Mickey Sheehan

A moderate Western expat lifestyle

Isn't that what decent teachers in Bangkok should always be aiming for?


A group of us had an interesting discussion on social media some weeks ago about teacher salaries and teacher lifestyles. Most of the contributors were teachers, but not all.

Putting that 30,000 baht a month ‘poverty line’ existence aside for a moment, the burning question was this - what baht figure, or more to the point what kind of lifestyle, should a Western expat teacher be aiming for in Bangkok (and I stress that this is only Bangkok we are talking about)

Where is the dividing line between achieving what you deserve or just surviving and seriously going without? And keep in mind we are only concerned with a ‘moderate expat lifestyle’ here. This is not glamorous living or a ‘champagne lifestyle’ by any stretch. We shouldn’t confuse the word ‘moderate’ with ‘middle-class’.

We should also exclude those teachers who are qualified to teach at ‘proper’ international schools. We already know how good their salary and benefits packages are.    

The following are what I would consider to be the essential components and ‘affordables’ of a moderate Western expat lifestyle. You should be comfortably able to afford;

1) An annual trip home

You should be able to fly home once a year to see family and friends. This expense would of course include a return flight ticket and spending money. By all means stay at your parents’ or a friend’s house when you get there (even if it means kipping on the sofa to keep accommodation costs down) but that doesn’t mean poncing off them for the entire duration of your stay. You should have enough spending money to treat friends and family to the odd meal out and be able to put your hand in your pocket for a round of drinks in the local pub.

(I ran this blog topic past a trusted friend before anyone else had the chance to read it and he raised an interesting point - ‘when does an expat become an expat?’ The dictionary definition of expat (short for ‘expatriate’ of course) is ‘someone who does not live in their own country’. But surely someone who is only going to live abroad for one or two years won’t have to meet the expense of returning home for a family visit - or is less likely to. It’s certainly a fair point)

I would also add that no one wants to be the teacher who doesn’t have the funds necessary to return home when a family emergency crops up. I’ve worked with plenty of those guys in the past.      

2) A place to call home

I haven’t rented an apartment in Bangkok for over 15 years so I’m a little out of the loop, but talking to expat teachers on social media, the general concensus seems to be that you’ll need to spend at least 8,000 baht a month on rent for a flat in a serviced apartment building with decent facilities, but figure on maybe 10-12,000 baht a month if you want to be near a sky-train station. Then of course there are utility bills to be factored in on top.

Living a moderate expat lifestyle means not having to live in one of those awful buildings where Thais share four to a room, cook in the corridors and beat each other up after a Saturday night drinking session.

3) Shopping basket

When it comes to filling the weekend shopping trolley, there are certain prohibitively expensive things that I won’t buy on principle – cheese being one of them. But that doesn’t mean you want to be brushing flies off chicken pieces at some open-air market. You should always be able to fill your basket with the odd treat or ‘taste of home’.

4) Weekends away

You should be able to drop 10-15,000 baht on perhaps a long weekend at the beach or a national park, where some quirky boutique hotel might set you back 3,000 baht a night plus a couple of low-cost flight tickets with Nok Air. And you should be able to do this several times a year.

Thailand is a huge country with some beautiful places to see once you can tear yourself away from the Pattayas, the Phukets and the Hua Hins.  

5) Weekend eating out

You might survive comfortably during the week by cooking at home, using the school canteen picking up some Thai food or eating in a food court – that’s great! - but you should be able to splash out at the weekends and have a break from your culinary routine. The selection of restaurants in Bangkok seems to get bigger and bigger. Recently, Tex-Mex giant, Taco Bell, opened their first outlet in downtown Bangkok resulting in quite an online food frenzy. Why should others have all the fun (if only to sample the dining experience once) and not you?!

6) A coffee break

I think the cost of a cappuccino and a slice of cake in your average Bangkok coffee shop is nothing short of scandalous but you shouldn’t be depriving yourself of the pleasure whenever the fancy takes you.

7) The boring but essential stuff

A decent annual health insurance package (accepted at all hospitals) and membership to a modern gym with up-to-date equipment are both essential, to me anyway, and I'm betting they are for a good few other folk as well.

Right, it’s time for that well worn (or could that be worn out?) expression ‘to live like a Thai’ to rear its ugly head, because a number of expats will say ‘well, I didn’t come to Thailand to live this kind of lifestyle’.

What kind of lifestyle? We are only talking moderation here.

