Friday, 20 August 2010

Moving to Thailand: Steve, Thailand Musings

It has been a while since I ran a couple of interviews on aspiring expats and their plans to move out to Thailand.

I featured Talen and Martin, two very prominent bloggers and after a long delay, mainly, nay, entirely down to me, next up to the plate is Steve from Thailand Musings.

So without further's Steve...

You are living in the USA at present but with aspirations of moving to Thailand. What is it that makes you want to move to Thailand?
I’ve been fascinated with Thailand since my first visit there back in 1997. I love the food, the culture, the pretty girls, the weather, the pace of life, the diversity of locales (from the islands and beaches in the south like Koh Phangan to metropolitan Bangkok to the mountains in the north) and the fact that everything is fairly close.
The fact that I now have a Thai wife is of course a huge deciding factor, since she wants to be back with her friends and family. Even so, I’m certain I would be planning the move if I was still single, in fact I probably would have made it already.
Other things that have factored into my decision is the lower cost of living in Thailand, the availability of western foods and medical care (compared to other SE Asian countries), the freedom of life in Thailand compared with the West and the adventure factor of the whole move.
When did you first release your desire to live in Thailand full time?
I believe it was first released when I started Thailand Musings (the blog) back in September of 2006.
How often do you visit Thailand as an expat?
As I said earlier I have been coming to Thailand since 1997. Some years it is once and some years more. I haven’t kept count, but I’m sure I’ve made a couple dozen trips over the years and have probably spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 18-24 months in Thailand total.
Recently we haven’t been back in almost 18 months due to Golf’s pregnancy and our attempts to save enough to make the move full time. At this point it doesn’t look as if we will return until we are ready to make the move and that currently looks to be sometime in 2011.
It's clear you are carefully planning your move as proven when you went public with your estimation of start-up costs for moving to Bangkok late last year with this post. Has your thinking, and/or the figures involved, changed since initially writing the post?
My thinking hasn’t changed much since writing that post as I am still carefully planning the move, our expenses for the move and our monthly income/budget once we make the move. If anything I have become more detailed with this planning since the birth of our daughter.
One thing that has changed is the figures for the move. At the time I proposed US$90,000 as the amount we would like to have in the bank prior to moving. I would still love to have that amount before moving as it would simplify some aspects of the move, but Golf and I have come to an understanding that somewhere between $30-40,000 will be sufficient. Obviously we will have to give up some things and compromise on others, but ultimately we both feel that we will be happier making the move earlier with less money than waiting until we have more.

You mentioned that you would consider working as a teacher whilst freelancing. Many expats living in Thailand feel 'stuck' in teaching or are seeking extra money - for their reference can you explain exactly what you mean by freelancing and the kind of money you believe you can make doing it?
When I say ‘freelancing’ I’m referring to all of the possible online avenues to income (and there are many). Much of my current savings and expendable income comes from the websites I own and those same sites should provide enough for us to live on in Thailand. The whole question of whether or not to teach for me comes down to how much money does one need to be happy? I mean I’m currently making about $2000 a month from the website so obviously that would be enough to live on and save a small bit, but the extra $1000 a month from teaching would go a long way in Thailand.
So, I have the websites which earn money primarily from advertising and affiliate commissions. That’s one way to go if you are looking to create a passive income stream. I also do some freelance writing on occasion for several sites. Although I’m not crazy about this, it does provide a nice additional income and if I were to pursue it 8 hours a day it would pay as well as teaching English in Bangkok. You can get started with freelance writing at a lot of different sites, but the ones I’ve used successfully are oDesk and a small content provider site called The Content Authority. oDesk is an auction type format so it takes a bit of effort to build a portfolio and client base there and initially you’ll get paid peanuts. The Content Authority pays based on your writing skill and it’s not too difficult for a native English speaker with decent writing ability to get to the point where you’re making $0.015/word which is not great, but enough to make it worthwhile if you can write fairly fast.
Depending on your skill set and interests there are also plenty of opportunities to make money through programming, graphic design, web design, search engine optimization and many other skills that are not necessarily location dependant. While I don’t freelance in any of these areas myself, it does appear that the pay is better than that of a freelance writer, so if you have skills in these areas you may want to look into it. In most of these cases it does take some time to get traction, but once you have a handle on where to get your customers it can work well as a side income and even as your entire income, depending on your needs.
At this point I do not expect to need to teach, the combination of my online pursuits and Golf’s employment should cover our expenses quite well.
You recent had a baby girl (congratulations again!) which is one of your main motivations for moving to Thailand. Why do you feel your daughter will benefit from living in Thailand as opposed to the USA? Which, ironically, is a country where, ironically, many Thais would like to reside in.
Yes it is quite ironic isn’t it? None of Golf’s Thai friends here in the U.S. have any plans or desires to return to Thailand except to visit. Apparently the U.S. is still seen as the land of milk and honey for many. I wonder if they would feel the same if they felt they could move back to Thailand and keep a U.S. type salary?
First off, let me say that as an American I am very proud of my country and the people who live here. I know we get painted as villains and bullies throughout some parts (much?) of the world, however these things that cause so much hatred towards the country are the result of the decisions of a small majority (government) of the country.
That being said, I personally am not happy with the direction the country has been taking over the past decade or so. Costs for everything are rising, jobs are disappearing, health care is turning into a shambles, taxes are on the upswing (and no end in sight there) and ironically the “land of freedom” is losing more and more freedoms every time you turn around.
Add to this the death of the family in the U.S. and the lack of compassion and respect that I see, especially among much of the youth and I feel that an upbringing in a country such as Thailand will be superior in terms of family connection and possibly even financial reward.
Let’s face it, Asia as a whole is definitely on an upswing in terms of growth and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. Thailand has China as one of its major trade partners and this should be very beneficial for the country for a long time to come. The world that my daughter will live in is not the same world that I grew up in and I hope to give her the opportunity to be able to choose between West and East, which is really only possible if she grows up In Thailand. If it turns out that I am wrong it will be easier for her to come back to America for University and a career than it will be for her to move to Thailand if she was raised in the States.

