Thailand. A land with paradisical islands, beautiful people, and a laid-back, cheap lifestyle. The living standard and cost of living in Thailand is unparalleled, which is why tons of expats settle in the sun-kissed kingdom. It has grown into one of the prime spots in southeast Asia for a good reason–it possesses an organized tourism and transportation infrastructure, which is lacking in many nearby countries.
The cost of living in Thailand remains low because the Thai government subsidies many items,
such as rice and energy prices. I do need to warn you, though:
If you choose to live a Western lifestyle in Thailand
you will quickly see your money dwindle. I remember spending several hundred dollars a day when my family visited. Their idea of tasting local food was going to high-end restaurants because they wanted to be “safe” and didn’t trust the street food. It can really put a dent in your pocket, and you’ll quickly find out how expensive Thailand can get.
If you like your Starbucks and Outback steakhouse, you’ll paying the same prices as Europe or the U.S.
Before I begin, let me just mention that I exchanged money at:
$1 = 34 baht (as of late-2015)
So here’s a breakdown of the cost of living in Thailand:
There are TONS of hostels catering to all types of budgets scattered around Thailand. There is an especially high concentration of them in the backpacker district of Khao San Road in Bangkok. You can greatly lower your cost of living in Thailand by searching for accommodation once you get there. No need to book online. You’ll only end up paying up more, since many budget rooms are not listed online.
If you choose to buy property instead, bear in mind foreigners cannot own land in Thailand. There are various schemes that try to circumvent this, but I don’t recommend testing the law. A foreigner is, however, allowed to buy a condo in Thailand.
The best time to buy these is when they are under construction.
Here’s an average run down of what you can expect to pay:
Cheap dorm bed — $2-3 / day (you’ll have to be on location to find these, not online)
Dorm bed in a popular hostel — $11 / day
Cheap private room — $12 (cheaper in lesser-known cities)
Private room in a popular hostel — $25 + / day
Apartment rental, one bed, Thai style — $100 / month
Apartment rental, one bed, luxury western prime location — $800-$1200 / month
Apartment rental, one bed, western and decent location — $300 / month
Townhouse rental, 2-3 bed, good value/ not in city center — $250 / month
Again, these are average prices. If you choose to keep your cost of living in Thailand as low as possible, stay at a hostel for a longer while and ask for a discount.
Everything in Thailand is negotiable (and you should negotiate!).
Food & Drink
Your cost of living in Thailand will skyrocket if you love your Florida-squeezed orange juice. Expect to pay more for anything that isn’t locally-produced. Try to stick to local brands whenever possible. You’ll save much more.
Food is especially cheap. An assortment of delicious dishes served by street vendors will only set you back a couple of dollars.
You can expect to pay the following, on average, for food & drink for one person:
Foreign ice cream parlor — $5+ (can get much higher–I once paid $20 for two)
Street stall food — $1
Cheap restaurant / non-Thai — $3-4
Western tourist restaurant / pizza — $10
Starbucks coffee, iced latte — $4
Local coffee shop, iced latte — $2
There are plenty of restaurants/coffee-shops that will offer free wifi, but Starbucks still has a habit of charging for wifi.
You could easily live on $5 per day if you avoid liquor, partying, and stick to street food. A regular budget, which allows for booze or lattes, will cost you around $20 per day.
I spent an average of $20/month and I was making calls and using the internet for my phone. I used several phone providers, but my favorite was AIS. Telephone service is relatively cheap. Technology does not add much to the cost of living in Thailand, as it is relatively cheap.
You’ll find some good deals on tech:
5 Gigs data plan for iPhone — $20
SIM card, new — $2
SMS, domestic — 3 cents
SMS, intn’l — 26 cents (although I recommend using WhatsApp or Line for free SMS)
Local call — 2 cents / minute
International call — 25-50 cents / minute (low end was US, high end was UK–it can get even higher for other countries, though–just use Skype!)
DSL wifi — $20 / month
Burner phone at MBK — $10
Phone service is cheap and the quality is very good. I never had a problem with my internet (unlike Lebanon).
I was a little surprised by the high cost of using the skytrain in Bangkok, since I paid less for trains in Boston. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still very affordable, but I just expected it to be lower.
To lower your cost of living in Thailand, I recommend you rent a scooter. If you prefer not to drive around some of Thailand’s hectic streets (for which I don’t blame you), then you’ll find plenty of alternatives. If you choose a taxi, hail one–palm down–and ask them to use the meter. Don’t use taxis that are parked and calling out to you (these will most likely try to scam you and not use the meter):
Taxi ride — $3 for an average distance.
Scooter ride — $0.5-1 for an average distance.
Unlimited one-day Skytrain pass — $4
Sky train, one stop — $1 (depends on which stop, can be slightly less or more)
Metro — $0.75 (I found that it was slightly cheaper than using the SkyTrain, but less scenic)
Cheap Scooter rental — $120 / month
Fuel (1 liter) — $1.3 or $5 / gallon
Overnight sleeper train — $25
Overnight sleeper bus — $10
The transportation infrastructure caters well to tourists, so you’ll find moving from city to city quite easy. Sleeper trains are especially awesome. These have a restaurant car, which doubles as a social hub (and I won’t lie, I got pretty hammered on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai route).
The scenery is also to die for.
It’s very hard thinking about Thailand without thinking about its notorious nightlife, but there are plenty of other things well worth doing there. The beaches are a hop away, and there are plenty of opportunities to go scuba diving or to ride a longboat to smaller islands for a day.
Thailand’s entertainment districts are very centralized. They are very enticing, but hit the wallet very hard.
You will go in thinking you’re only going to spend $5, and next thing you know you’ve blown $20 or more. Booze (and women, if you happen to have a Thai lady-friend) really hurts your cost of living in Thailand.
Beer in a supermarket — $1.5
Beer at a bar, local –$2-4 (depends on the popularity of the bar)
Beer at a bar, foreign — $2.5-5 (I’ve seen the top-end in high-end bars)
Liquor in a bar — $3-4 (try Thai whiskey if you want to go cheaper)
Bottle service in a club — $70+
Please don’t misconstrue Thailand’s entertainment as being sex-based only. That would truly be a misunderstanding of what the country has to offer.
You may hear some expats lamenting the rising cost of of living in Thailand, but it’s hardly noticeable compared to the prices back home. If you’re looking to chill out on a backpacker’s budget, the kingdom won’t disappoint.
Here’s an average/low budget for a month in Thailand:
Hostel — $300
Food & Drink (non-alcoholic)— $150
Entertainment — $150
Technology — $40
Transportation — $100 (combination of buses & taxis)
Grand Total — $740
Bear in mind, the cost of living in Thailand will be much higher if you love your “entertainment”. I’ve included two beers a night in the grand total above, but just like every other category, it can fluctuate based on your spending habits. I’m also taking into account that you would stay in a pretty popular hostel, either in a dorm, or sharing a twin room.
If you have any other habits, like Starbucks, you’ll have to factor those in too. Any type of western food or drinks will heavily impact these numbers. $740 for a month in Thailand is easily doable.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who has visited Thailand and hasn’t pondered the possibility of moving there. It’s just the kind of place that has that “it” factor. It draws you in with a hidden promise of better things to come.
It is everything alluring and magnetic,
Everything visually poetic.
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Have you ever lived in Thailand or would you ever consider moving there? What appeals to you most, or turns you off, about Thailand?