A new study of Thai women in Germany shows how these brave women overcome the odds to make a better life for themselves and their families.
The report produced by a student at the Thai National Institute of Development Administration is notable for the extent and clarity of the research. The survey was conducted both in Germany and in the rural North
East of Thailand where many of the Thai women originated.
In recent years, the Thai government has established increased services and a special division with the Department of Foreign Affairs aimed at supporting Thai women living abroad. This comes as there is
increasing evidence that a small minority of Thai women, particularly those without language skills or education, are being exploited or abandoned in some foreign countries. The study shows that most Thai women
living in Germany are satisfied with their new life but also reveals the unique challenges they face in a foreign environment. One key finding was that many Thai women were initially unprepared when they first arrived on
It is now estimated that there are over 45,000 Thai brides in Germany beginning with a trend that took off in the 1960's and 1970s when Thai women began marrying Germans particularly those employed in private
industry and farming. Many Thai brides now live in Germany's cities with the biggest number living in Dusseldorf followed by Stuttgart, Munich, Berlin and Wiesbaden.
The study suggests that one reason for the increase in German men seeking Thai brides has been the increasing industrialization of Germany resulting in many German women seeking employment and therefore
increasingly not willing to both work and become traditional housewives. The trend began in the agricultural sector with landowners from Germany and Austria looking for wives and companions to help work their
landholdings. The report suggests that formal marriage is on the decline in Germany particularly among German women.
The study included nearly four hundred completed questionnaires among Thai women in Germany and included fields trips to meet Thai women in Germany as well as in-depth interviews both in Germany and in
North East Thailand.
Another key finding of the survey was that 65% of Thai women regarded their relationship with German men a success while only 1.5% of Thai women had a negative attitude towards their relationship. However, it
also tellingly reveals that a large number of Thai women who migrated to Germany were initially disappointed by their new environment and do not recommend rural Thai girls in North East Thailand to marry foreign
husbands for money. It showed that while 70% positively endorsed their marriages to German men as successful, nearly half actively discouraged younger Thai women to follow their paths while nearly 40% were
The reason for this could be that while Thai women in Germany have made a success of their chosen life, they have overcome many challenges. Nearly 65% were forced to seek employment of their own in order to
have the funds to remit money back to Thailand to take care of their families and parents. The survey showed that the average age of Thai brides in Germany was 37 years but reported a drop in income for those over
40 years and indicated that nearly 60% of working Thai brides earned 60,000 baht ($2,000) per month or less working in the service industries or assembly lines. A small proportion of Thai women generated significant
income in excess of 100,000 baht ($3,300) per month and most of these were Thai women who had successfully established their own businesses in Germany.
This may not be surprising as the survey indicated that German men seeking Thai brides were more likely to be private sector employees but also notably, a large number of them were businessmen.
The survey showed that the vast majority of Thai women (69%) marrying German men had a primary level of education while only 7% had a third level qualification. This contrasts with larger numbers for third level
education among those migrating to the United Kingdom and Australia. Germany is the third most favored foreign country for Thai brides.
The report showed that while 65% reported no problems living in Germany, the most significant problem for the others was the weather which is cold in winter and in summer causes large numbers of Thai women to
develop pollen allergies. Added to this, was loneliness which was acutely experienced by Thai women without jobs while their husbands were away at work. A recent additional study has also highlighted this group of
Thai women as the most vulnerable with 17% of Thai brides in Berlin reporting incidents of domestic abuse or violence. The other significant problem reported was hostility from a certain proportion of the German
populace who do not welcome foreigners.
One of the new challenges facing Thai women emigrating to Germany is a new German law introduced following a directive of the European Union in 2007 which requires all foreign immigrants to be able to listen
and speak basic German. This has resulted in Thai groups in German urban centres setting up study groups but it has been reported as a serious worry and challenge for many newly arrived Thai brides to Germany.
