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 January 20th, 2015

33 Baht to one US Dollar
49 Baht to one Pound Sterling

Mae

Working in Sattahip, Chonburi Province

Monthly Earnings 18,000 baht

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

18,000 baht. Yes, eighteen thousand baht.

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

I have saved around 5,000 per month for the last two months. I came to Thailand last October 2014 and have been teaching for two and a half months. I have managed to save but I know there is always something around the corner that I have to spend for in the future.

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

I live in a condominium owned by the school. It's free for their foreign teachers. I am very happy with the accommodation. It has a large balcony, it's air-conditioned, with hot shower and fridge. Our place is new, spacious and well-ventilated. That makes us save some consumption of electricity. "Us" because I share it with a co-teacher. It is the school policy to share (and I like it that way because I am afraid to sleep alone, haha!). Just no TV.

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

a) Transportation

About 500 baht a month. I can only go to Pattaya City every weekend and the means of transportation is van or sungtaew. Van costs only 30 baht while sungtaew is only 20 baht. Our condo is inside the school campus. Just need to walk to my classroom.

b) Utility bills

Our school charges 60 baht per teacher for water. Electricity costs me and my roommate between 500 to 800 baht a month, but then we split it equally. Cellphone load costs only 50 baht, I don't use it for international calling. My laundry is unbelievably 200 baht a month. Wifi is free.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

We have two free meals at school - breakfast and lunch. I just need to take care of my dinner and my foods on Sundays and holidays. For groceries I spend around 2,000 baht a month. I treat myself to western- style foods on weekends so restaurant bill is around 2,000 baht also.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I've already quit drinking and I'm done with nightlife. My money would go to healthy fruit shakes on the beachside with a relaxing massage and a nice manicure or pedicure. I spend around 2000 baht for these too.

e) Books, computers

I don't spend buying books as I already have everything that I need in teaching. I do most of the reading and research on line. I have my laptop I brought from back home. Other things to where my money would go is sending it to Philippines to pay my credit card which I don't use it here in Thailand. That's 4,000 baht monthly. Few more months and I'm done with it. Oh yes! Im a Filipina.

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

I am satisfied and comfortable with my life here.

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

The cost of food and clothes. It's cheap.

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

Hmmm, if you are single or you don't have a family to support and you eat Thai foods and you have what I am enjoying from my school, then that 18k baht will make you live and survive decently. But it still depends on the needs of every person.

Phil's analysis and comment

To quote Mae in her survey - "I am satisfied and comfortable with my life here". At the end of the day, isn't that all that matters? 

I'm sure there are going to be plenty of teachers reading this who are thinking 'Oh my god, 18,000 baht a month!, how is it possible to survive?' (and I'm probably one of them) but you have to delve a little deeper and factor in a few things. Firstly, Mae's accommodation is paid for by the school and her utility bills are quite low. She can also just walk to school so there are no daily home to school transportation costs. What else? She gets two free meals a day and only has the evening meal to pay for. I reckon we could easily put a figure of about 4,000 - 6,000 baht a month on that little package. So we're up to a more respectable 22K - 24K a month straight away. 

So we come up with a total of at least about 22,000 baht. Probably enough to survive on though you do have the temptations of Pattaya not too far away :)

I got some interesting feedback from Steve, who enjoys these cost of living surveys but felt that I was way out for once with my analysis of Mae's figures. Fair play Steve and thank you for taking the time to e-mail me with your thoughts. Steve felt that the shared accommodation was only worth 2,000 baht at most. He also felt the utility bill being low just meant that Mae never used the air-conditioning. Steve hardly saw that as a benefit and again that's a fair point. Steve also saw the free school meals + transportation saving as coming to only around 2,000 baht as well. So in conclusion, he feels Mae's total teaching package is worth around 22K I guess  

I'd love to get more surveys from Filipino teachers if you're out there reading this. Send your answers to me by e-mail please.


James

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 65,000

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

I take home around 60,000 baht a month from my job as an English support teacher in an international school in Bangkok. With a month’s pay as a bonus at the end of the year that works to around 65k I guess.

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

My savings are pretty fluid. With a baby, a dog and a wife there’s always something to spend money on. Pre-baby I could save 15k a month but haven’t got anywhere near that since she was born. Probably around 5k lately due to fixing the house up a fair bit.

