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Figuring out your life together with a partner is not always an easy path, especially if you come from very different cultural backgrounds. One of the more tricky topics often tends to be the finances – if only for the real or imagined taboos that exist in different societies where you might hail from.
With this in mind and without wanting to tread on too much old ground I want to look at how relationships between foreigners in their 20s and 30s with Thai partners work in terms of money. I’m going to use real facts and figures from my own relationship to show you how things work money-wise with my partner Nook. Every relationship is different and my situation might be different from yours but it should at least give you a guide.
In this article I will focus on those foreigners living in Thailand with their partners. The type of foreigner I am talking about has probably been here at least a couple of years, works a decent job and has a partner they met in day-to-day circumstances. The Thai partner will likely be university-educated and work an office job or similar.
- Our Background
- Sharing Expenses
- Cultural Issues
- Banking Issues
- Final Words
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I think it’s useful first to tell you a little about the background of my relationship and our personal circumstances so you can put things below into context.
I am 29 years old and have been living in Thailand for the best part of four years. I work as a teacher, run a website and do the odd writing gig which, in total, brings in around 75-80,000 THB a month. I used to work for a golf company in the UK and before I came to Thailand. I had savings of around 30,000 GBP which I have used to buy a condo in Bangkok.
My Thai Girlfriend
My girlfriend is 22 and works as an English tutor and does the odd private classes too, which brings in around 25,000 THB a month. Before we met, Nook lived in America for a year and worked in Asia Books at the airport in Bangkok before that. I would say Nook is a good example of the increasing number of middle-class people in Thailand. She makes good money, rents a decent house and has disposable income to spend.
We have been together for almost two and a half years and live on Nawamin Road, which is on the outskirts of Bangkok. We met at the nearby Fashion Island shopping mall and hit it off straight away.
At around 100,000 THB a month, we make a decent amount combined but would like more to make things more comfortable. We both have aims to increase our salary over the coming year. I’m aiming for closer to 100,000 a month and Nook would like around 35,000.
In terms of monthly outgoings we have to put aside around 45,000 THB which covers accommodation (mine and Nook’s family’s) and bills (utilities, student loan payments and gym memberships). This leaves around 55,000 THB for everything else. I’ll go into more details below in terms of what we spend and who pays for everything below.
On my first date with Nook, I paid for lunch and she paid for drinks and ice creams after. I offered to pay for everything but she was insistent on paying for the latter. I actually found that a lot of Thai women are happy to split the bill or contribute, especially those under 30 who have traditional jobs.
Following dates took place at the cinema, restaurants and local parks. The bills were usually shared and Nook contributed every time. There are probably some guys reading this thinking that women shouldn’t pay on a date and that is fair enough, but times are changing and it isn’t uncommon now to split things. We never went to a fancy restaurant or expensive location so we both felt comfortable paying for things.
Having a Financial Talk
I’ve never really found it difficult to talk about finances and to be honest I talk about money with my girlfriend on a regular basis, whether it is about travel, shopping or savings. Being honest with someone can make problems easier to solve and that is certainly true when it comes to finance.
I am of the opinion that both partners can contribute financially even if it is only a few little things now and again. Even with a low salary I feel it isn’t unreasonable that a Thai partner can pay for little things like snacks, drinks and make a contribution towards bills or shopping. There are Thais of all ages who will try and get what they can from foreigners but I found this very rare among Thais who have decent jobs.
I live outside the center of Bangkok and there are a lot of Thais who have decent jobs in the 18-30,000 a month range, which is in a similar range to how much Karsten spent per employee. Many of them feel eager and capable to contribute towards your relationship. You will see later that even though Nook has financial responsibilities towards her family, she still chips in.
One major factor which I think has helped Nook is that she lived for a year in America so had to become good at budgeting and looking after money. She had money to spend there but had to be careful and she has carried that attitude into our relationship. She understands that there is a limit to what we can spend and there is never a problem when agreeing that something is unnecessary or too expensive. There is a growing number of Thais studying and working overseas in various programs so there is a chance to date someone with experience of your culture and of budgeting.
Being honest and direct about our salaries helped my girlfriend and I decide how to split costs and what was reasonable for both of us. Telling someone on a first date is a mistake but once you know you are in a serious relationship, I think it helps as you can plan together and set budgets.
