How to be successful as an expat in Bangkok

How to be successful as an expat in Bangkok

How to be successful as an expat in Bangkok

Living and working as an expat in Bangkok is easier if you remember a few essential rules.

Bangkok’s Sukhamvit district is home to a good-sized community of Western expats working for internationally-based companies’ Thailand offices. The city and Thailand itself may not be number one on expatriates’ must-have lists, but for the adventurous it’s an interesting experience.

Two major challenges exist – firstly, the Thai culture itself and secondly the impenetrable bureaucracy surrounding the country’s confusing visa system. Whilst there’s nothing the average expat can do about Thai bureaucracy except grin, bear it and beg an agent or your employer to fix it for you, facing up to Thai culture is entirely down to you. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to state that cultural norms here are unique, even taking into account the rest of Southeast Asia.

Frustrated expats have been known to compare it with being in a time-trap, hurtling backwards for around a hundred years but set in a more or less 21st century city. For example, the Thai concept of time might well have inspired Spain’s frustrating ‘manyana’ culture, as arranging appointments is often a total waste of energy. Thais turn up when they want to, with expats learning to add at least 30 minutes before annoyance sets in.

Time is viewed as a never-ending circle, with waiting long enough returning you to the same place you were in before, and a similar doctrine applies to everything in Thai life. The most important don’t-do is to make any mention of the Thai monarchy. This rule includes historical facts, personal opinions and any other references, however small, and applies even if no-one you’re with speaks or understands the English language.

The ‘lese majesty’ law applies everywhere, and penalties include a long stretch in a Thai jail. Another mistake is to view Thais as having a sense of individuality similar to that of Western people, whereas in Thailand it’s social interactions which are all important as they ensure those involved don’t lose face.

Losing face is another essential part of Thainess which needs to understood and respected if you want to get ahead in Thailand. Getting angry, criticising a Thai or advising how to do a job, plus a good number of other Western norms, all make Thais lose face, and often cause foreigners to lose business as a result. Basically, learning the tricky language and understanding the even trickier cultural norms are the only ways you’ll make any headway, either socially or professionally.

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