The slogan of this site is living the dream in Thailand and so most articles here cover all sorts of fun topics on how to spend money from hookers in Bangkok to sightseeing in rural Isaan. But what I haven’t talked about so much yet is how to actually make that dream of living here long term come true.
So let’s talk a little bit about it today. There’s basically two things you need to master on a regular basis.
1. You need to deal with the visa situation. I’d say 80% of all guys living here permanently either get a Non Immigrant Business Visa from their employer or have their own Thai Company, or they’re on a student visa which is yearly renewable but it usually takes some time to find the right school that provides the necessary paperwork for the visa application. Freelancers and guys working online usually go for that option, but more on that group later. But you also find guys with regular jobs like English teachers or real estate agents working on a tourist visa and then once every while the labour department arrests foreigners for working illegally during one of their (not quite random) inspections.
The remaining 20% of aliens (that’s how foreigners are called by Thai immigration) finds this all too much of a hassle but then doesn’t bother to get 4 tourist visas a year and do border runs every quarter. This method supposedly got harder recently but you still see people doing it all the time and if necessary finding loopholes, like applying at different embassies each time, e.g. Vientiane, Phnom Penh or Kuala Lumpur. There is also the 6 months tourist visa, but it’s unlikely that you get this one on a regular basis.
2. You need to make money here in Thailand. And before I forget to mention it later, let me make it clear now:
- It is more difficult to make money in Thailand than you think no matter if you are looking for a job or doing your own thing – if it was there would be a lot more expats sitting in Starbucks and walking down Sukhumvit Road.
- You need more money than you might think when you first come here.
I don’t want to go into too much detail on how much money exactly you should make in Thailand every month to both live well and (and that’s what a lot of people seem to forget or repress) to save up for a motorbike, car, maybe for buying a condo or building a house one day, for taking care of your Thai woman, for the marriage, for your potential children and last but not least for your retirement. It would be somewhat off the topic as I’m showing you the different ways on how Farangs can make money here instead of how much you really need – that topic has enough potential to be discussed in a separate article (stay tuned).
Alright so let’s get straight into it – these are the five different ways on how to earn money in Thailand:
1. Take up a job
When Thai people are talking to a Farang and he says he’s working here, the reaction is usually like “kun bpen kruu rʉ̆ʉ” (คุณเป็นครูหรือ) – you are a teacher, right? Not exactly sure why they assume we are all some sort of teachers but maybe it was just the case for centuries when people just didn’t have many alternatives in terms of employment than teaching English to the local school children. English teachers are usually employed on a yearly contract and earn between 25-30k Baht a month and since the demand in these jobs is quite high these days they’re almost exclusively hiring native speakers. If you qualify and really enjoy teaching, why not, then your long term goal could be getting employed by a private school or university and you’re looking at salaries in the 100k Baht range.
With more and more international companies opening branch offices here you can also get an office job, but these are obviously extremely difficult to get and usually they send over experienced workers from the headquarters rather than putting out a job advert in Thailand. From all the international companies I’d say 80% are in Bangkok so you aren’t as flexible in terms of place of living and can’t just say “Oh I like Khon Kaen so I’ll apply in the logistics department of the Siemens branch there” – because there isn’t one and I’m sure there won’t be one in the next 20 years. There are minimum salaries for foreigners working in Thailand but a lot of companies don’t go with them, not only but especially startups.
However, if you do find a job at one of the big companies it’s not uncommon that they provide you with a much better package with salaries well above 100,000 Baht plus commissions, 13th salary, seminars, business trips abroad etc. But again, the demand for these jobs exceeds the supply by far.
I have written a separate article on the different ways to find a job in Thailand that you can find here. Just don’t make the mistake and think you can show up here and if you can’t find a decent office job then you can always bridge the time by working in a bar or picking bananas like you did during your working holiday in Australia, because these jobs just aren’t available for foreigners and even if they were they would pay less than the unemployment benefit in your home country.
2. Start your own business
I have been working as a business advisor in one of the bigger legal companies here in Bangkok for two years. Every week we got at least 15-20 email or phone requests from people of all different countries who looked to set up their own business. 90% of them being individuals or with one partner (usually a friend) and yes, also 90% of those were men. Out of all these initial requests we got about 3 to 4 guys who really moved forward after our consultation and started setting up their business, which is actually quite a good ratio.
I think the reason for many people doing their own thing and starting a business here in Thailand isn’t because they have good ideas, but because it’s relatively hard to find a decent paying job, or even to find a job at all. Also, they often think it’s easier to do business here than it is in Farangland but it’s actually a lot harder! There’s 3 aspects to that:
First, you need to set up the company from a legal perspective and that’s why the law firms here are doing pretty well because foreigners usually have no idea how to set up a business here, not only but also because all documents and certificates are in Thai script which only few of us can read.
