Every new arrival wants to know "can I survive or live well in Bangkok or rural Thailand on 30,000 baht a month"? or perhaps 40,000 or even 50,000? It's always a difficult question to answer because each person has different needs. However, I thought it would be interesting to compare the lifestyles and spending habits of some teachers currently living and working in Thailand. We are concerned with what they earn, but more so about what they spend money on and what it costs each of them to enjoy a certain kind of lifestyle. After each case study, I've added comments of my own.

Approximate conversion rates as of April 27th, 2015

33 Baht to one US Dollar
49 Baht to one Pound Sterling
35 Baht to one Euro
25 Baht to one Australian Dollar
0.74 Baht to one Philippine Peso

Bill

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 45,000 baht

Q1. How much do you earn from teaching per month?

I earn a salary of 33,000 from my day job at a government school and I supplement it with about 12,000 baht a month at private language schools doing two evenings a week and sometimes weekends.

Q2. How much of that can you realistically save per month?

Very little. 5,000-10,000 baht would be a good month.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I live in a basic studio apartment in the Prakhanong area of Bangkok. The rent is 6,000 baht a month but from what I've seen of colleagues' apartments, it isn't bad value for money.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

a) Transportation

I have to travel about five stations on the sky-train to get to work and I rarely need to us taxis. So transportation is barely 2,000 baht a month. If you live near a sky-train station in Bangkok, you can really keep those transportation costs down.

b) Utility bills

Water and electricity come to about 2,500 baht a month. If I am at home, then the air-conditioning is usually on - especially at this time of year!

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I never cook at home and I never bring back bags of street-food to the apartment. Literally the only thing I keep in my fridge are cartons of milk for my morning cup of tea. I try to vary my diet by eating streetfood meals or something at an average Thai restaurant and sometimes the odd fast food blowout. I try to limit my food spending to about 300 baht a day, which still adds up to a hefty 9,000 baht a month.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I do like a night out on a Friday and Saturday. A lot depends on whether I have classes in the morning. I guess maybe about 10,000 baht a month.

e) Books, computers

Nothing. My laptop has been going strong for at least five years and I use the free internet at school

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

I manage to burn through my 45,000 baht fairly easily. I couldn't contemplate surviving on my basic school salary of 33,000. That extra income from the private language school teaching makes all the difference. It means I can eat out all the time and have a good night out twice a week.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Nothing really costs the earth but I have seen prices creeping up in Bangkok over the past 12 months - especially supermarket goods.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

In Bangkok, I think you should be aiming as high as possible. I would love to earn in the region of 60K a month but I'm sure I would still burn through that amount as well.

Phil's analysis and comment

Bill's survey highlights the difference that just 10,000 baht a month can make to your standard of living in Bangkok. But of course you always have to balance that with the workload. For many teachers, one full-time job from Monday to Friday is enough. They value their free time in the evenings and at weekends and they don't want to work any harder. But sometimes if you want to pull in the big bucks, you have to make sacrifices. However I remember what one teaching colleague once said to me - if you are working all the hours godsend, then you don't have time to enjoy the money you earn, so what's the point?

If you would like to submit your own cost of living survey, then please e-mail me your answers.


Michael

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings About 93,000 baht

Q1. How much do you earn from teaching per month?

My regular salary is fixed at B85,000 per month. I also get a small meal allowance each day I teach (B100). I also do some extra work through the university. Examples would be substitution for an absent instructor, teaching special one-day classes or working in the language lab. This extra work averages out to around B5,000 a month. I never work weekends, nor past 18:00hrs.

Q2. How much of that can you realistically save per month?