The law stipulates a time limit by which newly arrived Thai brides must be able to listen and understand basic German.
While the report highlights Thai community groups in Germany such as a Buddhist monastery in Munich and weekly nights out at Thai restaurants or a particular casino in Hamburg, it also shows that a large
segment of Thai women living in German prefer not to associate with other Thai women and display negative attitudes to other Thais.
It has emerged that more and more old Thai women living in Germany are beginning to migrate home with their elderly husbands and the trend is increasing year by year. The in depth study highlights the financial
and cultural impact that this is having on traditional Thai communities in the North East region of Thailand where over 60% of the Thai brides originate from. While there is still be a stigma attached to Thai women
marrying foreigners, this is diminishing and being replaced by a new more favorable status as the relative success achieved by Thai women returning with German spouses becomes apparent. This, in turn, is leading
younger Thai women to think about finding a foreign husband: 'My parents in Udon Thani don't seem to have any comment. They like my husband because he helps with everything. But some of my neighbors look
down on me. Some ask me to find one for them because my husband is a really good person,' said one Thai woman in the survey.
It shows that the inward investment caused by migrating foreigners to Thailand is now estimated at over one billion baht ($50 million) a year in one part of Thailand alone. It is also estimated that future impact on Thailand's trade and cultural connections with the rest of the world will be both substantial and positive. The report shows that the return of ageing Thai brides with their German husbands is contributing further to the trend with many parents encouraging their young daughters to find a foreign husband. One Thai bride who retuned to Udon Thani said that many Thai parents had asked her to find a German husband for their daughter: 'When I came back to Udon Thani, many people gossip me. They give me a weird look. But when they see that my financial status is better, they want me to take their children to Germany to get money. I think I do my best. My previous Thai husband didn't make anything better, but my foreign husband takes good care of everything. The only problem is the language, but that's not a big thing. When you have money, you are welcomed everywhere but you cannot avoid any gossips. Well maybe it's because I'm not educated,' she said.
The comprehensives study also throws up some other interesting findings:
- While The Royal Thai government's Consul General in Frankfurt has geared up to assist Thai women in the area with a mobile unit, Thai women living in Germany have a less than positive view of the consular services provided by the Thai government. One Thai bride suggested that staff at the Thai embassy in Berlin associated all Thai women working in Germany as prostitutes and another complained about the service: 'A woman travels 300-400 km on train to visit the embassy but forgets to bring a required document, she is then asked to go home and get it.' However, she could have been told that all embassies of all nations provide the same challenge to their nationals seeking assistance.
- Some Thai women in the report said that they particularly tried to avoid air travel with Thai airlines as the felt that the Thai staff looked down upon them. A characteristic of the study was that a sizeable proportion of Thai women preferred less contact with other Thai people while in Germany. One reason for this may be an awareness of a lack of education seen in many oral submissions and also loss of face. One woman told the interviewers 'I have never been a cleaner before when I was in Thailand.'
- Another theme was the positive impact of being free of debt when arriving in Germany and beginning a new life, Many respondents cited this and overall many Thai brides living in Germany has a positive view of the attitudes of the Germans towards money and financial management.
- Another key challenge faced by Thai women was food and food habits. Many had to adapt to the western format of fixed dinner times and a formal etiquette but many Thai brides also insisted on preparing Thai food finding Western food 'inedible'. One of the key problems faced by Thai women was a negative reaction from Germans towards the strong smell of Thai food.
- Many Thai brides (40%) now use the internet to stay in touch with news from home.
While this study highlights the challenges faced by Thai women are real, the report shows that Thai women have, in general, managed to overcome them and made a success of their lives in Germany. Germany was one of the first countries to open up as a destination for Thai women seeking better lives abroad and Thai women continue to marry German men in increasing numbers but the study also hints at a change in trends with more Thai brides opting to live at home or to return home to Thailand and an opening up of communication between Thai brides in Germany and their home country with the advent of increased global communications.