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Moving to Bangkok -- and still many questions!

Moving to Bangkok -- and still many questions!

May 25th, 2004, 08:28 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 3
Moving to Bangkok -- and still many questions!

My wife and I (now living in America) are considering a career opportunity in Bangkok and have questions for you Asia expat experts...
What do/did you love about being in Bangkok?
What did you miss most about the west (or your previous home)?
What should we remember to request as we negotiate our compensation package?
Any small conveniences we should be preparing to do without?
What are/were the most frustrating aspects of your time in Bangkok?
Thank you very much for your thoughts!
Bilabee is offline  
May 26th, 2004, 03:24 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 7,689
I don't live in Bangkok, but did live in Hong Kong and Singapore for 10 years and am currently living in Switzerland, so I can answer some of your general ex-pat questions. I also have spent a lot of time in Bangkok on both business and pleasure. It is a great city and I am sure you will enjoy the experience.

1. I love the people, the food, the culture and the vibe of Bangkok overall. The river and all the temples are magical, IMO. The people are very open and friendly and love to discuss their culture.

2. It is pretty easy in Asia at this point to get virtually any food item or other product that you might be used to in the US, so I am not sure I could say I missed anything. Medical care is very good. Maids and other domestic help is very inexpensive so you may never do housework again! I am not a sports fan, but if you like US football, baseball, etc you will not get too much of an opportunity to see these, although with satellite dishes it is more and more possible (the games will be on in the middle of the night your time, however.) The biggest thing is that you are a LONG way from home, and you will not see friends and relatives sometimes for years unless you can convince them to come out. This board notwithstanding, in my experience people are not that interested in travelling to Asia, and it may be worse now with SARS and the Bali and Jakarta bombings. (I have had a pretty constant stream of visitors since moving to Switzerland, but few and far between in 10 years in Asia).

3. With regard to your package, consider the following:

If you are US citizens, then the biggest aspect will be proper tax planning. I believe Thailand has a lower personal income tax rate than the US, so in that case it would NOT be to your advantage to be "tax equalized" by your company. Some companies (like mine) do not offer the ability to opt out of tax equalization. If you have a choice and you can determine that your income tax rate in Thailand will be les than your US federal rate, then opt out of tax equalization. Get the advice of a good tax accountant who has experience with expat tax planning. Your package should include the preparation of your US and Thai tax returns each year; if you can, also negotiate for them to pay for the initial tax planning now so you can make the right decisions regarding tax equalization, Social Security, whether you should sell or rent your US home, etc.

Also, make sure you continue to pay into US Social Security (or your home country's retirement scheme) so your time aboard will be included in your 10 highest years. Thailand has its own social security scheme, and you need to determine if you can opt out of this and continue with US Social Security; if not, your employer should contribute to both so you don't lose out on the maximums SS to which you would be entitled.

Obliviously a good housing allowance will be welcome. JamesA or others may be able to give you an idea of rents in various areas of town. Make sure this includes taxes, condo fees, utilities, etc or, that you have an idea of what these would be if you are expected to pay them on your own. If you are expected to pay or split the agent's fee for finding a flat, your company should bear your portion. If flats do not come with refrigerators, washing machines, etc, you should get an allowance to purchase these items, as your US ones won't work in Thailand. If the flat is not furnished, your package should include moving your furniture out from the US, or an allowance to buy furniture. (I personally would come with a little furniture as possible, as you can buy wonderful new and antique furniture in Bangkok at very good prices which you can then bring back with you. If you like very modern furniture, you may not find as large a selection, but if you are interested in Asian pieces this is the place for you.)

If you have children, then payment of all or a portion of school fees would be extremely helpful, as fees for private schools are high.

A club membership would be a very nice option for Bangkok, as this would give you access to tennis, golf, etc. Your flat will most likely have a pool.

A car or an allowance for a car is also a nice option, but again not hugely important as I don't believe car prices are high in Thailand, as opposed to a place like Singapore where they are very expensive due to the tax on cars. However, do check on this point before giving up the car as part of the package. I think a driver would be more important than a car, of course, you could hire a driver on your own.

A home leave package which is a cash pool which you can spend as you wish rather than just getting return tickets back and forth to the US is a nice option, but not hugely important.

A "transition package" which includes language lessons and the services of a relocation company to help to adjust to life in Bangkok would be a nice perk.

4. I think JamesA and other posters who live in Bangkok will say that traffic and pollution are the two bad aspects of Bangkok. If you don't like heat and humidity, that might be a third. If you can live near your office, that is probably the best way to avoid the daily grind of a commute. If you are going to be travelling in the region more often than you expect to be in your office in Bangkok, then living on the airport side of town would probably save you a bit of time overall as well.


