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, but 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 November 2014
32 baht to one US Dollar
52 baht to one Pound Sterling
But check an on-line exchange rate for the most accurate figures.


Dutchboy

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 45,000 - 50,000 baht a month

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

I earn 35.000 Baht a month at a private school on a 10-month contract, with an end-of-year bonus which is a bit more than my monthly salary. I also earn anywhere between 12.000 and 18.000 Baht a month teaching Dutch to private students.

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

I try to save at least 10.000 a month and often manage to save more than that. It all depends on how many extra classes I teach.

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

I live in a studio apartment and I pay 6.350 Baht per month rent. It’s a relatively new apartment and it’s safe and quiet. I would like to move to a larger apartment, but my ideal location is too expensive.

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

a) Transportation

The bus to school costs about 400 Baht per month and I spend around 800 Baht on taxis and the BTS. Add the costs of an occasional flight or minivan out of town and I think it is about 2500 per month.

b) Utility bills

Water is cheap, only about 150B per month. Electricity is about 1.500B and internet 350B per month. I rarely make calls so my phone bill is about 200B per month.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I almost never cook. If I do, it’s spaghetti bolognese as Thais can’t seem to get it right. Around my school I can only buy Thai food so at night I fancy a nice western meal. I can’t eat rice all the time! I spend about 350B on food during the week and 600B at the weekend. That’s about 11.000 Baht in total.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I like my beer and meeting up with friends, only I try to take it easy during weekdays. I think I spend around 10,000B per month.

e) Books, computers

People send me e-books and I don’t play video games.

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

I’m pretty comfortable at the moment but I don’t have any kids to take care of.

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

Transportation in Thailand is amazingly cheap, as well as food (supermarkets not so much) and clothes. Here I can go to an Indian tailor and buy a shirt, trousers and a tie for 1600 Baht. I could only buy a shirt back home for the same amount.

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

For a single young teacher in Bangkok 40,000B per month minimum and for someone with a family 80,000B per month.

Phil's analysis and comment

How nice to have a Dutchman complete one of our cost of living surveys. I've been lucky to travel around The Netherlands several times and it's easily my favourite country in Europe. Amazing country and fantastic people! And if there's a nationality on earth who know how to enjoy life - it's the Dutch.

One of the things that blows my mind about The Netherlands is the standard of spoken English there. Ask a road-sweeper for directions and the information will be given to you word-perfect!

Before I make some observations about Dutchboy's figures above, here are some more words he had to say on the topic of his future in Thailand.  

"In my opinion the salaries are not high enough. I'm still young, don't have any kids and don't have student loans to pay off. My girlfriend also has a job and earns 21.000.

I'm doing alright at the moment but I have to teach extra classes on top of my full time job. This costs me time and energy which would be better spent focusing on my full time job.

But I also think about the future and ask myself; do I want to live in a studio apartment for the rest of my life? What about retirement? If I had kids to take care of, I wouldn't have enough money to offer them a bright future. Let's be honest, would you put your kids through the Thai education system?

So I have to make a decision, either move away from teaching, or go back to university and get some proper teaching qualifications and try to find a job at an international school. But even then, most of them don't offer great salaries. I would be on a higher wage teaching back home compared to my salary here. You can earn much more money elsewhere"

I've got my trusty calculator out and factoring in bonus and private students, Dutchboy earns somewhere between 45 and 50K baht a month.

I think here we have a guy with his head screwed on (to use one of my Mother's favourite expressions) Dutchboy admits that his current lifestyle - although enjoyable now - probably can't last forever, especially if he decides to raise a family. There's nothing wrong with contemplating the future and being prepared. 

I like the ratio of rent to income. 6,350 baht plus bills is less than 20% of his total income. And although 10,000 baht a month on beer sounds a lot (to me anyway) he doesn't spend extravagantly in other areas. Oh, and there is of course a partner bringing in another 21,000 baht a month. A couple with no kids will always live well enough in Bangkok on 70,000 baht a month - especially when rent is such a good deal.  

What's also refreshing to hear is that there is clearly plenty of private work around for a teacher of Dutch. Things may have changed, but in the past I worked alongside many a French, German and Italian teacher who could always find private students, but never enough of them to make ends meet and provide them with a decent monthly income.

But in all fairness, often those teachers' command of English was not good enough to hold down a full-time job teaching English as the target language. Dutchboy obviously doesn't have that problem. 


