The cost of living in Thailand is rising, although the country still represents a good value when compared to other places that offer a similar standard of life quality. Thailand has changed rapidly and continues to change at break neck speed. While many of these changes have made some things more expensive, other things are now actually becoming cheaper, as well as more available. Of course, for foreigners, the cost of living will also be tied to some extent to the exchange rate of their home currency, which is always in flux. Since the Thai baht has been strong for years now, many “old-timers” in Thailand complain that the country is more expensive now than ever. They are right.
Thailand is not a large country, but the difference in the cost of living from some areas to others is dramatic. To live comfortably in Isaan, a person would need much less money than living in prime areas of Bangkok or Phuket. The cost of living is also inherently linked to the style in which a person wants to live. Basically, a minimalistic lifestyle is possible for much less money than for a life filled with luxuries.
Since there are so many variables when it comes to ranking the cost of living in Thailand, it is actually a fool’s errand. We have already read the very best articles on the topic and found most of them humorous at best and completely inaccurate at worst. Therefore, we will use this post to provide some accurate information regarding the cost of living Thailand that is universally applicable regardless of your financial means or definition of “living”.
The first thing to point out is that goods in Thailand are historically more expensive than in America. Europeans seem to notice this fact less, since the cost of many goods is much higher in their countries, as well. If a product is not historically used by Thai people (such as wine, for example), it tends to be more expensive than comparable products that Thai people do purchase (like beer, for example). Since Thailand has extremely protectionist tariffs, most imported goods will generally be rather expensive, with the exception of cheap, disposable consumer goods from China. However, this has changed to some degree and it is common to find rather affordable and high quality imported goods across certain product lines in Thai stores. Some notable examples are meat, produce and packaged food items. Some imports are competitively priced against Thai products, although most tend to be more expensive. Some companies subsidize their products by lowering the wholesale cost to their distributor in order to compete in the Thai marketplace. This is a great strategy that has led to many great foreign products being adopted by Thai people.
Cars are extremely expensive to buy in Thailand. The cost of a small car in the kingdom is much higher than a comparable car in America. Meanwhile imported cars can cost exponentially higher, with some makes, like Mercedes Benz, being 2 to 4 times the cost in the US. It always amazes us just how many Thai people have cars, given their incredible cost! Small motorcycles are inexpensive to buy and operate, although they are incredibly dangerous and take their true cost on society in the form of the massive injury and death they cause on the open roads of Thailand.
Services in Thailand are generally cheap compared to anywhere in the west and especially in America, where services run a premium. Virtually any type of service is a bargain in Thailand, giving the country its much-deserved reputation as a cheap place to live. However, the quality of services ranges from amazing to abysmal, so often, you get what you pay for…
If you want to live cheaply in Thailand, we have plenty of advice for you:
First, learn what Thai people buy and how they live. Thai people have the inside track on saving money in their country. If you can do as they do, you will live much cheaper. However, some foreigners might not be capable of living at “Thai standard”. Learning basic Thai language will be a great help to you in this regard.
Cost of living is largely dictated by where you live. Your accommodations can make or break your budget, so it is best to find a place that will be much cheaper compared to splurging on some luxury development that will eat up most of your money. You can find very, very cheap and desperate looking rooms, but spend a bit more and you can find something quite good. Of course, you can always spend much more, but that does not mean that you will get more. Price, quality and what you actually receive does not always go hand-in-hand here. We know people spending 65,000 baht (about $2000) a month for a small room in Thonglor and their building is old and quite awful. They shop at local boutique food stores and pay double for everything they buy. Of course they have easy access to all the adorable eateries, but once again, these places charge 3 to 5 times the going price for food and beverage… Meanwhile, you can live in a much nicer, brand new apartment in OnNut for 10,000 baht a month or about $300 dollars. You can be right at the BTS station, eat and drink basically for free and have all the major food stores (Tesco, Tops, Big C, Gourmet Market and even Makro) an easy walk away. Who has the better deal? It depends how you look at things… This is why it is difficult to advise people on the best places to live in Bangkok and throughout Thailand.
Foreigners will often have to spend more money than Thais to do identical things. Some businesses will still try to rip off foreigners, but in most cases, these same businesses will also try to rip off Thai people, as well. They just do not get away with it as often! The Thai government is a poor model for inspiring this behavior, since its double pricing for foreigners has long been a point of contention and ill-will with expats. If you are a foreigner, you pay more to enter national parks and virtually all tourist activities, including some transportation options. It is just the way it is.
The most common question we get is “How much money do I need to live in Thailand?” Have you been reading this post? There is no universally applicable answer. However, we will provide some guidelines that you can actually depend on, unlike some sources which cite ridiculous figures. Just know that these amounts might not satisfy financial requirements of your visa extension. These numbers are provided strictly to cover your actual cost of living in Thailand:
The minimum budget is about 16,000 baht or $500 per month as a foreigner. If you own a home and live in the countryside, you can definitely live for less, but the cost of the home must be included over time, so it tends to balance out. For this price, you may live well in cheap areas and might live very rough in other more costly areas.
A budget of $1000 or about 32,000 baht per month will provide a decent life virtually anywhere in Thailand, although living in a pricey area will make you a slave to the incurred costs of accommodations and products in those expensive neighborhoods.
If you want to live a pampered life, you must have more than $2000 (64,000 baht) budget each month. This will provide lots of room for luxuries if you are smart and spend-thrift in some areas of life. If you want to be able to spend indiscriminately, you must budget upwards of $4000+ (128,000 baht) a month. This is predominantly applicable to people living in major urban areas, like Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Samui, Pattaya and the like. A similar budget in the countryside will make you the richest person around, except the local crime bosses…
It is also worth noting that in rural areas, some of the basic costs of living are often linked to sweat equity, compared to spending. Some people in the country grow their food or raise it as livestock. If you are willing to do this, you can save as well, but at the expense of hard work.
If you doubt how expensive Thailand can be, just ask the many foreigners here who work hard and earn low wages, such as the vast majority of teachers. These people work full time, with extra hours often expected. Many teachers earn between 20,000 to 40,000 baht per month. This amounts to only $600 to $1200 dollars monthly. These teachers frequently leave Thailand after a few years, since they are spending more to live a meager lifestyle than they are earning! If they have student loans, forget it! We do know some retirees who have it all worked out, living each month for a pittance and being quite happy in the process.
So, when it comes to the cost of living in Thailand, there are many variables to consider. Living where? Living how? The choices are up to you. However, the one thing we can certainly advise is to have more money than you actually need, since this will keep you out of trouble. Coming up short each month will definitively lead to problems that might have dire consequences to you, your health and your future in Thailand. Never cut corners, such as sacrificing health insurance so that you can afford to go out drinking every night… If you can’t make it work, then don’t. Find a better option or change your expectations. It is that simple! Need advise? Just ask. We have you covered!