You will find a huge amount of misleading information online regarding Sin Sod, and conflicting experiences can be found plastered all over forums and blogs.
So, when a foreigner wants to marry his Thai girlfriend and the inevitable subject of Sin Sod arises, it is no surprise that he becomes confused over what he should be paying and why he is expected to pay it.
Part of the problem is that Thai women often don’t explain the concept of Sin Sod very well, which isn’t at all surprising, considering that for them it’s a standard tradition and an age-old part of Thai culture.
They just get on with it. It's normal. They've seen it a hundred times at weddings since childhood. And like traditions the world over, some people simply participate and follow along without really understanding the history.
I'm married myself, and I've been to a few Thai weddings in my time. But of course, if we want to know the truth about Sin Sod, the best people to ask are Thai people themselves. So for this post, to make sure my understanding is accurate, I enlisted a couple of Thai friends to help me stay on point.
Before I begin, I am not by any means saying that the information in this post is entirely definitive or one hundred percent historically factual.
However, what I can say is that the information is the experience of myself and two Thai people, both educated and well-versed in their own culture.
What Is Sin Sod?
Sin Sod is paid to the bride's parents. It is a repayment for the investment they have put into raising their daughter, and also for the loss incurred by their daughter not being readily available to support them anymore.
It is also symbolic of the groom's ability to be able to financially take care of the bride.
Sin Sod is a very significant part of the Thai marriage tradition, and something most families take seriously. However, not all families keep the money, and in the modern day it is often returned.
The Three Components of the “Thai Dowry”
To break the meaning down further, there are generally three reasons for the payment of Sin Sod, as follows:
1. Traditionally, the eldest unmarried daughter takes care of her parents until she gets married, and therefore the Sin Sod in some respects replaces that income for the parents. As you might know, it is common for a single Thai woman to send a portion of her salary to her parents each month.
This usually stops once she is married and has her children to care for.
So, as you can imagine, for parents with no pension plan and little savings, the Sin Sod is a much-needed payday.
Richer families, who don't need the money, usually return the money because, quite simply, they don’t need it. For them, Sin Sod is more about showing status.
2. Once a woman has been married, and/or has kids, the structure of Thai society makes it very hard for her to find a man of decent stature. Therefore, the Sin Sod acts as a sort of insurance in the event that the husband leaves and doesn't offer post-separation financial support.
The bottom line is, if a woman finds herself back living with her parents as a single mother, the Sin Sod insures that there will be some money/land in the family to support the family.
Thai society also dictates that the older a Thai woman gets the harder it becomes for her to find a job, let alone a well-paid one. So again, should she find herself alone in the future, at least the family will have some money put by for some inevitably rainy years ahead.
As you can see, marriage is actually somewhat of a risk for a young woman.
3. Where poorer families are concerned, Sin Sod is considered repayment for the money invested in their daughter. Many families sell land, borrow money and generally go without to put their kids through university, or in some cases to simply put food on the table.
The Sin Sod is essentially a repayment for that investment. The amount paid for Sin Sod could be considered relative to the sacrificial cost of bringing up the child – thus the reason it is often referred to as payment for the “mother's milk”.
What Sin Sod Isn't
Some refer to Sin Sod as a dowry, but to be clear, you are not buying a woman or approaching her family to buy her.
The Western-centric viewpoint that Sin Sod equates to the purchasing of a Thai bride is completely incorrect.
To fully understand the tradition, I think it pays (pardon the pun) to put the word “dowry” out of your mind, not least because any suggestion to your future in-laws that you are purchasing their daughter will be very offensive.
Who Pays Sin Sod?
Any man marrying a Thai woman is expected to pay Sin Sod.
The amount is usually agreed between the two families. Where a foreigner's parents aren't present, the duty falls on him to ask the family how much they expect.
Who Doesn’t Pay Sin Sod?
In the modern day, many families don’t expect Sin Sod, and many will tell the boyfriend that they don’t want any money. Indeed, many young Thai women are now rejecting the tradition because of its outdated meaning.
However, it is very rare that money isn’t shown at the wedding, albeit that it might be returned.