Many Thai people presume foreigners make huge salaries and likewise a lot of foreigners presume Thais have low salaries. An understanding of how much each partner makes will help you a lot to plan. There is a growing middle class and with the increase in university attendance, salaries are creeping up to over 15,000 a month for new graduates.
After a couple of years working at a decent company, it isn’t unreasonable for young Thais in their early to mid-20s to be earning over 20,000 THB a month. A degree in a good subject and some hard work means salaries of over 30,000 aren’t unheard of. Sure, there are people making less than this and the old story of the 300 THB a day minimum wage gets thrown around a lot. However, in reality I wouldn’t be mixing in the same social circles as these people and would be unlikely to date someone who makes minimum wage. You can check an average salary here with Adecco Thailand. It might sound like I am being disrespectful but these days a lot of younger foreigners are meeting Thais through socializing, networking and work rather than just in bars and dating sites.
I also didn’t think too much about how Thai people live on their salaries. Nook used to earn closer to 30,000 THB a month and even at that level I felt like it wasn’t a huge amount, but it is amazing to see how she can make money last. Sure, she doesn’t make too many impulse buys, but she knows how to find a bargain and is normally quite sensible when it comes to shopping.
When we first met I was making 50,000 THB a month, but that has increased over time and has meant that we can do more things since then.
Living together is a big step and there are many financial implications which should be thought through and discussed. I moved in with Nook after about 15 months of being together. At this stage we were aware of each other’s financial statuses and had discussed who would be responsible for what.
In terms of my condo, I make payments of 30,000 THB a month and I cover those. The cost can be higher or lower depending on locations. When it comes to the utilities, Nook pays for the electricity and I cover the rest (water, maintenance fee and Internet). This arrangement works pretty well for us.
Be careful when it comes to moving in and make sure you are 100% sure you can make the agreed payments. I have a friend who moved into a swanky 50,000 condo based on his partner saying that she would contribute 10,000 THB a month. After a month, her contribution decreased, and now he is lucky to get anything and is regretting his decision to move into his place.
The way I looked at things was that even if Nook didn’t contribute anything towards our accommodation I would still be able to cover everything. I was already living there for a year before she moved in and everything was fine.
Cost of Living
Sure, some things in Thailand are cheap but it is still easy to spend a lot very quickly here. I have put a table below which shows our average monthly spend and following that, a short description to give you an idea of what is included and who spends what. Remember, as I said above our combined monthly income is around 100,000 THB. Karsten also wrote an article about his average spending in Bangkok as well.
This is the rent Nook pays for her family’s house (8,500 THB) and my payments towards my condo (30,000 THB).
Nook rents a three-bedroom house for her mother and brother. She sometimes gets one or two thousand from her brother to help out but this isn’t guaranteed. At 8,500 THB, it is cheap for a house in Bangkok but it takes up a third of her salary. I cover the full cost of my condo and plan to have it paid off in three or four years’ time.
I read somewhere that you shouldn’t spend more than about 30% of your income on accommodation and we are a little over that. We had also planned to buy another place which would have taken us close to 50% but realized after a couple of months that it was a mistake and would put our finances under too much strain.
Nook covers the bills at her mum’s place: water, electric and TV/phone which come to around 2,000 THB a month on average.
At our place we have Internet, Netflix, Sport365 TV package, water, phone, electricity and condo maintenance bills which are around the 5,000 THB mark. Nook pays for her phone and the electricity (1,350 a month) and I pay for the rest.
We try to travel mainly by bus, van and songthaew to save cost but also because these methods are easy for the short journeys we make.
We are each responsible for our own transport and our jobs actually provide us with travel allowances. When we go in a taxi together, we take it in turns to pay. We rarely go on expensive taxi journeys, the only exception being when we go to the airport.
I have thought about buying a car but the monthly repayments would be over 5,000 THB a month which doesn’t make sense when I could travel everywhere by taxi for less, and not have to worry about insurance and tax. If we moved to a different area then it is possible we would look into this again and I guess I would be the one to cover the cost.
