The transitional experiences of Thai women following migratory marriage to England, by Dr. Angie Wilcock.

This blog post highlights and explores a piece of research carried out Dr Angie Wilcock who works within the Criminology team on both undergraduate and MSc programmes.

The research focused on female Thai nationals married to a UK citizen living in England. The aim of the research was to gain an understanding about the women’s experiences of their move to England. This included exploring how they met their husbands, process of marriage and immigration procedures, the relationships they formed within their immediate and extended families, local community, employment opportunities, education, friendships and how the women maintain family links in Thailand, as well as identifying any barriers that were/are experienced by the women. The idea for this study has been on my conscious for over a decade following a chance meeting with a Thai woman whom I met through previous research. It became apparent that Thai women, being a small dispersed ethnic group has received minimal focus about their experiences following migratory marriage and who are now living in the UK. This research aims to build on the current knowledge and the possibility of a broader national study.


This work is not intended to offer an empirical generalisation, but the purpose was to collate in-depth narrative about the transitional experiences of Thai women who moved to England following migratory marriage. Therefore, a qualitative approach using semi-structured interviews was utilised to collate the data. An interview schedule was designed around five key themes; women’s background, transitional experiences, family life, local community/opportunities and barriers/issues with each theme having a number of open questions. One-hour interviews with 10 Thai women were carried out face to face, or via Teams, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp depending on their geographical positioning. Being a hard-to-reach sample, a snowball approach was used and the female Thai nationals were recruited via an advert on Thai community Facebook pages, LinkedIn, Twitter, Thai Online networks, local agencies and local businesses. However, this did prove a very difficult process as three women dropped out due to pressure from gatekeepers who presumed it not to be a good idea to talk about their experiences. Others responded wishing me good luck as they acknowledged it was necessary but would not like to participate in case they got in trouble. 

Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data using transcripts and Nvivo (a software programme).  It is a method that uncovers and identifies similarities and differences within the data which allowed key themes and sub themes to be drawn from the dataset. Firstly, I familiarised myself with the dataset by reading through the transcripts and this enabled initial codes to be identified. By following a systematic approach, the next stage is to identify potential themes, and this will be achieved by collating similar codes creating a link that brings the data together via a thematic map.


The fieldwork was fascinating and at times very emotive due to the sensitivity of talking about personal life and the anxieties the women face. While the women had been excited about starting a new life in England with their husband, they had left their families and most, due to covid, had not seen them physically for around 3-5 years. Most have left behind parents, siblings and their own children in an attempt to provide a stronger financial future for them. It was explained that technology supports any physical detachment and provides emotional support via facetime or WhatsApp if necessary, although most do not inform their families of any upset or issues they are facing so they do not cause worry in Thailand. All the families raised concerns about their daughter leaving Thailand, more so those who identify as middle-class and had a very good social and financial standing in their community. Thai culture bonds families very closely and they live within the same, or very near environment. Daily life is built around the immediate and extended family and friends. Upon their move to England this change in family dynamics enhanced separation anxiety with all the women talking about isolation and loneliness. This was exacerbated due to the women being dispersed around the country with little or no physical contact with other people and importantly, another Thai nationals.  

A few of the women had met their husbands online or through tourism in Thailand. Three of the women had met their husband through work or study both in UK and Thailand. This finding interestingly contradicts the label of the ‘thai bride’ as a commodity. They all, apart from two, initially had long-distance relationships with one or two visits a year from their future husband. One never met him until she visited England. Interestingly, all but one was married in Thailand due to cost and then applied for the relevant visa to migrate to England as the process was also cheaper applying from Thailand. It was also explained that as they were leaving family behind it was important for them to celebrate and include the family/community in the ceremony in Thai style. Love was only mentioned by one woman who met her husband through study in the UK; predominantly the marriage migration was for a better life for economic reasons and education for children. The women were clearly altruistic in their choices.

The analysis identifies a clear distinction between class with the women clearly trying to distance themselves from the ‘thai bride’ labelling and stereotypical links to the sex tourism industry within Thailand. This has highlighted a difference in the men who have approached, met, and formed relationships with Thai women via the online platforms, tourism or through work or study.  Regardless of this difference, however, the women take on the domestic role in the home, take care of their husband and children, and some try to also provide financially for the family and their family back in Thailand. Meeting and building a relationship with their husbands’ family was not always a positive experience; again this was dependent on how they met their husband and if they had got to know them prior to transitioning. It was narrated that achieving aacceptance by the family was difficult and had to be built over time and most believe this is due to the reputation of Thailand and how Thai women are labelled. The women believed their acceptance was also linked to transition difficulties that includes cultural and language barriers that give impetus to isolation and a dependence on their husband. All knew nothing about the area they were migrating to and if they had visited prior to the move it was usually to a more popular area such as London, Manchester, Birmingham, staying in a hotel or on the odd occasion with the future husband’s family.

The women explained that the marginalisation and discrimination they face is through the belief they have worked in the sex trade and presumed to be in England as a ‘Thai bride’ for monetary exchange. All of the women had experienced derogatory connotations, such as asking how much they charge. One lady was sexually assaulted on public transport and the police failed to take it seriously. This labelling was also narrated as preventing employment in their professional areas with most of the women only being able to take on domestic roles regardless of their educational and professional achievements. Such barriers are segregating and isolating the women which is adding to difficulties within their relationships. Unfortunately, the analysis has identified domestic violence within most of the relationships and more so for the women who met their husbands online or within the tourism industry in Thailand. There appears to be elements of coercive and controlling behaviour in most relationships, for example, being prevented from working or accessing education, no friends, and threats to ensure conformity.  Physical violence was narrated and more so in relationships formed online; all the women recognised this as a problem from stories shared on the Thai online platforms of which they were part. Two women spoke of years of heinous sexual abuse but saw no way out as they had to respect husbands wishes – it was their role. Financial and economic abuse was also evident with income being taken, being asked not to send money home, prevented from studying and/or working and one woman was refused money for medication that she needed for her mental health as it was deteriorating.

All of the women highlighted vulnerability and noted that they had not been offered any support from immigration or the Home Office upon migration.  They all stated that they should be notified of their rights in the UK as they now recognised it is different to Thailand and women have greater rights here in England. None of the women have had any contact with any authority since the day they passed through immigration This is a concerning finding as it adds to the women’s vulnerability. 

What Next!

Further analysis is to be carried out and I am keen to follow up with a quantitative study to build on the key findings. This will enable women to complete the survey via online platforms without any contact with myself and hopefully more women may be encouraged to participate. I am also going to write up the findings and submit the paper to a relevant journal for publication. The women may be a minority and hard-to-reach within the UK, however, they still deserve a voice to raise awareness of their experiences.

Want to know more?

You can watch Dr. Wilcock’s public CASS lecture on this topic here:

You can find out more about Dr Wilcock and her research here: