You are here
Top 6 reasons why Thailand is the best destination to live and work
Between the world-class food, beautiful beaches and laid-back attitude, there are a dozen different reasons why Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. What many people perhaps don’t realise, however, is the fact that Thailand is also a great place for expatriates, returnees and highly skilled Thais to live and earn a living.
In terms of its economy, Thailand is in the green for the time being. The Kingdom is currently the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia behind Indonesia. Additionally, according to the International Monetary Fund, Thailand achieved a GDP of US$455 billion in 2017, making it the eighth largest economy in all of Asia. In an early 2019 report, Bloomberg even said that Thailand’s “foreign reserves are the envy of the emerging-market world, the lure of its beaches and nightlife keeps tourists rolling in, and exports to other economies in the region held up well last year even though trade with China is now struggling amid a slowdown there and tariff tensions with the US”.
The local government is not resting on its laurels, either. Thailand 4.0 is a government initiative that’s set to transform major cities into digital and technological hubs, thus creating new businesses and more job opportunities. The government is also invested heavily on the development of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), with the hopes of turning the eastern provinces into a leading economic zone in ASEAN.
Kristoffer Paludan, Managing Director of Michael Page Thailand sees the advantages that Thailand 4.0 is bringing to the economy. “Thailand 4.0 is absolutely having a positive impact on the Thai economy. It is a major growth area and is increasing the needs of businesses for skilled labor, especially in the functional areas of engineering, digital technology, supply chain and manufacturing. It’s also bringing impressive investments into the overall economy.”
However, the Kingdom does have a few factors working against it. First, the country has been plagued by political instability since its first election in 2011, which was followed by the military coup later in 2014. The coup saw Prayuth Chan-Ocha, leader of the Thai junta, installed as the prime minister. In a March 2019 article, Financial Review even stated that the recent election “does nothing to address the country's weak foundations of democracy”. Second, falling productivity and a rapidly ageing population threaten to make the country old before it is rich. Declining investment, too, has seen Thailand’s attractiveness drop below some of its peers.
In spite of these push factors, Thailand continues to be a draw in Southeast Asia, especially as a place to earn a living for expats, local and returning Thais alike. Here are a couple of compelling reasons why the Land of Smiles isn’t just the ideal holiday destination, but the Land of Opportunities also.
1. A business hub in Southeast Asia
Thailand is not foreign to some of the biggest international companies in the world. Bangkok’s central business district is home to regional branches of international banks, such as Barclays, Crédit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and HSBC, as well as numerous companies from the tourist or transport industries (especially airlines).
Thailand’s position as the second largest economy in the region is also bolstered by the fact that it has a relatively small yet burgeoning startup scene. While not quite as active as its neighbours, such as Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam, the local startup scene does show promise.
As of November 2018, Thailand had a total of 102 funded startups, which raised an estimated disclosed funds of over US$280 million in 2017. Sectors that are booming in this regard include e-logistics, fintech, as well as e-commerce. Some of the biggest tech companies are investing heavily in the country as well, with Google opening its Academy Bangkok – A Google Space, Facebook opening the Facebook Developer Circles, as well as LINE opening LINE SCALEUP — all poised to become regional hubs to spur innovation.
The Thai government is also chipping in to establish the country’s startup ecosystem. There’s the launch of the 200,000sqm True Digital Park in March 2019, which hosts some of the biggest startup players in the country. 2018 also saw further growth in government support, with about US$312 million pumped into the startup community, complete with benefits like incentive packages, different funding options, as well as smart visas for those looking to venture into the industry.
2. A thirst for highly skilled talents
Even though 32% of Thailand’s labour force work in the agriculture sector, they only really contribute to 11.6% of the country’s GDP. That is why the Thai government has refocused its efforts in recent years to bolster Thailand 4.0.
The push for digital transformation will no doubt spur the demand for digital talents, both from within and without. For example, roles that never existed before, such as digital marketing, performance marketing, CRM, SEO and SEM, will be in high demand. The growing importance of big data in the economy will also create a significant need for digital professionals that are well versed with big data analysis.
Furthermore, with the government’s emphasis on infrastructure, foreign MNCs will likely move in to launch their operations. This will lead to an increase in hiring activity. Public and foreign direct investment also means that there is going to be a need for finance professionals, especially those with hands-on experience. Locals and returning Thai professionals might have a slight edge over expats in this regard, considering the fact that finance professionals with knowledge of local tax and compliance regulations will be key.
