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.

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Derek

Working in Rural Thailand

Monthly Earnings 35,000 baht

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

I have other earnings, but let’s just base things on my monthly salary of 30,510 baht and 4,800 baht per month from a private class (2 hours a week). I’m on a 12-month contract and my salary includes Bupa health insurance and visa / work permit costs.

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

I don’t try to save from my regular monthly earnings, but there’s always something left at the end of the month. I just leave it in the bank until it builds up enough to make a major purchase. For example, two months ago I bought a new scooter for 50,000 baht.

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

I rent a 3-bedroom townhouse which costs 3,500 baht per month. It has air-con in the bedrooms but not downstairs. It was sparsely furnished when I moved in and I’ve added some of my own furniture/appliances to make it more comfortable.

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

a) Transportation

I run both a car and a scooter, but don’t have to travel far to work. I spend 2,000 baht a month on fuel. My car payments are 7,000 baht a month and factor in another 1,000 baht for insurance.

b) Utility bills

My electricity bill is between 500 and 1,000 depending on the time of year. Water about 100 baht. Cable TV costs 950 baht per quarter and internet from TOT 599 baht a month. So all in all about 2,000 baht per month.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I just have coffee/toast for breakfast, a sandwich/7-11 toastie for lunch and dinner at a restaurant. There are no farang restaurants here and I’m not a great fan of fast food so I normally eat Thai food. I spend about 500 baht per week shopping for essentials at Tesco Lotus and about 300 baht per day on snacks, dinner, drinks and cigarettes.

d) Nightlife and drinking

There’s not much nightlife where I live, I always have a couple of large Leos with dinner, but the cost is included above. When I want nightlife I’ll go for a weekend away which is usually once a month. I don’t mind spending 10k on a nice weekend break.

e) Books, computers

I have a laptop and tablet, both bought from accumulated saving from my salary. I visit the UK at least once a year and always bring a stack of books from home.

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

My standard of living is much better than it would be if I were living in rented accommodation in the UK. I can do what I want - when I want - and never go without.

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

Restaurants. I can sit down for my evening meal in a nice restaurant for 170 baht (including two large beers)

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

I would say 15,000 because it doesn’t take much to survive in the provinces. Then again, who wants to just survive? If I didn’t smoke or drink, you could knock 200 baht per day off my average daily spend but that’s not why I came to Thailand. 25k would be very comfortable here and anything above that you could start living like a king. My teaching job is only 15 +2 hours a week so I have plenty of free time, and if there’s something I really want or need, I can always take on extra work. When I go back to

Phil's analysis and comment

You can get some great deals on accommodation out in the sticks. A three-bedroom house for just 3,500 baht a month (and air-con in the upstairs bedrooms as well) Actually that's the same set-up as a house I rented in Bangkok, except that was costing me 8,000 baht a month. I lived in it for five years and never ever got around to putting air-conditioning in the downstairs living room.

When the hot season arrived, I would live in one of the upstairs rooms, where I had my bed and computer. Looking back, I may as well have rented a studio apartment - but having a house with a large front garden was always nice.

Anyway, nice survey that clearly shows you can live well in rural Thailand on 35K a month. Thanks Del.


John

Working in Rural Thailand

Monthly Earnings 30,000 baht

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

30,000 baht a month and the school also pay for the work-permit.

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

My pay goes straight into the bank and I draw about 15,000 baht out for the two of us (my wife and myself) - so half is saved.

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

I live in a very basic house which the school provides. The school also pays for utilities. Wi-fi is free but weak. My wife is in the same position as me – she also gets a house paid for by her school. We also pay 2,000 a month for a “permanent” rented house in another province.

