Toiling In The Tropics: The (Unofficial) Lowdown On Jobs For Foreigners

Life in Thailand can be utter paradise for the average foreigner. Until you run out of cash.

Unless you’re a hedge fund high flyer or Father Dearest gave you a suitcase full of platinum cards and instructed you to fill your boots, you may be finding it hard to make ends meet in the Land of Smiles.

While the legalities and practicalities of finding an income source and a work permit as a foreigner in Thailand can be complex and ever-variable, tales are readily exchanged between Farangs of the friend-of-a-friend who’s scored a gig doing something bizarre down in Nakhon Si Thammarat for a few extra baht a week.

Here’s a shortlist of the various occupations – both legitimate and less so – that you may come across in Thailand and the pros and cons of each. If you’re sat in the Bangkok office of a booming multi-national right now, you may shortly start to feel pretty pleased with yourself…

Tropical bar owner

The dream job.

You saw Cocktail, you saw how happy Tom Cruise was, then wasn’t, then was again… and you thought “I very much want to do that.”

And so it transpired that you chucked all your savings at some shack by the beach on the Southern Thai peninsula and effortlessly morphed into a purveyor of alcoholic beverages.

It starts well. Everyone is laughing and joking and smiling and shagging. You are the most popular person in the world. People love you – you love people. Your social life is the best it’s ever been and you can mix every cocktail known to mankind – hell, you’ve even invented your own. Mornings are spent in bed, afternoons exploring undiscovered coves and beaches, and evenings drinking and drinking and drinking… and then playing a game of pool… and then drinking some more.

jobs for foreigners in thailand

One morning, however, you wake up with a hangover so fucking terrible you muse that you must’ve inadvertently gone to sleep with your head nestled cosily in the cogs of a fully operational tree shredder. Your nerves are in such a state that the mere squawk of the neighbour’s rooster has you cowering in mortal fear under the bed sheets. Your stomach now protrudes to the point where you haven’t caught sight of your feet in months.

And your penis? Does it still exist?

It’s apparent that bar ownership has become a most trying vocation, and searching through your pockets, it appears that it doesn’t reap a very strong financial dividend either.

In short, you are a fat, anxiety-stricken alcoholic with no money and possibly no penis.

Overall: Give the bar ownership option a wide berth — it will probably make you ill – 3/10

Jungle clearance

jobs for foreigners in thailand

By Bree McGhee (Creative Commons)

Jungle clearance is something that not many foreigners will have done in Thailand.

It pays ฿800 per rai. Rai are land measurement units, with each being equal to an area of 1,600 square metres. Jungle tragically needs to be cleared to make way for housing and other such developments. It is a task typically undertaken with machetes and strimmers/weed-whackers/brush cutters with foot-long metal blades.

You cannot get a work permit to clear the jungle. Such a vocation doesn’t wash with the good folks up in Chaeng Wattana. But you’ll hear the occasional story of some desperate Joe in such a situation.

There are several pros to jungle clearance, or ‘deforestation’ as the naysayers would have it. Firstly, you are working in a tropical monsoon forest. The effort required to walk in this climate is hard enough. Imagine, then, being tasked to swing a sickle at dense undergrowth for hours at a time in it. You will lose weight. You will gain an inordinate level of muscular and cardiovascular fitness. You will gradually acquire a finely sculpted physique and your skin tone will take on a deep mahogany hue.

However. You will also spend much of your time removing red weaver ants from your mouth, nose, ears, anus and testicles.

You will receive a daily coronary from the Indochinese spitting cobra slithering nonchalantly between your legs. A great deal of your working day will be allotted to picking wasp stings from your head. You will be aware of falling coconuts and become attuned to the telltale rustling they make before plunging inches away from where you stand.

And, if you’re lucky, you might just fell a thicket with one deft swipe of the machete only to be rewarded with the underpant-soiling vision of a pair of gaping jaws belonging to a rather irked monitor lizard.

Overall: Where on the one hand you are getting fit, healthy and earning a livable Southeast Asian wage, your life is often in jeopardy due to the close proximity of venomous creepy crawlies, and the cops won’t like it either – 6/10

Teaching English

jobs for foreigners in thailand

Of course I could begin by lauding the students’ typically impeccable behaviour. Or the quaint and quintessentially Southeast Asian environs of your local school. Or perhaps, that as a foreign teacher, you are actually encouraged to act like an idiot.

However, I think at the top of the pros list for working as a school teacher in Thailand is the amount of work you don’t have to do…

You see, the school year in Thailand generally consists of two terms — the first of which runs from May through to September, and the second which starts at the end of October and finishes with exams in February.

If you have a 12 month contract — which you should have unless you were hired by some half-baked backstreet Bangkokian agency with a penchant for pulling down pants — you will be entitled to a full year’s pay with an island-hopping, jungle-trekking, full-moon-partying four months of free time. And what’s more, the working week – during those rare and fleeting moments you are actually required to be in school – comprises about seven-seconds worth of teaching time.

Just sign on the dotted line, Ajarn Farang, for a new and improved existence.

Bad pay. Hot, stuffy and crowded classrooms. Ceiling fans which make one revolution a decade. The shirt, tie and tropical heat combination will have last night’s beer Chang cascading from your pores while a fifty-strong audience appraise your each and every move.

“Who is this strange, sweaty white chap?”, the students are thinking, “and why on Earth is he trying to juggle with those board markers while simultaneously crooning a frankly painful rendition of Old McDonald had a Farm?”

Perpetual communication issues will also become the bane of your life, and you’ll usually come across a Thai teacher who’s been employed at the school since the Ayutthaya Period and will look at you in much the same way as she looks at a freshly dispensed buffalo shit.

Overall: the pros negate the cons here and if you’re canny with the private tuition, TEFLing can be a fairly lucrative gig – 8/10

Roadside restaurateur

It’s disconcertingly easy to set up a restaurant in Thailand.

There’s no red tape or bureaucracy involved, you just simply set up a restaurant. One day you’re pottering around, kicking about in life’s cul-de-sac, and the next you’re a fully-fledged restaurateur.

This is surely the overriding attribute of the profession — no formal training required.

Add to the list the convenient location (preferably right outside your front door), and the fact that your refrigerator now bristles with premium Siamese lager, and you have yourself quite the little venture. You could, of course – along the way – become proficient in authentic Thai food preparation, and your linguistic skills will only improve.

Before you know it you’ll be welcoming customers with a perfectly pronounced “Kin arai dee, ja?”.

jobs for foreigners in thailand

By andrijbulba (Creative Commons)

But factor in, if you will, relatives who lackadaisically shuffle over to your industrial-size rice cooker and, with one blasé scoop of a spoon, empty half of the contents before buggering off back home, adding a liberal drizzle of fish sauce and cramming the whole lot keenly into their betel-flecked maw.

Blood pressures will rise, and with the increased presence of relatives comes the very real threat of either a massive stroke or mass murder.

Standing over flame and catching a faceful of chilli fumes in tropical temperatures is also far from ideal. In fact it would probably be construed as torture in some of the more northerly Scandinavian states. So consider, too, that this job involves prolonged spells of acute discomfort.

Overall: A nice wholesome occupation. Again, good luck working out the legalities – 7/10


Remember: you need a Work Permit and the correct visa to work legally in Thailand as a non-citizen.



About Author

A connoisseur of larb moo and lau khao, Steve Edwards spent 14 years in the Siamese underbelly. He's currently licking his wounds in London, preparing to step back into the breach... Follow him on Twitter @isaansteve

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