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

We own a 3-bedroom house in Bearing with the mortgage payments being around 13,000 baht a month

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

a) Transportation

My school is a 5-minute drive and my wife has a company car for her work so we don’t pay for that. I guess we fill our car up twice a month as we don’t use taxis or the BTS so let's say about 2,000 baht. We are still paying the car off but the wife pays for that.

b) Utility bills

We have the doors open and fans on most the time downstairs and only use AC at night in the bedroom. Normally around 2,000 baht at the end of the month. Water is a couple of hundred, phone is 1,000 baht. I have no idea how much we pay for the basic True internet/tv package, 600 baht-ish?

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

We eat at home a lot, especially since the baby. Wife eats Thai market food but I normally have some meat and potato variation. When we do eat out it’s normally western but nothing expensive. The killer is the baby milk formula, 700 baht every few days.. I’m guessing around 15,000t baht a month (including the dog food…)

d) Nightlife and drinking

I don’t really go out but I do have couple of beers after work, a sneaky sangsom and coke in the evening and a lot more at the weekend. I started working it out but got scared, so I’m guessing around 6,500 baht a month.

e) Books, computers

I use my computer a lot to download a lot of television and movies. Luckily the school library has a great selection of books which I can borrow from for free. So zero, yay for piracy!

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

Pretty good, My wife also works, so the bills are shared and we both prefer to stay in than go out. We find ourselves not wanting for anything (within reason) but as a foreigner in Thailand I should probably be saving more.

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

Compared to the UK, the rent. I could never afford a house like I have here on the equivalent wages in the UK. Beer maybe, 100bht for a pint. Can you even get a two quid pint anymore in the UK?

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

45,000 baht for a singleton in Bangkok. If they could swallow the start-up costs of getting a cheap, decent place near the BTS, a laptop etc. then life would be great.

Phil's analysis and comment

I think James lives well within his means and despite having an expensive baby and dog to take care of, he has a property to his name (or he will have when the mortgage is paid off) 

It would have been interesting to know how much James' wife earns, but perhaps that's being a bit too nosey. I was just interested in the fact that James and his wife 'split the bills'

I generally earn about 50% more than my wife does and we have the weirdest system for splitting costs. I pay all the utility bills and for the weekly supermarket shopping. When we go out for a meal together, we take it in turns to pay the bill. My wife pays for her own car and phone, etc. 

We love travelling abroad and holidays account for about 40% of our monthly spend. My wife pays for her own air ticket and I pay for mine. But once we get to our destination, I bear all the costs of accommodation, eating out, car hire, etc.

The laugh is that we have never actually sat down and planned this system - you pay for this and I'll pay for that - it's just sort of happened this way. But it seems to work.

I'm far more careful with spending money than my wife. That's not to say she's reckless, but she has much more of a 'money is for enjoying' attitude. I often wish it was an attitude I had more of. 


Peter

Working in Samut Sakhon

Monthly Earnings 81,000 baht

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

My take home salary per month is 81,000 baht. I work at a private Thai school as a mathematics teacher that runs a substantial English program. The school is approximately 30kms out of the city in Samut Sakhon. The school only employs teachers that are qualified as teachers in their home country.

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

I am coming to the end of my first 12-month contract. My average savings per month are 30,000 baht.

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

The school runs minivans to and from Bangkok for foreign staff and depart from Surasak BTS - so I chose to find a condo in this area. I pay 20,000 baht a month for a spacious condo in a modern apartment building with full size pool and running track. If I stayed for another year, I would look for something about 15K because I am not at home all that much.

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

a) Transportation

Transportation to and from work is free and I have a bike card for hiring the green bikes located on Sathorn Road. The first 15 minutes of each trip is free and the card only cost 320 baht which included 100 baht credit. I use the BTS a lot, taxis occasionally, although I always share with someone else, and scooter taxis extremely rarely. Overall, about 1000 baht on transport a month.

b) Utility bills

Water is super cheap. I normally pay about 60 - 80 baht a month for water. My electricity bill is normally about 1600 baht a month. I have a 3bb router which costs 630 baht per month.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I cook western food at home at least three to four times a week. I also eat cereal for breakfast like I would back in Australia. I know I could eat at the local Thai restaurants much more cheaply but I like to know that the food I put in my mouth isn't laced with sugar and oil. My supermarket bill is about 1500 baht per week. Lunch is provided free of charge for all staff at school. I also eat at mid range restaurants. I guess my monthly food bill would be about 10k per month.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I rarely drink. When I do it is normally just large bottles of local beer which are very cheap. I might spend 500 baht a week on drinks.

e) Books, computers

I bought my lap top from home for personal use. The school provides all secondary teachers with a lap top for school use. I also have an ipad from home. Touch wood I haven't had any expenses as yet.

