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Jéandré Sonnekus
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Thailand: Land of the Smiles

15 November 2010, 13:01  - Jéandré Sonnekus
Firstly let me start off by saying this is not written to make South Africa look bad or to have a go at people that still live in South Africa. I will, however, try to present the facts as experienced by my living in Thailand for the past four years.

My family and I left South Africa with no money after an extremely sour business deal, so to clarify we did not leave for political or crime related reasons. Unfortunately when you move to another country you automatically start comparing and I am afraid that South Africa does lose out to Thailand on many issues.

1. Crime
Now I can only talk from my own experience but I never felt as safe and secure as I do at this very moment. Yes we were affected by crime in South Africa (1 hijacking, 3 thefts in our house,2 cars stolen) but our reaction was always the same, “thank goodness no one got hurt”.

That is the sad fact is that we were no longer outraged by the fact that the crime even happened! Well in Thailand of course there is crime; however, the nature of the crime is very different. I guess that is the Buddhist mentality but crimes are not as violent as South Africa.

My house is never locked, I keep forgetting my key in my car and bike and I don’t even have insurance on my household goods. To give you an indication of how safe we feel, my wife has just walked to 711 at 03:00 in the morning (about one kilometre) and I never even thought something would happen to her.

2. Cost of Living
This is what it all comes down to for us as a family. My wife and I earn a modest combined income of about R20 000, but we live extremely comfortably in a so called “Posh” neighbourhood and my rent is R4 000 per month for a three bedroom house.

I just bought a brand new Pajero and was absolutely amazed when the interest was calculated at 2.75%, and it did not lose 25% of its value the moment I took delivery. We are able to save about 25% of our money per month because a) income tax is 7%, interest is low and daily things are just that little bit cheaper.

We travel quite a bit and tickets are about R2 000 return to the tropical islands for two people. You tend to use taxis and other public transport instead of driving. Petrol is about the same but trust me getting around just feels so much quicker and cheaper.

3. The People
Yes, there is a language barrier in most cases but you will be amazed how quickly you pick up the basics in order to survive. But the best thing about Thailand is the people, they are respectful, modest and really do seem to care for each other and especially foreigners.

Sure you may have to pay more sometimes as they see you as an ATM but I have never felt cheated. I love South Africans and have many friends there, but trust me Thai people just treat perfect strangers better.
I will admit that the political situation in Thailand is far from perfect and corruption is ripe, the police drive the nicest cars and get ready to pay your tea money if pulled over. You cannot legally buy land as a foreigner (can lease for 99 years) and to get any credit is really difficult, but this has made us work mostly on cash which is a good thing I guess. Buying cars made outside of Thailand is very expensive (try R500 000 for a Mini Cooper) and like I said you will have to pay more than Thais for most things.
I miss many things about South Africa (Supersport especially) but having been back this year I just cannot see myself moving back there.
This is obviously my personal opinion and I guess I will get called for many things in this piece; please just remember this is written to inform people that  not everyone leaves for crime reasons and that you don’t have to move to Europe, North America or Australia to have a rich and fulfilling life as an expat.
- Are you a South African living abroad interested in sharing your views? What is it like for a South African living in a foreign country or how do you view South Africa from a distance? Send us your columns to and you might get published in our new Beyond Borders section.

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