It’s impossible to give a general estimate of what it costs to live in Thailand because it depends on where you live, your needs, desires and resources. Are you a traveller or are you planning to stay. You can read a plethora of articles on this subject, some of which may get you diving into the store room for your suitcase; others may make you bolt the front door and hide in the broom cupboard. They can be useful as a rough guide but sometimes, for me, they can be too generic so I have approached the subject in a slightly different way.
Let’s first consider the locals. 45% of the working population don’t have regular work but make enough money so they and their families have enough to eat. When working, these people will typically earn between 200 and 400 baht a day. From January 1 2013 employers must pay a minimum of 300 baht a day. Otherwise they face six months in jail and/or a 100,000 baht fine for non-compliance. Assuming that at least 50% of the working population manage an average of 20 days’ work a month then each person will take home 6000 baht per month.
Say one other person in a household of 4 earns a further 4000 baht then that household has 10,000 baht to live on every month. If you live in a farming village in any part of Thailand, as the majority of the population do, you will soon realise that a small family can live on this amount. But they will have no luxuries, their homes will be primitive, transport will be an old car, motorbike and bicycle and TV will be ‘free to air’. Of the four major conurbations, Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket are the most expensive places to live, while Chiang Mai is the cheapest.
Finding the best ways stretch your cash as far as possible requires time but can be fun and believe it or not, particularly where food is concerned, cheap is often best. For example; fresh fruit and vegetables from a local village market in Chiang Mai will be FRESH, because it is grown locally, and can cost 75% LESS than in a market in Phuket. Why? They haven’t had to travel 700 to 1200kms. On our land in Chiang Mai we grow bananas but when they aren’t ready to eat we buy in our village market. Bananas are only sold in bunches and a bunch (15 or so) will cost around 10 baht. In Phuket you will pay approximately 50 baht. Papaya, which can be eaten in many different ways, grows like a weed; so for all of us here it is free and but not in Bangkok, Pattaya or Phuket. Let’s look at the main living requirements for any person and some comparative costs:
My advice, if you are wanting to stay, would be, don’t buy or build; rent. Non Thais can’t own land so buying or building is fraught with danger. I would urge anyone to research thoroughly and beware. The renting option in Thailand is great because not only is there a variety of properties available for short and long term tenants but Thai landlords are usually extremely flexible. Leases tend to be fairly casual affairs as long as you pay the rent. Once you have tied up a deal the chances are you will be allowed to do what you want to the property (within reason) and it is yours forever, if you so wish. The reason for this is that Thai families who build houses to let rarely sell the property; it is an investment to be passed on to the next generation.
If you take on a property for one year to start with the landlord should give you a pretty good deal, especially if you pay the year or six months in advance. If you are a responsible tenant they are unlikely to push escalation for a few years. Prices range from as little as 1000 baht for a very basic house in a village to over 100,000 baht per month for a very swish place in Phuket or Bangkok depending on your needs and budget. As an example a very nice modern 2 bedroom house with garden in Phuket will cost 12,000 baht a month. In Chiang Mai the same accommodation will cost 6000 baht.
Electric and water shouldn’t set you back more than 1000 baht a month unless you hammer the aircon and/or have a pool.
Satellite TV and ADSL Internet
Approximately 2000 baht should see you ok. We pay 1400 baht.
Food/Water & Household/Toiletries
If you enjoy cooking, the markets are stuffed with everything you need for wholesome eating. Fruit, vegetables, chicken, pork, and fish are Thai staples and plentiful. 150 baht will feed 3 people for a day easily plus rice which we all buy in bulk (20kg bags) at 28 baht a kilo. Drinking water purchased in bulk costs approximately 35 baht a month per person. If I add in household cleaning stuff and toiletries I doubt we spend more than 7000 baht a month in total; less than 2500 baht per person. Add 50% to this for Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket. Eating out is a good option and not expensive if you use the restaurants frequented by Thais. Basic meals in Chiang Mai, such as Kwaitio (noodle soup), Khao tom pla (rice soup with fish), Kapow moo sab (spicy minced pork with herbs and rice) and Pad Thai cost between 25 and 35 baht. Again add at least 50% for Pattaya, Phuket and Bangkok.
Drinking water is usually supplied free with ice. If money is no object then there are plenty of good and expensive restaurants. Expensive does not necessarily mean good and certainly seldom is it value for money. It is very easy to find yourself paying through the nose for the ambience but don’t worry, just enjoy the view! Oh and by the way, unless you are paranoid, don’t spend too much time wondering where the ‘health inspector’ is. He hasn’t been invented yet in Asia. In five years I think I have only had one bout of food poisoning, fortunately, and that was at home. The girlfriend and I weren’t getting along too well at the time!!
Obverse to housing, don’t rent; buy if you are planning on a long stay. Depending on where you live you will need a car or motorbike. If you settle in Pattaya, Phuket or Koh Samui a motorbike is sufficient for everyday use. In fact it’s much better than a car as there is too much traffic. You can buy a good used bike for around 35,000 baht which will last many years. Unless you ride it continually, day and night, 500 baht a month will cover your gasoline. Maintenance is cheap and there are plenty of small workshops who will look after you. Make sure you get proof of ownership (green book), transfer it into your name and get licenced at immigration and the transport office before you part with any money. Same goes for cars.
Rentals are an easy option for short stays but try and avoid doing it by the day. A month’s rent for a newish Honda Click will be around 3000 baht in Phuket or Samui for example. Something you need to know is that it’s virtually impossible to get motorbike insurance other than the compulsory insurance issued with your vehicle licence, which covers very little. So, I’m sorry to say, the risk is yours if you have an accident. Despite this most motorcyclists are best described as irresponsible. You have been warned.