I’m yet to meet a single expat who has managed to maintain a ‘Thai lifestyle’ in Bangkok for more than a few months unless it’s out of sheer necessity. ‘Living like a Thai’ will always wear you down in the end. I just don’t think it’s in our DNA.

My best Thai friend (a smashing fellow called Ben) earns in the region of 35,000 baht a month, and his girlfriend brings another 20K into the household. We have regular, lengthy conversations on the topics of money and the cost of living in the capital. I know what Ben can and can’t afford each month, how much travelling he can do, the room he rents and the neighborhood he lives in. He seems happy enough with his lot - but he’s Thai. His day-to-day existence is certainly not for me, nor for any other Western expat I would imagine.

Finally, there is always going to be the question of ‘well, how much does this moderate Western expat lifestyle cost. What is this magical figure we should be aiming for?’

It’s a difficult question to answer if only for the reason that some people are far better at managing money than others, but if you pushed me for an answer, I would say around 60-70,000 baht a month. Any less than that in Bangkok and there’s every chance you are going without. It’s becoming an expensive place these days.

Schools and employers take note!




Comments

This remains an interesting topic because it concerns everybody., not just foreign teachers in Thailand, but all of us. How much is "enough" and how much is "too little"? These are questions almost impossible to answer, aren't they? I reckon those who have appeared on the cover of Thailand Tatler magazine would consider a 100 grand a month a peasant salary. That's what these people spend in beauty parlours and on armpit whitening sessions. On the other hand, a fresh faced twenty-something earning 35k a month at a government school with 2 months of paid holidays, will most likely feel like having hit the lottery jackpot, especially after skyping with Hugh, a friend who's also a teacher, but not in Bangkok, but in Blackpool, England.
All things considered, I think it's impossible to put a number on what would guarantee a decent life, since the definition of what is decent varies from person to person.

By Cor Verhoef, Nonthaburi (15th March 2019)

I am currently not working as a teacher in Bangkok, but what often strikes me is that the author more or less claims that one needs a European salary to live a decent life in Krung Thep.

Besides being of the opinion that one can do with much less than 70,000 per month, teaching a common foreign language while making almost three times what the locals make strikes me as odd. Working for a Thai school and making 70,000 THB, good luck with that. The International School route is a much better bet.

I had a blast in Bangkok, made 40-45,000 as a non native speaker, but packed my bags after 20 months. I miss Thailand everyday, but I think I made the right choice.

By Tom, Bangkok (2nd March 2019)

These types of discussion can be kind of fun, but they so frequently turn into individuals "bragging" about their "high" salaries and inferring anyone below themselves on the income ladder are "losers."

Silliness, a Westerner bragging about a salary of 2 to 3 thousand dollars a month is unlikely to impress anyone outside the ESL or fast food industries.

If this was a discussion board for corporate expats in Thailand I am sure there would be comments claiming it was impossible to live in Bangkok on so little as 100,000 Baht a month and one should never accept an assignment for so little.

I have been in LOS for many years and started out working on the local economy teaching English while supporting a wife and two children. It was possible and we had a good, but simple life . Over time I left ESL teaching and moved into other work where I earn more or less an expat (Western income). All things being equal, earning more is better than earning less but all things are never equal (although I have to admit I don't miss the bus commutes to work). Different people have different needs, expectations and opportunities and even the same person has different needs, expectations and opportunities at different stages in life.

Was I a loser when I used to make less that the amounts stated as necessarily in the article and comments? Are those making less than I do today losers?

I think not.

Any attempt to create a generalization in which to try to apply to everyone throughout their lives is destined to fail.

I know pretty well what are my personal needs, expectations and opportunities at this point in life, but I guess I am just not as smart as Micky as I don't really know the needs, expectations and opportunities of every person teaching in Thailand or thinking about teaching here.

Last point, what one wants to earn in any profession and what the market is willing to pay are usually not perfectly aligned.

By Jack, Overlooking the city (23rd February 2019)

Annual trip home including spending dosh?
(Less if you're going to Australia, more if you're going to the US or Canada.)
A 'decent' place to live in the center of one of Asia's most important and interesting cities.
A monthly shop to Villa Supermarket to stock up on goodies from home?
Weekends exploring Thailand's wonderful sights 'several times a year'?
The other weekends eating at Western restaurants?
Starbucks visits without really thinking about the cost?
Comprehensive health insurance? Gym membership?