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

I live an extremely comfortable life in Bangkok. The daily commute to and from work is a grind. I leave home at 6.50am and if the traffic on Sathorn Rd is bad, some evenings I don't get home till 6pm. I have enough money to do whatever I want in this city within reason. Even pricey Sunday brunches or cocktails at some of the more expensive roof-top bars are within reach. At 37, saving is important to me. If I were ten years younger and wasn't worried about saving, I really would be able to go wild.

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

The real bargains are the price of water, the cost of Thai food at local restaurants, the cost of beer at the smaller Thai bars, and the cost of seeing local sport. I can go and watch a football match between two of the teams in the Thai Footall League for 100 baht.

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

If saving isn't important, I personally could survive on 50000 baht a month. That would include living in a less expensive condo and eating out less.

Phil's analysis and comment

A very 'safe' and sensible survey from Peter there. As he says, earning over 80,000 baht a month means he could 'go wild' if he wanted but he definitely prefers playing sports to propping up bars. And that's always going to cost you a lot less.

I get the sense that now Peter is hurtling towards the big four-oh, he's starting to think about planning for his future and financial security. I'm no financial planner but I don't see why he shouldn't be able to achieve his goals on the kind of money he earns, especially if he downgraded his accommodation or better still, invested in a property. Not sure how long he wants to stay in Thailand though.

Oh, and I don't think that commuting 'daily grind' is all that bad. 6.50am is a reasonable time to have to leave for week and I bet there are thousands of employees in Bangkok who would love to be home for six in the evening.  


Abraham

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 20,000 to 60,000 baht.

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

I have worked at a private language school in Bangkok for one year and teach 12-18 hours a week. I supplement my language school hours by teaching business English classes for another school. Over the course of this first year, my average month has been around 30,000 baht but my earnings vary dramatically. In October last year, I made just over 60k. This month (January) I will be taking home just over 20k. In December last year, I took home 27K.

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

Honestly, my savings are non-existent. Whatever money I bank at the end of a good month, gets spent in quieter months. I am half way through a non-immigrant visa and work permit, but my first few months cost me a lot with all the visa runs etc. Last month was a little unfortunate as I had to renew my passport.

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

My accommodation saves me. I currently pay 6700 for a spacious studio apartment in Bearing. I have a huge balcony with enough room for a kitchen and table; which ultimately makes up for it being a studio.

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

a) Transportation

Due to my school being next to a BTS station, I always buy a BTS Rabbit card (50 trips) at 1,100 baht. I have to add 10 baht each time though, so it totals to about 1,600 baht by the time I've finished. My travel expenses for business trips are covered in each contract. On days off, I usually get a bus or songtaew to where I need to go. The occasional taxi to Mega Bangna costs me about 200 baht there and back. My total monthly spending probably works out at around 2,200 baht.

b) Utility bills

I use the air-con occasionally, but being in a low-rise area, my balcony gets a nice breeze, so my water and electricity usually tops out at about 2,500 baht each month. I pay 100 baht for WiFi.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I always eat out. I have kitchen space, but I haven't managed to accumulate the same facilities that I had when I lived in the UK. I would love a place with a proper kitchen and an oven, but for now, I mainly eat at restaurants. I often end up paying for my girlfriend's meal, so dinner costs are almost doubled at about 150 baht. Lunch is relatively cheap, ranging from around 50-100 baht per meal.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I am not a drinker at all and Bangkok's nightlife scares the s*** out of me.

e) Books, computers

I brought my laptop with me and so I rarely spend money on books or films. I go to the cinema occasionally, but cinema tickets aren't too expensive so I'd say that I rarely spend more than 500 baht on techy/entertainment stuff.

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

I am fortunate that my room is comfortable for just 7k a month but I wouldn't say my standard of living is great. Life is uncertain due to inconsistent monthly pay. This stops me buying things I want as I am never sure if I'll need the money later. I spend a lot of time taking photographs (which is free) so that helps. There are many things I would like to buy but just don't have the spare money. I enjoy teaching but wish I had more hours and maybe a monthly salary.

