Making an Income in Thailand
Jobs in Thailand
The range of jobs on offer for Westerners in Thailand is quite limited. The best jobs are with multinational corporations (especially oil & gas companies and the automobile industry) and NGOs. If you are suitably qualified then a job at an international school is usually relatively well-paid (up to $3,000/£2,300 pm). Working as a hotel manager is reasonably pleasant, but pays comparitively little ($2,000/£1,500 pm).
It’s also relatively easy to get work as an English teacher (you must have at least a first degree) or university lecturer (if you have a Ph.D.) – but the pay is paltry, around $1,300/£1,000 pm.
If you don’t care about income so much then there are plenty of opportunities with charity organizations and religious groups.
So what are the other options for making an income in Thailand?
Don’t expect to make a lot of money. If you are thinking of settling in Thailand, you should already have your own independent income – either a pension, rental income, annuity, etc. or sufficient capital that you can draw on for the remainder of your life.
The best way is to focus on supplementing your existing income. You don’t want to have to work full time and you don’t need a substantial income in order to live very well. If you already have an independent income of, say, $1,000 a month, this is sufficient to live modestly but comfortably. An additional $1,000 will be more than sufficient for a fairly luxurious lifestyle. Anything more than that can be set aside for travelling around the region (or the world), buying a nicer car/motorbike/house/camera/computer/furniture, etc.
Running a Business
It’s not easy and the profit potential is extremely modest. Many people buy or develop a pub, restaurant, guesthouse or coffee shop. The start-up costs will be at least $200,000/£150,000 and you will need to set up a company and employ at least four Thai staff. It’s an 80-hour-per-week job and the profit after expenses and taxes is typically $2,000/£1,500 per month.
There are some real successes. I know one Italian restaurant that makes a profit of around $10K per month, but when the owner started a second restaurant in a slightly different area, it made a loss and he shut it down after two years.
There’s also a small pizza takeaway at the airport – where the rental cost is astronomical – that makes around $6K per month profit.
However, these successes are rare and fickle. Often it’s a matter of luck and location. And something can happen to wipe away all your profits in an instant. For instance, several highly successful niche automobile-related companies closed down in 2012 as a result of the previous year’s floods. Not because they were in the flood zone, but because the supply chain was disrupted and they either couldn’t obtain a vital component – or their major customers had their supply chains disrupted and so weren’t placing any orders. The floods affected small and large companies alike. Companies like Toyota lost a fortune, but many of the smaller businesses didn’t survive.at all.
There is one type of business that can do reasonably well, usually in partnership with your wife/girlfriend who runs the store while you do the back-end support work.
A Thai woman opened a hamburger stand in Patong in Phuket. What’s so special about this? you ask. Opening hours was midnight to 4am. Hers was the only greasy food stand open at that time of night. She was inundated by customers coming out of the nightclubs, drunk and hungry, throughout the night.
She made on average $600 every night!
But it didn’t last. As soon as other people saw the idea in action, they opened their own competing stands, significantly diluting her profits.
Another successful business idea (also in Phuket) was Drink-As-Much-As-You-Like for a flat fee of 600 baht. The catch was you only had 2 hours. Some people drink a lot, but most people only drank around 300 baht’s worth of alcohol. So the profits turned out to be very attractive. As with the hamburger stand, profits became diluted as soon as other pubs copied the idea.
In Chiang Mai, a number of husband-and-wife teams run fast-food stands outside a cluster of night clubs, popular amongst Thais and foreigners. One sells chicken kebab, the other sells hamburgers. There’s also a stand selling deep-fried meat/chicken/fish-meal balls, a popular Thai fast food. All the stands are busy all night.
It’s hard work. They start at midday, purchasing and preparing the ingredients. Operating hours are 8pm to 3am (nightclubs are usually required to close at 2am, which means that business is quite brisk for about an hour after closing time). It takes an hour to clean up and break down the stand, so ‘bed time’ is at 5am by the time you get home. And the cycle starts again after a short sleep.