Alec

Working in A small Thai town

Monthly Earnings 32,500 baht

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

I work in a government secondary school and earn 32,500 thb/month. I have been approached about giving private lessons at the rate of 500 thb/hour here, but the money isn’t worth the sacrificed time to me

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

It all really depends on the month and how much effort I put into saving. A good month for me is saving about 12k whereas a bad month means I’ll only save about 5k or so. For the sake of full disclosure, I also do a bit of freelance work (website design) which nets me an extra 5-10k/month, which goes a long way in helping with my savings.

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

I live in basic studio apartment. However it’s pretty large, and has a cooking/washing area on the balcony; I also have an incredible view of sunrise over the mountains every morning. I pay 3,500/month

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

a) Transportation

I have a new Honda Shadow 400 that I am paying 2,800 per month for. I’m also very centrally located so I can walk to 7-11, food places, etc. On the rare occasion I take a tuk-tuk (usually when I go out drinking) I pay 50 baht per trip.

b) Utility bills

I pay 200/month for water and my electricity bill is anywhere from 1,600-2,500 per month (I love my A/C and X-Box). My phone bill is about 750/month.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I rarely cook at home. I do eat breakfast at home every day (muesli, milk, banana, peanut butter) and keep snacks, beer, etc in my fridge. I probably spend about 2,500 a month on groceries (3,500 if I happen to be buying alcohol that month). I usually spend about 140/day on coffee, lunch, snacks, and dinner.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I’m not too big on partying, so I don’t go out often. On the occasions that I do, me and my friends usually do it Thai-style and get bottles of whiskey. There is usually 5-7 of us splitting the cost, so I rarely spend more than 250 on a night out. I prefer a beer or bourbon at home, which as I mentioned early runs me about ~1000/month. A case of Beer Lao will last me about a month and costs 1000 at the Makro, a bottle of Kentucky bourbon (also lasts me a good couple weeks) costs about 800.

e) Books, computers

I brought a lot of books with me when I came, so I’m still working on reading through those. WiFi is included in my rent. My biggest “tech” expense is probably video games. I’ll occasionally buy a new X-Box or 3DS game which costs anywhere from 300-2000 baht.

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

Very comfortable. I rarely “try” to save and I am still able to put some savings back every month. If I want to take off for a weekend or something I can without worry. Living in a small town really limits the things you can spend money on which took some adapting too, but I really enjoy living here. If I were in Bangkok or another large city I’d probably spend far more on eating Western food (all we have here is KFC and Pizza Co) and other entertainment options.

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

Everything honestly. The eating out is cheap, goods are cheap (i.e. water, medicine, milk, etc) there is a gym in town that doesn’t charge for use (as opposed to my 40 USD/month gym membership at home), and a night out is far cheaper than back home. Things like tailors, dentists, doctor visits and other services are far cheaper here than at home as well.

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

In my town you can do quite fine on 32,500 and I have friends that also do quite well on 30,000. In a place like Bangkok I’d probably want to make at least 45,000 a month because I know I’d have a much harder time saving money.

Phil's analysis and comment

This is the story of the young, single guy living the Life of Riley in small town Thailand. He's got a brand new motorbike. He parties with friends whenever the fancy takes him, unless he's drinking at home while playing games on his Xbox. The air-con's blasting out. He can't be bothered to cook at home because he doesn't need to. He doesn't take on private students because he values his free time too much.

Hey! This was me twenty years ago before married life and responsibility came a-knocking.  Alec I hate you! (only joking of course, Alec is a good pal of mine on Twitter and he knows I'm only pulling his leg) Seriously though, if it ain't broken, don't fix it. I hope you can't keep up this lifestyle for too long though Alec because it wouldn't be fair on the rest of us.

On a side-note, what surprises and encourages me about these cost of living surveys is that MANY English teachers are clearly living WELL. The cynics who often look down on the humble English teacher and brand teaching as 'slave labour' and 'poverty line' earnings etc might well have half a point, but when you delve deeper into some teacher's earnings - as we do in this cost of living section - no one is going hungry. Far from it. In fact, one of the themes that runs through these surveys is the fact that many teachers have far better lifestyles and enjoy far more disposable income than they perhaps would back in their homeland.


Evan

Working in Outer Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 70k per month.

