The numbers of Thai women arriving in western countries is sparking interest from both Thai and foreign governments. A big problem is that some commentators keep using the defunct term mail order bride.
The use of this term directly augments and re enforces the negative stereotype of Thai wives in western society which
has been identified as the biggest challenge and source of hardship for Thai women struggling to forge a new life across the
Mail order bride term is both offensive and defunct
The western concept of a mail order bride or wife is a defunct one applying to western men seeking relationship
partners or girlfriends in Thailand. In today's world of the internet and global communications the idea that a man can select
and purchase a bride or wife is not only offensive but also both completely impractical and dangerous. The term is often
used in a broader sense to describe western men from more affluent background marrying women from less well off
countries with the promise of payment or financial support.
Understanding for those seeking love in Thailand
But even here it is important to look at the situation that exists in 2018. For those western men thinking of love in Thailand, failure to
properly understand the realities on the ground can lead to personal and financial disaster. For others it
leads to the false stereotyping of growing numbers of Thai women who are now the nucleus of growing Thai
communities and families in western countries around the world. This false stereotype has been identified by social
researchers as one of the biggest challenges for Thai women and marriage partners living in foreign countries. These Thai
women are now recognised as one of the most responsible and beneficial immigrant groups through their contribution
to host countries and compliance with laws and regulations.
What is a mail order bride?
The term mail order bride originated first in the United States when settlers and gold miners sought to bring wives to
hitherto undeveloped regions during a period where there was a massive influx of immigrants into the country. Entrepreneurs
stepped in and the rest is history. A similar situation developed in Thailand and other Asian countries in the 1950s and 1960
when German and Austrian farmers arrived looking for wives after women in the Europeans countries were deployed into the
German economic miracle post World war II. This lead to the explosion of the Thai bride industry, marriage agencies and
romance tours which were very popular up to the 1980s and 1990s. This trade still exists today but it is mostly targeted at
older foreigners and Japanese men.
Thai women today seek foreign love partners as a choice
In today's world, Thai women and men have more opportunities. It has always been a small proportion of Thai women
who have sought relationships with foreign men often driven by an economic imperative. However in the last few decades,
the growth of the world economy, education and industry in Thailand has given poorer Thai women more options. Today
there is a broader range of Thai women who seek foreign relationship partners. For some, it is an economic aspiration, for
others, such as divorced Thai women, it is search for a new life and others still, a sense of adventure. Some Thai women
just want to live in a foreign country.
Lately, a new group has emerged. These are Thai women who are economically well off but do not wish to marry a Thai
man. Researchers have identified this as a mindset not limited to Asian women, where a female still tends to seek a
materially better off partner. The popularity of foreign marriage in Thailand has also meant that the trend of foreign
marriage has spread to middle class Thai women. The biggest change of all and what has brought about this revolution is the internet and internet dating sites combined with the opening up of the world through communications and inexpensive
TLL does not support mail order brides and campaigns against it
ThaiLoveLines does not support the concept of mail order brides. It has always been the policy of the dating site to reject
any profile or submission involving users seeking a relationship on the basis of a financial consideration. TLL's Marketing
Manager Nom Inthakhenee explains: 'One of our core principles is that our site promotes love based relationships between
adults, we do not act as a go between or support a service such as a marriage agency orf something like that. Our dating
and social network gives people a chance to meet and let a relationship develop through interaction and creating a
connection, this is our job, creating connections. We also screen our profiles and will advise any mail order bride proposer
that this is not the ethos of our dating site. Our service is free to most of our users but we do offer very low cost Premium
service to fund our business as a monthly offering on our social network. ThaiLoveLines also has many international and
Thai users who simply use the website as a chat and messaging service. Our mission is to combat loneliness. This dating
site has conducted bi annual surveys into users seeking love in Thailand and worldwide since 2009. These surveys show
that the average age of western men seeking love has overall been declining with an exception of one years and currently
stands at 43. What is so encouraging is to see the lower age profile and we also have more Thai men,' says Pranom. 59%
of male users on the site come from outside Thailand with 41% living within the Kingdom.
