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/RH6Y3JP

Approximate conversion rates as of July 27th, 2016

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46 Baht to one Pound Sterling
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26 Baht to one Australian Dollar
0.74 Baht to one Philippine Peso

William

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 96,000 baht

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

I earned 110,000 from teaching, so after taxes it came out to about 96,000 baht per month. I also had a few good perks such as health insurance and a flight home every year.

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

I used to save about 50-60,000 baht per month, but I was pretty frugal on things like rent. Big adventures and travel plans were sometimes costly though.

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

I paid 6,500 baht per month for a studio apartment plus another 600 for some furniture I rented from my landlady. People tend to go out in Bangkok rather than have house parties so it was not a real issue to have a small place. It was in a safe neighborhood and close to the BTS.

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

a) Transportation

40 baht per day on motorcycles to the BTS. In addition, I paid 1250 baht for 50 trips on the BTS line (maybe paid for this twice per month). I took taxis occasionally, but spent under 1500 baht per month on them.

b) Utility bills

Water was around 120-140 baht per month, and electricity was usually around 1600 baht (luckily, my place had air-conditioning).

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I ate a lot of Thai street food, especially for breakfast (40 baht per day). Lunch was provided by the school I worked at, and when I had a day off I usually ate street food unless I was meeting friends somewhere new. I went out to dinner with friends about twice a week, and that came out to about 500-700 baht per dinner (or occasional brunch). I drank coffee every day (35 baht each morning for an Americano) and occasionally bought from Starbucks or somewhere fancy near work. Total around 10K.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I occasionally had beer when going out (~150 baht per beer near Sukhumvit). I would say it came out to around 1500 baht per month. Sometimes, I would buy a bottle of Black Label or good beer.

e) Books, computers

I tended to use library books from school, but I occasionally bought a new one. Let's say 1,000 baht per month. I didn't spend anything on computers since I had AppleCare, but I made a big one time purchase of 60,000 baht on my current Macbook last year.

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

It was pretty good. If I stayed longer, then I could have seen myself moving into a nicer place, but overall things were comfortable and allowed me to save up a nice nest egg to travel on for a while.

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

Thai food. Even fancy Thai food is cheap. You can go to a fancy riverside restaurant and gorge for under 1200 baht per person. A similar restaurant serving Western food would probably cost around 4000 baht per person. Taxis are also really cheap. In fact, I think taxis are cheaper in Bangkok than in the rest of Thailand, which is odd because everything else, including the still cheap Thai street food costs double what it costs in the provinces.

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

You could survive on 25,000 baht, but it wouldn't be very fun. To live a comfortable life (without saving much), I would say one needs 30-35,000 baht outside of Bangkok and around 45-50,000 baht in Bangkok. In order to save significantly, you would need more.

Phil's analysis and comment

96,000 baht a month and only 8,000 baht going on rent and utilities. Beat that! Less than 10% of your salary going on a place to live. William was clearly a saver while he worked in Thailand and I bet he continued his travels with a very healthy bank account indeed. It would be interesting to know what his future plans are - or at least for the next year or two.


Charles

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings Approximately 40,000 baht

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

I work at a Thai government school in Bangkok and I make 37K after tax. I can also earn an extra 4,000 a month from private tutoring two hours a week.

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

About 5,000 baht or perhaps less. It depends how often I go out, travel or most importantly eat Western food. I normally don't save anything worth bragging about, this is Bangkok after all.

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

I live in an apartment. I upgraded it last year to a suite because I was tired of hanging out in my bedroom. I pay 6,500 baht a month for an additional living room and bigger bathroom that I wasn't getting before.

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

a) Transportation

Now that I have a motorbike, I can make it to and from work for less than 200 baht a month on gas. I don't live far from work. Other than that give or take another 500 baht on the skytrain if I want to travel further

b) Utility bills

My ex-girlfriend got me a fan so now my power and water bill is a combined 600 baht, down from the 1500 baht I used to pay.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I don't go to the supermarket since I don't have a big refrigerator and because of that I only store water in there and have to resort to eating out. Again back to the food; it would depend on my willingness to eat the local food or the expensive Western food I prefer to eat. I've tried to come up with a compromise. On workdays I eat local Thai food and on weekends I eat western food even if the bill makes me wanna cringe. It all comes to about 8,000 baht.

d) Nightlife and drinking

When I'm out with my western friends they like to go out drinking. I'm single but my job drains me so I pick and choose how often I go out. If I go out every weekend on a typical month I spend about 10,000 baht.

e) Books, computers

I don't buy books but I do often buy supplies that I may need for work which doesn't exceed 1,000 baht.