In the past you've mentioned that you have children from a previous relationship. There are many expatriates in Thailand that are in the same boat, how does being far far from other children weigh on your mind?
Actually the children are now 13 and 15, so in all likelihood they will be nearly adults once we make the move. So, being so far away from them doesn’t weigh on my mind much. In reality I am hoping I can get them over to Thailand for an extended period to expand their horizons and give them a view of the world outside their sheltered U.S. existence and upbringing.
Currently the older boy is totally on board with coming to visit for an extended time, the younger not as much, but that could simply be a function of his age. It could (and I hope it does) change once he is older.
Thailand is somewhat more stable now, though as long-term observers are aware political feuds do not easily disappear in the country as it seems current tensions may flare up again. How the current political situation and recent events in Bangkok - the city you are planning to move to - affect your decision to emigrate to Thailand?
Honestly it didn’t affect us much at all. The recent events were contained to a small area of the city and most of the people we know that live in Bangkok were completely unaffected by the turmoil. Thailand as a country has a history of many coups so it isn’t like much has changed.
Considering the portability of my income we could always head north to Chiang Mai if Bangkok became destabilized for a long period of time, which is not likely in my opinion.
Have you begun tackling the Thai language given that you’re planning to move out here? If so what techniques have you used and with what success? If not yet, how are you planning to approach the issue?
I have not begun tackling the language issue yet. I have a very rudimentary understanding of Thai at this point, but I do pick up languages pretty quickly when immersed. Golf and I have the agreement that as long as we are in the U.S. she will focus on learning English (which she has done incredibly well) and once we move to Thailand I will focus on learning Thai. It made sense because here she has plenty of people to practice with and there I will have plenty of people to practice with.
I plan on enrolling in a language school to begin my study of Thai and may supplement that with private lessons initially to get up to speed as quickly as possible. Once I get to the intermediate stage I believe it will simply be a matter of practice, practice, practice.
Do you have any additional advice for those considering a full-time move to Thailand?
Be sure that you have the resources, financial, emotional and psychological, necessary to deal with living in a country that is vastly different from your own. Make a plan for your move, but keep in mind that it is quite likely you will need to adapt that plan once the move is made, sometimes dramatically and sometimes frequently. Keep an open mind and be adaptable.
My thanks Steve who turned around these answers very quickly.

There is certainly a lot of interesting content here. One thing that certainly strikes me about him is he is a meticulous planner who certainly knows what he wants - perhaps the polar opposite to myself, it takes all sorts after all.

Good luck with the plans Steve, look forward to reading with great interest how the savings/budgeting is going over on your blog.


DanPloy said...

I don't want to rain on anyone's parade but to work in Thailand, regardless of where your customer is based, you do need to get a work permit.

