiful paintings that would fetch $200 or more back in the States can cost $30 in the right markets in Thailand (I have done this myself).  People sell them online while they are in Thailand, and then take things to the US on frequent trips to make bigger money.  You have to be creative and energetic and enthusiastic about what you do, and you can start out with just a little money, but there is actually no limit to where this can take you. Other small businesses expats do a lot work on the computer.  There are writing jobs and making successful blogs (my blog is not designed to make money, so don’t look at mine as a good example), or giving business advice.  Even professional writing of books or magazine articles (travel writing for instance).  I ran into an expat in the North of Thailand that runs a collection agency out of his house.  He collects in the US primarily by phone, and can do this because phone rates nowadays are very low.
  3. Diving Instructor.  In the South part of Thailand, there is the best scuba diving available in the world.  Lots of tourists want scuba lessons, and they need it from a native English speaker.  If you are experienced in this and have the inclination, there are lots of job opportunities with diving lessons.
  4. Accountants, Sales Professionals, Buyers, Lawyers, Business people.  You probably will not find anything from a Thai company, but multinationals doing business here need professionals living in the country that have good experience in these areas.  The rub is that it is more likely you find this kind of job before you move to Thailand.  There are other places in the World (lots of them) that offer more opportunities than Thailand for these kinds professionals .  And Thailand is notorious for having scam operations using boiler room telephone solicitors and other on-the- edge businesses.  Walk carefully if you are looking for a business professional’s occupation here in the Land of Smiles.
  5. Actor/Model/Musician.  There is interest in talented people in these careers.  It is not steady for sure, but it can be rewarding if you build up your own personal value.  American music is appreciated here, even American Country Music (that’s what I like). But of course there are competitors from every corner of the globe.  Filipino bands, for instance, are famously well talented and will work cheaper than any typical American expat musician.
  6. Non Profits.  There are opportunities in Thailand doing charitable works for others which are, of course, very rewarding in ways other than money.  There is plenty of need, with international organizations and Christian church missionaries needing as much help as they can get.  Getting started in this career often requires several years of doing work for no money or almost no money, however.
  7. Be a Writer.  There is plenty of ideas floating around Thailand for developing literary talents.  Outside of Bangkok, it is easy to set up an environment to concentrate on writing work.   The great Novel, or How To Books, Blogs or Freelance Work; the limits are only with your imagination.

So these are about the best one can hope for in employment in Thailand.  If back in the USA you are an electrician or building contractor or landscaper or any one of the labor intensive skills that pay well back home, you will find no employment like this for you in Thailand.  You have to remember that skilled labor is not expensive here, and you will not be able to find much if anything in your chosen field.  Same goes for those in the medical/dental fields.  In the US, they can make a good income, but here in Thailand there are few opportunities for non-Thais.

And be aware of scams and criminals.  There are business people that would be unable to operate legally in America or Europe that find a spot in Thailand, where the government might not watch a business so carefully.  There are plenty of these kinds of businesses.  And do not do anything illegal in Thailand (like sell drugs or anything).  The consequences can be devastating, and much harsher than back home.  Be a super skeptic when meeting a Farang in Thailand with great ideas to make big money.  There are plenty of shady characters in the expat community, and the scammers are always on the lookout for fresh blood.

It also must be well understood by a job seeker in Thailand that you do not have all those Nanny State protections you may be used to back home.  It is not easy to assert your rights as a worker here (you are a foreigner, after all), and forget about things like unemployment insurance and benefits for not earning big money (like food stamps, etc.),  Not having this kind of stuff is why most of us here like living in Thailand.  Happy expats in Thailand don’t want a Nanny State.  And if you don’t get a long enough lunch break or the conditions of working are too harsh here in Thailand, you have the opportunity to quit and find something else.  Complaining won’t get you very far here.

Hopefully, we can get comments from other expats in Thailand of how they make a living here.  All comments are very much appreciated.

And Good Luck!