Definition of mail order bride
The strict definition of a mail order bride is a woman who offers herself in marriage for a price with such a proposition
being promoted by a broker or middle man. At the turn of the century in Yukon, USA, it was through mail order printed
catalogues. Such catalogues were used in the 1960s and 1970s by agencies in Thailand and are still used by some agencies
and online marriage service companies. This proposition is on the decline. For a start, in
Asian countries, most women on such platforms have to pay exorbitant fees. Secondly, it is a practice that is outlawed in
some countries such as the Philippines with restrictive legislation also in place in Cambodia.
Mail order bride business still exists in Thailand
The mail order bride business exists, to some extent, in Thailand and is used by older western men and Japanese men.
There is also a demand for a marriage service among a broader proportion of western men who consider it a more discreet
and effective way to find a life partner. We have even see the return of romance tours to Thailand, one of which was featured
in a tabloid newspaper scoop on the UK's Sun newspaper in 2016.
UK's Sun newspapers mocks Thai mail order bride seekers
Some of the men involved in the UK tabloid story described themselves as high net worth individuals who didn't have the
time to spend on internet dating or developing long term relationships from a distance. These may be valid sentiments even
if this concept is seen in a very negative light in modern western society.
In these aggressively politically correct times, some western media commentators view any Thai woman coming to live
in a western country as a mail order bride. It is perceived that the relationship is a trade off between better financial prospects
and financial security for the woman and a more attractive, submissive woman for the western man who has obviously failed to find a
western woman. Sometimes this view is accurate but it is quite wrong to make such sweeping judgments.
Thai women and foreign men meeting online
The story of Thai women and foreign men meeting online is different. Both parties are consenting adults and the pool of
Thai women and foreign men is made up from a broad set of people in a variety of circumstances. The relationships that
develop are also broad and varied from online friendships to romance, from causal relationships to marriage where the
married couple may live in Thailand or a western country. A majority of Thai women online have gainful employment with
over 15% having a third level degree while western men vary from young university graduates to businessmen or older men
seeking retirement. These online relationships are not just about finding marriage in the modern world, they are also a
reflection of a changing society throughout the world which is more global and where people are more connected and on
the move from one country to another.
Online relationships are more successful worldwide
It would be very wrong to say that such relationships are not genuine or based on love and certainly wrong to say that they
are not successful. The fact is that such relationships, which are now by and large developed between two adults meeting
online, are more successful than indigenous relationships in all countries. Studies in Australia, Sweden and Switzerland instigated by
feminist pressure groups have proved this to be the case. A study by the University of Stockholm found that most Swedish
Thai relationships involved relationship partners that lived in rural areas and were less likely to result in divorce. A Danish
lecturer at the University of Roskilde, Steen Baagoe Nielson, recently attested to the nature of such relationships in an
interview with the Copenhagen Post. Mr Nielson, who studies intercultural marriages, said he was impressed by the
patience and tolerance that both parties to such relationships displayed. He had interviewed Danish men and formed a
view that the majority of such relationships are based on genuine, long term love.
Concern for relationships with large age differentials
A post graduate thesis study for the University of Newcastle in the UK found, however, that while Anglo Thai relationships
were more likely to be successful than indigenous UK marriages or relationships, the area that was most problematic were
relationships with a large age differential and where the UK men had unrealistic expectations. This is the realm of the mail
order bride. Similarly in Thailand, there is a continuous stream of media stories involving foreign men, who having paid Sin
Sod for a Thai wife, considered that they had splashed out money and felt that they had made a bargain for a submissive
wife. Such relationships invariably end in failure.
The key advice therefore for anyone looking for a mail order bride type relationship is to think again. The state of mind
necessary to conceive such a relationship will also, more than likely, result in a failed relationship.