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

70K per month includes 35k as a kindergarten homeroom teacher (8-10 periods per week) 12-month contract with 12 weeks paid holiday per year. And 35K a month teaching students privately after school and weekend mornings (10 hrs per week)

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

I’ve usually got 20-25k left at the end of the month. Sometimes I’ll save that but sometimes it needs to be spent on visa runs, trips, car insurance, things for the baby, 100k recently went on a pregnancy and birth package, 150k on a new motorcycle, 250k on a car. So as soon as you save a bit, you spend it. We only buy in cash and never go into any debt – a rule of life that has served me well.

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

We live in a modern private house in outer Bangkok, which has a private garden with fish pond and fruit trees. This costs us 9,000 baht per month.

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

a) Transportation

Bought a motorbike and car cash (earned from teaching). 150k and 250k respectively. Gas costs about 2k per month between them but the motorbike is the everyday commuter. First-Class insurance for both is 12k per year.

b) Utility bills

Electric 2,500 Internet 600 Water 200

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

No restaurants. We aalways cook at home and eat dinner in our garden every night. About 2-3k per week in Tesco for all our shopping but not just food. figure on 100b per day for lunch.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I buy a liter of Black Label for about one month. Friday and Saturday nights in front of the computer or TV. Few beers during the week with dinner. Let's say 3-4k per month.

e) Books, computers

Computer cost me 15k, tablet 10k. Book shelf is full of books I bought in used book shops around Khao San.

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

Very, very comfortable for someone that doesn’t need to go out to be happy and is fine with going to a student’s house for 2 hours every Saturday and Sunday morning.

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

Rent

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

35k in the city to be moderately comfortable and 30K in the rural areas. Nobody wants to live like a peasant. 50-60k might cut it long term if you’re looking to get ahead a little bit in life. If you’re good at your job, then this won’t be a problem with extra private lessons. We have a very comfortable, but quiet life with no problem putting money away every month on 70k.

Phil's analysis and comment

Evan sounds like a good, honest family man who likes a night in just as much as a night out. Nothing wrong with that. I'm a homeboy myself. One thing I've always preached is "work out how much money you need in order to live comfortably, then go out and find the easiest way to earn it" Don't bust your balls doing all the hours godsend for 30K a month if there's an alternative. And this is what caught my eye about Evan's survey. He's pulling in 70K a month and by my maths, doing just 18-20 'periods' or hours a week. That's not going to kill someone who truly enjoys teaching. 


Paul

Working in Lopburi

Monthly Earnings About 40,000 baht

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

I work at a local secondary school and my salary is just shy of 30,000 baht a month but I also do a corporate gig at a local manufacturing company. I meet with them twice a week in the evenings and they pay me 1,000 baht an hour. In a good month, this corporate job alone can add 16,000 baht to my salary but the company will usually cancel classes here a couple of times a month so it's closer to 12,000 baht.

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

I can usually save between 10-15,000 baht a month easily. It's probably important to mention at this point that I have a Thai partner who earns 25,000 baht a month at a local manufacturing company (are you beginning to see the connection?) and we have that classic arrangement of my money is mine and your money is yours.

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

We rent an amazing house with a large garden for just 5,000 baht a month (it's worth far more than that I'm sure) It belongs to the father of one of the Thai teachers at my school, in fact I think he has several properties in the area that he just sits on and I guess he'll sell when the time is right. It's a beautiful house though. Sometimes I stand in the garden early in the morning with a cup of tea and think 'wow! I'm a lucky man to live in this place for such a low rent'

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

a) Transportation

I have my own motorcycle but rarely ever use it. The school is about a 20-minute walk away and I enjoy the exercise. So transportation is almost zero.

b) Utility bills

There is just one air-conditioner in the whole house (in the bedroom) and that gets a fair bashing - but our electricity bill is rarely over 2,000 baht a month. Water and mobile phones add up to another 1,500 baht I guess.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

We tend to either cook at home or buy prepared food from the local market. I would say about 7-8,000 baht a month at the most. We'll sometimes have a McDonalds or KFC at the weekend as a treat.

d) Nightlife and drinking

Well, my partying days are over and there isn't a great deal to do in Lopburi so it's not really an expense worth considering. I would rather stay in and watch downloaded movies on the big TV.

e) Books, computers

Again not much. I'll buy a few books if I'm travelling around the north and see a second-hand bookshop. We both have laptops and wi-fi costs us about 700 baht a month.

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

Very comfortable indeed. Between my Thai partner and I, there's 70,000 baht a month coming into the household. Rent is low, we've no children and we are 'savers' rather than 'spenders'. But that's the way we like it. I enjoy the simple life of living and teaching in Lopburi.