We tend to eat out around two nights a week and go out for lunch two times as well. We usually go to mid-level restaurants, which cost around 300-500 THB for the two of us. If a bill comes to 500 THB I normally pay 300 and Nook pays 200. This way we both contribute and occasionally treat each other to a meal. On the rare occasion that we go out for a meal at an expensive place, I will pay but this only happens every two or three months.
In terms of grocery shopping, we each buy our own things and message the other to pick up food on the way home from work. We don’t have a shopping list and most of the time we actually buy things from local stalls or shops to eat.
The majority of our entertainment revolves around going out to eat and watching movies at home. We don’t go out drinking or have crazy nights out very often. Occasional trips to the cinema cost around 700 THB for the two of us and we split the costs.
We play badminton once or twice a week which costs about 100 THB a time and we take it in turns to pay.
Vacations are an area where we are still working on the best way to split costs. It would be fair to say that I pick up the majority of the costs, but Nook does chip in when it comes to meals or visiting attractions.
We normally go away three or four times a year with one big trip and three smaller ones. For example, in 2017 we have the following planned trips. Firstly, six days in China for Songkran, then two weeks in Dubai and Italy in September, followed by four days in Penang in October and five days in Chiang Mai over Christmas. The total for all these trips will be around 180,000 THB as family will cover the cost for some of the Dubai/Italy trip. This equals around 15,000 THB a month.
In October 2016 we visited the UK for 11 days and you can read the full cost report here, but to give a summary the trip cost around 130,000 THB and I paid for around 100.000 of it. Other trips in Thailand have cost in the region of 20,000 THB and I will cover around 15,000 of the total. This usually means I pay for flights and hotels, and we normally split or share the bills when eating out or doing day trips.
This is the one area of our relationship where I do cover most of the expense, and to be honest if we stuck to paying 50/50 it would limit us to short three or four days trips in Thailand as Nook wouldn’t be able to afford international flights.
When it comes to buying clothes, toiletries and general items, we are each responsible for our own expenses. We rarely go shopping together as I hate going to the mall and Nook doesn’t like going with me. We buy each other the odd gift but never that often.
We just took out gym memberships at Fitness First which works out at around 2,000 THB a month each. We pay for this individually on our credit cards to get a lower rate than paying via direct debit.
There is normally something else which we need to buy or pay for each month which is unexpected. If it is something big then we cut back in other areas to cover the difference.
So at the end, you see, we save around 5,000 THB a month. Actually that isn’t really true as we save closer to 20,000, but then spend a lot of it on traveling which is included in my costs list.
A net save of 5,000 a month means that my bank balance is growing quite slowly, and although I do have enough to cover emergencies and the like, it isn’t a huge amount. If Nook didn’t have to pay the rent and bills at her mum’s place, then we could save more but that situation will never happen.
I suppose we are waiting for my condo to be paid off in the next three years or so, and then we will be able to save a good amount. We haven’t sat down and talked about what we will do with these savings and that is something we will do closer to the time.
Payment to Family
Outside those in the top level of society, a lot of Thais have to take care of their family. This means paying rent and bills or sending a monthly amount home to support elders.
I already mentioned that retirement is an afterthought for most Thais and that the system lets people down badly. It is quite depressing to think that poverty is a real fear for many people and the chance to enjoy retirement is restricted as survival becomes the goal for many.
Your Thai partner might send a lot back home or even just a little. If they are lucky, then the whole family will help and the responsibility is low. A foreigner could be seen as a cash cow and it is true that many have made payments to family members or even bought houses, cars and other assets.
In my case my girlfriend’s mother is 59 and eligible for retirement next year. This means a huge 500 THB a month will be heading her way; 500 THB is our daily budget for food and transport. It’s nothing and that is why I see the necessity of my girlfriend supporting her family. I honestly don’t like the idea that children are put in this position but what are they going to do, let their parents starve and sleep on the streets?
My girlfriend pays for the rent and bills for the family house which comes to around 10,500 THB a month. That leaves her with about 14,500 a month for herself. I have offered to help her, but she won’t accept my money. In the end, I am not going to force to take my money but she knows I am always there should she need help.