Thai bride mistaken for a mail order bride
Firstly, it must be understood that the current wave of Thai women marrying and finding relationship partners in western
countries represent relationships that are more equal and healthy than is perceived by the media. In spite of some insightful
reporting in some places, in general, the mainstream media in western countries insists on perpetuating the false and discredited stereotype of the mail order bride. The
younger age of western men, the increasing prevalence of Thai women with third level degrees marrying western
men who are getting younger and more likely to be small business owners, illustrates that this does not always conform to the
stereotype of the older, less attractive western man, marrying a very young, vulnerable and less skilled Thai girl. Yet even within
this stereotype, the relationship is not at all that of the mail order bride. Such relationships are still quite prevalent as they
conform to traditional Thai cultural norms where both parties needs and expectations are met. They, more often than not,
are successful where they are firmly rooted in a relationship which entails mutual respect between husband and wife. What is
required a better understanding of the pattern of these relationships. In all cases, such relationships involve screening
through visa applications and the married couple have to comply with stringent government requirements often exceeding
those applied to normal immigration. The majority of such relationships see the Thai woman or wife taking up employment
in western countries. Many government sponsored studies of such relationships in western countries have endorsed this
view. This relationship is typical for many relationships involving western men working in western countries who live and are
married to Thai wives or life partners originally from Thailand.
Isan's matrilineal society - key to understanding Thai wife story
Many of the women marrying or settling with western men are from Thailand's Isan province. This is a region in Thailand
near Laos, Cambodia and China with a mixed and quite distinct culture. For a start land and property is generally transferred
through the female line.
The traditional marriage format in this society is that men would marry into the wife's family. Amazingly however, once
married, the man assumes the role of leader of his home and the family according to Thai custom and tradition.
Therefore, it was required of such men that they pay Sin Sod, a sort of marriage payment. This was not simply seen as
payment for the benefit of being able to take a Thai wife but also as a gesture and sign that the man coming into the family
and potential leader, had the ability to find money.
Strangely this concept has worked and been applied quite well today with the growing numbers of western men marrying
into households in Isan province. It is, in fact, quite the opposite of a mail order bride since the man is joining the Thai
woman's family. This tradition still applies where the Thai woman is emigrating with her foreign husband. The moving away
of the Thai woman appears to break with tradition but the link between the woman, her family and home remains. All studies
show that it is now quite a common practice that the married couple return to the Thailand and the Thai village. The Thai
woman maintains the traditional bond. Many older Thai wives who have married European partners, in particular in
Scandinavian countries, Germany and the Netherlands have begun to return to Thai provinces with their husbands
generating a new form of inward investment into the area. In keeping with tradition it is common for the family to provide land
for the couple to build a home in Thailand.
Thai culture is very real and powerful in Thai lives
Thai society and culture is very different to modern western culture and society. Many sceptical and negative
commentators fail to appreciate the genuinely powerful influence of Thai culture and tradition even on the lowest Thai
families whose lives have been hardened, even deprived, by harsh economic realities.
Prostitution and the duty of care to family in Thailand
However this is where problems begin for western men. In Thailand it is the duty of children to take care of parents. This
is why a very small percentage of young Thai women, at the lowest end of society, sometimes go to work in prostitution. It is a
viable way to provide for children and parents back home. To the Thai woman, this is an opportunity to prove her worth
against the greater shame of not being able to help at all. Thai society and religion certainly frowns on prostitution. In fact, Thailand does not have
the biggest prostitution in the world or even Asia. However, the same stigma does not apply to prostitution in Thailand as it
does in western culture. It is certainly a cause for shame but this is offset by the merit of providing for one's family.
Relationships with prostitutes or bar girls
Many westerners sympathise with such women and form relationships with these Thai bar girls and their family.
Surprisingly, many such relationships are successful but the same factors that led the family to be deprived in the first place
may also place a strain on the new relationship involving a foreigner. There may be unpaid debts, members of the family
with gambling issues (which is a major problem in Thailand) or quite simply a matter of character.
Relationships with Thai bar girls face more challenges
Oftentimes it will be the less well off westerners or foreigners who make such a bargain with a Thai bar girl. The
character of the Thai woman has already been compromised by her background, not to mention the emotional trauma that
afflicts any woman engaged in prostitution. All are reasons for relationship failure. The Thai bride, wife or partner is also less
likely to be able to work in a foreign country and her options will be more limited than the majority of Thai women who marry
foreigners. Most Thai women looking for foreign partners have work skills, language abilities and a competitive attitude to
finding money and work. It is a fact that Thai women are among the best in the world for entrepreneurship, managing small
businesses and managing money. We have discussed this elsewhere in other articles. Even so, such relationships, although
they look like a mail order bride arrangement, they are not. Thai bar girls are often more independent and capable than
women working in prostitution in western countries. Often these women will come from families that own land and the
decision to work in the sex industry is a practical one. The perception of prostitution is very different in Thailand although it is
still the same sordid and destructive industry as elsewhere. However, although there are no studies, anecdotal evidence
suggests that such relationships are more likely to fail.