Whilst I personally know of one person who works without one, (writing software for companies based in the UK and Ireland), and I am sure there are many others, if you do get found out you can say bye bye to Thailand, for good.

Lloyd said...

This is incorrect, a person is able to "work", or more specifically provide a service(s), remotely for an entity(ies) in another country provided that company has no business operations in Thailand nor is it an international entity(ies) with "significant" holdings in Thailand, the person providing the service does not make claim to operate a "business" or "work" in Thailand (fake invoices etc), provides service(s) in a manner that does not define the work as being conducted from or by a Thai company or person(s), the services are not provided from a premises registered as a place of business (this actually includes hotels) and the person pays appropriate taxes in the country for which the services are provided.

There are likely other laws that are applicable to the service provider(s) in the country where the business is registered, for instance in the UK a tax registration number is required on all invoices where the work has been conducted within Thailand as part of joint taxation and trade agreements.

Steve said...

I'm not always so meticulous in planning and honestly if it weren't for Golf and now Alivia I would have been of the third variety as well and would have left for Thailand several years ago and damn the consequences. Of course when you have others depending on you it's not as much the adventure (though it will certainly be that) as it is when you're on your own. I've never worried much about my own comfort or ability to scrape by, but I do worry about their comfort. Fortunately I am young enough still that a few years delay won't be that big a deal and yes the lowered stress will be nice.

I've worked as a teacher here in the States many years ago and it wasn't for me at that time. I'm not certain if it is the American students or my youth at the time that made it a bust. It could be that teaching Thai students with the benefit of my (questionable) wisdom and experience could make for a much more successful go around this time. A movie about me would be cool though :>)

Steve said...


Thanks so much for contacting me to do the interview and for taking the time to share my story with your readers. It was actually quite fun answering the questions and gave me a bit to think about as well. I hope your readers enjoy it and get something useful from my own plans and thoughts.

DanPloy said...

Hello Lloyd,

I stand corrected. Your precise answer shows you have looked into this in some detail. My comment was based on a casual question to a lawyer during my work permit application but they did not go into details with their answer as it was not relevant and no doubt they would have wanted to charge me for their time!

I don't know if this is of interest to Jon's readership but I wonder how this affects anyone receiving income from, say, Google Ads on their website. Would this income not be liable for Thai taxes in which case you would need a work permit. Everyone can ignore this question if it is of no interest and I don't need the answer.

Vern said...

Great read! Thanks guys.

Storm said...

I admired Steve and what he is doing, I'm doing the move & planning myself at the moment.
Steve with his plans & details has help me with my dirrection on things that I have not thought about.
I'm looking forward to the day that I can have a coffee with him and chat - one to one!!!
Storm from down under

Paul said...

STTTEEEEVVVEEE and GGOOOOLLLLFFF... Sawadee krup. Sabai dee mai??? I enjoyed ur interview...!!! How's it feel like to be on the hot seat. This is ur friend Paul from Chicago who was in Bkk and is going back soon... I hope to hear more from u and the family. It would be really surreal to meet u in BKK sonetime....Who know...??? Take care....Stay in touch...555

Lloyd said...

It is an interesting question that people doing business in most western countries would most certainly know the answer to, or their accountant would, yet in Thailand people seem to think they can just ignore the legalities and avoid taxes and social obligations etc.

I had previously answered this in detail on Mike from "Thailand-blogs" site, all money paid into a Thai Bank account from foreign banks for whatever reason is subject to very detailed reporting requirements and duty(ies) and taxes where applicable. All money if used for commercial purposes or to provide a lifestyle for a Thai national in lue of a wage or salary, or for a foreign citizen staying within the Kingdom on any of the Non-Immigration visas, is suject to taxes and duty(ies). Believe it or not everyone receiving money from their foreign partner(s)s is required to report the money and pay applicable taxes etc.

This des not mean all money send into Thailand is taxes however if you do not report it and the Government decides to audit your account you could be fined large sums with little or no recourse under Thai law!

Steve said...

Hey Storm,

Nice to see you hear at Jon's blog and I have to say you're making me feel very good knowing that my own efforts and writings have been able to help you with your plans and dreams.

The day for us to have a coffee will come sooner than both of us think and just so you know I'm a bit addicted to Black Canyon :)

Steve said...

PAAAAUUUULLLL!!! Sabai dee kup. Glad you liked the interview, thanks go to Jon for his graciousness in inviting me to answer his well thought out and crafted questions. Being on the hot seat wasn't nearly as strange as reading the replies to the interview. Fortunately it appears to be well received :>D

I hope you plans take you back to Thailand during the winter months in IL. The surreal will surely take place as there's little doubt that we will be back in Thailand and sooner rather than later.