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

It's reasonable. You can't have your cake and eat it. I enjoy certain comforts but I sacrifice others at the expense of enjoying them.

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

Definitely the rent. A place like mine would cost at least 30K a month at home

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

It would depend on where you live and your spending habits in that order. I saved 20k a month in Isaan making even less than what I'm making in Bangkok right now. But living here comes at a price. I would say 30k is okay in the rural areas but not in Bangkok. You'd need a tad more.

Phil's analysis and comment

Always nice to hear from someone who earns what I would call 'an average or typical' teacher's salary in Thailand and to see how they get on.

Charles sounds sensible, level-headed and lives within his means. The big question of course is for how many years can someone do this? There isn't an awful lot of money getting stashed away for a rainy day. But he's making the most of things for now.

That's a very smart decision to upgrade your accommodation. Charles now has a place that he enjoys going home to after a hard day's teaching instead of a room where he's sitting around on the bed. As I've said many times before about these surveys - spending more on accommodation SAVES you money in the long run. You'll spend less time wandering the streets and ambling around air-conditioned shopping malls and all the temptations that go with them. 

Might it be worth investing in a nicer refridgerator? They're not that expensive and if it belongs to you, you can take it with you if and when you move. You can pick up nice salad stuff very cheaply here and also ham and things to make sandwiches at home. That said, there's nothing wrong with Charles' approach to food (Thai food during the week and some Western food splurges at the weekend) You should be able to enjoy a bit of Western food on your day off.


If anyone fancies doing a cost of living survey, I've now put the questions on-line to make it easier and quicker for you. Please spare half an hour if you can. 

A number of teachers complete the surveys with just a list of figures. I don't wish to sound ungrateful but that's not really what we're looking for. There needs to be some sort of 'story' behind the figures as it were (it certainly makes the surveys more interesting to read) Many thanks!


Vanity

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 60,000

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

I work at an international school and earn 50,000 per month. I can make 10,000 baht more if I work the after school program. I used to charge 2,000 baht an hour to tutor privately but quit that due to it still not being worth it.

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

Zero. I live paycheck to paycheck. The money I get from my YouTube videos every month has saved me many times since that money comes in five days before payday. The last week of the month is always when I'm down to the wire financially.

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 large, fully furnished, one-bedroom condo in Soi Thonglor. It has 3 balconies, a nice swimming pool, and a crappy gym. It's also pet-friendly, which is important because I have three cats. Purrr.

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

a) Transportation

I'd say 3,000 if I take a lot of taxis because it's too hot to walk in this city.

b) Utility bills

The air-con gets blasted as soon as I get home and I only turn it off when I'm not home, so normally 3,100-4,500 baht a month. My internet bill is 747 baht.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

My biggest expense for sure! I'm a healthy vegan and prefer organic food but produce here is garbage and things marked ‘organic’ tend not to be. I seem to have expensive taste - avocados, mangoes, and the most decent tomatoes one can find here. I cook most of the week and eat at a vegan restaurant a couple of times. There are many excellent vegan restaurants in Bangkok but they're not cheap! I guess I spend about 10K a month in total.

d) Nightlife and drinking

Since I'm not drinking until I black out anymore, my nightlife spending has gotten much lower. So maybe 3,000 baht a month

e) Books, computers

Every salary day I buy a 1-2 kindle books off Amazon. I pirate most books so that helps save a lot. I would say I spend around 600 baht a month on books. I shoot and edit video so I spend 600 baht a month for Adobe Premiere Pro.

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

I can have a lot more fun making half of what I made in Los Angeles, but I'm still living paycheck to paycheck, and down to the last satang every payday.

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

Pampering and beauty treatments like hair, nails, Brazilian wax, facials, massages. Even Botox is cheap here but I haven't tried that yet.

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

I'd say 50K should be the minimum salary for Bangkok. Outside of Bangkok, people claim it's super cheap and they are happy with the 30K salaries on offer - so I'll just have to take their word for it.

Phil's analysis and comment

Although I've never met Vanity face-to-face, we often enjoy a chat on social media. She's one very interesting young lady.

Vanity has been working here for several years now and you could say she's 'done the Bangkok teaching thing' and got it out of her system. I think this shows up in her answers to the questions above. Vanity will be the first to admit that she's simply had enough and it's time to move on. The whole scene has become stale.

However, she's a very talented and creative person and I don't worry about her. I think she'll do well in the future at whatever she turns her hand to - but it certainly won't be teaching in Thailand. 

