Many western men planning on marrying a Thai woman in Thailand are suddenly confronted with the ‘sinsot’ or marriage dowry. Phased out in the west, the dowry in Thailand is still alive and well and western men are usually expected to pay, just like Thai men supposedly do. Is the dowry something a western man should pay to his Thai bride’s family though, or is it just a case of westerners being taken for a ride? Read on to find out the truth about the Thai ‘sinsot’.
The Sinsot or Dowry in Thai Culture – For hundreds of years, Thai men have been expected to pay a dowry in order to marry the woman they want. The dowry usually consists of money and gold and is put on display at the engagement party or actual wedding itself, so that family and friends can see how much was given. Every week in Thailand, there are photos in the local newspapers of hi-so (high-society) girls who are getting married and who’s dowry has been put on display at the engagement party.
In modern Thailand though, and especially in Bangkok, in some families some or all of the dowry is given back to the married couple so they can make use of it in their married life. In other families, the bride’s family keeps all of the money. There don’t seem to be any definite rules for it except to say that, what you see on display is not always the dowry that will be ultimately given.
How Much Dowry Do Thai Men Normally Pay? – Finding out how much a typical dowry is for a Thai man can be difficult. Each dowry is agreed upon by the man and the bride’s family and the amount varies depending on certain things. If the bride is young, beautiful, rich and well-educated, a dowry in the region of 2-4 million baht ($56,800 to $113,200) is not unheard of. Some of this dowry will sometimes be returned to the man, sometimes it will not. If a woman is a virgin when married the dowry is also higher, with some men demanding proof before they pay the agreed upon sum. Dowries come down in amount if the woman is older, not as pretty as other women, divorced or has children. In many instance, if the woman is older and divorced, most Thai men will only pay a nominal dowry or nothing at all, as it’s looked upon as if the man is helping her family take care of a less-than-perfect daughter. Also, if the woman has been involved in the sex trade in Thailand, it’s highly unlikely that a Thai man would pay much of a dowry for her.
Of course, all this sounds mercenary but it’s really not. Thai men love their wives just like any other nationality, and Thai women love their husbands. Thai women also, who have less advantages than other women, really don’t think of themselves as ‘disadvantaged’. In fact, I’ve heard several Thai women say they were happy they weren’t beautiful or young when they married as it meant their husband could keep his money for the both of them. The dowry is really just a way of the husband-to-be proving he can take care of his wife – nothing more and nothing less.
Should Western Men Pay a Dowry and How Much? – Unlike in the west, where the bride’s family is often expected to pay for the wedding, in Thailand the groom is expected to give money to his wife-to-be’s family. Many western men complain about this and some refuse to do it. But, do many western men give dowries and can it cause problems if they don’t?
From the number of western men I know in Thailand married to Thai wives, I would venture a guess that most of them do pay some form of ‘sinsot’ or dowry. It’s negotiated with the bride’s family before the wedding but very few of the ones I know have had to pay a large sum. There’s a feeling in Thailand that westerners often get taken advantage of or are plain ripped-off by Thais. That however has never been my experience. Most western men I know paid 100,000 baht or less ($2,800), and at least three quarters of them got all their money returned to them by the girl’s family after the wedding. One had a girlfriend who’s family tried to gouge him on the dowry and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He finally broke up with the girl and ended up marrying someone else whose family weren’t so greedy. This, happily, is very rare though and most westerners I know were happy enough with the dowry they paid.
Overall, it’s a good thing for a western man to pay a dowry. It shows he can take care of his wife and it also shows he is willing to adapt to Thai culture, something that can go a long way to gaining him acceptance with his wife’s family.
If you are a western man planning on marrying a Thai woman and are unsure about paying the dowry, think of it this way. How much are you comfortable paying? How much do you trust your girlfriend’s family if they say the dowry will be returned? And how much do you love your girlfriend and are willing to do what it takes to marry her? If you can easily answer all of these questions in a comfortable way for you, you should go with your heart and pay the dowry. After all, isn’t love more important than money?