I don’t like the idea of a foreign partner being asked to buy houses, cars and gifts for their partner’s family, and I feel a lot of younger Thais from decent backgrounds understand this. I have never been asked for money to help Nook’s family. One time she asked for 5,000 THB whilst she was changing jobs and she paid me back within three months. I actually didn’t want her to repay me but she insisted.
I understand the point of helping the family and when Nook’s mother stops working, it may well be the case that I will have to contribute too as it is unlikely that Nook will have enough to cover her mum’s living costs. The other option, and maybe one I favor, is that I take over other household costs such as paying all our bills or all restaurant costs and she looks after her family.
Another issue is family members not pulling their weight. Siblings of your partner may feel that they do not have to contribute as much because their brother or sister has a foreign partner and as such, much more money. This lack of help from a brother or sister towards the family might even have been happening for a long time and not due to a relationship.
Sin Sod is a contentious issue for many foreigners and the actual meaning of the word has become distorted.
For those out of the loop, Sin Sod is a payment made to a bride’s family to show your commitment to their daughter when marrying her. Depending on who you talk to, you will hear that it is a dowry or just a show of your good intentions. Some people say the money was returned to them after the wedding ceremony whilst others never see it again.
Traditionally the amount asked for depends on the social status of the family, age and education of the bride and the partner’s status. I haven’t ever been involved in a discussion like this myself but a Thai friend of mine paid 500,000 THB to his wife’s family to marry her. She was middle-class but her family have a decent business and a large house. I have also heard of some people paying millions to marry their partner such as this English man who paid five million THB to be with his partner.
The idea of giving money to your fiancée’s family to marry her goes against many people’s Western views, mine included. Some people argue that it is a tradition but that doesn’t fly with me – traditions change and die out. Sin Sod now seems less common across Thailand and on many occasions, money put on show is returned to the couple. I would also use as an example that in my country, the bride’s family were traditionally supposed to pay for the whole wedding but that doesn’t really happen anymore.
As I said above in the payment to family section, I think the key is to let the family know that you are there for them and will look after them. I know some people will talk about loss of face and cultural issues, but the other thing to consider is that I don’t have a huge amount of cash savings to put on the table even if it was all going to be returned to me.
A lot of people think that the problems are caused by Thai culture and traditions, but there are times when I have put my foot in it big time when it comes to money.
I remember a day when my girlfriend invited me to try a new place for lunch. It ended up being one of those roadside joints with plastic chairs, cutlery in a box and a million flies buzzing around god knows what in a few cooking pots. I turned my nose up at the place and said it was a nasty cheap place and wouldn’t ever go back. It turned out that this place was where my girlfriend would come and eat when she was younger and she thought I was snobbish for acting in the way I did.
I felt really bad when I found this out but the problem is I have no desire to eat in those kinds of places. Sure, the food is cheap (and maybe it is good, I didn’t really try much) but I don’t want to eat next to the road in places that would give food inspectors around the world nightmares. I don’t need five-star dining but I want somewhere half decent. I now know to be more careful and respectful of simple places we visit.
Other money issues have occurred and one that sticks in my mind is from when my girlfriend came to the UK and met my family. I could see she was physically shocked at some of the money that was spent. My parents booked us into a lovely hotel in London, the price for three nights was more than her monthly salary in Thailand and it felt like a waste of money to her. Spending another 10,000 THB on a Thai meal also blew her mind but spending the same amount in ten minutes at the Harry Potter store was fine, so there are obviously some exceptions to her spending thoughts!
My girlfriend speaks to a lot of other Thai women who have foreign partners and one issue that comes up many times is the idea of buying gifts. Christmas, anniversaries, valentines and birthdays means that up to four times a year they feel obliged to buy a present. A lot of these women tell my girlfriend that they feel under pressure to buy expensive gifts and it becomes really stressful. In reality Thai people don’t really give gifts very often, usually only children get a birthday present and even then it isn’t anything expensive. We now set spending limits for these celebrations of around 500-1,000 THB. In the end we normally go out together for a nice meal and exchange a few small things which is great.
Finally I learned pretty quickly that feeling like I should pay because I have more money was disrespectful. I am sure my girlfriend likes it when I take her out for dinner or buy her a gift but the idea of me paying for everything is absurd to her. She told me as much on our first date when she picked up the tab at an ice cream place we went to.