It should be noted that to expect the money back, or to ask for it back, is unacceptable. One will be offered it back if that is to be the case.
Also note that you may not be required to pay Sin Sod if the woman you are marrying has been married before. See the section below for more details.
How Much Should You Pay for Sin Sod?
Historically this has (generally) depended on six factors, as listed and discussed below:
- Family Name
- Prior Marital Status
1. Family Name
If your girlfriend is from a well-to-do family, you could be looking at a fair lump sum. However, in this situation the money will most likely be for show and returned to you after the wedding.
If your girlfriend is university educated or beyond, then it is likely that you will be looking at a minimum of around 300,000 Baht. This is a low-moderate amount by modern-day Thai standards.
For example, a friend at my girlfriend’s workplace is soon to marry a Thai lady of a high-school level education and he is paying 200,000 Baht. His salary is approximately 30,000 per month.
3. Prior Marital Status
If your girlfriend has been married before then you should pay less. You might argue – on grounds of tradition – that you shouldn’t be paying at all. However, as a respectful gesture, you should offer something.
Remember that marriage is intended to happen once in Thai culture, and therefore importance is emphasized on marrying for the first time.
Unlike second and third marriages in the west, which may be seen as equally as important and “true love” matches, in Thailand they are not that much of a big deal. Celebrity second and third marriages are the exception to this rule.
If your girlfriend has kids, tradition dictates that you should pay less.
This stems from the age-old thinking that the woman is tainted in some way, already given to another man, so to speak.
You will become responsible for another man’s seed, and for that you shouldn’t be paying for the privilege.
In terms of a woman's employment, it's hierarchical and usually correlates with education and earnings. For example, you'd pay/show more to marry a banker than a cleaner.
Age is a contentious and quite horrible issue when it comes to Sin Sod.
I mean, when ex childhood superstar singer Tata Young, at almost 40 years old married Prame, the son of the FairTex boxing brand owner, she commanded 100 million Baht Sin Sod.
But for a 40-year-old woman from a poor rural family and a few kids in tow, it's unlikely that more than 200,000 Baht would be on offer.
That said, the type of guys such a woman would have access to wouldn't be able to afford more than that anyway.
But who knows, occasionally a rich man does fall for a poorer woman in good old classist Thailand, and to show his wealth he would no doubt slap down a hefty sin sod.
Age comes fairly low down on the list, though, and Sin Sod is generally decided by status, family wealth, family name and accomplishment/education of the female in question.
Want to know what I think you should pay? Leave your circumstances in the comments section and I'll give you my estimate!
My Girlfriend Is Asking For Too Much!
Many foreigners find themselves in this position, and it isn’t necessarily that your girlfriend is trying to con you, more so that she is trying to secure higher face for her family, and in some cases to elevate her family's wealth.
Face is everything in Thai society. To marry a foreigner with a Sin Sod of less than 200,000 Baht would be quite a loss of face – not just for her but also for you!
The fact that she is marrying a foreigner will mean tongues start wagging in the village.
So when you say:
“What! No way! I am not paying to marry you”
Or you announce a payment less than what an average Thai guy earning 10-15k a month would pay, you get branded a “Farang kee-nock” (literally translated as bird shit foreigner, but refers to a poor, lower class foreigner), or “Keniiow” (stingy).
The folks in the village will have a good laugh:
“Why is she marrying a foreigner when he can’t afford to pay anymore than one of us folk”?
Yes, unfortunately most Thais believe, as many westerners do, that Thai women only marry foreigners for financial security, unless of course the Thai woman is richer or as wealthy as the foreigner.
Ask Her Parents
Anyway, don't take your girlfriend’s word for it, because the tradition is that you are supposed to ask the mother and father for the amount they want. It is not for the woman to tell the man what she wants. So arrange to meet with the parents and politely ask them what they expect.
They will probably say one of two things:
1. “Oh no, mai pen rai. We don’t want anything”.
2. “It's up to you”.
The first answer doesn’t mean you say, “Okay, great”, and go and buy a new car instead.
