The most common question that I read on my Thailand LinkedIn networks is “Is it possible for an Expatriate to find Employment in Thailand?”. It’s a good question, but one without a concrete answer. Allow me to lend you my interpreted view on the topic. My answers come from my own personal experience, as well as from my conversations with other professional expats living in Thailand.
To start with, finding a position of employment in Thailand is not hard for those seeking one in the educational profession. In fact, it’s quite easy with the right credentials(sometimes without). Another option, although it can be difficult one; would be to locate a company within your own country. A company that may be hiring for a position in Thailand. However, to come and live in Thailand and then, to find employment outside the educational field, is the most difficult of choices! And, Why is that? Well, in this guys opinion; It’s all about the cultural differences, prior experiences with a few foreigners, personal concerns about longevity, the lack of comfort in cultural differences and more money to invest for a potential employer . In short, its a gamble in many ways for Thai companies.
I think an expat should consider the prior experiences or lack there of and opinions that a fair percentage of Thai national companies may share within their mind set. I truly believe that many Thai Nationals may harbor a certain stereotype of foreigners within Thailand. It can be based upon hearsay and/ or personal experiences. What they see, experience or read about. Personally, I cannot even begin to tell you some of the stories about a few of fellow expats whom I sat and ate lunch with. There has been more than a few occasions where I was secretly wishing that I hadn’t ran into that person in the first place. Sad, but true. In fact, I would go as far to say that there are less trustworthy expats in trying to live in Thailand than there are honest ones.
It’s hard for many of us to grasp Thai culture deep enough to feel comfortable with it completely. Likewise, I am sure it is just as difficult for Thais to feel comfortable around western culture for any extended period of time. As with all relationships, they’re all easier from a distance, but can test your patients when you have to spend long periods of time together. Add culture to the mix and it can be a great hurdle at times. It’s a simple fact that we are worlds apart in certain key areas of our cultural mind sets. As an example, most of us westerns lack that consistent level-headiness and zen-like patients that most Thais have by nature. It is firmly rooted in their cultural up bringing. I feel confident in saying that, if a Thai national has lost his or her temper with you…it means you have lost a friend and possibly gained an enemy for life. Unlike western culture, Thais hardly forgive and forget. They rather be happy, than confront any form of aggression whatsoever. Even a stern western warning may be considered far too aggressive by most Thai Nationals.
Before I move on, I should say this: I know that Thailand is enticingly beautiful, exciting, extremely sensual and a load of fun for most backpackers, family and business vacationers. In short, truly unique freedoms that should be appreciated. However, to live here daily, in a close life among the Thais is another matter altogether. It takes a lot of work and a certain level of commitment, and/or an attitude that naturally matches with the Thai culture and way of thinking. Something well worth losing a few of those undesirable western habits. However, change is not always something that comes easy nor desired by everyone. That said, make sure that Thailand can fit with your personality and vice-versa when your committed to it for the long haul.
So, moving on from the first set of hurdles, we now face some other important issues. It is not so easy, nor inexpensive for a potential Thai National employer to hire an Expat. Not as one may think it is. It takes a serious commitment from both sides of the fence. Given these facts, I would say that one should prepare to learn Thai culture very well. You should strive to learn the language with at least a 70% comprehension rate. You should focus on how to read and write Also, you should learn to accept that our cultures are like night and day in certain key areas. As an example: I often find myself in conversation with my fellow expats where they have solved all the problems that Thai businesses need to fix. Guess what! Thailand has done very well for itself without our help. However, I must be honest, I also get days(every now and then) where I want to solve these problems. I quickly remind myself, the the only problem is my own. At times I too forget, I am a guest in Thailand I have to keep my eyes trained on my old deeply rooted cultural habits. They conflict with my life here and push everything that I have learnt, to the side-lines. Luckily, I have been slapped in the face with reality enough times to know when to shut up and just accept those things I truly can’t understand as guest in another country.
Anyway, back to the topic. If, you have taken the time to learn the Thai language well enough, gained a fairly good understanding of the culture and worked on having more patients. Then, you’ve just entered into a job market that is still extremely difficult to crack! The next step is networking. You should focus on building that network in a consistent manner. Your network should consist of well-known Thai Nationals, Japanese and Chinese businessmen and women who have a strong company presence in Thailand. On the flip side, you should also have a very strong network of foreign businessmen and women. They should target an extensive customer base within your chosen field of work. Let’s face it! If you cannot produce immediate clients, who are ready and able to do business, what is the purpose in having you around in the first place. Even, if you have past all these sets of obstacles, you still face the topic of, longevity as a manager.
It is best that we learn from that start, western management philosophy will not work. If a Thai National ever hires you. Then, tell you that they want your Western skills and management style. Please! Ignore this statement in its entire English translation. Do not take it literally! What you are really hearing, simply doesn’t equate to what you think you understood. Trust me when I say: “What they are saying is this! They want foreign clients. They want you to deal with them and keep them happy. They do not want to personally deal with any issues by the foreign clientele. They rather live without any nasty confrontations that we as foreign managers can face from time to time with unhappy clients. Lastly, they want you to get along very well with the Thai staff. So, be assured that Western logic or management skills will NOT WORK! They only work when we have the skills to translate them into Thai style Logic.
That’s it for my part of sharing my experience with doing business in Thailand. I hope that what I’ve written, helps other Expats avoid some of the hurdles I had to face.