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19th June

  Home Affairs

An article by Stickman  

It's nice to have somewhere to call home.  For anyone who has settled in Thailand and is looking at staying long term, the thoughts of buying a place are inevitable.

What are the issues a Westerner needs to consider when contemplating the purchase of property in Thailand?

In the West one can assume certain characteristics in the property market over the long term.  Property prices increase, on average, around 10% a year.  Monthly rental is usually around 1% of the value of the property. And so on.  The characteristics of the property market in Thailand appear to be less certain and from what I have observed, you can't count on out the aforementioned norms .

If you've read this column for very long you'll know that I tend to err on the conservative side so it will come as no surprise that overall, my feeling is that for the average Westerner, buying in Thailand is not necessarily the best way to go...

Rent Is Cheap

Take the example of a good friend of mine.  He rents a 4 bedroom, 2 level house in Nonthaburi, less than 15 minutes drive from the expressway at Ngam Wong Wang, meaning that he can leave his place and be in central Bangkok (read: Sukhumvit / Siam Square / Silom) in not much more than half an hour.  Even at peak hour, it doesn't take much more than an hour to get from what is really the outskirts of the city into the city centre.  The monthly rental on his property is 8,000 baht and the landlord is asking 2,800,000 baht for the property.  At 8,000 baht a month, it would take almost 30 years to pay for the property, and that is assuming zero interest!  With no certainty of the value of the property moving at all, and all of the headaches of home ownership left with the property owner, he is probably better off continuing to rent.

Ownership Issues

As a foreigner, you cannot buy a house and have it in your own name.  It must be in the name of a Thai spouse, Thai friends or the Thai fellow who sleeps under the bridge, down the road.  There is the odd exception but generally, the property cannot be in your own name.  This is the red flag of all red flags.  If things go bad, then the property is gone and you have no claim to it.

In the case of a condominium, you can buy in your own name as a foreigner. There are certain criteria which must be met such as which floor of the building the condo is on and the percentage of foreign ownership in that building, but yes, you can purchase a condo and have it in your own name.

The immigration laws in Thailand effectively mean that foreigners must renew their visa each year, every year - and this doesn't look set to change. What happens if for whatever reason, your visa is not renewed?  Suddenly you have a property in a country which you cannot enter!  Very unlikely, but again, not beyond the realms of possibility.

Maintenance

In the case of a condominium, unless it is a particularly well managed building, there are no guarantees that the building will be looked after for at the same standard as it was when you first purchased it.  This seems to be the biggest complaint many farangs (read: the bunch who I know) who have purchased property in Thailand have.  The building is left to the dogs and the value of their condo drops accordingly .

The Market

There are no guarantees that the price of property will move in Thailand. I know of many houses in the outskirts of Bangkok that sold in the 2 - 3 million baht range more than a decade ago and guess what, that is still their market value.  Having said that, properties in central Bangkok and anything close to the skytrain has soared in value over the last 2 years.

Another of the big issues with buying in Bangkok (or for that matter all of Thailand) is selling.  In the West, generally speaking, if you want to sell quickly, you can.  You just drop the price 10 - 15% and assuming no extraneous factors in the market, the property will likely move.  In Thailand, it is not quite like this.

There are definite perceptions amongst sectors of the Thai population about second hand places.  A lot of Thais simply don't want to buy second hand, period.  And the fact that a farang may have lived there is a negative perception to many Thais.  Yeah, really!  The superstitious nature of the locals also means that if one of any number of events happen, then suddenly your property is no longer somewhere they would buy.

And quite frankly, some of the prices that property in Bangkok is going for are outrageous, by Thai standards at least.  Yeah, you could argue that Bangkok is still cheap by international standards, but when you look at property prices compared with other things in Thailand, they seem a bit stilted.

 

19th June

  Divorce Thai Style

An article by Stickman  

One can't help but wonder about the wisdom of getting married in the West.  With divorce rates in the likes of the US and UK at a touch over 50%, and the fact that the partner with the higher income and who brings more equity to the union, invariably the man, getting royally screwed in a divorce, then one really has to question the very wisdom of getting married.

We all know what happens in a divorce in the West, but just what are some of the issues involved in Thailand, specifically in a Thai / farang relationship.  Is it much the same here, or is it different?

Talking to a friend recently about a couple who are having problems and are separated with divorce imminent, he joked to me and said that if you have to get divorced then this is the place to do it.  His comments were completely justified.

There are several grounds for divorce in Thailand and some of them are a little different from what we are used to in the West.  Cursing your spouse's parents is grounds for her to execute a divorce!  Making your partner lose a serious amount of face is another and I think the term they use is something like a degradation of pride or dignity.  Just what may constitute this is a moot point, but in a country where face and image is everything, this could be wide ranging.  There are several other grounds on which divorce may be granted such as incarceration for more than a year and the inability to provide for your partner's naughty needs for a certain period of time, more than a year I think.

Where there is a major difference with the West in terms of grounds for divorce is adultery.  If she sleeps around then he has grounds to divorce her immediately.  However, if he sleeps around, it is not so clear.  If he sleeps with a woman away from the family home, then this is not adequate grounds for divorce!  (The ducks might get fed though!)  However, if he was caught in bed in the family home with someone else then it is altogether something different and she then has every right to divorce.

What is interesting is that a no fault divorce is not that easy to get signed off.  In the case of a no fault divorce, both parties have to go to the municipal office to sign off the divorce papers, though the staff there may well turn the request down.  Even if they do grant it, every effort will be made by them to counsel the couple and attempt to make them change their minds.