Two things stood out for me in Vanity's answers. Firstly, this must be the first teacher in these cost of living surveys to turn down 2,000 baht an hour for freelance tutoring. But at the end of the day only YOU know what your free time is worth. If a teacher considers 2,000 baht an hour not to be worth their while, then I'd be the last person to talk them out of it. Only last week I talked to a guy who was earning 1,000 baht an hour teaching kids for four hours on a Saturday and four on a Sunday. Weekends only were earning him 32-40K a month and leaving him with Monday to Friday free to manage an online business. A sweet deal for sure. Well, he's now given up the teaching! He valued his weekends too much.

Secondly, if I knew that today was going to be my last day on earth and was asked about any regrets, I would probably answer with 'I worried about money too much'. I've always had a fear of not being able to support myself financially. So when I read answers from teachers like Vanity, who are down to their last satang at the end of each month, I shudder. But there is also a begrudging admiration. Is it easier to live that way when you're young? I don't know. It always sounds a bit reckless to me.  


Thomas

Working in Buriram

Monthly Earnings 34,000

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

I work at a government secondary school and my full-time salary is 34K

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

At least 15,000

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

I pay 3,500 baht a month for a very nice one-bedroom cottage by the river.

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

a) Transportation

500 baht

b) Utility bills

500 baht

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I like to eat healthy so food comes in at about 6,000 baht a month.

d) Nightlife and drinking

This is Buriram so there's little or nothing in the way of nightlife. I don't have one of those expensive girlfriends either.

e) Books, computers

Nothing

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

My standard of living is simple but great. I do not make a lot of money but I do not spend a lot either. For summer vacations or mid semester breaks I always go away to either another country or to the islands in southern Thailand. I do not blow my money on mindless partying or expensive girl friends which an eat up a huge amount of one's salary.

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

Rent is a huge bargain. The place I am renting now back home would go for at least 20,000 baht or more. Transportation cost are a real bargain in Thailand and you can always find nice inexpensive hotels or resorts to stay at. Food cost is very reasonable too and I can get a big bag of laundry done for just a 150 baht, about the same cost as the detergent back home! Oh yeah I get a weekly Thai massage for 150 baht and you cannot beat that.

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

It all depends where you live in Thailand. I live in a rural area of Thailand so you can get by on 15,000 but then you could not save any money. But on at least 30,000 baht you can live comfortable outside of say places like Bangkok or Phuket as long as you do not have any expensive habits.

Phil's analysis and comment

We don't get many teachers describe their abode as 'a cottage by the river'. It sounds wonderful! I would love to see some photos. 

This is a teacher living the simple life out in rural Thailand. It's not a life that suits everyone but Thomas seems happy enough. He's managing to save half of his salary as well. This is what happens when you don't have the temptations and the bright lights.


If anyone fancies doing a cost of living survey, I've now put the questions on-line to make it easier and quicker for you. Please spare half an hour if you can. 


Sam

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 85,000 baht

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

My base salary is 45,000 after taxes and I make another 40,000 from private tutoring six days a week.

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

45,000 - 50,000

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

I live in a condo on Rama 9 Road and the rent is 13,000 baht a month.

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

a) Transportation

I spend about 1,200 baht a month. I try to keep all my private tutoring to within the same area to avoid any long commutes.

b) Utility bills

My girlfriend pays the utility bills and I pay the rent. That's the arrangement. On average 1,700 baht for electric, 150 for water, 1,100 for TV, internet and two phones with minutes and internet packages through True.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

We will cook at home 4-5 days a week and eat out on the other 2-3 days. The monthly spend would be in the region of 10K for the two of us.

d) Nightlife and drinking

My girlfriend and I don't go out too much but if we do, we typically go and have a decent dinner, a couple of drinks and go play pool. A typical night out would be 1,500 - 2,000 baht for both of us

e) Books, computers

I don't buy many books but if I do, I go to Chatuchak Market and look through the second-hand collection. Other books are purchased for students for private tutoring which I purchase at DK.

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

My standard of living is excellent and I have been able to save quite a bit of money, but you need to be willing to work hard and treat teaching as a career and not a holiday.

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

Rent, Thai food, and entertainment like going to the movies is quite a bit cheaper than in the USA, but other expenses like traveling abroad and drinking are just as expensive, which can be difficult on a lower salary.

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

Different cities require different wages. To live in any level of comfort and to be able to afford meals other than noodles every day, 30,000 is about the lowest I would recommend with 35,000 being a bit more manageable. 5,000 baht makes a huge difference per month in Thailand, especially when a starting salary can be very low.

Phil's analysis and comment

This is a survey from one extremely hardworking teacher but when you're young and enthusiastic, you don't mind working all those hours if you're managing to stash 40K away each month. It comes at a price though because I'm guessing Sam does quite a bit of private tutoring on either Saturday or Sunday and probably only gives himself one day off a week. And one day off is never enough! Good to see someone making decent money from private teaching though.

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