A Thai woman living in North eastern Thailand recently told the New York Post that her life with her retired US husband was her dream come true. But could such marriages be facing some challenges?
More and More American men are retiring to Thailand with a Thai wife. This trend has not only continued but exploded in
recent years driven on by the economic downturn in the United States. However there is also evidence that marriages
between Thai women and foreign spouses in North Eastern Thailand are facing some difficulties as the level of
divorce in such marriages is higher than normal for Thailand. However it should be noted that this rate is far below
the level divorce now seen the United States itself. Howard from San Diego, a ThaiLoveLines member who now lives in
Chiang Mai with his Thai girlfriend: 'Sure, some relationships don't work out, I often think my own relationship is
too good to be true but overall, it's a good deal for us guys and the Thai women. I meet many wonderful couples who
have been together for decades here, I don't see this very much at home anymore.'
Commentators have attributed the problems to a conflict of reasons for the marriage, and partially due to
cultural differences. It is important that American men carefully assess their reasons for taking a Thai bride, and the
reason why young women marry wealthy American retirees. However, not all such marriages are for the wrong reasons,
and the vast majority endure in spite of the potential problems.
American men retiring to Thailand with a Thai wife
It is becoming more common for American men to retire to Thailand and marry a Thai wife. Many of these men are divorcees
or widowers, who have found it quite acceptable in Thailand for older men to marry young Thai women without the
social stigma that may be attached in the USA to marriages between people of significantly disparate ages. They
also find that their retirement income goes a lot farther in a country where the cost of living is relatively low.
A ThaiLoveLines survey has found that of 340 American men who had found a Thai partner, 67 were planning to
settle in Thailand within a year. The survey is one carried out as part of a biannual survey into marriage between
American men and Thai
women, but according to ThaiLoveLines, 'the only down side is that we are also observing increased levels of
divorce among couples like this in Thailand itself.'
Many young Thai women have seen the American dream on TV and the movies, and have a desire to become part of
that. They have also seen other Thai women who have found themselves an American life partner and want the same for
Says Nui Davis, who as a child saw Thai girls who had found foreign husbands visiting her village dressed in fine
clothes and handing out candies to the kids: 'For me, they were like a princess,' she said. 'And I kept those
pictures in my mind, and I made a wish that one day I would like to be one of those ladies.'
Why Americans like Thai brides
Now she is - in theory. She married her husband Joseph Davis of California, a twice-divorced retired naval
officer, and her family kept telling her that she had finally found her dream. However, like an increasing number
of American men with
new Thai brides, 54-year old Joe decided not to settle in California with his wife, but moved to Thailand
instead. The two live in an upmarket air-conditioned home, which like many western homes in Thailand is an oasis of
opulence surrounded by the poorer houses of their neighbours.
Says Mr. Davis: 'Thai women are a lot like women in America were 50 years ago," before they become "strong-headed
Many American men grapple with the decision to seek a wife from a foreign country and come to Thailand intent on
finding 'an honest relationship,' the vast majority are aware there is a financial motive to the desire of many Thai
women to marry American men. An American, John Forder who works with a UN funded programme in Thailand's North East
describes this approach as 'healthy'. 'The first thing to understand is that there are financial motives behind the
trend but beyond this there is a lot more going on. Many Thai women are genuinely attracted to American men and want
to be part of American culture. For instance, many Thai women do not see marriage to older men as such as bad thing.
But also, you must remember that most Thai women do not want to marry foreign men, most Thai women who marry
American men are from a poorer background or are divorced.' They faithfully look after their men and their family in
return for the financial security they desire so much. In fact, it is the question of 'family' that comes as a
culture shock to many American men who retire to Thailand with their young brides.
What many men have failed to understand is that when they marry a Thai bride, they also
marry her extended family. In Thai culture, and that of most Asian countries, the husband and wife are financially
responsible for the bride's parents and grandparents, and also other members of the family that require financial
help. This is just one of the many reasons for the increasing divorce rate between Thai women and foreign men that
settle in Thailand. Another reason is a tightening of Thailand's property laws making more difficult for foreigners
to own land in Thailand. 'This has meant that some Americans are more dependent on their Thai relatives when it
comes to ownership of property particular land,' he says.