Second: Most types of businesses foreigners set up in Thailand (see below) are highly depending on the tourism industry. We all know that Thailand always has its ups and downs and after one terrible season many business owners can’t pay the rent anymore and then lose their lease contract.
And third: Many people have never been entrepreneurs in their entire life and then come to Thailand and see all these “little businessmen” like street vendors and Facebook sellers and think they can do so too. Sure, you can also be a small business man, but that means you are also going to make small money. Very typical also, restaurant or bar owners who fail because they have no previous experience in this industry.
I’d say only 20-30% of foreign business owners are successful in the long run and that’s because they know what they are doing, they are good in what they are doing, they love what they are doing and they have successfully been dealing with the three points I just described.
Typical kind of businesses foreigners start in Thailand:
- “Entertainment Venues” like Beer Bars, Go Go Bars, Massage Salons, G-Clubs)
- Export Business
- Consulting Business (Teaching, Coaching, Advising)
- Tour Company / Diving School
- Online Business
3. Working online
A lot of people refer to guys who live here while making a living online as “digital nomads” but I don’t think that term is appropriate. A nomad is someone who moves around different countries while working in his hotel rooms, long time travelers if you want. However what you have in Thailand is mostly guys who live here permanently or at least for most of the time of the year.
By far the biggest community of foreigners working online is found in Chiang Mai. It’s easy to explain why: Chiang Mai has the best climate in Thailand, surrounded by beautiful hills and everything you need as it’s the biggest city in northern Thailand with malls, international restaurants and quite a happening nightlife, while at the same time it’s not too “much” like in Bangkok means you don’t get easily distracted from whatever you are working on.
It takes a lot of time, usually years of hard work without initial returns, before you figure out how to make money online so you really need to be passionate and patient about it especially if you are trying to make money out of a blog – like Thailand Redcat, which took me 2 years and two domain changes until I had some good content on it that attracted a lot of people and started to understand the concepts of SEO before I could eventually monetize it.
Common ways to make money online (not just in Thailand but everywhere):
- Blog (Affiliate commissions, product sales, placements of ads, paid guest posts etc.)
- Pure affiliate sites (i.e. building a whole website around niche products, link them to shops like Amazon and get a commission for each sales referral)
- SEO agency (promoting other people’s or businesses’ websites)
- Selling products on eBay (a lot of trial and error to figure out what works)
- Playing (and winning) online games, e.g. poker
- Day Trading
Very popular especially in Bangkok are the so called freelance jobs means you get paid by the day, night or simply by success. There’s now more foreign real estate agents and financial advisors than ever and most of them have no base salary as everything is commission based, means they get paid like 5-7% of every sale they make for a condo or investment plan.
These kind of jobs can be very attractive but the competition has gotten pretty tough by now, for example it’s quite typical for the property market that developers don’t make exclusive listing agreements with one broker anymore but have several agents list them on their website and all fighting for the clients.
Well, and if you just love music you can be a DJ (at the foreigner-oriented clubs) and if you’re decent looking you can sign up at some model agencies; just do a quick google search for “model agency bangkok” and you’ll find tons of them. And definitely not last, if you’re smart and willing to do it you may find an older Thai lady who generously pays you for spending a few quality hours a day or a few days a week with her, then your profession would be called a Maeng Da (แมงดา).
Common Freelance Jobs Foreigners do in Thailand:
- Real Estate Agents
- Financial Advisors
- Maeng Da
- Freelance Work Online (e.g. Content Writers, Designers etc. on sites like Upwork and Fiverr)
5. Scam other people
Sadly, there will always be guys who fail making money according to one of the 4 methods described above and just don’t want to go back home. Just imagine, you’ve lived here for two years trying to make a living while gradually eating up your savings, you got a nice scooter, a big TV and lot’s of other “valuable” stuff in your apartment and a nice girlfriend that you’ve started to fall in love with and you just don’t want to give it all up.
That’s a very typical scenario and not all guys have the guts to make that decision to sell all their things, break up with their girlfriend and start a new life back home with the ambition to give Thailand another try a few years down the road.
So what you find some guys doing is going the shady route and scamming other people out of their money, usually other foreigners but in some cases even Thais however that’s more like begging then like in the case of the thick-footed German. But there are more lucrative and stable ways to scam other people in Thailand that I’ve described in more detail here.
I know it may sound a bit general but do what you enjoy and what you are good at. There’s just too much competition for everything that makes money in Thailand – the few well paid jobs at the big companies from your home country, websites about Thailand or Italian restaurants in Sukhumvit.
A lot of would-be expats here just copy what they see works well for others but then fail in the long run because it’s just not their thing. Again, they wouldn’t do that in their home countries but Thailand is the no. 1 place to live for many guys around the world (and most who ever came here for a holiday) and thus people just make irrational decisions sometimes. So make a plan, know what you’re doing and don’t just take up a teaching job for 25k a month just because you can’t find anything better at the moment.