Every new arrival wants to know if they can survive or live well in Thailand on X thousand baht a month?

It's a difficult question because each person has different needs. However, the following surveys and figures are from teachers actually working here! How much do they earn and what do they spend their money on?. And after each case study, I've added comments of my own.

If you would like to submit a Cost of Living survey, you can answer the questions on line - https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9S6HQCD

Approximate conversion rates as of May 29th, 2017

34 Baht to one US Dollar
44 Baht to one Pound Sterling
38 Baht to one Euro
25 Baht to one Australian Dollar
0.68 Baht to one Philippine Peso

Chris

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 171,000 baht plus bonuses

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

I work full-time at a top-tier international school and my salary is actually 117,000 baht plus £1194. Plus I get a two-month bonus every two-year contract.

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

I save about 14,000 baht of my baht salary and all of the £1194 (which is the equivalent of about 54,000 baht)

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

I pay 27,500 baht a month for a house located on a main street and not actually in a Thai moobarn. It's not in the city centre either.

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

a) Transportation

I own a cheap old pick-up and a scooter on which we spend only 200 baht a week on gas because we are within walking distance to the school I work at.

b) Utility bills

Utility bills are usually broken down as 3500 - 4500 baht on electricity (direct to the board) as we use air-conditioning all night,. 699 baht on cable internet + 600 baht for an expat TV package. Mobile phone is PAYG at 699 baht x 2. Water rate is only about 120 baht a month I think plus a large water cooler bottle at about 50 baht

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

Food we cook mostly ourselves and use local produce from the outdoor market to make mainly Asian dishes so around 2000 baht a week. For that we eat well and always have fruit, chicken offal and breast for our dog, fish, prawns etc. Every other weekend we might eat out but somewhere fairly affordable and Thai style so add another 500 baht a week to cover that. We take packed lunches for work so no extra cost there.

d) Nightlife and drinking

We are a married couple so if we have drinks, it tends to usually be Leo beers on a Friday night after work on our porch. We go out with friends in the city maybe once a month, but that comes out of 'personal money'. For 'personal money' we allocate 10,000 baht each a month for personal spending on non-mutual things. This works well in keeping control of our spending.

e) Books, computers

Nothing really.

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

Question is answered below in Phil's Comments section.

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

Eating out, petrol, manual labour (mechanics), lack of road tax / council tax etc

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

It really depends on your goals and where you are going to live. If you are not trying to save any money I would say nowadays you would need 50,000 baht as as a minimum if you indulge in even just a few western luxuries and a budget trip someplace every holiday. You could get by on less, as many Thais do, but you would need to make sacrifices.

Phil's analysis and comment

How would Chris describe his standard of living? He had the following to say -

"Thailand is still cheap, but not as cheap as it was even four years ago when we arrived. I would say we have a good standard of living and do not need to worry about money despite saving around half the salary. Saving for a deposit on a house back in the UK was our goal when moving abroad and despite only one salary we have managed to save more than we intended.

We do have to holiday more frugally, using AirBnB and eating at local places which we enjoy more anyway. We decided to not live in a moobarn to save on rent and we love Thai food so completely changed our cooking to Asian food. We love cooking and found that the presumption that it is cheaper to buy cooked food than cook yourself does not hold true for us as. We eat much more healthy and cheaply as we cook enough for lunch the next day.

Compared to our colleagues we do not indulge in the expat lifestyle we could do as you really could live like a king out here on a top tier school teaching salary but would not be able to save to the levels we have over 4 years"

Nice survey Chris and you're earning about what I would expect for someone teaching at a top tier international school and not just a school that has the word 'international' in its name. There are plenty of those around.

So, I had to get the calculator out for this one. Chris's base salary is 117 baht + a portion in pound sterling which amounts to another 54,000 baht at the current exchange rate (I bet you would love to see that exchange rate creep back up to what it was a decade agao Chris? You could afford to buy two houses!) If we factor in the two-month bonus every couple of years, sprinkle on a bit of grated cheese, then we arrive at a total package of around 185,000 baht a month. Nice salary but what I would have expected. 

Chris, I haven't met or known that many teachers from the top tier international schools, but you could be the most frugal I've ever heard of. And that's fine. Nothing wrong with a man who knows the value of a dollar. Your nice house in the UK is the prime target so good on you mate. 

