What Is The Cost Of Living In Chiang Mai?

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There are very few places where an intellectual crowd mingles amongst some of the most stunning mountainous scenery. Add to that a vibrant coffee culture and the low cost of living in Chiang Mai, and you have yourself a winning destination. For those looking to maximize their dollars all the while getting some serious work done, I can hardly think of many other places to recommend to live in.

Although numerous cities worldwide share Chiang Mai’s low cost of living–it’s the ambiance there that is so hard to beat. The people are absolutely wonderful, the social life awesome, and the nightlife pretty decent. You’ll get your fill of partying if you know where to go and if you don’t just stick to expat spots.

The cost of living in Chiang Mai is what enticed me to live there.

It’s hard to believe you can get so much for so little. Although I did talk about the cost of living in Thailand in an earlier post, the cost of living in Chiang Mai warrants its own post for a good reason.

The very same reason it’s become a digital nomad hub in southeast Asia.

It offers the best of modern conveniences with an old world flavor.

A quaint street in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with mountains in the background.
You will find tons of atmospheric streets like this one with a backdrop of gorgeous mountains in Chiang Mai.

As of the time of this writing, the exchange rate has been $1 = 31 baht. If you are pulling from an overseas account, check the ATM rates daily–the rates can fluctuate vastly from day to day. On a Monday I found the exchange rate to be 28 baht to $1. The very next day it was 31 baht to the dollar. It pays to wait for the right day to pull out your money.

Here’s a breakdown of the cost of living in Chiang Mai by categories:

Accommodation

Chiang Mai simply rocks this category. There are few places that offer the beauty of Thailand at such a basement bargain price. Everything from apartments to hostels are cheap in Chiang Mai.

The alley in Chiang Mai where you can find Mini Guesthouse budget hostel.
Directly to the right is Taphae Gate’s McDonalds. In this alley are two great guesthouses–super-budget Mini Guest house and mid-budget My Home.

If you go to Mini Guesthouse in the central Taphae gate area (located in the alley beside McDonalds), you can get a private room with bathroom for $7. I urge you not to book online. Many hostels advertised online are a ten minute walk away, when you could get a central one in front of the gate for a fraction of the price.

Cheap dorm bed — $3-$4 per day
Boutique dorm bed — $8-$10 per day
Cheap hostel private room, ensuite, aircon — $8 per day
Average hostel private room, ensuite, aircon — $15-20 per day
Budget hotel — $30 per day
Good hotel — $60-100 per day
High Luxury hotel — $200+ per day
Nice Studio apartment — $250 per month (you can find them as low as $100 for basic style)
One bedroom — $400-600
One bedroom, luxury — $1,000
Two bedroom house — $300 (not city center)



Two bedrooms apartment are only a couple hundred dollars more than one bedrooms. A non-luxury one bedroom is still modern and beautiful, but the luxury version has all the bells and whistles, including marble bathrooms.

A view of my modern studio apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
My $277 studio apartment in Chiang Mai is perfectly located next to Nimmanhaemin road and its vast array of coffee shops and restaurants.

Also, many mid-range hostels don’t offer that much more than cheap hostels–and the rooms can look almost identical. It’s best to just get off at the Taphae gate and go hostel shopping on the spot.

Side note: if you are looking to rent a place, expect to pay first month’s rent, as well as a security deposit which equals two months of rent, for a total of three months rent up-front.

Food & Drink

When it comes to food, the cost of living in Chiang Mai blows Bangkok away. A mango sticky rice in Bangkok on Silom may cost 3$ or more. I’ve never had to pay more than $1.50 in Chiang Mai. I’d venture to say food is about 50% cheaper in Chiang Mai:

Pad Thai noodles with chicken — $1
Vegetarian dish with a spring roll — $1.5
Fruit smoothie — 70 cents
Fancy salad — $2.5
Coffee, high end — $4
Coffee, boutique — $2-$3
Western breakfast — $2-$3
Nice meal (for two) — $10-$15
Sushi in mall (for two) — $30
Sushi in the night market — $3

A single person would have no problem surviving on $5 a day and we’re not talking small portions of food. Each mall has a food court which serves big dishes for a dollar or two.

A picture of Maya shopping center in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It has budget food which lowers your cost of living in Chiang Mai. Nimmanhaemin road is down the street.
All malls have food courts that serve cheap, delicious foods.

Technology

If you’re coming via Chiang Mai’s airport, there is a cell phone stand in the baggage claim area selling SIM cards and subscription packages. Otherwise, there are cell phone company stores in every mall. Popular cell phone providers are DTAC and True.

