Four times the salary of a local Thai?
What a load of bullshit!
"You'll be earning four times the salary of a local Thai"
Nothing irks me more than reading that statement and you see it all over the web wherever the topic of teaching in Thailand is discussed or promoted. It's a statement that's both grossly misleading and wildly inaccurate. Let me tell you this. Local Thais who work for medium-sized Thai companies and foreign multinationals - even those who aren't the brightest bulb in the marquee - earn salaries that went way beyond those of your average English teacher a long, long time ago. I've always struggled to give an identity to this ‘local Thai' - this person who takes home a mere quarter of what an English teacher does. Is it a bus conductor? Is it a street-sweeper? Is it the bored-looking shop assistant in Robinsons? I really don't know. But one thing I do know - you would expect at the very least to earn four times what they do.
Such wild claims invariably forget two fundamental things. Firstly, the foreign teacher doesn't have the family support network that many average local Thais enjoy. How do you think a Thai earning 15,000 baht a month - and there are plenty of them - can drive around in a spanking brand new car? Perhaps they saved up five-baht coins in a glass jar? I don't think so. Secondly, foreigners can't ‘live' like a Thai. However romantic the notion of living in a boxy apartment and eating street-food three times a day may be, few foreigners can handle that sort of lifestyle for more than a few months.
I don't want to get into the argument of how much money a teacher needs to earn in order to survive or live comfortably in Thailand. Every person has different needs when it comes to standards of living. It's a discussion topic that's raged forever and a day. However, I feel it's important to realistically assess how far a salary of 30,000 baht will stretch (and let's assume 30,000 baht is the magical figure being touted as four times that of a local Thai)
Here goes. A salary of 30,000 baht will probably be closer to 29,000 baht after tax. I'm a little out of touch with the cost of basic apartments but accommodation is probably going to be your biggest expense. I would say 6,000 baht a month is the minimum you would need to pay in Bangkok for something decent. With utility bills and phone, this could easily top 8,000 baht a month all in. So that leaves you with 21,000 baht a month in your pocket. If you take the average month as being thirty days then that leaves you with the princely sum of 700 baht a day. And out of that 700 baht a day, you need to put food in your stomach and clothes on your back. Then of course there are the small matters of laundry, health insurance, transportation, weekends away on a tropical island (you did come here to see Thailand as well didn't you?) computers, toiletries and wouldn't it be nice to fly home to see the family every year or two.
I earned 35,000 baht a month teaching English as far back as 1994. Anyone earning that kind of salary in a private language school certainly had to put in the hours, but at least the hours were available for those who wanted them. When one was younger and had infinitely more energy, you didn't mind the punishing schedules if it meant a few extra treats at the end of each month and a generally better standard of living. You could well argue that salaries haven't risen for the Thailand-based foreign teacher in the last 10-15 years but what's more obvious (at least to me) is that nowadays there is far more to spend your money on. Everyone wants a nice PC or laptop complete with the latest software. And then there are the temptations of the high street - the Starbucks, the KFCs and the McCafes to name just a few - all vying with each other to separate you from the baht in your pocket. In the mid-90s they just weren't around. But why shouldn't you enjoy the luxury of nipping into Starbucks for an iced latte and an oatmeal muffin, despite it probably eating up a whopping 20% of your 700 baht daily ‘allowance'.
Of course not every teacher works in the salary-squeezing capital. There are plenty of chalkies out there plying their trade in Thailand's rural areas, where many teachers (and employers) claim that the cost of living is ‘much lower' or ‘far cheaper' than that in Bangkok. I've never subscribed to this point of view at all. Accommodation can be cheaper, I'll give you that one, but transportation, the cost of getting around town? - not necessarily. Order a whopper in Burger King and the price is the same. Stroll around a department store and you'll see that a quality pair of shoes is on a par with what you'd pay in Bangkok. Assuming they sell quality pairs of shoes in the first place.
Next time you see promotional blurb proclaiming that you'll be earning four times the salary of a local Thai, perhaps you might want the above ramblings to be your small print.