On average I save about B30,000 or so.. I have had a few months where I deposited closer to B40,000 and a few months below B20,000. However, B35,000 would be a fair average.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I live (alone) in a high-rise, two-bedroom, two-bath fully western style furnished condo in the business district of Bangkok. My neighbors are the Embassy of Germany and Singapore. I pay B24,500 per month.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

a) Transportation

Because I cherish ease and convenience, I arrange for a taxi to pick me up each morning I teach and deliver me to my office building. That averages about B2,000 per month. I average about B700 a month in BTS/MRT fares and about another B500 for other incidental transport. Total of about B3,200/month

b) Utility bills

Averages about 2,500 a month for all required utilities. I run the A/C for about 4 hours a day when I am at home, but not all the time. Because I am on the upper floors of a highrise, I tend to have good natural breeze with the windows open which means I can often go with little or no AC and yet maintain a very pleasant temperature.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

This a hard to measure area because of my unique circumstances. However, I will say that I like to eat and I don't scrimp - at all - in this area. I eat out about twice on the weekdays and usually on both Saturday and Sunday. I would estimate that I spend about B15,000 monthly on both purchased food for home consumption, as well as eating out.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I am a non-drinker by choice, however I do go out with friends. However, when I do it's usually a mineral water or Coke Zero for me. I am a movie fan, so a good percentage of my "nightlife" may be spent on movie tickets. Estimate here, about B5,000 at best.

e) Books, computers

I don't buy a lot of books, and upgrade my laptop/tablet every few years. So, this expense I think is going to be nominal. About B500/month.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

I live EXACTLY the way I want and with some basic fiscal discipline and planning, I manage to save a fair amount each month.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

I would have to say; a) fresh food (locally sourced) like fruit, b) intra-city transport (taxi. BTS/MRT, etc) and c) labour intensive services (manicure, household cleaning, etc)

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

If the measurement is just 'survive', I think that could be very, very low. Maybe B20,000 or less, but again, that is just a simple "survival" existence nothing more. I think if you want what I might call a reasonably comfortable living, then I think it's going to be around B40,000 and if you want a truly "as I like it" lifestyle, then I think you're looking at north of B80,000

Phil's analysis and comment

Thank you Michael for some very detailed figures there. Here is some more info that Michael sent to me.

Before I give my information, a little background as I (I think at least) am an 'odd ball' case - but I think it is worth it for others who many not be in or looking to be in, the traditional teaching/school system.

I teach at a leading (or what they call "Pillar of the Kingdom") university. I teach in a specialized English program within the larger Faculty of Education. It is an aviation English program and it's designed for those who want to pursue operational jobs in the aviation industry. Commonly that's cabin crew, front-line customer service, air traffic control and similar positions.

I myself am in my early 40's, an American male, and retired from my airline after working a full 20 years - yes, I started working for the airline when I was still a university student. As a retiree I have a few benefits which *may* impact this salary study.

As a part of my retirement package, I enjoy unlimited free (pay taxes only) air travel. So I travel a lot, and do so for very close to zero. This drives down my twice-annual "going home" vacation trip cost to near zero and also means that I make a few short runs back to the US to stock up on frozen groceries (think frozen steaks for grilling and such) and other household essentials that are either not available here in Bangkok, or are prohibitively expensive if purchase locally.


Gazza

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings About 53,000 baht

Q1. How much do you earn from teaching per month?

My salary at a Thai school is 38,000 baht a month but I supplement this with on average 15,000 baht a month doing private teaching at a large Thai export company. It's actually the company my Thai girlfriend works for and she got me a foot in the door to do some one-to-one conversation stuff with several of the bosses. Now I do one-day workshops, proofreading, etc. I've become their English go-to guy.

Q2. How much of that can you realistically save per month?

The answer to that question is not as much as I should but I try to save 100,000 a year to pay for the annual trip back home to see the family.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I live in a one-bedroom apartment in The Victory Monument area of Bangkok and pay 10,000 baht a month. I really should look into buying my own place some day though.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

a) Transportation

I'm five minutes walk from the skytrain and my school is five minutes walk from the station at the other end. I take the odd taxi at the weekend but I don't think transportation comes to more than a couple of thousand a month.

