The dilemma of whether to give (or lend) money to a Thai girlfriend, friend, or member of your extended family is one that most people with a strong connection to Thailand have to address at one stage or another.
It's a topic that's always coming up on forums and over beers.
Some people take a very hardline – never give 'em a bean! And others a more moderate approach that involves specific boundaries. And some find themselves giving away more money than they ever imagined.
In this post I want to walk through a few of the most common scenarios, and give my opinion on the best way to handle the delicate issue of money in Thailand.
Financially Supporting Your Thai Girlfriend
The most common scenario that often ends in tears is quickly falling into the trap of financially supporting your partner.
The average wage in Thailand is around 15,000 Baht per month ($480) and most people you come into contact with in shops and restaurants and hotels are probably on a salary of less than 10,000 Baht per month. (1)
As such, there are a lot of people struggling to pay their bills and send money home to their parents – who most likely do not have a pension plan or much of an income to speak of.
And then there are those women who have children from a previous marriage. The grandparents quite often take care of the child (ren) back home – in a rural setting – while the daughter works in a city to earn money to send home.
In a nutshell: money is in short supply for a lot of people.
The Farang Steps In…
Therefore, as a foreign national, it is very likely that your income is far higher than that of your partner.
So if your partner has trouble paying their bills or helping their parents pay their bills, you become the obvious person to ask for help.
Indeed, there are some women, and some men (being inclusive here), who aspire to find a foreign partner because they assume, or have heard, that other Thais with foreign partners receive a monthly stipend to support their lifestyle.
That said, not all women expect or ask for this help. Indeed, it is common that very early on in the relationship the foreign partner offers to provide some financial support on an ongoing basis – because they feel sorry for their partner not having much to live on.
When considering this, I urge people to ask themselves whether this is something that they would do in their home country.
Would you start dating a woman, and then after just a few weeks begin giving her monthly financial support?
In some cases I think the answer is yes, particularly if it is one of those sugar daddy type relationships, or mistress type relationships:
I'm thinking one of those dating sites where women from all walks of life are keen to date an older gentleman with a heavy work.
Or a busy, rich businessman who keeps a woman on the side, and to keep her hanging around makes sure that she doesn't want for anything in life.
These relationships work for some people at different stages of life.
I'm not here to judge anyone's relationship though, but rather to offer an opinion and some advice.
To pose a counterpoint: It's also worth noting that in the West men end up spending a lot of money dating women in the initial months: expensive restaurants, flowers, weekends away, etc.
It's pretty cheap to live in Thailand, so one might argue that the money is better given to the girlfriend to pay the bills than wasted on romantic extravagance.
The Problem with Financial Dependency
The problem with your partner becoming financially dependent on you so early on in the relationship is that the relationship may well become conditional upon you providing ongoing support.
If you regularly give someone money, they may adjust their lifestyle in accordance with their income.
So rather than being frugal and saving as much money as possible, the person may simply begin to splash out on the things that they could not previously afford.
They may even take on more monthly bills such as a better telephone contract, subscription TV services and even things like braces for their teeth or cosmetic surgery that have to be paid for on a monthly basis.
I assume that the first six months of a relationship should be fun and romantic: Two independent people living their lives and coming together (no pun intended) at the end of the day to share their experiences and intimacy.
In my opinion, having someone quickly become financially dependent on you kills the romance and mystery of the honeymoon period. It becomes a given that you will foot the bill for any financial problem.
Your new partner may also get the wrong impression about your level of wealth.
If you are quick to give someone money then they may assume that you are very wealthy, particularly in a country where people are generally very reluctant to lend or give other people money.
This is not necessarily because people are mean, but because so many people are in the same boat; that is living fairly close to the breadline and knowing that there is no state support when you run out of money.
If you have any spare money in Thailand, you will do well to save it for a rainy day.
Another aspect of this situation is that you will begin to question whether this person sees you as a wonderful potential life partner or as a cash cow.
Of course, as the relationships progresses and you move in with each other or get married, then one of you may work and the other one may look after the children, or one of you may work and the other looks after the home.
In this case the person earning the most money will be fully or partially taking care of the other person.
This is a natural progression but not an ideal scenario right from the beginning of a relationship. This is something you graduate into as you plan the rest of your lives together.
Handling the “Farang Financial Support” Issue
So how do you handle a situation where your new partner needs financial help?
It may well be the case that your partner is not asking for your help but you are aware that they are in difficulty and unable to pay their rent.
The first option would be to offer to lend her the money. Of course this comes coupled with the old saying; “never lend what you can't afford to lose”.
You could stipulate that your partner pay you back a small amount of money out of her salary each month.
You may not want this money back, but this is actually quite a good test of their commitment to an agreement, and of course how much they respect you.
Alternatively, you could give the money to your partner with the understanding that you won't be doing this again in the foreseeable future.
If you are not wealthy then it is good to make it clear that while you have enough money to live comfortably, you don't have money to hand out willy nilly.
So offer the money in good will, and perhaps also offer to help your partner re-evaluate their spending habits, and possibly their career choice, to see if it's possible for them to save money or make more money.
Family Members with Their Hands Out
Lending or giving money to a girlfriend in Thailand can turn into a slippery slope the longer the relationship goes on for.
If your girlfriend becomes dependent on you for money, then those previously dependent on her for money may also become dependent on.
They may not directly ask you for money, but if they have a problem and ask your girlfriend for help, they will know that she has the option to ask you .
She may ask to borrow the money in good faith, but the likelihood of you getting your money back from someone who is already dependent on you for money lending it to someone who is probably irresponsible with money, is very small.
And so you can see how many foreigners end up marrying into families and becoming the proverbial ATM.