This isn't a 'moderate Western expat lifestyle' at all. It's a bloody luxurious one.
The only thing missing from the list is car ownership... which should be included even if you don't use it for the commute to work!

Sorry, Mr. Sheehan, your idea of 'moderate' would be 'fucking awesome' to almost every expat living in Bangkok.

My napkin maths puts the above list at about 400,000 minimum. Realistically closer to 500,000 baht.

Trip home 60,000 (if you're single and staying with friends and not doing much else.)
Rent in Bangkok 150,000, with bills 200,000.
Western goodies from Foodland, etc 50,000 a year. (It's much higher for me!)
Weekends away? (5 trips @ 15,000 a go) 80,000 (if you're single!)
Western restaurants? 120 visits a year = 10,000 baht.
Poncy coffee and cake = 10,000 a year. (3 trips a month.)
Gym membership in Bangkok = 30,000 a year.
Good healthcare insurance = 50,000.

And that doesn't even include monthly bills, booze, girls, unexpected expenses and anything else that humans use money for.

Doable if you're a single man. Impossible if you have a girlfriend or a family.

Your "moderate" lifestyle in Bangkok would mean earning in excess of 70,000 baht a month and only then would you have any kind of breathing space... and you wouldn't be saving a penny either. To afford this life you would want to be earning 100,000 baht so at least after all these 'moderate' expenditures are taken into account you can still be saving something.

By Mark, The Land of Barely Concealed Rage. (22nd February 2019)

I think your figures are about right, but I wonder what percentage of non-PGCE qualified teachers actually make 60k+ in Bangkok - probably not many. However, this article is based on the assumption that English teachers in Bangkok are career teachers, planning on spending years or decades teaching here. And I don't think that's the case. If you plan on becoming a career teacher, then doing a PGCE is a no-brainer. If not, then a year or two of teaching English in Bangkok can be a nice adventure and cross-cultural experience, even on a 35-40k salary

By Danny, Bkk (21st February 2019)

Entitled much? If you don't like what you're making, either find something better or go home. Thailand owes you nothing.

By Art, BKK (21st February 2019)

It really surprises me that good teachers here still work for these paltry salaries. If you're shit, fair enough, but I still see decent teachers who are not adapting to the market and are still working for agencies and crappy schools.

I'm perfectly happy in my job. I make good money and I'm treated well. I teach part-time online as extra cash. When I say extra, I make more part-time than teachers making 35k a month. I've asked my online companies if they have full-time positions and they said 'absolutely'. I have no desire to work online full-time as I'm happy. Had I had this opportunity when working for an agency or crappy schools before, I'd have been gone in a heartbeat.

Study the market and check out the options out there. There's no reason for good teachers here to still be making crappy 35-40k salaries.

By Simon, Thailand (21st February 2019)

I completely agree with the comments by Sunshine Sammy and Steve BKK. To live comfortably in Bangkok, a teacher should bring home at least 60,000 a month. Anything less than this means they're selling themselves short.

By George, BKK (21st February 2019)

While these type of articles can be fun, there is not always much relationship between what a teacher would like to earn and the market rate for that person with his or her specific skills, qualifications and experience.

By Jack, The BIg Mango (20th February 2019)

Good article, with some excellent points. I think the 60,000 baht mark is about right for the young enthusiastic bkk teacher with no PGCE- as that should leave you with a little in the kitty some months. After a year or so you should be aiming for 80k. Online lessons and privates are there to boost your salaries too, something very popular with many friends who enjoy spending cash in hand rather than continual trips to the ATM. Anybody on below 50k in BKK needs to get networking and meeting the people at the better schools, as they are the foot in the door. Don't take pride in being a cheap charlie! , take pride in earning to your maximum, enjoying yourself and saving some for your next adventure.

By Sunshine Sammy, Bkk (20th February 2019)

I totally agree with the points listed above. In saying that, it's impossible to do if your working as an agency teacher in a government school on 30-35,000 baht a month paid for only 8 months of the year. Current changes to immigration rules showing retirees need 65,000/month or 800,000 baht in a Thai bank reflects these point listed above and recognises the true costs of living in Bangkok. The 30-35,000/month salary has been stagnant for the past 25 years. Both agencies and schools need to acknowledge these changes so we can live a better lifestyle and achieve some of the goals listed above. As it is, it's impossible.

By SteveBKK, Khlong Thanon Sai Mai Bangkok (20th February 2019)

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