If your Thai partner is from a middle or upper class background, then it is likely that they have relied on their family for a large part of their life for all their financial needs.
I work with a lot of single middle and upper class Thai people, and they live comfortably as they don’t have to worry about rent, car payments or insurance bills. Living at home or having a place given to them by the family means that all their bills are covered. Their parents will grab the bill at restaurants and lend their children the car whenever they need it. This means my colleague’s salary is basically disposable income and they have 20-30,000 a month to spend on shopping, travel and entertainment.
To give a real-life example, I know someone who spends the equivalent of her salary renting a condo and also has a BMW and a designer handbag for every day of the week. There is obviously a lot of money coming from the family to support her lifestyle. I’m not saying this is normal but there are certainly a lot of Thais, male and female, who live like this, supported by family and not having to worry about money. A job is something to do with their time, the salary is irrelevant.
It might come as a shock to them when it comes to living with a partner and being asked to use their previous disposable income to pay for mundane things, such as rent and utility bills. People from rich backgrounds have income to spend, but it is not certain that their family will support them in the same way as they did before being in a relationship with a foreigner. Those from a middle class background might also find it hard to cut back on their spending to help out with bills and costs too as they don’t want to lower their quality of life.
Keeping Up with the Joneses
The idea of losing face is nothing new in Thailand and there are plenty of times when it could rear its ugly head when linked to money. The most notable is that there is pressure to keep up with the Joneses and to have and do the same as other couples. The idea that you can’t do something because of financial restraints could cause a loss of face in Thailand.
Personally I couldn’t care less if people think less of me because I can’t afford to do something, but it might cause a Thai partner (or their family) embarrassment. I am lucky that Nook is grounded in her financial approach to things and we have never argued about money or had any issues like that. We make decent money and can afford to do the things we like. Maybe the one thing I have cut back on is playing golf as it costs around 2-3,000 THB each time and that seems like a lot to her.
Most of Nook’s friends are either single or in relationships with other Thais so in our group of friends we are one of the few Thai/foreigner couples. I think this means less comparisons are made and we don’t really see how others in our situation live.
I’ll be honest I have never had a shared account with anyone. I know my parents have a shared account and so do my sister and her husband, but I don’t see the need to combine everything together.
I quite like the idea of buying something for my girlfriend and her buying me things. It feels like being treated whereas if it is from a joint fund then it always feels like you’re paying for everything.
Shared accounts are possible in Thailand as long as you have the prerequisite documents to open an account. Looking around online, it seems that married couples in Thailand have shared accounts and a popular reason for this is to make it easier for a partner to have access to money if the other dies. It seems rather morbid to me but I guess when you get older it is something you think about and practically, it works out.
In my relationship I would say we have shared money which we use to live together and work towards the same goals. The total amount we make is spent together and although I earn more I don’t feel like it is my money but really a total amount for us to live on. This situation didn’t really happen overnight and only really came about after we moved in together.
Getting a credit card in Thailand as a foreigner can be difficult but for Thais with a salary of over 15,000 THB a month, it is relatively easy.
My girlfriend just got her first credit card in December 2016, which came with a 40,000 THB limit (based on 22,000 salary). She chose KTC as they were easy to apply for and have a few discount schemes. It turns out that as a foreigner they would accept me with a valid two year work permit, so I decided to get one too (80,000 limit based on a 55,000 salary).
I am somewhat wary about credit cards and plan to use mine for online purchases and using the 10 month interest free payment scheme they have for various shops such as HomePro and Index. On the other hand, Nook uses her card for every purchase so that she can earn reward points. It also proved useful when she chipped her tooth on Christmas day and had to get emergency dental work done. She wouldn’t have been able to pay the bill without a credit card and her company will refund the money to her within a month from the company insurance policy.
In terms of having a joint credit card, I feel that it isn’t necessary and is something I am happy to be without. I feel I would have a joint bank account first.
Growing up in the UK, buying a property was seemingly taught as a natural thing to do with your partner. In Thailand it is pretty much impossible at the moment for foreigners to set up a mortgage with a Thai bank.
