Richard McCully

Pocket money

The impact of a weak Thai Baht for foreign teachers in Thailand


Over the past few months the Thai Baht has become weaker against many other currencies. This has had many implications for Thailand as a country and for the people who live and work here. I want to focus on foreign teachers in Thailand and how the exchange rate changes might affect them.

Firstly it is important to mention that each teacher has different circumstances and the possible impacts might not affect them at all. However, there are many issues to consider.

New Arrivals

For new arrivals the major benefit is that they will have a few extra Baht to use when they arrive. A lot of people seem to arrive on a tight budget and the better exchange rate might mean they are a little bit more comfortable.

The alternative argument is that people looking at teaching overseas will check salaries and compare them using their home country's currency. Thailand is already behind most other countries in terms of wages and the recent weakening of the Baht could make Thailand seem less attractive to potential new arrivals.

Student Loans

I graduated from my UK university in 2010 and have to make monthly repayments towards my student loan. At the moment it is around 1,500 Baht a month so not a huge outgoing. Some of my colleagues from America have told me about their repayments and the amounts are much higher.

When we look at how many Baht we get for a USD or GBP it may have only increased by 5 - 7 baht but this could lead to a huge increase in payments on a high level loan if you are reliant on your Thai salary.

Of course countries like South Korea are very popular for people looking to save money in order to pay off loans and debt. The further weakening of the Baht is likely to mean recent graduates are put off from coming to Thailand in favour of other, higher paying countries.

Travel

I'm planning my trip back to the UK in April next year. At the moment most of my savings are in Thai Baht after working here for over 2 years. The cost of this trip is a major concern to me. The cost of the flight is almost half a months wages and then we add spending money to that.

I know some people that don't go back to their home country every year ( or at all ) but for me I want to visit friends and family at least once a year. I'm lucky enough to have people in the UK to go and stay with for free which helps a lot. However, there is only so much I can accept from them for free without feeling very guilty. The devaluation of the Thai Baht might make teachers here more reliant on friends and family for accommodation, food and trips when they go back home. Some people may even be priced out from going home completely - a situation for many which is unacceptable.

Cost of Items

The overall economy is suffering in part from the devaluation of the Baht. Recent reports show that ready-made food from local stores has increased by 10 - 20 Baht over the past 6 months. I get the impression that many businesses here decide to raise prices when business is tough. They feel that fewer sales at a higher price is a sensible business model.

This short term view from businesses means that everyday costs are rising and you'll have less money in your back pocket at the end of the month.

Low level inflation is a good thing for an economy and in the long term would be considered healthy. However, we all know wages haven't risen for most teachers over the years. It is fair to say that paying an extra 10 Baht for your dinner won't break the bank but I think we might see prices increasing in other areas.

Tourist areas will see the exchange rate changes as an opportunity to increase prices as foreigners now have more money to spend. This will mean even holidays in Thailand will be more expensive than in the past as locals will presume you are a rich foreigner with thousands of Dollars to spend.

The weak currency will also make foreign imports more expensive to buy in Thailand. I think many companies won't take a hit on their profit margins and will pass the increased cost onto customers. With import taxes already very high this means that your favourite treat from back home or new designer dress is now even more expensive than in the past.

Benefits

There are some benefits to a weaker currency. Retired people living here will be finding a few extra Baht in their account when their pensions arrive. With a 10% change vs GBP and USD this could mean a noticeable difference for many people.

Also some people are paid in foreign currencies and are benefiting from the weak Baht. International companies sometimes pay in the employee's home currency but there are other ways to get a USD / GBP salary. Online English teachers are often paid in USD and many people are doing this to earn a part time income.

Future

I keep reading that the economy will improve and stabalise by the end of the year. I think we know there are lots of internal and external factors influencing the economy in Thailand at the moment and it might be some time before it is stable again.

For now the exchange rate change isn't affecting life in regards to our our spending within Thailand, we only notice it when leaving the country or buying imported goods. However, a much bigger change and we may start seeing people leaving Thailand or choosing other locations to work in the TEFL industry.


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Comments

@ Lloyd - I mention British and American people to give an example in relation to student loans but I'm sure the same applies to people of other nationalities here when sending money home for whatever reason. I'm from the UK but know that people from Canada, Australia , South Africa etc also struggle with flights home and spending money when planning a trip home so I'm sure the blog is relevant for them too.

@ Philip - 75 Baht to a Pound would be a scary thought, although I guess prices were a bit cheaper 5 - 10 years ago so people could save a bit more every month. Even so, at that rate I wouldn't be able to fly home without major cutbacks.

By Richard, Bangkok (22nd August 2015)

You say "I want to focus on foreign teachers in Thailand", but you only mention the British and Americans, with the main focus on the British. So maybe you should rename the post, as you are really just reporting on British people who don't have a secondary income stream from overseas.

By Lloyd, Bangkok (21st August 2015)

Thank you Richard for another interesting blog on a topic that's always dear to a teacher's heart.

You've reminded me that I must get around to doing a blog on 'the annual trip home' - a yearly expense that many of us have to bear and one that can certainly put a strain on the old coffers.

I'm not an economics expert by any means and I think even the experts struggle to forecast how the Thai baht will perform. To me they often get it wrong. However, I do keep a close eye on exchange rates.

You've been in Thailand for less than 5 years Richard so you've watched the baht go down to about 55-56 to the pound after several years of fluctuating around the 48-50 mark.

For those of us who have been here longer, the situation has been far worse in terms of exchange rates when returning home for a family visit. For most of the nineties and the noughties, the baht was between 65 and high 70s to the pound.

Imagine going back to the UK and having to fork out about 75 baht to buy a pound - but I've certainly been there and done that a few times. It really does make returning home an expensive trip.

By Philip, Samut Prakarn (21st August 2015)

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