The minimum amount you need to live in Thailand is one of the oldest questions around. Part of the problem is that there is no strict dollar (or Euro or Pound or Yen) answer to that question. Some will tell you that you can live in Thailand on $500 a month while others say you need at least $2000. Who is right?
Can You Live in Thailand on $500 USD a Month?
Probably the best way to answer that question is to look at what $500 a month in Thailand will get you. Technically, you could be homeless and live on the goodwill of strangers but that’s probably not the lifestyle most people are looking for.
Five hundreds dollars, at today’s exchange rate (Jan 31, 2017) is about 17,500 baht.
The cheapest accommodations that one is *likely* to find will run you about 7,000 baht a month. That’s pretty barebones though. Don’t expect air conditioning, an elevator, security, or being close to anything. One would need to look pretty hard to find such a deal in Bangkok and even out in other better known areas around the country like Chiang Mai it’s not going to be a breeze finding an decent apartment at that price.
You can also expect utilities to run about 2,100 baht a month, throw in internet and you’re looking at another 700 baht a month.
So, just to have a roof over your head, utilities, and basic internet, we’re at 9,800 baht a month which would leave you with approximately 7,700 baht a month for everything else including food.
Can you live on 7,700 baht a month? Well, if you spend 5,000 baht a month on food (which is about 45 baht per meal from a food cart or inexpensive restaurant, three times a day), you’re down to 2,700 baht left over.
With that 2,700 baht you would need a mobile phone (let’s say 300 baht a month for a decent phone plan), transportation, toiletries, laundry, etc.
Plus, factor in the cost of visa runs, visa extensions, medical expenses, and so on.
And don’t forget that if your $500 a month is coming from overseas, the exchange rate can fluctuate. Today, the baht trades 35 to the dollar but just a few years ago it was trading at 28 – 29 baht to the dollar. Your $500 would have only been worth 14,000 baht or so.
Don’t discount inflation either. Thailand is a developing nation so the economy tends to grow at a faster pace than it does back where most foreigners come from. If your income is increasing at 2% a year and inflation in Thailand is running at 3% or 4% a year, that’s not sustainable.
Is $500 a month doable? Sure. It’s not the greatest quality of life and I know someone will argue that they know of a place up in the middle of nowhere where they can rent for 4,000 baht a month or that they never turn on the fan so their utilities are half of what I estimated but suffice it to say that one *could* live in Thailand on $500 a month if they were thrifty and wanted to live is very basic lifestyle with few, if any, frills.
That said, you’re one major unexpected expense from being dead broke and in a real financial bind. Eventually your computer and phone will die and you’ll need to replace them. Clothes and shoes eventually need replacing. You will likely need dental or medical services at some point.
If you’re on a fixed income of, say, $1,000 a month (35,000 baht) and you choose to try and live on $500 a month, that might be doable. However, if your fixed income is $500 a month, this is going to be pretty tough living. You might be able to do it for a year or two, assuming your computer, phone, clothes, etc are going to last you that period, but it’s a little too tight of a budget if you plan on spending 20 years living in Thailand.
A More Realistic Budget to Live in Thailand Comfortably
So what does it cost to live a more “comfortable” lifestyle in Thailand? Well, obviously that depends on what you consider a comfortable lifestyle.
But we have a good start by defining the base level. We can start adding to it from there.
The first decision you’ll have to make is there you want to live in Thailand. Bangkok is going to be the most expensive in terms of accommodations. You can expect to pay 10,000 – 15,000 baht a month for a very basic studio apartment. Prices go up the closer you get to either the city’s center or to a BTS or MRT stop.
A luxury apartment near Sukhumvit or Silom can cost anywhere from 25,000 to 100,000 baht a month depending on your tastes and the size of place you’re looking for.
Expect to pay more for utilities as well. You would probably want to budget 2,500 baht on the low end and considerably more if your air conditioning a large luxury apartment.
Internet will cost you about the same unless you want to upgrade to higher speeds.
Presumably, if you’re living a more “comfortable” lifestyle you’ll splurge on things like toiletries/incidentals and buy the brands you like instead of the ones you can afford.
