How to make money in Thailand

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Last edited: June 26, 2024 at 02:34:35


If you want to stay in Chiang Mai long-term and generate your own source(s) of income, there are some ways to make money, either through a full-time job or by doing things on the side. Chiang Mai is by no means a 'working city' for foreigners, so the number of jobs available to foreigners are rather limited. Most decent jobs are obviously offered in Bangkok, this is true for both foreigners and Thai. So, if you want to make some money here, you've got to be creative and persistent, there aren't many companies dying to employ you.

The most successful ways to make money in Thailand is to take advantage of the difference in costs of living and products between Thailand and the developed world, to spot a niche opportunity in the market, or to exploit on a certain skillset or piece of knowledge. The less successful ways are to work more or less as a local.

Looking at what most other people do can help you to get inspired. Here's an overview of the most common ways for foreigners to make money in Chiang Mai:

1. Teaching English (or something else)

By far the most popular job amongst foreigners in Chiang Mai and probably in the rest of Thailand is teaching English. An estimated 1 out of 20 or so young, active foreigners in Chiang Mai is teaching English part-time or full-time, through an official school or less official, with a TEFL degree or without, at Thai university level or in high school.
This is not the best-paid job in the world, it can offer you a modest to good living in Chiang Mai, but it gives you a lot of freedom to move all around Southeast Asia or anywhere in the world where the local population is in need of schooling. Clearly, your chances are best when you have a degree in teaching, a TEFL and when you're native speaker. If your CV is less strong, you still have good chances in the country side of Thailand, for example in Phitsanulok or a little outside of Chiang Mai.
You can also enrol in several programs to get a TEFL degree and work and live in Chiang Mai (for example: CM Language Institute, UNITEFL, SEETEFL, Paradise TEFL and TEFL 360).

Besides English, the most popular languages Thai are interested in are French, Japanese and Korean. Also, there are a lot of yoga instructors and yoga schools in Chiang Mai where you can learn or teach yoga. Other foreigners give study help to Thai or to students abroad (through Skype).

2. Working online: being a Digital Nomad

Much less visible than English teachers are foreigners who generate money behind their computer screen within the confines of their own room: digital nomads. There's probably no (consensus on an) official definition of this new societal phenomenon, but practically let's say a 'digital or virtual nomad' is someone who can travel anywhere (in the developing world wink) while generating money online on the go.
Working online is a preferred option for those who love the freedom of working in your own time without a boss and who don't want to bother about the hassle of Thai work permits. Digital nomads take advantage of the fact that most of their work can be done remote from an office, boss, or customer, using mostly the internet or other modern technology to communicate and perform their work.

Nowadays, you can do almost anything on the net and if you're smart, diligent and persistent enough, you can make money with it. Here's a range of endless possibilities:
• running a website - Internet speeds in Chiang Mai aren't great but sufficient and definitely better than in many other parts of the developing world.
• website design - A more creative job that involves some technical and creative skills.
• programming / software development - Technical job that you can also outsource to some local programmers. There are several foreign-run companies in Chiang Mai that program for companies in the west and benefit from the cheaper engineers here.
• copy writing / free lance writing / editing - You get assignments over the mail and paid by the number of words. Do it in your own time and pace.
• graphic design / online printing - Can be done entirely online, some guys even pretend to still have an office in Europe.
• online / affiliate marketing - Big international companies often outsource jobs like this to anyone who wants to do it behind a screen.
• web annotator - Another job you can do completely online. Evaluate websites based on several criteria and report to companies in Ireland / Scotland.
• playing poker - Some wouldn't call this work, others claim that it takes many hours of patience and learning so in that sense there's a work element. Most people who talk about it claim to be making money and to be able to live off it, true or not.

The range of possibilities is really endless but what all these activities have in common is that you can simply do it at home and nobody knows (especially not Immigration) that money is flowing into your Paypal account and you can pay off your bills in Thailand.
Some may argue that a forex trader or a poker player isn't as much a digital nomad as a website designer, but that doesn't really matter, the thing is you can travel anywhere and still generate your own money on the go using the internet.

