Working in Bangkok - Thailand

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One thing to be said about Bangkok is that it embraces all sorts -peoples and cultures from all over the globe come here to live and work in one of the most vibrant, dynamic cities of Asia.

Why men and women come here to work varies from a dissatisfaction of their own situation in their homeland to a perception that fortunes can be made in the Thai capital.

It is true that Thailand has an enterprising "can do" culture compared with many places, although I suspect the days of making that fortune in The Land of Smiles may have come to an end.

Hard work, an acceptance of the ways of Thai people and a fair amount of common sense are important factors to surviving the ups and downs of life in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai - the four most "farang" populated cities.

The type of job available in Thailand is also an open book.

Engineers can find work in the civil engineering sector, financial advisors are commonplace here as they are everywhere, real estate agents and agencies can prosper selling condos to other expats.

In the media, journalists are employed by the two major English newspapers, and travel writers such as myself, find commissions from both local and international publishers, based on the fact that we are here, on the ground in Asia.

That negates the work possibly gained in other regions, but that decision is one of "where would you prefer to live?" Cold and expensive, or warm and cheap?

Teachers, particularly those of English have found Thailand and Bangkok to be a haven of international schools, where decent money can be made, given the right degrees and qualifications.

The days of going to a school dressed in a suit and tie, announcing that you are a teacher of English, and getting a job right away, are fairly well over.
Verified degrees, suitability, and the proper TEFL qualifications are now asked for and are checked before anyone is put in front of a classroom of children. 

In some cases there are "trial" lessons where other teachers form part of the class, and the new applicant is assessed.

Without wanting to put anyone off the idea, it just isn't as easy as it used to be.

Thailand has suffered somewhat from teachers who have turned out to be less than adequate, have false paperwork, and are simply biding time on a backpacking trip around the world.

In any work situation the need for proper work permits is now enforced, and although many schools offer to provide a work permit, it is often left for the teacher to sort out. 

Another area where caution has to be exercised is when a school offers a teaching course in advance of a job.

In many cases the job does not exist and this is merely a way of selling teaching (TEFL) courses which are often nothing like as good as those found in the UK or the USA. Salaries vary enormously as well.

A friend of mine is teaching in Hua Hin and is drawing around 30,000 Baht a month whilst highly qualified tutors at the International School Bangkok start on US$48,000 a month (160,000 Baht), and get an annual free flight home, plus other benefits.

I have worked in Bangkok now for nearly 3 years and in Asia for some 18 years, so I have seen many changes.

The biggest change, which was always bound to happen, is that local people have taken over many of the positions held by expatriate employees.

In the media, many journalists have been replaced by locals, and the more highly qualified Thai is far more likely to be successful than the equally qualified foreigner.

This is partly because of the language barrier (how many can speak fluent Thai?), partly because of the lower salary expectations and partly because, as time progresses, the local working population has become more educated and better qualified. 

This is a natural development in a country relatively new to the world of international commerce and business.

Areas where there are still great opportunities are in the hospitality market. Hotels, restaurants, bars and pubs will often employ a foreign person who can speak good English, over a Thai whose English is not great.

But having said that, a Swedish waitress who speaks bad English is just a useless as a Thai waitress who speaks bad English!! Tourism will always play a big role in Thailand, so there are opportunities to join travel related companies in the field or in Bangkok offices.

Quite a few travel organizations have a mix of foreign and Thai ownership (the requirement is 49%/51% in favour of the Thai partner), and this regulation covers all businesses.

Only US companies are allowed to have 100% foreign ownership. Employment regulations abound in Thailand, so any enterprising person wanting to set up business here should consult their respective trade and industry department before heading into the maze of company ownership in Thailand.

Bar owners who see their futures from the bottom of a gin and tonic, a bevy of beautiful girls and a pocketful of Baht are often disappointed.

Some of my best friends in Bangkok are bar owners and although on the face of it, the "job" appears to be heaven sent, the frailties of the Thai personality, the regular need to keep an eye on things and the obvious requirement to make money can be daunting - it all sounds good fun, and for many it is.

But for those that make it work, there are just as many who don't. Again, this is not trying to be a damp squib, but reality has to kick in somewhere!

"Is Bangkok a good place to work?" Is a question I am often asked.

The answer is a resounding "Yes"

It's a great city, the expatriate is open to a social life unrivalled in the world, and with hard work, anyone with an ounce of sense can weave between the peculiarities of a country quite unique.

In the job market, it is as well to have some firm ideas and contacts before setting off, or a job already lined up. Coming to Bangkok and finding your way as you go is difficult, especially without any previous experience.

I meet people in Bangkok who have left their respective nations as plumbers and reinvented themselves as architects here in Thailand. Last week I met a guy I hadn't seen for about 6 months.

He gave me his card (business cards are a must), and told me he was a film producer.

"So the real estate business didn't work out then?" I enquired.

It's that kind of place, but given the choice between London, Frankfurt, New York or Bangkok - I'll take Bangkok any time.

Neil Ray is a freelance writer, editor and photographer working across Asia and based in Bangkok.

He contributes to www.bangkokpicture.com on a regular basis and writes for international publishers of books, magazines and websites.
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