At Michael Page, Paludan is seeing this high demand first-hand, in the form of increasingly high salary offers. “It’s not easy for businesses to find the talent they need, so many organisations, especially digital and tech companies are competing for professionals from the same talent pool. This is driving salaries increasingly higher as people with these specialised skills are in very high demand.”
3. A competitive advantage for Thais
Speaking again of Thailand 4.0, it is likely that companies will hire expatriates to set up a strong foundation within these high tech areas — at least for the time being. In the long run, demand for highly skilled locals will increase due to several reasons.
One, locals tend to have cheaper compensation packages, which means that Thai employers have more incentives to hire them. Companies also don’t have to apply for visas or work permits for locals, which makes the hiring process much smoother for the employer. Finally, when it comes to workplace culture, hiring locals means that there aren’t any cultural barriers at the workplace to relearn — it’s plug and play, basically. This means shorter recruitment cycles for the employer, as well as a real competitive advantage for highly skilled Thais looking for work.
4. Low cost of settling down
Thailand is surrounded by some of the most expensive cities in the world for expats. According to a recent Mercer’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report, eight of the 10 most expensive cities for expats are Asian cities. Closest to Thailand are Shenzhen (which ranks 10th), Singapore (which ranks third) and Hong Kong (which, unsurprisingly, ranks No. 1).
Thailand, on the other hand, is more affordable and easier for expats to settle down and find accommodation, according to HSBC’s 2015 Expat Explorer Survey. In a quote that appeared on BBC, Dean Blackburn, head of HSBC Expat, commented that “Thailand is a strong option for expats keen to get on the property ladder”. Even if you are a Thai national who is currently living overseas, and you are thinking of returning to Thailand to work, your money is going to be worth a lot more upon your return.
Here’s a comparison: the monthly rent for a 85sqm furnished accommodation in a normal area in Bangkok is around THB 21,428 (US$698). Comparatively, the monthly rent for a similarly sized furnished accommodation in a normal area in Singapore is around S$2,511 (US$1,852).
5. Low cost of living
When it comes to salary, the common belief among expats and returnees alike is that you earn a lot less in Thailand compared to your peers overseas. However, that is not always true.
Thanks to Thailand 4.0, digital jobs are now in high demand and low supply, which means that the value of the product is increasing along with the price. For example, a recent survey found that digital salaries rose faster in 2014 alone than in the previous five years. The pace of growth, too, is set to increase. A digital marketing manager, for example, can expect THB 80,000. Even at the entry level, the average salaries have jumped from THB 40,000 in 2018 to THB55,000–60,000 this year.
You don’t have to live in Thailand to know that, despite the rapid developments on the economic front, things remain fairly affordable across the board. In fact, if you are thinking of moving to Asia (or, in the case of returnees, moving back) to work, Thailand ranks 17th on the Cost of Living Index in the Asia-Pacific region. As a point of reference, Thailand’s neighbours like Hong Kong, Singapore, Myanmar and Cambodia rank second, fifth, 13th and 18th respectively.
6. Access to good education (for the little ones)
If you decide for yourself that Thailand is a good place to live and work for a couple of years, it is technically possible for you to do so within the next couple of weeks — but what happens when you have a family in tow? Talking the spouse into the idea is one thing, but it is something else when you have to consider the education of your children.
Education in Thailand is a far cry from what it was several decades ago. While there certainly are cheaper local schools, which will immerse your children in Thai culture and gain a deeper understanding of the Thai language, there is a great number of international schools that follow the same curriculum as the ones used back home.
As a rule of thumb, the best schools in Thailand are accredited by the Council of International Schools, the Ministry of Education, as well as the Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assurance. One such school is KIS International School, which was founded 20 years ago in Bangkok. KIS is accredited by all the accreditation bodies mentioned above and is also a member of the International Schools Association of Thailand (ISAT) and East Asia Regional Council of Schools. There are also helpful websites like this one that collates every international school available in Bangkok, complete with useful information like the extracurricular activities available, the average size of their classes, annual fees, etc.
At the end of the day, when it comes to finding the best place to live and work in Southeast Asia, every country presents a series of pros and cons, both for expats and returnees alike. However, if you are looking for one of the biggest economies in the region that also happens to be a tropical paradise, Thailand is a compelling place to start.