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

a) Transportation

I travel about 200 kilometres by motorcycle at weekends because my wife is teaching in a different province so it is about 250 baht per week for petrol and road tax. Add 500 per month for the cost and maintenance of the bike, which I have had nearly 5 years.

b) Utility bills

The school pays for them. The “permanent” rented house that I mentioned earlier costs about 700 baht per month for utilities because we are rarely there.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

We eat at home all the time and I either cook ‘British food’ or we buy food from the local market.

d) Nightlife and drinking

Usually it is only trekking in the hills or running events, apart from school “parties”. Entry fees and transport may be anything between 1,000 and 5,000 per month - so say 2500 per month average.

e) Books, computers

I buy a new computer every couple of years so say 500 baht per month.

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

Very relaxed and comfortable and we can afford anything we want, but we just don’t want much.

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

It has to be transport, rent and utilities, but also local fruit and vegetables.

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

To survive anywhere outside central Bangkok, 15,000 is plenty for a person who lives like a native but you couldn’t save for retirement on that. We have income from other countries, which gives us security, but we never dip into it. All our international flights are paid for outside Thailand. The big drawback in Thailand is that foreigners can’t buy a house otherwise we would make it our home.

Phil's analysis and comment

I have to confess that I found a number of John's answers confusing and I ended up e-mailing him for clarification. 

First, I wanted to know why he needed to rent a house for 2,000 baht a month, when he and his wife both have accommodation paid for by their respective schools. John said the house offered security and he felt less 'tied to the school' and he also needed somewhere for storage.

Secondly, what did he mean by 'his international flights are all paid for'? It certainly didn't sound like John was working at the kind of school that would offer free flights home as part of the benefit package. John replied to say that he always paid for flights out of his savings and not what he earned from the school by way of salary.

As soon as John mentioned that he had income from other countries, I felt the survey became 'less important'. That's not being disrespectful but it does imply that John and his wife may be teaching purely for 'something to do'. They clearly live frugally (and that's the way they like it) and both survive on 15K a month, but whenever a big expense comes up, they can dip into savings and that income from other countries. And we have no idea how much that income is. It could be 200,000 baht a month.

If you would like to submit your own cost of living survey, then please e-mail me your answers.


Honey

Working in Nan Province

Monthly Earnings 30,000 - 40,000 baht

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

My government school salary is 25,000 baht plus I get extra income from private students every weekend.

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

I save between 10-15,000 baht a month.

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 two kilometers from school. It has no TV, no fridge, no heater, no air-con - just a ceiling fan.. I have my own queen-size bed, kitchen, bathroom and dining area. The rent is 1,800 per month. There are some Filipino English teachers who are also living at the same compound.

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

a) Transportation

Free. My school is very near from my home so sometimes i ride my bicycle, but most of the time I get a lift to school with a fellow teacher.

b) Utility bills

My water bill costs 50 baht, electricity costs 300-400 baht and wifi is free

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

My breakfast and lunch are free from Monday to Friday so I only have to find evening meals and food at the weekends.

d) Nightlife and drinking

Nothing really.

e) Books, computers

My school provides me everything that i need including laptop, books, projector and ipad. I do my research & download reading materials online.

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

Since the cost of living here is cheap, i am content to live in this part of the country. I am lucky that I get a comfortable room, i can buy everything i need, the supermarket is reachable by motorcycle or you could just hire a sungtaew and pay 20-30 baht,

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

Food, accommodation and transportation.

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

Well, it depends on the place that you are in. Bangkok is way too expensive. if you are a homebuddy like me & you live in a place where everything seems free and affordable, you could live like a king if you have 20k THB but if you are an outgoing, sociable, bar hopper and have a family to support, you could survive if you have 30k-40K THB.

Phil's analysis and comment

Nan Province is about as 'out in the sticks' as it gets so I'm not surprised that someone can survive on 30-40K - especially when your needs are few. The school also sounds like a very decent school to work for.

I suppose we all have our own definitions of the word 'comfortable'. Honey seems happy enough but living in a studio apartment with no air-con and no fridge certainly wouldn't be for me. I have lived like that in the past but as you get older you crave a few more 'creature comforts' I think.