The income is reasonably good because there aren’t too many competitors – three fast food stands altogether and an all-night Indian restaurant in the night-club complex.
But not a lot. After 80,000 baht worth of sales in a good month, the profit is about 40,000 baht. Because it’s all cash, little if any of it needs to be declared. The expat partner often doesn’t bother with establishing a formal company, usually relying on a retirement visa (which doesn’t allow you to work). So long as you aren’t visibly engaged in the business then you will not fall foul of the rules – for instance, it’s illegal to serve your customers, cook the food or take money without a work permit.
You’d only do this kind of business if you enjoy it as a way of getting out and about, meeting and chatting to people, and having something interesting to do. It also provides gainful employment for your wife/girlfriend. And if that’s the only reason for setting up business then it’s often sufficient to rent a small shop and set it up to sell coffee or somtam (a spicy Thai salad) or provide a laundry service. The profit might not exceed 10,000 or 15,000 baht, but this is a decent income for a Thai person – and it beats having to work for someone else for the same amount of money. Thais value personal freedom over income, so the amount of profit is often not an important factor anyway.
Working from Home
Your best options for making a supplementary income is to run a home-based business. There are several areas that offer good chances for success.
- Selling on Ebay or Amazon – Although it isn’t easy, this is one of the best ways of making money. It’s a somewhat cut-throat business – you are competing with dozens of other businesses selling virtually the same product as yours. The secret is to try to find something that is unique – ebay is all about creating a niche presence. And the road to success depends on how well you present your store. Beautiful, clear photographs and detailed information make all the difference, as well as developing an excellent reputation for reliability and promptness and good customer service. It takes time to be successful online. If you are prepared to ‘do the time’ and persevere at testing your products and marketing methods then – usually after a year or so – you can build a successful long-term business. You need to develop a highly streamlined business system, but once you have perfected it then you can virtually print money while you sleep.
An example of how niche-thinking can lead to success on ebay is a small company that sells silver jewelry components. The store does not sell finished jewelry products – there are literally thousands of stores that already do that. The business model is to source a range of basic components, such as rings, settings, chains, etc., and sell these to the jewelry manufacturers.
The trick is to find a reliable source that can churn out the product line in standard way, on time and inexpensively – and then to sell it on at a mark-up of at least 100%. A friend of mine did just this and developed a relationship with a number of small Thai factories. Her business happened to be one of about half a dozen wholesale suppliers of jewelry components in the world and it was extremely successful.
Another friend of mine sells unique and beautiful glass marijuana bongs that are sought after throughout the world. He does a brisk online trade while being based in Thailand.
- Freelance work – If you have a particular talent or technical skill, such as copywriting or programming then it’s relatively straight forward to establish yourself as an expert and build up repeatable business.The secret is reliability. There are plenty of freelancers (e.g. upwork.com or freelancer.com or fiverr.com) who will often work very cheaply, but most of them either lie about their expertise or don’t complete the project on time or don’t have a comprehensive after-sales support and maintenance service.
- Authoring – This is a good way of making money. But keep in mind that very few people get to make a lot of money from traditional book publishing. The typical income from sales is a mere $500 per year! However, there are ways of making some good money from writing books (usually ebooks) – especially if it’s non-fiction. Travel writing seems to sell quite well, as well as personal accounts of some amazing (or awful) experience (and this could include suffering from severe alcoholism or a mental illness or spending time in prison). Self help books as well as health, sexuality and relationships do quite well too, but it’s difficult to distinguish yourself from the tens of thousands that are already out there. One idea I have is to take a really awfully-written book on an obscure subject that no-one has properly cracked yet (like procrastination) and rewrite it – see my own version in Amazon shortly…!
You can also make money from relatively short reports, as well as getting books ghost-written for you (usually non-fiction).
Training videos are particularly lucrative, but these need good marketing, as there are already some very good video courses out there for playing a musical instrument, developing programming skills, etc. – many of them already freely available on youtube.