And as for your comment - "when you cook at home, you eat so much better compared to eating outside" - I couldn't agree more!


Nathan

Working in Chiang Rai Province

Monthly Earnings 30,000

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

I work for a Thai government school just outside Chiang Rai town and my salary is 30,000 baht for a very easy 14 contact hours a week. Even fewer hours if the students don't turn up thanks to an administration cock-up!

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

I don't save any. I spend it all. I only plan on being here until the end of next term anyway and then I'll go back home. All of my spare cash, after paying for the necessary expenses, goes on travel.

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

I pay 2,500 baht a month for a rundown studio apartment in a rundown apartment building. I know I'm going against the grain but I made my mind up when I first got here a year ago that I wasn't going to fritter money away on rent. If I was here for the long term, then yes I would look for something far better.

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

a) Transportation

I bought a bicycle for a few thousand baht and I cycle the two kilometres to the school and back each day. That cycle ride is a lovely thing to do each morning - unless it's raining of course!

b) Utility bills

Water and electricity come to a few hundred baht. If the weather is hot, I'll just sit around the apartment in my boxer shorts and sweat. But I'm really not at home that much - even on the weekends.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

Again, like the rent, I try to live as cheaply as possible. Breakfast will be a bowl of cereals and a slice of toast, lunch I have at school (free) and then I'll eat street-food in the evening. Even at the weekends I eat Thai food and avoid the overpriced Western joints. I bet I spend less than 5,000 a month on food. But oh boy, there are days when I could just murder a good burger.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I will sometimes have a beer with my evening meal if I'm at a place that serves alcohol but I don't go out to pubs or clubs or places that I know are going to drain my wallet. I've never been a night owl. I'm generally tucked up in my sweatbox at 11pm because I usually have an early start when it's a schoolday.

e) Books, computers

Nothing.

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

I have enough money to do what I most love to do - and that's travel. I've been all over Northern Thailand by plane, train and automobile and explored every village and town. It's been fantastic and I've met some amazing people. Every weekend and every day off, I'm on a bus to somewhere.

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

Transportation and street food.

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

30,000 baht a month is nowhere near enough to survive here for anything other than short term and I realized that very early on. I lived in Chiang Mai for a while and I'm not sure how any foreigner survives there on less than 40K. I moved to Chiang Mai purely because you haven't got the temptations of what has become a very Westernized city.

Phil's analysis and comment

I don't envy Nathan's sweaty apartment (or his sweaty boxer shorts for that matter) and I couldn't go without Western food at least once in a while. However, there's a purpose to Nathan's frugality and that is to save money for travel. The North of Thailand around Chiang Rai Province is easily my favourite part of Thailand as well. If Nathan's only doing this teaching and travelling gig for the short term, then not a problem. 


As always, we would love to have your contribution to the cost of living section. But PLEASE don't send us just a list of figures. The figures need to be padded out with a few details. That's what really gets the readers' interest. If you would rather, you can always e-mail me the answers to the survey.


Ben

Working in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Monthly Earnings Equivalent to 120,000 baht

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

I work for a British-owned language school and I do a 17.5 hour teaching week for about 90,000 Baht. I also do about 8 hours of IELTS examing a week which brings in another 20-30,000 a month. So a combined total of 120,000 baht on average a month I'd say.

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

About 45,000 - 55,000 a month depending on holidays.

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

I pay 15,000 baht for a 3-bedroom house with garden in a quiet but central part of Colombo. Its a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride to work and very close to a number of local and international restaurants and bars. One thing I love about Colombo is that you can afford a decent house. Many of the condos are newly built and people are asking silly money for them. I'm really happy living in house after years in a condo in Bangkok.