Chiang Mai being such a cool place where nobody bothers you and where it's cheap to live, a lot of international digital nomads have chosen Chiang Mai as one of their bases, alongside with other cheaper places in the world to live. Do you want to travel and work wherever you want, then this is the thing for you. Here's an example of how your virtual nomadic life could be.

Officially, working online is probably in a grey zone in Thailand (and many other countries) when it comes to work permits and taxes. When the money is generated within Thailand, officially you probably need to have a work permit and to pay taxes, but most people don't bother to report because luckily nobody knows.

Read more about how to work legally / safely in Thailand as a Digital Nomad

3. Exporting / selling things on eBay

If you are able to source a local product that is worth selling, you can ship it to Europe, the US or wherever and make a (substantial) margin on it. Most local products are of course fairly cheap, and you can sell it for a much higher price in more expensive countries. There are numerous interesting local products that people (tourists) like to buy here and want to have or use at home.

A few big challenges with this type of business are:
- Quality and finishing of Thai products is often not so good. Things wear out very quickly or you can see there is no neat finishing;
- Finding (big groups of) customers requires some effort;
- You needs persistence to become successful in selling a product.

A lot of people try it out casually and give up after the first hick ups appear, then you'll never succeed. Others pick the wrong product because they have no market sense. Every year we meet foreigners walking around with the idea to sell Thai coffee to Western markets, but no one ever succeeds, for many reasons.
The few people who manage to create some stable customer base and sell products from Thailand typically have chosen products such as jewelry and aroma oil. Some reasons why these can sell are: Thai skills in design are acceptable (more so than in engineering) so minor flaws don't matter; the products are light yet expensive compared to their weight so easy to send over even in small quantities; these products already exist in the local market and with some foreign help, you can help adapt them to western taste.
Foreigners who are more successful in exporting goods from Thailand often operate through an eBay account or, if more serious, they set up a limited company in Hong Kong to be able to issue real invoices, while being (nearly) exempted from taxes.

4. Trading stock or foreign currencies

If you have some savings and you're able to leverage on it by investing or speculating on the market, you can of course earn good or big money, but you can also loose all of it. A lot of amateur traders are doing this, picking and selling stocks and FOREX. Most of them say they're making money and can live of it, up to you to believe it or not, some report having lost millions. Stock pickers generally seem more knowledgable than forex traders, and those with a financial or economic background seem to do better than opportunity seekers. There are dozens of forex sites trying to lure you into trading, often with 'guaranteed' results.

5. Call center jobs

One of the few jobs you can get in foreign owned offices in Chiang Mai are call center jobs. There are a few call centers here, that are always on the look out for mulitlingual staff as diverse as Spanish, German, Danish and so on, besides English. You can make a modest living out of it, but few would consider this to be a lifetime career so the turnover in these centers is probably quite high. If this is your jumping bridge to Asia, it could serve as a first start though. The call centers arrange for work permits.

6. Running a bar, restaurant, guesthouse / resort

This is one of the most common types of business, mostly for older foreigners who have fallen in love with or married a local Thai girl. They buy up a local bar or restaurant and run it together with their girl. Some of them underestimate the difficulties of the business, buy too expensive, get cheated by their girl, have problems managing the staff, and finally have to sell at a loss. Others do okay, at least they make enough money to stay in the country while being together with their lover.
Typically, foreigners buy up a business and don't give themselves a work permit because of the hassle of employing 4 local Thai, so they sit around in the bar or restaurant, not allowed to really work, while the wife does the work.
Standard financial ratios with regard to taking over a business are quite different in Thailand: goodwill and earn-back period can vary substantially. In some cases, goodwill is nearly zero, in others it's substantial. Imagine paying THB 700,000 to take over a small massage shop on Loikroh road. Earn-back periods can be within 1 year or within 10 years. Make your own calculations.

7. Renting out property

For those who have a bit of money, buying up a condo or house and renting it out again to foreigners can generate a stable source of income and a much better return than you get in the bank. Read more about buying property in Thailand and renting out. Chiang Mai still offers a quite attractive real estate market.
Officially, this type of income is probaby also in a grey zone when it comes to taxes and work permit, but thousands of foreigners do this all over the country so for the time being it's kind of tolerated by the Thai authorities.