There are many websites on expat life, take a look

www.expatexchange.com
www.expat-essentials.com
www.expatforum.com
www.expatnetwork.com
www.escapeartist.com/expatriate1/expatriate1.htm
www.outpostexpat.nl
ebusinessnomads
www.expat-moms.com

Other places to look are the US Embassy in Bangkok at http://bangkok.usembassy.gov/ , and the American' Women's Club of Bangkok at http://www.awcthailand.org. There is also a Newcomer's Club, their website is http://www.newcomersclub.com/th.html
Cicerone is offline  
May 26th, 2004, 07:18 AM
  #3  
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Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 3
Cicerone, you're the best. If you don't mind -- I may give another shout out to you here as things progress.

JamesA -- if you can provide any local wisdom on these questions (or other questions I should have asked) it would would be very much appreciated!
Bilabee is offline  
May 26th, 2004, 12:07 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 29
Cicerone is awesome.
marc_rich is offline  
May 26th, 2004, 07:30 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 34
Cicerone has of course done a thorough job of advising you on everything you need to negotiate for.
I live in Bangkok (we are originally from San Francisco) and find that you don't miss much in terms of amenities here. Life is really easy, frutis and vegetable are abundant and fantastic. The help is great and you can shop till you drop at great prices. You can travel in the region and inside the country to visit world class beaches and resorts for great prices. And you can have some of the best food in the world, Thai, French, Italian, you name it. We have friends visiting us from all over the world (and this can sometimes be the tough part, we have visitors ALL year round)who are amazed by how good the western restaurants are. You can have a lunch buffet at the four seasons hotel for $10 or a world reknowned French resturaunt set lunch for $25/person. The spas are fantastic. Housing standards are very good and aprtments are more spacious than the average home in the US. 2000 square foot apartments were the starters. You can see all the same movies as at home, usually in much better theaters for only $3.

Need I go on......once you get used to having made the plunge (and I admit it is harder on some folks than others, to leave friends family and familiartity) you not regret it. We do not think much about home, especially since we know we will eventually go back anyway. It will still be there.

About the cars: I can not compare with other Asian countries but they are very very expensive in Thailand. I would pay 40% of the price for a Honda in the US. So, you can try to get that car in the package, drivers start at about $250/month.
But we actually never bought a car. We take taxis everywhere. They are cheap, clean, though you have to have the stomach for an occasional maniacal driver. But that could be NY city for you.
If you have kids, stock up on toys for the time period you will be here. They are about 3 times more here. I end up ordering from Toysrus and having my guests lug it over here (bed tax

Also if you are a tall person or are not the size minus three most Thai women seem to be, I would suggest getting some clothes you love from home and you can have it copied at the tailors here (who are good and cheap). Also underclothes, they never seem to stock normal US sizes though the new Marks and Spencers seems to be doing some of that.

Irritants: the traffic, pollution, heat (though most places have a/C), people are not in a hurry to get things done here, everyone is late, and though people generally try to please, if you want something a little different done the first response is always no. So you need to be patient.
The positive side is, you hardly ever see anyone yell or get mad. (though that can be an irritant when you feel like having a fit over something and everyone looks mortified at you).

In short whatever you miss will be more than made up for by what you never imagined you could have.
nislam is offline  
May 26th, 2004, 08:38 PM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,604
well what I most love is not having too see USA TV which is getting insane. but of course watching she males on thai TV acting like clowns all day is not great either. SO a good option is finding an appartment that has the gold UBC cable packege. you get a pritty good mix of channels.

if you don't know thai. might as well pick it up as soon as you can. I currently attend Somchart thai sckool . it is an informal fun place where you learn one on one. price is about 8900 baht.
www.somchart.com

if you post approximetly where your new job is located. we may help you find a good apartment/condo/etc.
==========
jeez it's kind of wierd but one of the things I most miss is chinees take out food (american style). I also miss logic.. thais are not known for making scence all the time. for instance too say 9 pm you say 3 tum...

there is a funny book out which teaches you how too interact with thais in the work place... and outside.. I cant remember the name now., but i'll look for it unless someone here getts the info first.
-------------

Ask and you shall recieve

orgy7 is offline  
May 27th, 2004, 07:16 AM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 7,689
Two more thoughts have occurred to me with regard to negotiating your package:

1. Currency - I would recommend you be paid in US Dollars and not Thai Baht. There are two reasons for this (i) you will reduce your exposure to currency fluctuations, and (ii) if the majority of your savings and investments are in US Dollars, it makes much more sense to have a Dollar salary. If you are going to be making mortgage payments for your US home, or investing in stocks and bonds on US markets, you don't want to be constantly moving money back and forth and losing on the exchange rate. Also, for US tax purposes, the US government will fix an exchange rate which may or may not be the rate you actually get per pay period. Finally, if your employer is paying the bulk of your rent, utilities, etc you will have surprisingly few expenses in Thai Baht. I would also encourage you to use a Dollar-based credit card for daily living expense whenever possible, as you will get a better exchange rate than exchanging cash yourself. (Plus you get all those frequent flyer points. . .)