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

Food. We can buy a huge evening meal for two of us at the market for about 100 baht. Now that's a bargain!

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

I think 30,000 baht a month in rural areas and quiet towns is enough. Everyone is different. Someone might read this survey and think my life is a bit 'boring' but I prefer the simple life as I've already said.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thailand can be all about making connections and Paul's survey highlights it perfectly. Through a teacher at his school, he's made a contact with someone who's renting him a great property for a great price. In addition, Paul's Thai partner has managed to get him a nice corporate gig at her company that can net him a very useful extra 16K a month. And there's a huge difference between earning about 30K a month and 45K a month (factoring in the corporate gig) But as Paul infers, always view part-time corporate gigs as the icing on the cake. Some months the class will study every week and the cash is rolling in but in other months (like April for example) classes will get cancelled as staff take time off to enjoy the holiday season.   

The 'cost of living' section is one of the most popular parts of the ajarn.com website. Let's face it, we all love to know what other teachers earn and how they spend their money. Not only that, but the figures help those who are thinking of coming to Thailand to teach. Why not put yourself up for the cost of living survey? Simply e-mail your answers to the above questions to philip@ajarn.com and I'll take care of the rest.


Richard

Working in North Thailand

Monthly Earnings 45-50,000 baht a month

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

Mabuhay!! I am a Filipino from Davao and I have been in Thailand for a year now. I am teaching science to Thai rich kids at an international School in North Thailand. My monthly income is 30,000 baht and I get an additional 15,000 baht for teaching at a language school which is owned by the same people who own the international school. Extra classes run from 5.30 to 7.30pm. I occasionally do private teaching as well – usually two hours every weekend and charge 300 per hour per student.

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

I am saving about 15,000 baht per month and I am also sending money home for my son for his essential needs and money for my parents. This all adds up to about 10-15k baht/month.

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

I just moved into a fully furnished house for 5,000 baht a month. It comes with air-conditioning, microwave, kitchenware, etc.

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

a) Transportation

I bought my own motorcycle recently. The deposit was 6,000 baht and I’m left with month payments of 2,350 baht for one year. I spend about 100 baht a week on fuel.

b) Utility bills

I’m expecting to pay about 1,500 baht for the electricity bill as that has been the case in my last two homes in Thailand (both apartments) and I expect to pay less than 100 baht for water. I also pay 600 baht for wi-fi.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I love eating Thai food as long as it is not too spicy. I spend roughly 3,000 to 5,000 baht a month on eating out and another 2,000 baht on top for regular grocery shopping. I would say food prices here are about the same as they are in The Philippines.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I don’t go out that often and when I do, it’s usually to a friend’s house where a group of us can share the cost of the booze and have a house party of sorts. I would say I spend less than 2,000 a month on good times and partying.

e) Books, computers

I have books which were handed down to me by an American colleague. I was issued with a Mac Pro by my school so I don’t have to buy one.

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

I think I would say I’m enjoying a good standard of living here but without spending much.

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

Definitely the food. Clothing, electronic gadgets and travelling to other provinces are also very reasonable. And of course how could I forget the cinemas!!

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

I earned 20,000 baht a month in previous jobs and still had a comfortable lifestyle but it wasn’t enough to save anything. In addition, I had no work permit which meant always doing visa runs. For a Filipino, 15,000 baht a month is OK but you will need to tighten your belt if you want to save or send money home. Filipinos are proud to be English teachers all over the world. We may not be native speakers of English but we give our best for our families back home so we can send some cash to them.

Phil's analysis and comment

I read this survey with a mixture of excitement and surprise. Excited because I think it's the first cost of living survey we've done with a Filipino teacher and surprise because here's a guy putting plenty of farang teachers to shame. 45,000 baht a month with virtually the whole weekend off (bar the odd private student) Way to go fella! He's got a fully furnished house, a motorcycle, sends money home to his family, eats well, travels around when time allows. What more could you want? And I'm not surprised that Richard gives his place of work as 'somewhere in northern Thailand'. Free Mac Pro, extra private students organised for him by the school owners, I wouldn't want to give the name of the school away either. Seriously though, I'm sure a lot of people think that Filipinos are all working hard, sending money back home and then surviving on a pittance, but Richard's figures prove that a good lifestyle can be had if you hit it right.

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