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 May 22nd, 2015

33 Baht to one US Dollar
52 Baht to one Pound Sterling
37 Baht to one Euro
26 Baht to one Australian Dollar
0.75 Baht to one Philippine Peso

Donald

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 30,000 - 32,000 baht

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

I earn just over 30,000 baht a month at a school in Bangkok

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

Virtually nothing. When you earn 30K a month and you are living and working in Bangkok, there's just nothing left over. I take my hat off to other teachers in my position that can save money.

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

I pay 6,000 baht a month for a studio apartment. The room itself is nothing to write home about but the building is clean and safe and I like the management.

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

a) Transportation

I take a combination of bus and sky-train to work and that probably comes to about 1,500 a month. I also try to use public buses at the weekend instead of taxis in order to keep costs down.

b) Utility bills

I have air-conditioning but seldom use it. I'm on the 12th floor, so if I open the door to the corridor and the door onto the balcony, I get a nice breeze coming through. It's been a lot hotter this month though. People told me that April and May could be hot but they didn't tell me just how hot!

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

Fortunately, I live in an area that's heaving with basic Thai restaurants and street-food stalls. Eat at these places and it's not too difficult to keep your daily food spend down to below 200 baht. I will sometimes have a fast food splurge at the weekend but only because I crave something other than rice. I guess with supermarket shopping on top, my food bill comes to about 7,000 baht a month. That's still almost 25% of my monthly salary though and I'm always trying to figure out how to get that lower.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I very rarely go out. I have a couple of good drinking pals and we'll do a Saturday night down the Sukhumwit a couple of times a month. That can cost you 2,000 baht a time once you get your beer legs on.

e) Books, computers

I'm lucky to have quite a lot of free time at school so I use the school's computers and internet. To be honest, the last thing I want to do when I get home in the evening is spend those precious hours aimlessly surfing more internet. For me, the evenings are for watching TV or perhaps studying some Thai.

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

30,000 baht in Bangkok probably isn't enough for a lot of people. I survive well enough but there is little room for luxuries But I think the more you earn, the more you want. If I earned 50,000 a month, what would I do with the extra 20K? I'm not even sure.

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

Only the cost of riding the public buses comes to mind. The street-food is cheap enough at let's say 30-40 baht a dish, but in all honesty, that's all it's worth.

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

You can survive on 30K for sure but 40-50K in Bangkok is probably the minimum a Western teacher should be aiming for.

Phil's analysis and comment

Here we go again - the old 'can a teacher live on 30K a month' debate. It's not going to go away is it? I look at Donald's survey and I think here is someone living within his means and probably enjoying himself immensely. He's in a foreign land, absorbing a foreign culture, learning a language, making friends. And of course he's got food in his belly and a roof over his head. I don't know how old Donald is but I'll take a guess at mid-twenties. Life is nearly always exciting at that age. But if it were a teacher in his 50s giving us the same figures as above, well that's a different story. 


Steve

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 180,000 baht

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

I'm now in the very fortunate position of leading teaching staff and my salary is 180K baht a month.

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

80-100K a month.

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

I get a three-bedroom house as part of my benefits package.

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

a) Transportation

I'm provided with a company car and local fuel costs are also covered,

b) Utility bills

500 baht a month. Believe it or not, I hate air-conditioning.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

My weekly supermarket shop sets me back about 2-3K a month and I spend anything from 10K-50K a month on eating out at restaurants.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I very rarely drink and spend probably a thousand baht or less per month on alcohol. But when I do enjoy a beer, I normally go for an expensive brand.

e) Books, computers

Internet costs are covered by the company and I have no time to read books that aren't work-related.

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

A damn sight better than it was ten years ago.

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

Nothing if I compare the cost of living to ten years ago. You can't even get an extra fried egg for 5 baht anymore.

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

10 years ago, I made 50k a month and saved around 25-30K of it and lived what I thought was an OK life, although I dipped into savings a fair bit. 10 years on, I would live on 70k, but it wouldn't be enjoyable. 100k is better, it guarantess savings for emergencies and retirement. Don't forget health insurance - I'm covered to walk into a top Bangkok hospital and it not cost me a penny.

Phil's analysis and comment

Hmmm, I wasn't sure whether or not to put this cost of living survey on-line because it does smack a little of 'gloating'. However, Steve did send me a couple of introductory paragraphs and hoped that he wouldn't come across as a gloater. He merely wanted to highlight what can be achieved with hard work (and a little bit of luck no doubt). This is what he had to say.Just over ten years ago, i set out in the TEFL world, and after 4 years of it realised that if teaching was for me, then I had to get qualified and not be fannying around pretending the world was great while eeking out a meagre existance.

My cost of living survey might spur people on to show them what they can achieve with some hard work, good luck and timing.

I have gone from TEFLer to teacher to upper senior management in only a few years.

I'm not trying to brag, but I think before a young TEFLer gets himself tied down out here, they have to really look at what they want from their future.

I'm always amazed at the people I have met who have been doing the TEFL game for 10 years+ and still on similar salaries, getting by and trying to convince others they are ok.They might well be until something serious happens.

I know my work life balance is terrible. i don't see my family enough, but they will be taken care of in the future.

Anyway, I hope I'm not coming across as a complete knob.


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.

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