I remember it was so easy to pack my bags and come to Thailand but it is proving much harder to pack them and leave the land of smiles. Now as I enter my fourth year in Thailand I am beginning to wonder If I will ever leave or If I will slowly but surely become stuck here even if I want to move away.
About 2 years ago I was about ready to leave Bangkok; I had had enough of the traffic, pollution and way of life. I might have stayed in Thailand or checked out another country but I wouldn't have gone back to the UK at that point. It was about that time I met a special girl....
Now I still hate the traffic and pollution but have someone amazing to live here with. I bought a condo last year and things are going great. However, my Thai girlfriend lived in New York for a year before I met her and is keen on living overseas again. It has put us in a limbo where we are thinking about leaving Thailand but there are many hurdles to jump and other factors keeping us here.
TEFL teachers in the UK seem to get around $15 -20 per hour or around $25,000 a year for the better jobs which wouldn't be enough to meet the visa requirements to support a Thai partner in the UK. There is the option of getting a better paying job but I would hate to go back into sales and I really can't be doing with sitting in an office in front of a computer all day again. This makes us moving to the UK a possibility but maybe not an easy thing to do.
There is the idea that we can move to another country and I can teach but then what would my girlfriend do? She isn't the type to sit around all day at home and she doesn't fancy living in other Asian countries so I guess it would mean moving to Europe. I would have nothing against a stay in Italy, France or Spain but the problem comes to my girlfriend's work and visa opportunities. She worked in a Thai restaurant in New York and she wouldn't go back to that kind of job again. Maybe a job at a company who need a Thai speaker but I imagine the opportunities for that are very slim.
Then there is the lifestyle here in Thailand which is very relaxed. Some of my friends think I'm not really working hard and being here is a bit of a jolly. To be honest in some aspects I would agree with them. My working week at school is 28 hours including office hours and lunch breaks. I love this way of working. Working 9-5 now seems like a stupid thing to do and if I moved away from Thailand I'm certain I would have to work harder and longer. The thought of leaving this style of living is hard to embrace and a reason to stay.
Having family on the opposite side of the world is not an easy thing to deal with. Right now I see my family around twice a year for a couple of holidays and speak on Skype. If I had the chance to see my family more often then of course I would take it but then it means my girlfriend wouldn't see her family so it's a double edged sword. We stay or we go and either way one of us sees a lot less of our family. My girlfriend's family relies on her a lot, we would need to think a lot about this before leaving Thailand.
My girlfriend and I both have condos in Thailand and whilst it is possible to rent them out whilst we leave, it is a hassle. My condo will be paid off in around 3 years so this point is maybe a better time for us to leave as until then I would need the security of either it being rented out at a high price or using it as a place to live. I don't regret buying a condo but it certainly has meant that I can't be as flexible as I might want to be.
So why would I want to leave Thailand and its relaxed atmosphere? Well there are a few reasons and although I like living in Thailand many of these reasons are becoming important in my life.
Firstly money is an issue. Over 3 years I have noticed that prices have increased and despite recent news that Bangkok is only 74th in the list of most expensive world cities, I still find I have to think more about buying things than I did when in the UK . You can argue about salaries and cost of living but I only made around an extra 20K a month in the UK than I do now in Thailand and felt I could spend more without worrying.
I think this goes to show that the day to day costs of Thailand are cheap but when you need to buy something it hits your pocket more than living in the UK. If it isn't these expenses that put me off then it is the long term financial implications of living here that do.
I guess most people take pensions and free health care in the UK for granted. You couldn't live here off just a standard UK pension but it would sure help to get around 7,000 Baht a week if you had a full pension (although I'm sure I heard about deductions for those living overseas?).
Let's add on health insurance for which, as a 28 year old male, I was quoted 40,000 Thai baht a year - this will only get higher and is already over a month's salary for many people. My company doesn't offer a pension for foreign staff so my savings would have to be invested and we all know that can go wrong. I'm thinking it's best to spend a few years elsewhere and get these benefits and come back later in life.
Next there is work. I enjoy teaching but I wouldn't say it is my calling. Am I just teaching to stay in Thailand? Not at the moment but I could see that happening in the future if I stay. The thought of working in a school at the age of 40 or 50 really doesn't appeal to me. Maybe I could see myself teaching a few hours a week at a university but I feel I would like a new challenge at some point and I'm afraid that's not really possible in Thailand. There are a few other non-teaching jobs here but nothing that stands out. A move away would give me the chance to do something different.
This isn't just a decision for me, it would also be for my girlfriend. I have huge belief in her ability and feel it is being wasted here in Thailand. She has a lot of potential and I feel she would thrive in a different environment. She shouldn't be stuck behind a desk making 25K a month - she would be a great asset to any company and I'm sure leaving Thailand would open up many opportunities for her to study and work.
Another major point is thinking about quality of life. It is hard to compare between different countries when you earn different salaries but I would say I have a good quality of life here, although it could be better.
Sure my condo is nicer than the room I rented in London and I can eat in restaurants more often here in Thailand but you can't tell me that Bangkok is a better place than London. To be honest Bangkok isn't in the same league as London and my girlfriend feels the same comparing Bangkok and New York.
As a first time visitor to South East Asia, it is so different and amazing but now I find it incredibly boring and lacking in things I want like parks, attractions and decent public transport. I could move to a different region but I'm not giving up a higher salary to go live in the sticks where I would probably get bored after a few months.
Looking further into the future I want to be able to retire and live a full life. If I stayed in Thailand and saved maybe 20K THB a month I still wouldn't have enough to live on, even if I invested and got lucky. I already mentioned pensions but I feel living elsewhere would allow me to save more or be supported by my company to start saving.
Finally one of the reasons I came to Thailand was for an adventure and I fear this adventure is nearing its end. There is a new journey to start and I'm hopeful its one that can begin but for now I'm feeling a bit stuck.
Maybe it's a consequence of growing up, you have less freedom and can't do everything you want and I'll need to work harder to give myself the opportunity of heading home and trying something new.
All I know is I don't want to be the guy who stayed too long or regretted missing out on a new experience. The world is big and I love being in Thailand but I hope in the next few years I make it out and can come back sometime in the future to enjoy this fantastic place.
If you enjoyed this blog, check out my website - Life in a New Country
Richard is co-author of a great new book on planning a life in Thailand.
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