b) Utility bills

About 2-3,000 baht a month. I use the air-conditioning a lot. The water bill is peanuts but I do take showers every day. Honest.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I tend to alternate between cooking at home and eating out and probably spend about 8,000 baht a month on food. Lunch is provided free at the school where I work. It's not the greatest quality food as you would expect but I actually prefer a light lunch. If I have something too heavy, I tend to suffer from the dreaded post-lunch slump.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I never go out during the week, but I'll have a night out with the lads on either Friday or Saturday. 4,000 baht a month I would say. I'm not a huge drinker so two or three beers and a meal in a medium-price is a decent night out for me.

e) Books, computers

I download a couple of new books every month to my kindle and I buy the odd computer game. All this comes to no more than a couple of thousand baht.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

Very comfortable indeed. I feel like I want for nothing. OK, I could be saving a bit more I suppose but I'm just not into working all the hours under the sun just to make an extra 10,000 or so.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Most things really. Certainly food (if you know where to shop) and taxi fares. But I do notice the cost of travelling in Thailand has crept up over the several years I've been here. It's probably why I hardly ever leave Bangkok. Funny but I begrudge spending money on trips in Thailand.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

It's a tough question because everyone is different. I've been earning 50K+ for some time now and while I could certainly survive on less, I really wouldn't want to. You get 'used to' a certain lifestyle and no one wants to go backwards.

Phil's analysis and comment

"It's not what you know, it's who you know". It's a saying that's as applicable to Thailand as it is to any country in the world. Gazza's partner has got him involved with her company doing some part-time, freelance work and that extra 15,000 baht a month makes all the difference. If Gazza had even more free time, I bet the company could give him more work than he could handle. But he's a sensible guy for keeping a full-time job at a Thai school and guaranteeing a monthly salary.

Interestingly, my wife works for a very large Japanese multi-national company and they are always looking for someone to help them with conversational English, presentation and e-mail writing skills, etc. - stuff that I could deliver standing on my head.

I even know many of the staff (the Japanese bosses included) from attending company functions and outings to the beach, etc.

But they can't use me!

Simply because many Japanese companies have a very strict rule when it comes to outsourcing work. The contracts cannot be given to family members belonging to a company employee, especially a company employee in a management position. 

It's refreshing to see that Gazza doesn't have that problem.

If you would like to submit your own cost of living survey, then please e-mail me your answers.


Derek

Working in Rural Thailand

Monthly Earnings 35,000 baht

Q1. How much do you earn from teaching per month?

I have other earnings, but let’s just base things on my monthly salary of 30,510 baht and 4,800 baht per month from a private class (2 hours a week). I’m on a 12-month contract and my salary includes Bupa health insurance and visa / work permit costs.

Q2. How much of that can you realistically save per month?

I don’t try to save from my regular monthly earnings, but there’s always something left at the end of the month. I just leave it in the bank until it builds up enough to make a major purchase. For example, two months ago I bought a new scooter for 50,000 baht.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I rent a 3-bedroom townhouse which costs 3,500 baht per month. It has air-con in the bedrooms but not downstairs. It was sparsely furnished when I moved in and I’ve added some of my own furniture/appliances to make it more comfortable.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

a) Transportation

I run both a car and a scooter, but don’t have to travel far to work. I spend 2,000 baht a month on fuel. My car payments are 7,000 baht a month and factor in another 1,000 baht for insurance.

b) Utility bills

My electricity bill is between 500 and 1,000 depending on the time of year. Water about 100 baht. Cable TV costs 950 baht per quarter and internet from TOT 599 baht a month. So all in all about 2,000 baht per month.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I just have coffee/toast for breakfast, a sandwich/7-11 toastie for lunch and dinner at a restaurant. There are no farang restaurants here and I’m not a great fan of fast food so I normally eat Thai food. I spend about 500 baht per week shopping for essentials at Tesco Lotus and about 300 baht per day on snacks, dinner, drinks and cigarettes.

d) Nightlife and drinking

There’s not much nightlife where I live, I always have a couple of large Leos with dinner, but the cost is included above. When I want nightlife I’ll go for a weekend away which is usually once a month. I don’t mind spending 10k on a nice weekend break.

e) Books, computers

I have a laptop and tablet, both bought from accumulated saving from my salary. I visit the UK at least once a year and always bring a stack of books from home.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

