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What you need to know before you marry your Thai fiancée

By Chaninat & Leeds

While cultural, religious, educational, economic, lingual and even culinary differences can sometimes seem overwhelming, they need not be barriers to a successful US-Thai marriage.  Openly discussing and agreeing on a few key issues can help partners avoid some of the pitfalls of a cross-cultural union.

The Dowry

After a Thai bride's hand is requested from her father, financial discussions may begin.  While by no means compulsory, the 'sinsot’ dowry system and the prominent role of money in Thai wedding ceremonies can at first seem crass, or even distasteful, to an American groom.  However, it is important to understand that Thai culture places great emphasis on financial stability in marriage.  Traditionally, a man marrying a Thai bride would move in with her family; the husband would then be obligated to take care of his new in-laws financially, and would receive their support in reciprocation. Family homes are usually inherited through female children, with their husbands also benefiting.

In return for these future benefits, the husband rewards his bride’s family in advance by presenting them with a dowry.  A pre-agreed sum of money is publicly displayed as part of the ceremony, often in small denomination bills or in gold for dramatic effect.  Negotiation on an appropriate amount is quite normal, and can vary hugely depending on the assets of the bride’s family and of the husband; as well as the bride’s education and beauty.  A Thai bride from a village might command a figure of around THB 100,000 - 200,000 (USD 3,000 - 6,000), but in certain circumstances, amounts can become exorbitant.  For example, a wealthy American recently paid over five million dollars in a dowry when marrying a former Miss Thailand.

In modern Thailand, and especially in Bangkok, the dowry can be partly returned to the married couple to use, but in many cases the money is still kept by brides’ families.  All of these factors should be discussed and agreed upon before marriage.

Thailand Marriage

Traditional Thai Buddhist weddings consist of a series of intricate rituals that can require a great deal of rehearsal.  In the morning, cash gifts are usually given by guests; the amount depending on their status. Every time an envelope of cash is given, a guest receives a token souvenir of the wedding.  Paid for by the groom, a large feast is traditional in the evening, often with hundreds of guests.

Relocating to the US

Thai partners living overseas are known to quickly grow homesick for their favorite dishes.  It goes without saying that it is beneficial for US-Thai couples to compromise on their shared eating habits. 

Americans intending to live in the USA with their Thai partner should decide which visa is best for them: K1 or K3.  If planning to marry within a 90-day period, they should apply for legal residency of their partner with the K1 visa Thailand.  Alternatively, if the Thai partner is already married to a US citizen, then a family-based petition (Form I-130) can be filed on his or her behalf.  The K3 visa Thailand then allows the Thai wife or husband of an American citizen to enter the US for legal residency with a two year multiple-entry visa.

Family Support

After the wedding, a common cultural shock in US-Thai relationships is the Thai partners’ financial assistance to their family members.  By marrying into the Thai family, the husband shares some of the burden, and may be asked to contribute financially, especially if his parents-in-law suffer a sudden decline in finances or health.  American partners can grow uncomfortable with this arrangement, and it can add pressure to many US-Thai marriages.

Thailand Divorce

Increasingly in Thai society, couples living together are considered married even without official papers. Often, Thai Buddhist weddings function mainly as social events and it is not unusual for legal papers to be signed long after the wedding ceremony when there is a need for them, which can cause later problems.

As is the case anywhere in the world, a successful US-Thai marriage takes compromise, support and understanding from both parties.  Sadly, divorce in Thailand is on the rise, and the financial and emotional costs can be devastating. Considering drafting an international Thailand prenuptial agreement can go a long way to help protect one’s assets in the unfortunate case of divorce, and perhaps give the Thai-American couple peace of mind for the future.

Related Articles:

Prenuptials and Divorce in Thailand

Marriage and Divorce in Thailand: When Love Turns Deadly

Lonely Hearted in America: Culture Shock and Homesickness