It is not only American men that are attracted to move to Thailand to live with their young brides, because there
are almost 11,000 men of many different nationalities living in the same region of Isaan as Joe. The attraction is
not only the exotic and beautiful women, but the low cost of living and the perceived aforementioned subservience of
Thai brides to their husbands.
Misunderstanding between men and Thai wives
In addition to pressure being placed on marriages because of problems raised by familial financial obligations,
many Thai women do not always take kindly to being regarded as having few rights in their marriage. Strain is placed
on many marriages because of a difference between expectations and reality. 'Many American or foreigners if you
like, forget that in Thailand, the law favours the Thai wife just as much as at home, even more so. It is the Thai
tradition or culture that accords the man such careful consideration by his Thai wife. But if a foreign husband
abuses this position or crosses the line, it's not very good at all. But really most America men who come here to
live are gentlemen in particularly the ones that are better off.'
It is perhaps significant that many of the men who decide to settle down in Thailand have been divorced,
sometimes more than once, and are not necessarily seeking a more subservient wife but simply a better emotional
attachment. They are retired and have been unhappy in their previous relationships, and are hoping that they can
settle down in a more stable relationship with a beautiful young Thai woman.
For many Thai women, on the other hand, the arrangement is more of a financial one. This is the nightmare
scenario. These Thai women, often with a history of being involved in Thailand's infamous sex industry, marry men
such as American retirees much older than they would normally dream of marrying for economic reasons and to escape
their fate. They want the money, and once they marry they spend it. The husband becomes secondary to the credit card
while the women try to raise themselves to a higher social status, and when that is associated with supporting the
Thai wife's family, the situated often becomes untenable.
Some husbands are expected to provide a dowry of several thousand dollars from their retirement income. Such
marriages, where each partner has a different reason for marrying and neither based upon true love, are almost
doomed to failure from the outset.
Cultural and Language issues
However, it is not always like that, and the vast majority of marriages between American retirees and Thai women
are very successful. Some are borderline, such as that between 63 year-old retired mathematics teacher Dennis
Sorensen who is married to 31 year-old Pennapa. They have issues when he runs out of money until his next pension
payment due to commitments in looking after her extended family.
The couple also still has language problems, even after 8 years, but in general their marriage is strong. There
have been reports of marriages breaking down due to such financial and language barriers, particularly when the pair
make little attempt to learn each other's culture. Nevertheless, most marriages between Thai women and foreign men
find the cultural experience a plus factor and where they have a strong affection or love for each other; this is
sufficient to overcome such issues.
Where couples have married for love, divorce rates are low, because there are no doubts that Thai wives in a
loving relationship are devoted to their husbands and children, and do all they can to keep both happy. While living
in Thailand, however, there is no overcoming the financial responsibility to the extended family that is alien to
the American way of life. 'I really find this fascinating, many Americans come here knowing that Thai women have a
financial motive even though they are good people but get very upset with the Thai culture that expects them to help
out the family. 'Western culture really places an emphasis on true love between the couple to the exclusion of the
rest of society. Thais think differently about this. I really have not come to a conclusion about which is right
Another difficulty that American retirees in Thailand face is their tax returns. America is about the only
country that insists upon expatriates filing tax returns in the same way as if they were still residing in the USA.
That is because American citizens are obliged to pay tax on all worldwide income irrespective of source or country
of residence. However this is not a problem for must American men living in Thailand. Howard from San Diego says: 'I
have got a CPA who I call a few times a year, but now it's mostly e-mail anyhow.' Nevertheless, money in Thailand
goes a great deal further than in the USA - depending on the wife's family situation!
In the end of the day all relationships are personal matters. Says Mr Forder: 'It depends on whether the two
individuals have good hearts, if they have, these relationships can not only endure but be wonderful cross cultural
adventures. However we are seeing more and more Thai women marrying Americans and foreign men and this is leading to
more instances where the mix is wrong. Particularly where the Thai woman is very young, the foreign husband older
and where a lack of money or financial pressure arises.'