Jon said...

Lloyd, Dan,

Thanks for bringing up a discussions which affects a great many expats out here. Personally, I have always been able to go for the work permit option which, having a family as I do, is always preferential to the 3 month visa runs.

Aside from the legalities, it is clear that the issue is one that the authorities do not like. They prefer expats to be here working, or on a retirement visa, as opposed to a large, unknown grey market long-term temps.

Residing on temporary visa is down at one's own risk, for example in 2008 the government cut the maximum length of stay for anyone crossing the border by foot in 14 days, though this was subsequently reversed, while there is often talk of limiting back-to-back 3 month visas to two stays (totally six months) after which the visitor is not permitted back in the country for an additional 3 months.

For me, a work permit is peace of mind, I couldn't live here without that.

Of course as a 'freelancer' the work permit is very structured and necessitates that the applicant is either employed - and requires written confirmation of this - or, in the case of a writer, has published a minimum of 3 printed articles in the Thai press per year.

Three is the minimum and that in itself doesn't guarantee a visa.

The best solution for being a written here is to work for a Thai-based publisher, as I do, or perhaps explore the possibilities of a large monthly income which I believed when coupled with marriage/children can give the applicant a one year stay visa.

Interesting discussion, particular Google Ad tax.

Jon said...

Hi Steve

Thank you for the content. Is particularly interesting to me (as both a freelance writer and father) to see your thoughts on living out here, particularly estimated costings. That leaves me in no doubt of its value to those aspiring to live out here.

I will draw up a subsequent post to discuss some your thoughts in more detail as I wanted to leave the interview, and content, as is without my commentary.

Thought-provoking material indeed.

Thanks again & good luck with the continued saving/planning!

Jon said...

Hi Paul,

I did indeed switch from a initial stint teaching to freelancing. I'm saving my thoughts for a separate post but I do think it is a better option that teaching, for me and others too. I started from a very small base so it was initially tough but have built up quite a lot of momentum...but as I say, this is for another post.

Thanks for stopping by with your interesting comment.

Terry Woodcock said...

Hey Steve, once again you have re-affirmed my decision and plan to move to Thailand through your interview. Good words. Thanks for consenting to the interview and giving all of us a perspective into how you plan to initiate your move with golf and the baby. I hope my fiancee' in Thailand supports me during my time of transition (planning the move) as Golf has been there for you. Ah! ..true love.
Terry W.

Steve said...

Glad the content helped you and your readers Jon and I am anxiously awaiting the follow up post with your commentary on my responses.

Talen said...

Great interview Jon! I have no doubt Steve and Golf will do just fine....Steve has a good head on his shoulders and it sounds like everything is planned out well. Good Luck Steve and hurry up and get over here already!

Martyn said...

I've always been impressed with Steve's writing style, he lays out some great posts and is also excellent when commenting on other blogs. I don't know what educational background Steve has had but I'd guess it was at a high level. Reading his answers to the questions show what an educated man Steve is. Jon you tossed Steve some great questions but he stood his ground and knocked them straight out of the ball park.

Steve's earnings from blogging (I believe he has 35 sites) are awesome, $2,000 dollars a month is a mouth watering amount. That takes a clever mind and a whole lot of effort to achieve. Steve appears to have both and I wish him all the best with his family's plans to move to Thailand next year.

If I had $2,000 a month to live on in Thailand I'd have to rent a room with a detox centre and a alcohol rehabilitation unit either side of it.

Steve said...

Trust me Imothy I am working as quickly as ever possible to get Golf, Alivia and I over there. We will see you soon no doubt.

Steve said...

Well thanks Martyn, I've always been pretty impressed with your writing style as well. I wish I could inject humor into my posts like you do. As to educational background...BS in Education (1990), BS in Computer Science (2004) and still studying in the school of hard knocks.

The effort in building my empire (mwahaha) was well worth it considering the end result will be a move to Thailand. I've had many folks around me call me crazy for working as hard as I do, but let's see who's crazy when I'm enjoying Thailand 24x7 and they are still slumped in their tiny little cubes (I'm certain you know what I mean Martyn).

It looks to me as if your empire is growing as well so maybe $2,000 a month isn't that far off. And if it wasn't for Golf I would need the detox and alcohol rehab as well. Maybe we could split the cost?