If you have really deep pockets then at first it might seem quite nice to be able to help out so many people who are having a hard time in life.
But again, I reiterate, you will come to a point where you ask yourself whether it is you who matters or simply the money.
If they could replace the source of money with a younger, funnier version who likes to get the beers in more often, would they miss you?
It sounds harsh. But believe me there are so many people that have fallen into these situations. I've heard from many over the years.
Respect from Your Family
On one hand it's somewhat true when people say that you will never earn anyone's respect by becoming a walking ATM. But on the other hand, I don't think it's strictly true in all cases.
Foreigners who move to Thailand and build a huge mansion in Nahkon Nowhere, and build a home for their mother-in-law too, and dish out money to brothers and sisters and cousins and auntie's as and when they can't pay their gambling debts or for their next bottle of whiskey, do get a certain level of respect from a certain type of person.
Those family members will undoubtedly be showing off to those in the local village about how generous the son-in-law is: “he very good man”.
On the flip side those foreigners who married local girls but take a stand and refuse to hand out money on request will be called stingy and “not good man”.
But let's have it right: this is a really small-minded, ignorant view of the world. Who would want to be around such people who only respect those with a bulging pocket?
Free-thinking Thai people will always advise you to do the latter, to insist that your extended Thai family work hard for their money and not rely on you for handouts; despite your wealth.
Just because you have more money in the bank than someone else, does that mean you should give or lend them money when they make a bad decision in life?
Helping Your Thai Family/Friends Out in Bad Times
Of course there will be times when you want to reach out and offer to help out.
And why shouldn't you?
This is your girlfriend/wife or extended family who may well have treated you very kindly over the years.
It's a wonderful thing to be able to offer that help when you know it is needed.
If you hear that someone has had a very unfortunate experience such as losing their job during the COVID-19 episode, or has had a bad accident and been incapacitated for a while, then offering some financial support that you can readily afford is a lovely gesture.
This is very different to being harassed for money, coaxed into lending money, or made to feel guilty for not giving someone money every month, etc.
Now is such as time. As I write this, the Thai tourism industry is basically finished, for now. An estimated 3-4million people will lose their jobs this year.
COVID-19 has had a huge effect on the local economy too. People just aren't buying or eating out as much as they normally would.
So if your partner, friend or member of your extended family is struggling to make ends meet and you can afford to help out a little, this is an appropriate time to do so.
It's just important that you people don't see you as a bottomless pit of cash.
I Want to Help Out
If you're back home and your girlfriend has a money problem and you want to help out, you can reduce the cost of sending that money by using a money transfer service.
The cheapest, fastest way to send money to Thailand is to use Transferwise.
That's not just my opinion; pretty much every TTL reader uses this service.
My Advice, for What It's Worth
My advice is to be sensible right from the get go.
Even if you are quite wealthy, don't flash your money around by smothering your girlfriend with gifts, holidays, designer clothes, etc., and certainly don't start throwing cold, hard cash around from early on in your relationship.
If your girlfriend is wealthy and already lives a lifestyle like this, then it’s no problem. You'll be able to treat each other in the same way.
The reality is that acting like a flash Harry is likely to attract the wrong type of people into your life.
If you're planning on building a life in Thailand with a great circle of friends and a loyal partner, you want people to like you for you, not the greenbacks.
The same goes for extended family. If you are paying for everyone's dinner all the time, buying all the drinks, buying all the kids clothes and taking everyone on day trips right from the start, then they will naturally assume that this is how the relationship is going to continue.
They will rightly perceive that this is how you live and what you like to do for people. It will be quite difficult to backtrack from this. The expectation will already be there.
Moreover, don't encourage your partner to give up her job after just a couple of weeks, or even months of knowing her.
It might be tempting because you want to go off traveling and take her with you, but if you break up after a few months she will be in a worse financial position than she was when she met you.
The key is to not make her dependent on you too soon, as it could end badly for both of you.
Where family members are concerned, set out your boundaries. If you want to lend or give someone money once, then make it clear that you're doing it once and won't be doing it again – at least not in the foreseeable future.
Make it clear that you have your own family.
Many of us have children. Many of us have our own parents who are retired and may rely on us for financial help.
Many of us have siblings, and some of us may have ex-wives to whom we pay maintenance for caring for our children.
These people in our live must take priority over Somchai who borrowed money from the bank using his land deed to fund a new pick-up truck, but now can't pay the loan and has the bank threatening to take his land.
It's unfortunate. There are a lot of people struggling in Thailand, and there's nothing wrong with being kind and helping out where you can. But as a good Thai friend of mine said to me recently: there is always work to be found in Thailand, and too many people are not sensible enough with money.
During this conversation, she actually gave me a very good example: She said that her brother-in-law had been made redundant during the pandemic. He quickly found a job driving for Food Panda. He makes on average 500-1,000 Baht a day. This is lower than his previous salary, but the point is he got whatever job he could because there was no one to turn to for money.
Once someone becomes dependent on you for money, they lose the initiative to go out and make money and be frugal, because they know they have you to rely, and that you will always give into their demands.
Sometimes, it's very easy to feel sorry for people, but rather than give people handouts, we should try to enable them to support themselves better…that old “give a man a fishing rod”…mantra.
To wrap this up, let me just say this:
What's the point in moving to Thailand to gain more freedom and control over your life, or retiring to Thailand for a peaceful, stress-free lifestyle, and ending up involved with someone who is continually dependent on you for money?
And depending on your behavior and the boundaries you set from the start, there may be family members that put pressure on their daughter (or son) to ask you for money to help them out too, because they know that you are wealthy in comparison to them.