You can spend a lot on cellular service, but what I list below is more than ample for the average user:

80 local minutes, 80 texts, 1GB data — $10 per month
Elite cell plan — $40 (unlimited data and tons of minutes/texts) per month
Wifi (home) — $20 per month
Wifi (starbucks) — $10 per month / unlimited
Cable TV — $12 per month (this often comes included in the rent with many apartments)
SMS, domestic — 3 cents
SMS, intn’l — 26 cents (although I recommend using WhatsApp or Line for free SMS)
Local call — 2 cents per minute
International call — 25-50 cents per minute

Affordable technology definitely lowers your cost of living in Chiang Mai. Compared to cities like Dubai or Beirout, Chiang Mai offers dirt cheap prices.

Transportation

You do not need a scooter to get around, but I highly recommended you get one since you’ll want to go around exploring the city. The cost of living in Chiang Mai remains affordable in part because of cheap transportation.

Although there is no metro system or skytrain like there is Bangkok, you’ll find plenty of songthaew buses that operate 24 hours a day. These can take you anywhere you want for less than a dollar:

Bicycle rental — $1.5 per day
Scooter — $3-$5 per day (double that for higher end scooters)
Fuel (1 liter) — $1.3
Car rental — $20-70 per day
Tuk Tuk (not recommended) — $3-5 per trip
Songtaew bus (recommended) — 66 cent per trip

If you don’t like scooters, the songthaew is by far the most affordable way to get around. These no-air con buses cruise the streets, picking up passengers who wave at them.

A songthaew bus and a scooter in Chiang Mai, Thailand--two cheap ways to get around and keep the cost of living in Chiang Mai down.
The preferred forms of transportation for most expats living in Chiang Mai–scooter and red songthaew bus.






Side note: Some songthaews may try to charge you more than 66 cents (20 baht). Politely decline and wait for the next one to show up–unless it is 2am, when you may have no other choice but to accept the higher rate.

Entertainment

Bangkok one-ups (or actually three-ups) Chiang Mai’s night scene, but there’s plenty to suit your fancy if you’re not too picky. The cost of living in Chiang Mai will sky rocket if beer is your best bud. Beer isn’t so cheap, but the local whiskey makes up for it.

As long as you like the taste of gasoline.

Okay, local whiskey doesn’t taste that bad, and here’s a run-down of some numbers:

Vodka, 1 L  — $20-25
Whiskey, 1 L — $8-$10 (local brand, double that for international)
Beer from store — $1
Beer in tourist pub — $3
Beer in Thai pub — $2 (big bottle)
Taxi tour of the mountains — $20-$30
Forest ziplining — $60-$120
Gym membership (Powerhouse) — $300 for the year

A strip of pictures of young and beautiful university girls in Thailand

If you check out some of the Thai pubs, like the ones beside Chiang Mai university’s Malin Plaza, you’ll find great deals on drinks. You’ll have to excuse the video quality below, I took it on an iPhone, but it gives you an idea of what a Thai club looks like.

I have not included elephant and tiger parks in the category because I am staunchly against the abuse these animals suffer at the hands of their trainers.

Total Cost of Living in Chiang Mai

Cost and finances aside, there is something to be said about the ease of meeting new friends in Chiang Mai. You’ll often run across the same expats and eventually become acquainted. The local Thais are very friendly too.

You can easily live for cheap in Chiang Mai, but make no mistake, you can easily blow as much money here as you would back home.

It all depends on where you eat and where you live.

I’m going to outline a reasonable monthly budget for someone looking to live in Chiang Mai long-term:

Accommodation (modern studio) — $300
Food and Drink — $300
Technology — $40
Entertainment — $200
Transportation — $40

Grand total — $880

I’ve included the daily cup of coffee in the food and drink budget, and the occasional beer in the entertainment budget. If you either love coffee shops or pubs, I would tack on an additional $200-$400 to the grand total above.

You will also have significant up-front costs, such as making three rent payments to move in to your new apartment or house (first month rent, plus two months deposit). You will also need to buy furniture, towels, and sheets.

Overall, the cost of living in Chiang Mai is very cheap and you can see why it still remains a vibrant digital nomad hotspot.

The question you will ask yourself once you move here is not whether you like Chiang Mai or not,

But how long the dream the will last.

Have you considered taking advantage of the low cost of living in Chiang Mai and moving there? Do you recommend any other affordable cities?

 
 

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19 comments on “What Is The Cost Of Living In Chiang Mai?

  1. Rashad,

    Thanks for the breakdown here. I’ve long wanted to live in Chiang Mai. Seems like such a special place.

    Do you mind sharing the name of the complex you shared in the picture above (the $277 studio apartment)? Would love to know the name. 🙂

    Best regards!

  2. Can you tell me if Cambodia has the same kind of inexpensive options as Chiang Mai does? I’m thinking of the coastal town of SihanoukVille and the capital city, Phnom Penh. I’ve heard Cambodia is cheaper than Thailand overall, and requires no endless visa-runs as Thailand does.