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

a) Transportation

Transport to work is a 25 baht two-kilometre tuk-tuk journey, I use Uber and another local version for car travel in evenings and weekends. All in I'd guess around 2,000 baht a month

b) Utility bills

Bills come in at 2,500 baht for internet and phone and HD TV package. 4G coverage here is amazing and I use a LOT of internet, Netflix etc. Water is a paltry 50 baht a month. I have a maid who comes once a week for 300 baht and I get a gardener once a month for the same.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I eat out all the time and this is where I could save some cash If I wanted. I'd say about 500 baht a day on food and then at weekends, at the big hotel buffets or beach-side restaurants for another 1000 baht (4-5,000 a week on food) There simply isn't the cheap street food here that you get in other Asian countries. I eat a lot of Vietnamese and Thai food as well as general Western food.

d) Nightlife and drinking

Drinking is expensive here (a beer in a pub will be about 150 baht+ and 300 for a cocktail or glass of wine. I go out 2 or 3 times a week for sunset drinks or to watch the footy with mates. It depends on whats going on each week but I can easily do 8,000 baht a month going out. I have a very good social life here and like to enjoy myself.

e) Books, computers

Maybe a couple of e-books a month on my kindle so maybe 500 baht max.

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

Very comfortable indeed. I save, have a pension, take four holidays a year and don't worry too much about money. Though this survey is now making me think about it some more!

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

Transport, not just taxis but the trains here are dirt cheap. You can get across the entire country for about 250 baht and the trips are the most beautiful I've taken in Asia. The wildlife is also a bargain, unlike Thailand you can go wandering about and you'll see elephants walking, monkeys swinging in the trees, crocs lazing in the sun, birds, dolphins, whales. The wildlife here is so vibrant and diverse from the mountains to the sea. Sri Lanka is still relatively untouched but it wont last long.

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

Thats tough. I know some people who get by on 40-50,000 baht. I always say life in Asia is about choice, same as in Bangkok, you can choose to live on a few hundred baht or you could live on a few thousand baht a day. I'd say you need to have at least 50,000 baht for a basic lifestyle. Life in Colombo isn't cheap. Inflation and tax on food and alcohol and imports is a killer. Accommodation prices are going through the roof if you'll forgive the pun! I don't know how some of the locals get by here.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thank you Ben. When you hear or read about potential TEFL destinations, Sri Lanka is certainly a name that doesn't come up very often - but it sounds wonderful. A maid, a gardener, four holidays a year. You've got it made, kid!


Jamie

Working in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Monthly Earnings 35,000 baht

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

About 35 000 Baht or 23,000,000 Dong. This is divided between two adult classes at the language center, one weekend kids class, an adult class I do at another school, my regular primary classes at another school, and extra classes I pick up as a substitute teacher (at a higher rate). Although it sounds like a lot, I am actually considerably lazy and don't work as much as I should. All stated classes are just a few hours per week.

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

Absolutely none; in fact, I still withdraw up to $500 Canadian each month to enjoy a standard of living I like. Luckily I can do this because of my savings in my home country and working abroad.

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

I pay about 10 000 Baht. I live in a small room above a Vietnamese cafe by day and a farang-owned chicken restaurant at night. I have a balcony but the bathroom is outside the room; the shower is almost just a hole in the wall (very "hong nam" style, while the bathtub is effectively unusable). There is another room below me that my friend lives in. We have air-con and there are several cafes and restaurants in the area but none open during the day. The river is a popular area for exercise and local gossip.

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

a) Transportation

I spend about 1,400 baht a month on my motorcycle rental, or half of what I would pay in Thailand. However the bike is extremely old and compared to a Thai bike has no spirit whatsoever ie. I could not imagine pulling onto Sukhumvit with this thing! Gas is negligibly cheap, but about 200 B per month

b) Utility bills

I have included utility bills of air-con and electricity in the cost for the room, but it's about 1,000 baht per month. My friend who owns the chicken restaurant gives me water at a discounted rate (about 200 baht per month) but I usually buy my own

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

See Phil's comment section below.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I like to have a social life and I like going out and dancing and checking out the crowd. A night out can accrue another 1500B or more tab, similar to farangy prices in Thailand at the popular Sukhumvit nightclub area. A bottle of champagne with my friends at a rooftop will go for 1,500 baht, while a standard beer or cocktail might be 230 baht

e) Books, computers

Books can easily be found through the network of expats here, and material is supplied. I did buy a phone however and it was 15,500 baht (which obviously I used my savings for). I should mention that I also have to update my visa every 3 months which costs 3,500 baht

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

See Phil's comments below.

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

Only motorbikes and beer; the motorbike rental being half what I pay in Thailand, and beer being 20 baht or less per bottle.