And when it comes to settlement, things are not all bad for the guy, except where a house or other property may be involved.  If there is a house involved and he bought it in her name (which is how must house purchases are made) and he did not take out a 30 year lease (a very good way to semi protect oneself), then he has no claim to it whatsoever.  Laws limiting foreigners from owing land kick in and it is essentially gone.  Well, the property is gone that is, though one could try and lay a claim for half of the house, the dwelling itself, which might get the presiding judge raising his / her eyes.  All assets purchased after the registration of the marriage are split 50 / 50 and all assets accrued before marriage stay with the party who bought it.

Now some countries do recognise marriages in Thailand and some don't.  So there are countries where a marriage registered in Thailand could be divorced in the West and those where such is not possible.  In countries which recognise marriage in Thailand, there is a much greater chance that the guy could lose his shirt.  If she can divorce you in the West, then you have reason to worry.  In my home city of Auckland, New Zealand, there is at least one Thai lawyer who specialises in helping Thai women who want to divorce from their local husband and get a favourable settlement.  From all accounts this guy is very well known amongst the Thai women there!  I have little doubt that there are other Thai lawyers in cities around the world where there is a sizeable Thai population.

Pre-nuptial agreements can be used in Thailand and they must be presented and attached to the marriage registration documents at the municipality office at the time of registration of the marriage.

For some guys the idea of a potentially expensive and time consuming divorce is a bit much to bear and they do a runner back to their own country.  Assuming she doesn't follow you, she can apply for divorce on the grounds of abandonment, for which she must wait for three years to lapse first.  This could be a long time for a Thai woman whose body clock is ticking.  If in her husband's absence she was to be a naughty girl with another bloke, notwithstanding that they are separated and him thousands of miles away, then she opens herself up to the possibility of not just being divorced by him, but being sued too!  Yep, if one party stuffs up in a marriage in Thailand, they open themselves up to being sued too.

One could say that it is awfully negative to consider these types of things when one gets married although I personally consider it prudent to do so and bordering on foolish to completely ignore.  Too many guys have been burnt for one to ignore things.  The bottom line though is that generally speaking, divorce in Thailand is a lot less painful for a Western man than it would back in his homeland.

* I am not a lawyer and fully acknowledge that there may be some mistakes of a legal nature here.  The material here is based on discussions with a Thai lawyer, and chatting with a friend who has "been through the system".  If you find yourself in a situation where divorce may be a reality, it goes without saying that you should get a lawyer!

 

 

19th June

  Mia Farangs

From The Telegraph

Poor Thai girls marrying foreigners were once stigmatised but not any more, reports Sebastien Berger in Ban Jaan

The paddy fields around Ban Jaan, in Thailand's impoverished north-east, are lush with green stalks of rice ready for harvest, yet the real secret to the village's wealth is contained within its houses.

It is the women of Ban Jaan and their foreign husbands who have paid for the new high-ceiling villas and bought the gleaming four-wheel-drive vehicles to rest alongside the humble wood-panelled homes more typical of the region.

The 449 families of the village can count around 100 foreign sons-in-law between them, the vast majority Swiss, with a scattering of Britons and Scandinavians. Virtually none of the foreigners lives in Ban Jaan, instead taking their wives to Europe.

The next generation is keen to follow in its elder sisters' footsteps. At Ban Jaan school yesterday more than half the girls in Year 9 raised their hands when asked if they wanted to marry a foreigner. Foreigners love children and they care about Thai culture and traditions , said Wipaporn, 14, whose cousin has married a Briton, adding that she wants to build a big house for her mother and grandmother.

Where the mixed marriages are kindled has long been a sensitive subject, and Wipaporn said she had "no idea" how she might meet a "farang" - a foreigner.

Ban Jaan's Swiss relations have their origins with a local girl who moved to Switzerland in 1982, while the others stem from meetings in what are known as "places of entertainment".

North-eastern Thailand, known as Isaan, is the country's rice-basket but also the poorest region, with average income only a tenth that of Bangkok. Its girls provide most of the human capital for the capital's sex trade.

A certain stigma has always been attached to poor Thai girls marrying foreigners, but now Nopporn Jantarathong, the governor of Roi Et, the province which contains Ban Jaan, has decided to recognise their economic potential.

According to a survey by Thailand's national economic and social development board, there are 15,000 foreigners' wives, known as "mia farangs", in the north-east, who bring in tens of millions of pounds in foreign currency every year.

The governor is recruiting the brides as "ambassadors" to promote tourism and trade. All the 679 mixed couples from the province are to receive certificates of welcome, and membership of his United International Housewives' Association.

Those living overseas are being issued with promotional materials from home and asked to talk up the province's products and encourage visitors.

Nopporn said: Before the women were not being honoured by Thai society, because when they went out with foreigners, for the Thai people, it was a kind of shame. But first there is money for the family, and then there is money for the community. This is a benefit for the villages, not a loss.

He had no qualms about where the couples might have met. I will not look at the past of the woman he said. For women, the financial security provided by far wealthier foreign husbands is a major, but not the only, motivation.

Most of the "mia farang" had been married before and cited the "bad habits" of Thai men - principally adultery and drinking - as reasons to wed outsiders. Farangs live with only one lady. Not butterfly , said Wilawan Kuyper, 36, who held off marriage until meeting her Dutch husband Hans, 50, three years ago.

The couple met in Hong Kong, where both were working, and have now opened a restaurant, Elephant Milk, in Mrs Kuyper's village of Mahasarakhan, in Roi Et. The restaurant employs several of Mrs Kuyper's family. If you are a European guy and you marry a woman in Asia there is always an expectation that you will help the family , said Mr Kuyper, pointing out that ties and obligations spread further and deeper than in Western societies with their emphasis on the nuclear family. But if it's just about sex and money it won't last.


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