Thai women - taking care of older men
Thailand does not had an extensive welfare system similar to Australia, Scandinavian or European countries. It is
certainly also a patriarchal society even though in Isan there is matrolinal property structure in rural areas. The distinctive
nature of Thai culture and Buddhism imposes duties on Thai women that are distinct from western norms. Because of this,
it is often the case that younger Thai women without property marry older Thai men and care for them in exchange for
financial security and property rights. Similar practices existed in western countries hundreds of years ago and have been
done away with by new society norms brought about by economic prosperity, women's rights and the welfare state.
Romantic love and marriage in western countries
It should also be noted that romantic love is a cultural development that is deeply embedded in western countries. Even
so, not so long ago in Europe arranged marriages were common often with large age differences at all levels of society
depending on financial circumstances. It is only in the last century that such considerations have been swept aside in favour
of love and romance. Even so there is evidence to suggest that the millennial generation are moving away from traditional
Marriage between young Thai women and older western men
In Asia and Thailand such a culture has also developed particularly in Thailand where romantic love has always been
an aspiration but marriage arrangements have also been dictated by other traditions and circumstances such as economic
security. This is also the basis for the relationships that developed between older westerners and younger Thai women
which, as we have seen, are the most likely to fail. We have seen evidence that where the married couple, are living in
western countries, the expectations of both parties are difficult to sustain.
The source of lurid tabloid new stories
There are many such relationships that are successful. However relationships with large age differences and those
between western men and Thai women with a background of prostitution comprise the overwhelming majority of failed
relationships. They are the source of nightmare tabloid stories.
In Thailand the problem of the age differential is exacerbated by cultural difference and a combination of a loss of face and
stigma from marrying a foreigner places strain on the younger Thai woman. This is offset by an elevated status in some
circles as 'mia farang' of wife of a foreigner. This can also lead to problems in Thailand as the woman falls prey to money
lenders or gambling rackets. It is very much a question of character.
Western men can misunderstand Thai women
However it must be understood that many Thai women enter into such relationships genuinely feeling that they are doing
the right thing. The problems arise in western countries where western men misunderstand the nature of the relationship.
They do not allow for the alienation that such women experience living in a foreign countries where they may have limited
language and work skills. On the other hand many such relationships are indeed successful where both parties form mutual
Thai wife grew to love her elderly German husband
In July 2015, TLL spoke to one such Thai bride. Beam had just returned to Thailand after the funeral of her elderly
German husband. Beam's father had paid money to find her German husband who was, in fact, seven years older than him.
Having lived with her German husband in Germany and latterly in Thailand, the young Thai widow had grown to love her
German husband even though he was not a wealthy man. In fact, it was her father, contrary to all customs, who had paid
money to make the relationship to happen. 'Thai women are very interested in working abroad and to many Thai women,
marriage is a duty or a compact to be kept, it's not like the western, romantic idea even though such relationships nearly
always develop a deep bond and a very healthy type of love,' says Carla Boonkong. Carla is a researcher who studies Thai women
who marry western partners and move to foreign countries.
EU studying the phenomenon of Thai Brides
The European Union, through the European Parliament, is currently investigating the phenomenon of Thai wives. A
researcher form the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance in the Netherland recently interviewed a Thai Love Lines
executive as part of their research programme. While the term 'mail order brides' was used, it is very wrong to use this term
with respect to such relationships which involve a whole spectrum of surprisingly healthy relationships that are in fact
producing very positive results for both Thailand and the European Union.
Thai wives in foreign countries often work and pay taxes
Thai women, who marry European men tend to find it easy to adopt to the work environment. In many cases, instead of
being a burden on the state, they travel to, they end up paying taxes and contributing to social security. The phenomenon is
being looked at throughout the world. The number of Thai women living in foreign countries is now at a stage where
communities are being developed in host countries centred on local Buddhist temples or wats. The importance of
Buddhism to these Thai women is clear and the effect of Buddhist principles is very real in their lives. Nevertheless, these are
also practical women who can adapt to both traditions often finding themselves balancing the requirements of their western
husbands, their Thai Buddhist values and demands from families at home in Thailand.