My standard of living is much better than it would be if I were living in rented accommodation in the UK. I can do what I want - when I want - and never go without.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Restaurants. I can sit down for my evening meal in a nice restaurant for 170 baht (including two large beers)

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

I would say 15,000 because it doesn’t take much to survive in the provinces. Then again, who wants to just survive? If I didn’t smoke or drink, you could knock 200 baht per day off my average daily spend but that’s not why I came to Thailand. 25k would be very comfortable here and anything above that you could start living like a king. My teaching job is only 15 +2 hours a week so I have plenty of free time, and if there’s something I really want or need, I can always take on extra work. When I go back to

Phil's analysis and comment

You can get some great deals on accommodation out in the sticks. A three-bedroom house for just 3,500 baht a month (and air-con in the upstairs bedrooms as well) Actually that's the same set-up as a house I rented in Bangkok, except that was costing me 8,000 baht a month. I lived in it for five years and never ever got around to putting air-conditioning in the downstairs living room.

When the hot season arrived, I would live in one of the upstairs rooms, where I had my bed and computer. Looking back, I may as well have rented a studio apartment - but having a house with a large front garden was always nice.

Anyway, nice survey that clearly shows you can live well in rural Thailand on 35K a month. Thanks Del.


John

Working in Rural Thailand

Monthly Earnings 30,000 baht

Q1. How much do you earn from teaching per month?

30,000 baht a month and the school also pay for the work-permit.

Q2. How much of that can you realistically save per month?

My pay goes straight into the bank and I draw about 15,000 baht out for the two of us (my wife and myself) - so half is saved.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I live in a very basic house which the school provides. The school also pays for utilities. Wi-fi is free but weak. My wife is in the same position as me – she also gets a house paid for by her school. We also pay 2,000 a month for a “permanent” rented house in another province.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

a) Transportation

I travel about 200 kilometres by motorcycle at weekends because my wife is teaching in a different province so it is about 250 baht per week for petrol and road tax. Add 500 per month for the cost and maintenance of the bike, which I have had nearly 5 years.

b) Utility bills

The school pays for them. The “permanent” rented house that I mentioned earlier costs about 700 baht per month for utilities because we are rarely there.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

We eat at home all the time and I either cook ‘British food’ or we buy food from the local market.

d) Nightlife and drinking

Usually it is only trekking in the hills or running events, apart from school “parties”. Entry fees and transport may be anything between 1,000 and 5,000 per month - so say 2500 per month average.

e) Books, computers

I buy a new computer every couple of years so say 500 baht per month.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

Very relaxed and comfortable and we can afford anything we want, but we just don’t want much.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

It has to be transport, rent and utilities, but also local fruit and vegetables.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

To survive anywhere outside central Bangkok, 15,000 is plenty for a person who lives like a native but you couldn’t save for retirement on that. We have income from other countries, which gives us security, but we never dip into it. All our international flights are paid for outside Thailand. The big drawback in Thailand is that foreigners can’t buy a house otherwise we would make it our home.

Phil's analysis and comment

I have to confess that I found a number of John's answers confusing and I ended up e-mailing him for clarification. 

First, I wanted to know why he needed to rent a house for 2,000 baht a month, when he and his wife both have accommodation paid for by their respective schools. John said the house offered security and he felt less 'tied to the school' and he also needed somewhere for storage.

Secondly, what did he mean by 'his international flights are all paid for'? It certainly didn't sound like John was working at the kind of school that would offer free flights home as part of the benefit package. John replied to say that he always paid for flights out of his savings and not what he earned from the school by way of salary.

As soon as John mentioned that he had income from other countries, I felt the survey became 'less important'. That's not being disrespectful but it does imply that John and his wife may be teaching purely for 'something to do'. They clearly live frugally (and that's the way they like it) and both survive on 15K a month, but whenever a big expense comes up, they can dip into savings and that income from other countries. And we have no idea how much that income is. It could be 200,000 baht a month.

If you would like to submit your own cost of living survey, then please e-mail me your answers.

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