LOVE IN THE GHETTO
The Story of Expats in Thailand
A recently published international survey on the quality of life and level of integration of expats across the globe has rated Thailand as one of the best places for foreigners to live. However, the survey has also thrown up more than a few surprises about the foreigners who make a home for themselves in the land of smiles. Read more here...
According to HSBC Bank International’s second annual Expat Experience Survey, Thailand ranked third overall in terms of standard of living for expats with only Canada and Australia faring better. However, a closer look at the individual scores in the survey uncovers some interesting facts.
A total of 3,146 expats from a wide range of countries and 30 different industry sectors took part in the survey, which compared their quality of life and level of integration as they came to grips with living in 50 different countries.
Based on the findings, expats clearly find it easy to settle in Thailand, which ranked number 1 for finding somewhere to live. Organising healthcare, accommodation, entertainment and social life in Thailand were all ranked 2nd in the table, while there were also top 5 rankings for Thailand in organising school for children, food, clothing, healthcare, working hours and hobbies.
Thailand was also ranked as both the friendliest place to live and the easiest country in which to find love for expats. While, in general, only a conservative 20% of all expats said they had become romantically involved whilst living abroad, this figure rose dramatically to 47% in the land of smiles.
This could help explain why expats tend to stay longer in Thailand than almost every other country. More than half (53%) of the expats in Thailand had been in the country for over 5 years, making it the second highest in this category. With so many foreigners living in their country, it is perhaps not surprising that Thais account for the largest proportion of long-term expats. A staggering 82% have lived abroad for 5 years or more.
In general, expats in Thailand said that even though they earn less than they could in other countries, the relatively low cost and high standard of living together with the friendliness of the locals were all contributing factors to their contentment.
However, the top two reasons given by expats for staying in Thailand related to their careers with length of contract coming out on top at 53%, followed by career prospects, which scored 47%.
Other reasons were more personal than professional with better environment / quality of life for kids (35%), lifestyle (28%) and the weather (24%) completing the top 5.
Interestingly, Thailand also came top of the pile for making friends but ranked only 16th for making local friends. The survey further showed that expats in Thailand rarely joined local community groups, and came bottom of the class for learning the local language.
The results of the survey indicate that, despite its high number of expats, Thailand remains more of a salad bowl than a melting pot. The likes of Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket, in particular, are certainly cosmopolitan, but are they harbouring ghetto cultures? The survey would seem to suggest so.
My own experiences would echo this to a large extent. Thais are certainly very friendly, but my circle of friends remains almost exclusively populated by farangs – even after 10 years and with reasonable proficiency in the language.
Even though I have excellent relationships with my wife’s family as well as my Thai neighbours, colleagues, students and clients, these friendships rarely extend to socialising together.
With its close proximity to a mosque, a church and a Chinese temple, not to mention a healthy blend of farangs from various continents, Isaan migrants, Thai Muslims, Chinese, Indians and one or two Bangkokians all living together in seamless harmony, my soi is about as cosmopolitan as it gets. However, Soi Thaniya (Japanese), Sukhumvit 3 and 5 (Middle Eastern and African), various pockets of Silom and Sukhumvit (farangs), and Yaowarat (Chinese) are just a few of Bangkok’s many ghettos.
Come to live in Thailand and you will find casual friendships and even love with relative ease. However, as warm and tolerant as Thais most definitely are, meaningful integration remains all too elusive for far too many farangs.
Paul Snowdon – December 4, 2009
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