Udemy provides a good platform for selling video courses, but even here the chances of making a decent profit are relatively slim. Most courses end up being discounted to around $15 (although you can opt out of this) and they take a 50% cut on all your sales. You can buy courses on udemy that teach you how to make your own udemy courses and other courses that teach you how to produce good-quality recordings.
It’s a wonderful world to explore, because you can focus on what you’ve been passionate about all your life – or even something that you really, really enjoy (and document it). Even if you don’t make much money out of it, it’s fun!
- Developing software apps or building & maintaining websites or providing online marketing services – This can be very lucrative. There is a drastic shortage of good, relatively inexpensive and RELIABLE programmers and developers. If you have an expertise such as Joomla or Drupal or WordPress web design and maintenance then you will probably have to turn work away. If you can gain expertise in producing iPad or Android apps then you can make good money as a freelancer. Selling your own apps, though, is not so straight forward. Like book publishing, only a very few apps make it to the top. Apple doesn’t really care if you make money or not, because they make a lot of money from the very popular apps (they don’t the risk in time as you do) and they also make a lot of money selling a few hundred copies of the two million other not-so-popular apps that are available through their monopoly sales channel, iTunes.Nevertheless, it’s the not so carefully and lovingly crafted apps that can make good money. Don’t spend a year developing a sophisticated app that will sell for $1. Most customers don’t spend more than this. So even if you have a great add-on that people purchase through an in-app upgrade… most people won’t bother. If it’s more than $3 altogether, forget it. Many ‘profitable’ apps are often quite simple – they can be partially animated ebooks/audiobooks or a standalone training guide.
Producing music is such a vast, complicated industry. But if this is your passion then start by following what people like Lady Gaga and Valentina Lisitsa are doing. They’re obviously very good performers, but no better than most of the other good performers. However, their approach to marketing via SMM (Social Media Marketing) and the use of viral marketing (e.g. YouTube) and the internet in general has made them both mega-successful. You could learn from them and apply some of the tricks to your own marketing efforts.
- Professional Day Trading – If you enjoy sitting at a computer for hours on end and are ready to invest about $10,000 and a year of your time to learn the ropes, then this is a great way to earn quite a lot of money in a consistent and reliable way. However, you must know exactly what you are doing, otherwise YOU WILL LOSE MONEY.
Rule no. 1: Don’t trade more than you can afford to lose. Trading is legalized gambling. This rule also happens to be the first rule of gambling.
Rule no. 2: Learn how to play the game. Traders who know how to play the game make money from the 99% of the rest of the traders who don’t know how to play the game, but think that they do! You need to practice at least three hours a day for about a year before you start to make money consistently. Amd you will need a working capital of about $10,000 plus be able to pay for a dedicated internet line ($100pm), implement backup power and manual override systems, plus subscribe to X Trade ($800 pm).
I can introduce you to a series of training videos and courses, and refer you to a company that advises on the appropriate trading tools, without which you should not trade. The crucial skills that you need to learn is understanding how money and volume causes markets to move, as well as understanding intuitively what makes people bail on a trade. You also need to train yourself (just like a boxer or karate fighter) through practice, practice, practice when to trade and when to bail.
You should only focus on one way to generate an income. You are unlikely to succeed if you dabble in several different types of business. You need to dedicate yourself to getting it right. If you’re going to set up an eBay business then it’ll take you several months to learn about the effective ways of doing so, and about a year of trial and error before you hit on a product and marketing approach that makes money.
Similarly with authoring. You need to write – a lot – and spend as much time marketing your ebook as it took you to write it. And you may have to write five books before you hit on the one that makes decent money.
But if you do something that you enjoy intrinsically then there is every good reason that you will succeed, and with a bit of luck, you can make enough money to retire extremely well without having to rely on any other source of income, such as a pension.
This is the best of goals – to be completely financially independent and yet still be able to live a life of comfort and luxury.