If you are looking to mortgage a property then you have a couple of options. The first is to use your Thai partner’s salary to apply for a mortgage under their name. To give you an idea of how much you can borrow, SCB and Bangkok Bank were prepared to give Nook 1.25 million THB based on a 22,000 THB salary. This would result in monthly payments of around 9,000 THB over a 15 year period. However, 1.25 million can only buy a small property away from central areas, so it isn’t really worth it if you are looking for a place to live together. Bangkok Bank has a useful Thai mortgage calculator which you can use as a guide to see how much they will lend based on salary.
Another option is that a foreigner married to a Thai citizen can be the guarantor on a mortgage for a Thai citizen but has no right to claim ownership of the property. This could mean you get a larger mortgage amount but varies from branch to branch so you will need to go in and speak to their advisers.
Nook would love to buy a house so she could have somewhere for her family to live and a place she can rent out at some point. Perhaps when my condo is paid off, we will look into doing this together as we will be able to save more and get a good deposit down.
Mortgages are very difficult to buy but loans are possible for foreigners living in Thailand. Loans for cars are probably the most common type but in most cases, the bank will ask for a Thai person to be the guarantor on the loan so you can use your partner if they are in employment.
We will look into cultural issues related to money a bit later in this article but one key point is that a lot of Thai people’s retirement plan is to rely on their children. This means that your Thai partner might have to send home money when they are young and aren’t likely to be thinking about saving for their own retirement.
Personally speaking, I am turning 30 this year and have recently started thinking more about how I am going to save for my retirement. I actually looked at Karsten’s article on this site about money matters for expats which helped me a lot.
I don’t like the idea on relying on children and would hate to put them under this pressure. I am lucky that I have bought a property in Thailand and my girlfriend seems to be willing to start to prepare for retirement despite being only 22.
Like a lot of employed Thai citizens, she will benefit from a government pension and new schemes which will allow her to pay more into a retirement fund as she gets older. We have talked about her getting a RMF/LTF and possibly one for me as well to start our savings, but at the moment things are a bit tight to make a meaningful contribution.
I’m not married but I guess many people who are thinking of getting hitched to a Thai person at least think about getting a prenup.
A quick look on our marriage visa article shows a full run down of getting a prenup, but the basics are that it is possible to get one in Thailand that protect your interests as long as you are married in Thailand. The inclusions need to be morally and legally acceptable, so best to run through these things with a solicitor otherwise it might be ignored if the divorce proceeds to a court.
In my opinion, I don’t see a prenup as necessary. My girlfriend contributes to our relationship fully and anything we buy or invest in is for the both of us. I’m not a millionaire and don’t have houses and investments around the world so it isn’t really relevant to me. I guess the decision to get a prenup also comes down to trust and I know I can trust my partner but it is up to you if you would like extra security.
We’ve already seen getting a mortgage as a foreigner is pretty much impossible so there is the option to put property in your Thai partner’s name. An important point to know is that a foreigner can make no claim on landed property and all money given to a Thai partner will be seen as a gift.
As I said, I have a condo in my name but in the future, I would have no problem buying a house and putting it under my girlfriend’s name. The reason for this is I know that she would also pay for it equally and it would be a joint purchase.
Breaking up with someone sucks and when you’re half way around the world away from your family and friends, I can only imagine how bad it is. Divorce means a chance for a new start but before then you have to think about the legal implications and your rights.
If we are talking about property, then it is likely you will lose everything you have put in to a house or mortgage with a Thai partner unless they decide to give you anything.
I’m not married but I have done a little digging around online and found a couple of good sources to look at in terms of finance side of divorce in Thailand. Thailandcourt.com has a good article which explains the different types of divorce in Thailand and what the accepted grounds for divorce are. It also shows where you must go to register the divorce. Another site which isn’t always factually correct but does give real first hand advice is ThaiVisa.com which has a whole section on divorce and marriage where people give costs and guides based on their experiences.
One of the ideas behind this article was to disprove the myth that Thai people are in relationships with foreigners for money. There are obvious cases when hooking up with a bar girl where it does happen, but I feel there is a change happening where foreigners and Thais are meeting socially and on a more level playing field than in the past.
The new generation of middle to upper class Thais are more willing to contribute in a relationship and have a better cultural understanding of their foreign partners.
As always feel free to comment if you have any questions!