The Thai Baht is not a major world currency and does fluctuate quite a bit, esp in the last few years with the economic downturn in Thailand at the end of the 90s and with SARS. If you can avoid having large amounts of Thai Baht that you need to convert to Dollars, this is preferable. If your employer insists on paying you in Thai Baht, then negotiate a fixed rate of exchange, or a floor/ceiling on exchange rates. You will not get to take advantage of as much upside on appreciation, but if the value of the Thai Baht falls a lot (which is possible), you are at least protected from a reduction in salary. Generally, you would fix a rate at the average of the last year or years, or agree that the rate would never vary more than 10-15% up or down from the rate in effect on the date you take your assignment. If you fix a rate based on the average over the last year or years, do some research to determine if the rate over the last years is historically high or historically low (I think it will be the latter due to SARS.) Another compromise is to take the majority of your salary in US Dollars, and a small amount (like a cost of living payment) in Thai Baht, and you could agree not to fix the exchange rate for this portion if it does not represent more than 10-15% of your salary.

2. Insurance - most companies actually get this right, but it is worth adding. You will need health insurance coverage for you and your wife when in Thailand, and it must also cover you on trips home to the US. I am not aware of any HMO concept in health insurance outside the US, so you will probably have the old-fashioned "full indemnity plan" where you pay and are reimbursed subject to deductibles and ceilings. These work fine, and I even prefer them because you can choose your doctor, there is no limit or meds, and no pre-approval is needed for procedures. The most important part is that any plan include coverage if you or your wife are in the US on business or vacation. There may be a 30-consecutive day limit on visits to the US, which is not hard to achieve, but you should be aware of this limit on any US coverage.

Finally, make sure that your life insurance plan covers you in Thailand and other countries you may be going to for work or pleasure (many plans exclude coverage or require a rider for people going to the Middle East.)

Orgy7 above may be referring to "Thai Ways" and "More Thai Ways" by Dennis Segaller, which are about the customs and culture of Thailand. I would also recommend the "Culture Shock! Thailand" book as being helpful in understanding Thai culture and behavior. It is part of the "Culture Shock!" series of books about virtually every country in the world printed by Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company. You can find them on the web or your local bookstore may have it or can order it for you.


Cicerone is offline  
May 27th, 2004, 08:11 PM
  #8  
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Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 3
Thanks so much everyone for your thoughtful replies. I have a few last candid questions...

My wife and I were actually in Bangkok for a few days last year on vacation. We really enjoyed the city, but were really struck by the pollution and crowding that a few of you have mentioned.

Perhaps it was the area we were staying in. Perhaps it was the uncharacteristically "touristy" activities we pursued -- like bus tours and crowded markets.

When we go again to interview and check out the city -- where do we go to see the idyll many of you have described?
Are there comfortable (posh?) urban and/or residential areas we just wouldn't have seen as tourists?
Where would you suggest we look (try to resist the temptation to say "Hong Kong")?
Thanks again everyone -- you've been so generous.
Bilabee is offline  
May 28th, 2004, 09:10 PM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,604
Thanon Sakunvit is your upscale district especially from lets say soi 30 on up. around this area ther are many executive apartments that mainly catter too rich Japanees. SO thats saying much.. many go for $2000-$3000 US dolles a month..
and along this part of thailand longest road you have your Fendi's. exclusive executive clubs, and chez what ever...


Actualy you may have passed by many residential areas, but they were behinde those white walls along many soi's..
there are many mansians and the like too the west of the city.

I agree with you... HK (alnong with Tokyo are just about the best places too live for the rich in asia. but Bangkok has a great deal for those in the upper echelon. you get more for the money too.

a bum like me lives fairly well here..

As for the trafic and polutuin maybe get a BENZ and personal driver. but make sure too intall a couple of TV's and DVD player.

the thing that makes BKK special for many of us is the fact that the city is so diverse. You may have a run down shack along side a mansions, oposit a temples which is next too a massage parler.

orgy7 is offline  
May 29th, 2004, 06:21 PM
  #10  
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 29
Bilabee,

My two cents worth' - I have spent too little time in BKK to see the "upscale" areas, but while relaxing on the cruise back from Ayuthaya in the north, I saw a clutter of modern condominiums by the river (prob. about 20-30 km north of the center).

Just like orgy7 said, there were rundown shanty-homes right beside it!

I am not sure how the condo dwellers commute to and from their homes to BKK as, given the BKK traffic, 20-30 km seems horrendous.

Just my two Baht!
marc_rich is offline  

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