  3. Thank you so much for this post and for detailing the various expenses. I lived in Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines for 2 1/2 years with my Filipina girlfriend and we travelled to Thailand to visit Phuket, Bangkok and Chiang Mai. I am currently living in Nicaragua where the cost of living is about as cheap as Chiang Mai, but I am ready to come back to Thailand. My question is… can one safely stay at a hostel with a MacBook Pro laptop and an iPhone? I’m a digital nomad so my laptop and iPhone are extremely important to me. Would hate to have them ripped off. Any insights or recommendations on this?

    1. Welcome, Steven! Definitely depends on the kind of hostel. Places like MD Hostel have a safety deposit box (private room), so you can store your stuff in there. If you’re staying in a dorm, I’d just keep my things in a day pack and lug them along. It’s what I do! Better be safe than sorry 🙂 I also wouldn’t book too many days in advance, since you’ll find plenty of great hostels if you just walk down the sois of Nimman. Many don’t seem to be listed online.

      1. If living in a dorm then having your laptop and iphone in your daypack and carrying them around with you is fine, except when you want to take a shower, go swimming or go to sleep. Then what?

        1. Steven, that wouldn’t be a problem. All dorms typically have individual lockers. Just stow your backpack in the locker–don’t forget to bring your own lock. 7-11 also sells locks, in case you didn’t bring one.

  4. I’m going back to Chiang Mai.. it will be my 3rd time to go back to this beautiful corner of the Earth since 2010.. Although I’m from the Philippines, I still look forward to the vibe of this town.. very posh yet very affordable. I do wonder if there are other places here on earth that has a similar vibe, really curious to know.
    grasya recently posted…10 exotic dishes to try in South East AsiaMy Profile

    1. I often ask myself the same! I’ve been to many places with decent coffee cultures, but Chiang Mai has that perfect mix of old world charm and modern appeal. It’s hard to compare 🙂

  5. I am retired and lived in Bangkok for 8 months and HuaHin for 4 months for around $600 a month at both locations. I did visit Chiang Mai for a few days and believe, if I wanted to be real frugal, I could live there (but like the Thai people, a 1 room studio apartment with a bathroom, hot water shower, air cond. and no kitchen, fridge, range, or microwave) but comfortable for me for less than 450 USD a month, not counting a one year hospital insurance policy with AIA for less than $1500 a year.
    Phillip recently posted…Visiting Vientiane, Laos: Photo-EssayMy Profile

    1. Thanks for your comment, Phillip. I’d be very curious to know the breakdown of your $450. A couple of friends are living very frugally too, but they crack every now and then and splurge. It’s very inspiring to know it can, and is being done.

  6. Hey Banker, love the website so far and making a lot of travel plans. Right now my plan after I graduate is to travel to Chiang Mai to take a one month CELTA course, do you think my best bet for accommodation would be a hostel or renting an apartment? Seems like an apartment might be out of my budget if I have to put down three months right away

    Thanks,
    Andrew

    1. Sorry for the late response, Andrew! Hostels are super cheap. Mini Hostel is located right next to the McDonalds at the Thaphae gate, and costs about $8 a day. Renting an apartment means you need to pay three months upfront. I would definitely pick the hostel option–cheap and convenient. Don’t worry about booking in advance. Just get here and you’ll find tons.

  7. Yes, Chiang Mai is super affordable to live in! And if you are really on a tight budget or bootstrapping your business, you can actually cut your expenses to about $500- $600 USD a month, that includes housing, entertainment, food, drink, and weekly foot and body massages! . I too live in Chiang Mai, and my monthly expenses are approximately $600 USD give or take. My food budget is more expensive than my rent in Chiang Mai. I know of some people who can even narrow it down to $ 400 USD, but if you like to be pampered you want to increase your budget.

    As far as the Elephant parks, I do agree, however, there are some like Elephant Nature Camp and a few others that actually have rescue Elephants and let them roam around in their natural environment. You won’t see the Elephants doing tricks, painting, or people riding them. They will be in their natural wildlife environment where you can learn more about them and connect with them by giving them a bath. I think there are about 3 Elephant camps like this, but Elephant Nature Camp is the most popular one.

    Nonetheless, Chiang Mai is just awesome!
    Nina recently posted…Video Marketing Tips for NewbiesMy Profile

    1. I love the area you’re staying in–it really goes to show you can live very affordably AND in a great place. Thanks for sharing your budget figures and letting others know that living on the cheap in Chiang Mai is easily doable.

  8. Reading this post made me miss Thailand and our time in Chiang Mai too. We went there 3 times I think and honestly at the beginning I didn’t really like the city because I thought was a little bit westernized, but the more I explored it and spent time there the more I learn to like it. There are some tourist activities connected with animals that as you mentioned I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, but there also is an Elephant Nature Park not far from Chiang Mai and various Dog Shelters where we volunteered that help animals and that I’d definitely recommend to anyone. Miss Thailand!
    Franca recently posted…LOCATE CAVEY – HaarlemMy Profile

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