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

Food. Utilities. Basic survival costs. I also had to take a recent trip to the dentist and that worked out much cheaper than back home. Transportation is also relatively cheap, but taking the bus can be painful if you're on a busy route. If you want to live a Western lifestyle or purchase Western goods, or even technical goods like TVs, phones or games consoles seem to work out more expensive, generally because of the difference in wages.

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

To survive, 30,000. To live and be comfortable with an opportunity to save, probably more around the 50,000-60,000 mark.

Phil's analysis and comment

I begged Abraham to do this cost of living survey because when I chatted to him on Twitter about his teaching work, it took me back to the ten or so years when I worked in the private language school business in Bangkok.

For most months of the year, I would earn in the region of 30-35,000 baht a month (more than enough to survive on back in the mid-90s) but then along came December and January and students would cancel lessons left, right and centre. My Japanese business students and housewives would return to Japan for Christmas and New Year and Thai students would do whatever they had to do. Suddenly your monthly earnings plummeted to 20K a month.

And this is exactly what we are seeing with Abraham's figures above. The private language school game hasn't changed - and it never will. As Abraham points out, you can never truly enjoy your peak earning months because there's always a low earning month just around the corner.  

Fortunately, I've always been pretty good with handling my finances and I always kept a bit back for the lean periods. I remember plenty of other teachers who didn't care though. Then when December came, they found themselves living on pot noodles for half the month. Not a good situation to be in at all.


Stefan

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 50,000

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

I work at a large Thai private school in North Bangkok and I've been there almost five years. I started on about 32,000 baht a month but seen my salary rise by over 50% in the last five years to 50k.

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

It depends. You have a month where you feel like you're doing well and you might save 20K but there's always an expense around the corner. This month is a prime example when my mobile phone stopped working and I had to buy a new one.

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

I rent a very nice studio apartment near where I work for 12,000 baht a month. That might sound a lot for a studio but it's a lovely building with a gym and swimming pool. And even though I don't have a separate bedroom, I live alone and the living space is huge because it's a corner unit.

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

a) Transportation

Next to nothing. I can walk to work in less than 10 minutes. I might catch a taxi for 50 baht if it's raining but that doesn't happen very often. I sometimes take the aircon bus into Bangkok if I crave somewhere a little more lively, but that doesn't happen all that often either.

b) Utility bills

Water and electricity are billed by the apartment building and usually come to about 3,000 baht. I use the air-conditioning quite a lot because I'm at home most evenings and at the weekend.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I have about four Thai restaurants that I use in my neighborhood. I get on well with the staff at each place and they know what food I like. I rarely eat Western or fast food. I guess about 100 baht a day - so 3,000 baht a month.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I'll occasionally go out with friends into Bangkok or we'll find a bar locally and just chill out. This isn't a big expense for me - probably 2,000 baht a month at most.

e) Books, computers

I do a lot of reading and buy about 3-4 books a month for my kindle. That comes to about a 1,000 baht. And my three-year old laptop is still going strong. I keep thinking about upgrading it but why spend money when you don't have to?

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

It's extremely comfortable but I live a very quiet life. I gave up on Bangkok's 'bright lights' some time ago. I would rather just relax at home with a good book after doing a few laps of the pool (which is totally empty in the early evening)

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

Thai food from local restaurants. I can get a huge plateful of food and maybe an ice cream dessert for 50-60 baht in my local neighborhood

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

It's funny but I feel I have less disposable cash now I'm earning 50K than I did five years ago when I was earning about 30K. Bangkok has got more expensive. No doubt about that. I'm just glad I don't live in the real heart of the city where there would be far more temptations to spend money. But to answer the question - I wouldn't like to survive in Bangkok on less than I earn now.

Phil's analysis and comment

Interesting. This is a teacher who doesn't feel any better off than five years ago - despite the fact he's earning 50% more than he was five years ago. Is this an indication of just how much prices and the cost of living have risen in Bangkok? Could be.

Here's a teacher who has taken my past advice on board as well. Always rent the nicest apartment that you can afford. That way you don't mind spending time relaxing at home and you're less likely to want to spend time outside. Walking around shopping malls and frequenting entertainment areas too often can play havoc with your budget if you're not careful. 

If you would like to do a cost of living survey and let other teacher's in on your lifestyle, I would love to hear from you. E-mail me your answers to the questions and I'll do the rest. 

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