Thai government responds to Thai wives living abroad
The Thai government has recently recognised the phenomenon by creating special course for all Thai women marrying
foreigners. This initiative is aimed at bridging the communication or language barriers and also making sure that the Thai women are
aware of the facilities and services available through Royal Thai embassies and consulates throughout the world. The
established links between the Thai consulate network, Buddhist temples and the active culture of Thai
women means that this immigration wave is bound to be a bright star in the future for Thailand andas well as the host countries in
Europe, Scandinavia, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Anti immigration sentiment in western countries
With the growing anti immigrant sentiment and debate about immigration arising in western countries, it is unfortunate
that Thai wives find themselves caught in the crossfire. Labeled by some government agencies as mail order brides, they are being
thwarted with instruments designed to curb illegal immigration and the larger flows of immigrants from African, Middle
Eastern countries and former colonies of western powers. Thailand was never a colony and is unique in this respect. In spite
of this, the numbers of Thai women settling in western countries is growing. Many of the new immigration requirements
serve to protect the long term interests of those Thai women who have the ability and wish to settle in western countries.
Thai women at centre of harsh immigration decisions
TLL News has covered the case of a UK Thai wife send home for studying the wrong English course, a Danish Thai wife
who was deported after the death of her husband and lastly a Thai girlfriend and relationship partner of a UK man who has
been refused entry to the UK because of an outstanding NHS bill. In the latter case, the couple were presented with a bill
brought about by the birth of their daughter in the United Kingdom which had not been paid. Health care is normal free to UK
citizens under Britain's NHS system but the subject of care for immigrants has become a political issue in recent times.
Treatment of Thai wives compared to African migrants
Thr former two cases were resolved and the Thai wives returned to the UK and Denmark respectively. The Danish woman
was brought back to Denmark after a swell of support from her neighbours and supporters in Denmark and the UK woman
on the basis of a new visa application and support from her employer and well wishers.
Both Thai women are examples of what positive immigration is to a country and it can be argued that the Thai wives
of western men, often labeled mail order brides, are a distinct asset to their host countries where the western man and the
wife concerned meet all the immigration criteria including stringent income requirements and respect for cultural
More cynical commentators have compared the treatment of Thai women to the open door policy shown to Middle
Eastern and African refugees and economic migrants. It has been suggested that the plight of Thai women and Thai wives
is not politically correct. Despite this, the story of Thai women in foreign countries is a positive one and the term mail order
brides is anachronistic and misplaced.
Terms 'Mail Order Bride' continues to be falsely applied
The term mail order brides is still used to describe the ongoing migration of Thai women from Thailand to western, developed
countries as wives, girlfriends and relationship partners. There are many reasons for the term still being used and these should
be explored. One obvious one is that some older western men or men still pursue the mail order bride concept. Although it
is offensive and in most cases, results in a failed relationship, some western men still insist on the idea of 'buying' a Thai wife
or mail order bride. This is unfortunate for all parties but it is now very rare.
TLL now prohibits mail order bride type profiles
ThaiLoveLines, the leading Thai dating site, has reconfirmed its policy prohibiting mail order bride type
arrangements or rejecting dating profiles which promote such relationships. This is not be confused with Sin Sot or traditional Thai
relationships which the popular dating site supports. 'Our site will continue to create loving, healthy relationships between
Thai men and women and our users from all over the world. Everything we do will be directed towards the goal and that
includes advising our users and screening them,' says Pranom Inthakhenee. 'We are an international dating and social
network site, we do not control the outcomes but we can create the right conditions for adults in Thailand and around the
world to find friendship and love. That is what we will continue to do more effectively and efficiently.'
Western governments agencies protect Thai women
There are many checks and balances being set up by western governments to impede purely mail order bride
transactions or at least protect the women involved. The first involves the immigration authorities in western or developed
countries. These are very active in screening such applications. Visa requests that fail to demonstrate a committed and
natural relationship are routinely rejected. There have also been moves to create specific databases of men with foreign
relationship partners both in western countries and countries such as Thailand. Progress on this has been slow over privacy
and data protection issues. The Iredale report in Australia identified 110 Australian men who had sponsored multiple brides
from foreign countries such as the Philippines or Thailand. The numbers of such cases is miniscule. It could be argued that
the publicity from cases of abuse have overshadowed the bigger story of the success of relationships involving Thai women
and western men.