8. Setting up your own business

A small number of foreigners manages to set up a completely new business, way different from taking over a bar or a restaurant, something new that didn't exist before in Chiang Mai (or wasn't successful before). Examples of this are: Flight of the Gibbon, Meals on Wheels for U and Chiang Mai Cleaners.
These businesses spotted a market opportunity, pushed through and became successful. Of course, it takes quite a lot of entrepreneurial skills and you won't enough find enough of it in the every backpacker, yoga instructor or English teacher.
A lot of entrepreneurial momentum in Chiang Mai is actually created by foreign ideas, what Thai typically do is copy it rightaway and go sit next door to take away your customers, so you better be prepared when you're doing something new in town.
Some people approach us and ask what kind of jobs are available in Chiang Mai for foreigners with a decent MBA. Well, the answer is of course: nearly none, because there aren't enough offices and businesses here that offer high quality jobs. If you have a good brain and skillset, the only way is to start something for yourself.
Read more about doing business in Thailand.

9. Cheating: the Way of the Minor Mafia

Finally, if you totally ran out of good ideas to earn some honest money, quite a lot of foreigners coming to Thailand resort to becoming a little mafia and make money by cheating on both foreigners and Thai. Luckily, most minor mafia stories happen in the South, Pattaya and Phuket, somehow cunmen are attracted to the glamour and glory of beach life, but then some of them are right here in Chiang Mai.

Typical ways foreigner cunmen operate are:
- pretending to be an expert about something or to have connections and selling services to foreigners;
- advising on and selling financial products and getting huge commissions if not simply taking your money. Be extra careful in Thailand whenever you see the words "guaranteed return".
- renting out a property to you as a tenant and withholding your deposit upon check out without real grounds;
- offering help and connections to those in trouble and asking money for it;
- intermediating in real estate transactions (as an agent) and taking huge margins without being transparent;
- borrowing money and not returning it;
- becoming a gigolo to older Thai ladies and asking to be a business partner, then claiming half of the business;
- some very desperate foreigners even rob Thai banks or try to cheat on local Thai.

Obviously, these are the way of cunmen, criminals and little mafia that unfortunately are attracted to Thailand too. Reasons for this are the corruptiveness of the police and legal system and the lack of a proper legal system, allowing criminals to operate easily without being seen or enabling them to cooperate with officials.

Other scams? Read more about other scams in Thailand.

Need help to brainstorm about a new idea or to test the viability of a business? Consult us as your business partner.

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What do you think about this article?

Binman Posted on August 22, 2022 at 12:10:39
Made very helpful and interesting reading, would you be able to sale Airrifle’s and knifes
David Lucas Posted on July 11, 2022 at 19:39:05
How do I get into teaching English. And what does it pay. David
Nalugonda Catherine Posted on May 30, 2022 at 12:28:47
As for me I would like to teach a nursery school. and I like the country as well
gildaroy Posted on March 30, 2022 at 09:13:25
I'm wondering how work even works. If one gets married, gets extended time to stay and work, but that time expires, do you just go home for a week and then come back to thailand and stay 3 months (rinse repeat for the rest of your life?) Or do you just visit the Govt and renew and stay?

Getting married soon, was about to bring her home, but she has lupus and we think we're gonna stay there in Thailand. What are my options? btw, no degree, only HS dip. I do have a house.. only other option is to rent out my pad and use the cash as income. Sigh... what about under the table work? Need at least a reported $1200 income I think, no?
Number 3!!!!!!!!!!!! Posted on August 19, 2019 at 04:43:49
eitan Posted on May 11, 2017 at 05:36:48
Nice ...
I travel a lot
And I tried all kinds of ways to make money online
What works best for me is koocam
I teach my hobbies and sell my knowledge in any field
It's great
Sai hseng Posted on September 17, 2014 at 16:31:54
Mostly I saw lot of foreigners tricked by Thais very rare to see foreigners trick local ---But one thing I realized most of Thais they looked downed upon our ethnic very much I'm a Thai born but grew up in Shan States of Burma because my mum is from Burma ...In ethnics there are lot of University graduated but no employment the Thais do not except us as a human they accused us of not having a good accent to speak Thais we need our own world to create our own fate