A maid will cost you about 3,000 baht a month.
Where the prices start to really vary is in your lifestyle choices. You can eat 50 baht a meal food from food carts or you can spent 200 – 1,000 baht a meal eating in restaurants that cater to foreigners. Most people do a mix of both cheap eats and eating out. Your budget, obviously, will depend on how you mix those two.
And unless you want to cook mostly Thai food, don’t think that you’ll get any major savings making your own meals. Anything imported from back home is going to be pretty expensive in the grocery stores. You’ll save a bit but not as much as you might back home. And I don’t see how most people can beat 50 baht for a delicious meal from a food cart cooking their own.
The next big variable is entertainment. Some people spend every night in a bar and others rarely go out at night. A beer in a normal bar or restaurant might cost you about 100 – 140 baht. If they have any sort of entertainment, that price may be closer to 200 baht.
Movies? Travel? Again, those are additional costs you need to factor in.
And the more entertainment the more you’ll pay for transportation to get to and from wherever you’re going. Fortunately, taxis are relatively cheap and start off with a base fare of 35 baht and the BTS and MRT are extremely reasonable as well but you’ll still need to budget in those costs.
I could go on listing prices but let’s just say that if you did not need a luxury apartment and your eating and entertainment costs were somewhat modest, 50,000 – 60,000 baht would probably suffice.
Let’s break that down:
15,000 baht for rent
2,500 baht for utilities
700 baht for internet
500 baht for phone
3000 baht for a maid
500 baht for toiletries and essentials
12,000 baht for food
10,000 baht for entertainment
2000 baht for transportation
46,200 baht per month
50,000 would give you a little cushion in your budget and 60,000 would leave you a nice bit left over to save for unexpected expenses. Remember, we haven’t factored in any health insurance either. Nor have any visa runs or visa extension fees been added into that since they don’t run monthly.
You could certainly do it for cheaper. Eat out a little less. Go out a little less. Ditch the maid. Find a cheaper place to live. Perhaps you can find 10,000 baht savings in there.
So, all in, you’re looking at anywhere between 36,200 – 46,200 baht a month.
That is for Bangkok. You’re likely to find your costs run a bit cheaper in places like Chiang Mai (about 25% cheaper) or even Pattaya (about 15% – 20% cheaper). Your cost of living will run considerably cheaper if you’re looking to go somewhere less frequented by tourists like in the Issan Provence (30%+).
So, to answer the question of how much it costs to live in Thailand:
Extreme Minimalist Lifestyle: $500
Thrifty Lifestyle: $1,000 – $1,200
Comfortable Lifestyle: $1,500 – $2,000
Luxury Lifestyle – Lower End: $2,500 – $3,000
Luxury Lifestyle – Higher End: $3,000+
As mentioned previously, there are always going to be people who tell you that they spend XX,XXX baht per month and they feel they live pretty comfortable. Comfortable is subjective. I’ve tried to outline general costs to give you an idea of what various definitions might include. And yes, someone who has been here 10 years and speaks fluent Thai is going to know where they can get a better deal or pay less but that’s exactly why this is one of the most difficult questions about Thailand to answer. Everyone has a different answer.
Other Things to Keep In Mind
Thai schools are not highly regarded. If you have children, you will likely want to send them to a private international school. Private schooling in Thailand can be quite expensive and a shock to the budget. You can expect to pay 400,000 – 800,000 baht per year per child.
While we still recommend obtaining health insurance, the cost of health care in Thailand can be shockingly inexpensive. And surprisingly, the quality does not suffer as a result of the low prices. Thailand is one of the top medical tourism destinations in the world which means that people come to Thailand specifically to have medical procedures performed that might be cost prohibitive back in their home countries.
Polling several expats that live in Thailand, they say that it will take anywhere from 2 – 5 years for someone new to the country to really figure out how to live as cheaply as possible. That is why we are really cautious in saying that one can live on $500 a month. Just like any new city or country, it takes awhile to get acclimated and to do the necessary research to live cheap.