Iredale report into foreign brides in Australia
The Iredale report resulted from an Australian government enquiry in 1992 concluded that most foreign marriages in
Australia were both genuine and successful. It was the first of many such reports including more up to date reports in the last
decade in Sweden, the United Kingdom and Switzerland which focus more specifically on Thailand women. The Iredale
report was prepared by the Australian Department of Ethnic Affairs by the Centre for Multicultural Studies at the University of
Wollongong. It highlighted over 110 Australian men who had sponsored more than one foreign marriage and potential
abuse of foreign wives in Australia. It should be noted that Thai women formed only a small percentage of the numbers of
women contained in that study (just over 1,000).
Growth of Thai women marrying Australian men
Since 1992 with the advent of the internet and cheaper air travel, the numbers of Thai women marrying Australians has
grown exponentially. Later reports, such as one produced by postgraduate students at the University of Perth, show a more
positive picture with the growth of Thai Australian communities. The Iredale report laid the groundwork for protections that were put in
place by Australian authorities such as improved screening and supports for Thai women and foreign wives living in
Older foreign men charged with Thai wife abuse
There have been high profile court cases in Australia and the United Kingdom involving older men who have married
younger women from Thailand and abused their partners. In nearly all cases, the men have been dealt with harshly by the
legal system with their Thai partners often receiving compensation or property. The cases are uncommon but all such
incidents result from the concept or mindset of a mail order bride as opposed to an equal and natural relationship between
adults involving mutual respect. This concept represents a danger not only to the Thai women involved but also to the
western men themselves. Even where they are well intentioned, such relationships are unlikely to succeed.
Thai cultural bride payment or 'Sin Sod'
Confusion arises over the Thai cultural practice of Sin Sod which is a payment that any groom or husband to be pays to
the family of the Thai bride. This is often mistaken by western men and commentators as a mail order transaction. It is not
and such an interpretation is a cultural conflict.
Good news - mail order bride industry dying out
The good news is that the practice of western men seeking and marrying Thai mail order brides is dying out. Today,
Thai women have more economic options and the online ability through internet dating sites to be safely and securely meet real, genuine
The bad news is that there are still many Thai women from deprived backgrounds who still are led into the Thai prostitution
industry. However the numbers are slowly declining. These women continue look at western men online as potential saviours and will often marry older or less suitable
western men purely for financial reasons. Many western commentators will categorise these Thai women as mail order
Mail order bride industry between Asian countries
The mail order bride business does still exists among Asian countries and at lower ends of the economic scale.
Cambodia is one country that has experienced a resurgence of brides being sold which also links in with the a trade in
human trafficking of servants and sex workers which exists in Asia. These networks are operated clandestinely by criminal
organisations.The government in Cambodia and the Philippines have taken steps to legally restrict and outlaw such
In Thailand today the last vestiges of the mail order bride industry are where Thai women burdened by debt and financial
obligations contract with their parties in what can only be described as human trafficking. This is linked to other Asian
countries in particular Japan.
Internet dating and online social network empower Thai women
The fact is that even for Thai women from economically deprived backgrounds, there are now more options created by
the internet and an overall improvement of economic conditions in Thailand. Factors which have lead to the near elimination
of the mail order bride industry relating to western partners in Thailand include:
- Intense immigration screening by immigration authorities.
- More foreigners seeking Thai relationship partners on a broader and natural scale.
- The explosion of the internet and smartphones.
- More economic activities and opportunities in Thailand for Thai women as the country plus into the global
- Higher standards of education in Thailand.
- More westernised thinking in Thailand which instead of replacing Tai tradition and culture is, in fact, blending with it.
TLL - harnessing the power of love through the internet
The internet and sites like ThaiLoveLines represent an exciting opportunity to deploy the new power of instant global
communications to allow adults from different cultures and with different needs to form healthy, mutually beneficial
relationships and friendships. What is most encouraging is to see surveys of such relationships in Scandinavia and Europe
confirm that not only are these loving relationships successful but that they are happy and surprisingly modern and