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

42 million Dong, or about 55 to 60,000 baht, which I believe is the same amount you would need in Bangkok to be comfortable also. My friends who work more than I do earn this much and do spend as much money on food as I do. They are able to save money, travel, and even go home with this kind of salary.

Phil's analysis and comment

No disrespect Jamie, but that sounds a bit miserable. Thank you though for being so honest.

I rather expected better things from Vietnam and a lot of what I read in Jamie's account gave me quite a shock. Reading between the lines, it sounds like you would be happier in Thailand and where you are now almost makes Thailand out to be a TEFLers paradise!

But before we diss Vietnam completely, we had another survey come in from Lee, another expat teacher in Vietnam. It follows on from this one and it's well worth a read.

Jamie gave very detailed answers to two of the questions above and because space is limited, I have put his answers here.

On the topic of his monthly food spend, Jamie said "Food is incredibly expensive - I am a small guy, but a bodybuilding athlete with a high metabolism - I need to eat a lot. I can easily spend 800 to 1000 baht per day on local food. For example, breakfast with my girlfriend being 2 eggs and bread for me, local soup for her, and one yogurt drink, will be about 200 baht. For lunch I will have two orders of chicken and rice, 150 baht. After my workout I will go for "bo ne dac biet" which is like "special steak plate" which is some eggs and beef parts on a grilled plate, the heartiest meal so far, also the cheapest at 80 baht. Then I will go out for a real dinner with my girlfriend and friends and have a variety of dishes and beers"

And in answer to the question - How would you summarize your standard of living? Jamie said "Very poor. Food is twice as much as in Thailand and not nearly as diverse or plentiful - sometimes I have to drive a very long time before finding something open that isn't Pizza Hut. As mentioned in the acommodation section, I pay 10,000 baht for basically an empty room without a bathroom - similar to a 2,000 baht apartment I had in Chiang Mai once (had a bathroom though). Likewise I know that for 10,000 baht I could have a high rise condo in On Nut with a swimming pool, kitchen and laundry included. Things are much more expensive but it is expected that the Vietnamese people pay the bills by cramming together in small rooms and eating on 60 baht per day"


Lee

Working in Hanoi, Vietnam

Monthly Earnings 60,000 baht

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

I work at a private language centre in Hanoi. My monthly pay after tax is 39 million VND which is about 60,000 Thai baht. This also includes a 6 million VND housing allowance.

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

If i tried, I could easily save 15-18 million VND each month however I probably spend too much on Western food and eating out.

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

I share a two-bedroom apartment with my girlfriend who works at the same centre as me. We pay 12 million per month so roughly 9,000 baht each.

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

a) Transportation

I bought a Yamaha scooter for 12,000 baht last year. Petrol is dirt cheap here. I fill up once a week for 70,000 VND (107 thb)

b) Utility bills

Water, wifi and cleaning is included in our rent. We only pay for electricity; around 1 million VND per month in the summer, 700K in winter.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

Hanoi has a huge variety of great Western food in which I indulge too often. Local Vietnamese food is very cheap (35-70K VND generally per dish) Supermarket food prices are comparable to Thailand

d) Nightlife and drinking

Alcohol is pretty cheap, a bottle of Hanoi beer is 20-30 baht. The imported stuff is much more expensive

e) Books, computers

I rarely spend money on books, apart from an occasional e-book.

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

Compared to Thailand, my standard of living is WAY better. I earn twice as much as I did in the private school I worked at in Chiang Mai. It means I'm able to travel more often and save a lot more. Also because I work in a private language centre, I only work in the evening and weekend which suits me fine.

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

Good quality, fresh and cheap Vietnamese food! Also buying meat from the supermarket, especially pork and chicken is very reasonable. The 5,000 VND (8 baht) fresh beer at many bars also deserves a mention.

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

You could easily live off 20 million a month but to live comfortably and be able to travel and save, 30 million would be far better.

Phil's analysis and comment

That was fantastic timing Lee. Two Vietnam cost of living surveys on the same day! And although Lee lives and works in the same country as Jamie, it's like they're on a different planet! However Jamie did say in his survey that 55,000 - 60,000 baht would give you a nice lifestyle in Vietnam - and that's exactly what Lee earns. The difference in lifestyles that those salaries afford is there for all of us to see. Thanks a million for your time guys!

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