Unlike in many other Asian countries, or indeed amongst the upper classes of Europe centuries ago, a marriage dowry is paid not by the wife’s family, but to the bride’s family.
Sin Sod means ‘dowry’ in Thai
This arrangement is seen by many non-Thais (and even some Thai people) as being equivalent to buying a bride, and as having sinister and sexist overtones. Indeed in the past this was undoubtedly the case.
Do not forget that it was not much more than 100 years ago that around two-thirds of Thai people were effectively ‘owned’ by the Thai aristocracy and it was legal to have more than one wife. Wives were often bought as were the majority of the labourers.
Attitudes to Sin Sod in Thailand Have Changed
Times though have changed in Thailand. Sin Sod remains a tradition harking back to these those times of less personal freedom, but the concept behind marriage in modern Thailand is now very different, with Thai women now largely free to choose who they marry and for Thai families to decide how to interpret the tradition of giving and receiving Sin Sod.
As a Westerner Do I need to pay Sin Sod?
This depends on the family, and whether the parents are alive. Unless both parents are deceased, the answer (more often than not) is ‘yes’ for both Thai and foreigner alike.
Out of my foreign friends who have married Thai ladies, it is a roughly equally split. The ones who haven’t paid have either married older ladies, who have already had children, or married someone whose parents live in Bangkok and have middle class jobs. For the others who have married Thai women, with no children and parents from the countryside, they all paid something.
Sin Sod is seen as being old fashioned by a minority of Thai people. Most Thai men (or more correctly their families) will pay Sin Sod and foreigners should expect no different. It goes with the territory and it’s something you generally need to do if you want to marry a Thai women.
How Much Should I Pay?
Again this depends on the family and the woman in question.
There is a sliding scale of how much you should pay; the ‘going rate’ if you like, relates to a number of factors:
- The social and economic standing of the family: the richer and more important the family, the more you are expected to pay.
- The age and marital status of the woman: younger and less ‘history’ the more you pay.
- The appearance, employment and education of the woman: the prettier, and better the education or job of the woman, the more you pay.
- Your own financial position.
Of course it also depends on how much the family think they can get out of you. Some families will see foreigners as a walking ATM and make unrealistic demands. Sometimes it will be the bride-to-be who is looking to make a fast buck out of you. If the demand seems unreasonable the best advice is not to proceed with the marriage – it is likely to be a scam, which should probably have realised from the outset.
Unless you are marrying into real wealth or power expect to pay between 100,000 and 500,000 THB in sin sod. I paid 500,000 THB for a beautiful, never-married-before Thai woman in her early 30s, with a degree and a good job as an accountant. The young Thai lad who is about to marry her younger sister is paying 300,000 THB. I earn 7 to 8 times as much as him, and my wife has a much better job than her sister, so in reality the amount I paid was probably less than the going rate. This is because I negotiated.
Can I Negotiate The Amount of Sin Sod to Pay?
Yes, you can and you should negotiate. Normally for Thai people the negotiation happens between the parents in a very civilised and gentle way. Both sets of parents will understand the tradition and rules of the ‘game’, as well as each other’s relative social position and they can normally reach an agreement in a civil way.
A further thing to bear in mind is that there is a lot of pride involved here for Thai families: accept too little and you lose ‘face’, offer too little and you also lose ‘face’. The same is true even if you marry a ‘bar girl’. The family still need to keep ‘face’ in front of the neighbours. The marriage will legitimise the relationship and to some extent restore the good name of the family. This is about more than simply money.
Negotiate The Amount of Sin Sod Through Your Wife To be
For foreigners, the negotiation should be done through your wife-to-be. You should not be talking to friends or brothers or the such like to set the price. This is a very bad sign. Let her translate it and use the appropriate manners and cultural niceties. I was asked for 1 million THB initially, which was unrealistic for me and I had to make my fiancée see that. If you can’t set a realistic figure then do not go ahead with the marriage – more than likely it is simply a sham. I should mention that the reason why a million Thai Baht was mentioned was because another girl in the village had married a Japanese man who offered a million straight off. This fool created a damaging precedent by flashing his cash around and didn’t really understand the tradition.
When Do You Pay Sin Sod?
For Thai people they normally initially give a 10% deposit at the ‘Promise to Marry’ ceremony. The tradition is that if the man breaks off the engagement the 10% is lost, if the woman doesn’t go through with it then she (or more accurately her family) must return the deposit and give the same again as compensation.
The remainder is paid (in cash) on the wedding day. It is done publicly and the tradition is that that the father and older men of the community count the cash there and then. Do not take this as an insult – it is all part of the elaborate theatre of Thai marriage.
Is Sin Sod Only Paid in Cash?
The tradition is that you also give gold to your wife-to-be as well as cash to her parents. The amount is normally agreed at the same time as the amount of the Sin Sod. The rule is often relaxed for foreigners. The normal story is that the Thai family has had a battle with the foreigner to convince them to pay Sin Sod in the first place and they are reluctant to push it further by asking for the gold element, which is normal for Thai men when they marry. I gave my wife an engagement ring and re-gave it to her at the same time as the Sin Sod and this satisfied the parents that we had observed the correct tradition. As a rule, Thai families will embrace face saving compromises when there is a dispute.
What Happens to the Money After You Pay The Sin Sod?
Again, this depends on the family. For wealthier and often middle class families, some or all of the money gets given back to the newly weds in the form of property or cash to help to buy property. For poorer families you are unlikely to ever see the money again until your wife inherits a share of whatever they used it to buy.
Bear in mind, and this may make you feel better about giving the money, many rural families are large and there are lots of marriages for the family to contend with. My wife has 8 brothers and sisters. The money actually ends up getting recycled around the community. You pay out for your sons to get married and receive money back when daughters get married. Marrying off your sons is a major financial commitment for most Thai families and one which has to be planned for, particularly in rural communities where they have a low income.