By answering in this way they are exercising their “grengjai”. They are being polite.
What they actually mean is:
“Tell us what you WANT to pay, and you will be able to tell by our body language whether we think it’s okay or not”.
So basically you need to make out you really want to pay. As you can see, this all falls in nicely with the non-confrontational Thai style.
The second answer means, “What do you want to pay… but don’t insult me”!
*It should be noted that some families might genuinely want nothing at all.
Will You Get Your Money Back?
Chances are that you might, actually. Though don't expect it.
Interestingly, there was a poll Pantip, the popular Thai website, that surveyed a number of readers, asking whether their families returned the money.
48 out of 75 families said they returned the Money. Ten families returned only some of the money. And 17 families didn’t return any money.
All This Talk of Money Seems So Shallow!
Yes, and for the most part it is.
Sin Sod is largely about face.
“Look at my daughter, she went to university and married a good man with a good job”.
Or even, “Look at my daughter, she didn’t go to university, but she is so beautiful and hardworking that she married a lovely rich foreign guy”.
As a foreigner, you may feel like you are buying your girlfriend and have become a victim of the old “Thailand ATM” syndrome. And depending on the circumstances, that could be the case.
But if you're in a secure, genuine relationship, you need to forget what the misinformed barstool gossips say and consider your girlfriend and the culture. And yes, that's right, she too needs to consider your wallet.
Like it or not, Sin Sod is a big part of Thai culture, and, as soon as a Thai woman announces marriage, the big question on everyone's lips is, “How much Sin Sod“?
Because Sin Sod is a reflection of her and her family and you and your family.
A Thai woman lives to make her family proud, to show the other villagers that they are a good family, that they are to be respected, and that they are climbing the social scale.
I Feel I'm Compromising My Western Culture
I hear you.
I come from a culture where the woman’s father is supposed to pay all the wedding costs, though it’s more a 50-50 thing in the modern day.
But think about it like this: Your girlfriend has probably already sacrificed many of her cultural traditions to accommodate you in her life. Living with you and sleeping with you before marriage are two of those sacrifices.
Without you knowing it, she will have been the talk of her village for living with you without being married – this reflects badly on her family.
Don’t forget that you chose her as your girlfriend, and with all due respect, before getting involved with a woman from another culture, you really should understand the culture first.
On an emotional level, you need to consider that just like every Western girl dreams of a white wedding to make her daddy proud, the majority of Thai women grow up dreaming of marrying in their home town and making their parents proud with a respectable Sin Sod, and in turn elevating the family face.
The way I see it is this: An average wedding in the UK costs £20,000. So if you pay £4,000 – £6,000 to marry your Thai girlfriend in a village ceremony that costs no more than £2,000, you still save a whopping £12,000!
That said, in the UK, you get gifts and money from your girlfriend’s family, so that does offset some of the cost.
You also get money in Thailand. Guests put money in a box on their way in. We clocked up about 15,000 Baht if I remember correctly. That was a pleasant surprise.
Truth be told, you aren’t likely to get much in return at any point unless you marry into a wealthy family, but then setting up home here is cheaper, as is taking care of a woman post-marriage.
Sin Sod isn't a recent cultural scam made up to dupe foreigners out of their savings; it has been around for donkey's years and is an expected part of every Thai wedding, although not everyone adhere's to the tradition.
Is it outdated? Probably.
Are some Thai brides using the tradition to extort older foreign men and secure a windfall for their family? A few. Where there is money to be made there is always someone seeking to exploit a situation.
In a nutshell, it is important for a foreign national marrying a Thai to understand this tradition, to know its symbolic meaning and what a fair Sin Sod is in a given circumstance.
That doesn't mean you have to agree with it, but whether you like it or not, marriage is about compromise – because it involves two people – so do your best to find some middle ground that makes both you and your partner feel comfortable.
Or, just call the whole thing off!
Feel free to pitch in with your experience. It would be really useful to know what married guys paid, or didn’t pay, and how the process was handled.
I would like to say a big thanks to Marisa and Noynar for contributing their cultural knowledge to help me write this post.
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