 


Daniel

Working in Surin Province

Monthly Earnings 37,000 baht

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

The contract with my school should be for 39000, but the school uses an agency. It was initially an 'internship' and the company gave me a package worth 21,000 a month, but as a returner that is now 33000. I have recently picked up a tutoring gig for two hours on a Sunday worth 1,100 so full potential earnings can be 37,000 a month.

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

I saved very little each month for the time I was earning 21,000. Now I am earning more, I have been looking to save at least 10,000 a month, as I found myself living comfortably enough on the previous wage. The only thing I am saving for is a holiday at the end of each semester.

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

My rent is 4,000 a month for a spacious room in a ground floor apartment block. I have a nice porch, where I do my own cooking, as well as courtyard area and a large pond. Other teachers from my school also live here, so I'm surrounded by friends, and my landlord treats us to a bottle of whiskey every now and again.

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

a) Transportation

My agency provided us with bicycles to use, and as I only live a 10-15 walk away from school, the bicycle is more than enough. I have toyed with the idea of renting a motorcycle like a few of my friends, however I now have a girlfriend who drives, so I tend to get her to take me to any places (in the city) I may need to visit on a weekend. Typically, I spend nothing on transport.

b) Utility bills

During my first 6 months, the agency would pay up to 1,500 in utilities for us, of which I never used more than 1,000 of. This was during the rainy season, so obviously it was a lot hotter. I have barely used my air-con since starting the second semester, and my power was only 200 baht last month, with 200 for water also.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I pay 40 baht for a filling Thai meal twice a day. The school provides a free lunch but I will skip it if it doesn’t look appetizing and buy a meal at a restaurant. As I work out a lot, I felt like I wasn't quite getting the necessary nutrition so I recently invested in an electric wok. The price of chicken breast out here is ridiculously low, so I make large batches of food that last for a few days. I definitely spend south of 2,000 baht a month on food.

d) Nightlife and drinking

I spent a fair amount on entertainment in my first six months, however I've recently gotten into a relationship with a Thai girl who speaks perfect English thanks to four years at UCLA. She has no interest in drinking or clubbing and as I spend my weekends with her, I don’t go out either. I see this as a great benefit for my health and my bank balance. We might sometimes go out for a pizza but generally I spend less than 500 baht a month on 'nightlife and drinking'.

e) Books, computers

I know I should read more, but I don't make the time or have the interest at this point in time. I often download movies or shows for free, and then find myself not watching them. My laptop is four years old and works perfectly. I lost an iPhone in Koh Samui, but it was old and I bought a cheap smartphone for just 2,600 baht. I’m not a materialistic guy.

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

I live comfortably. It's a small friendly city, where I can do what I want for very reasonable prices in relation to my salary

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

Paying £90 for rent including utilities is pretty much a bargain, and my cost of living is much less than 15,000. The whole thing is a bargain for me.

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

Well I lived happily enough on 12,000 baht a month, excluding rent/utilities. I can only speak for the Isaan area, which is typically cheaper than your popular tourist destinations, but my 32,250 is more than enough for here. I feel I could live frugally enough anywhere that I moved to, and get by just fine.

Phil's analysis and comment

I think some folks will read this survey and say that Daniel is clearly 'going without' in some areas. But he seems happy enough and he sounds like someone who has been brought up to appreciate the money he has and to be careful with it at the same time. Frugal would be the word to use.

It's been a while since I've read a cost of living survey from someone who's managed to keep their overheads quite this low. 4,000 on rent. Virtually nothing on utilities. Nothing on transportation. And what! - only 2,000 baht a month on food? That's less than 100 baht a day.

Seriously, Daniel sounds like he could live on about 6,000 baht a month.

He chooses rent and utilities as the top 'bargain' in Thailand. I'm going to go off on a little tangent if I may. A few evenings ago - with nothing better to do - I had a look at how much rented accommodation in the UK costs these days. I was flabbergasted. How do people afford it?

Small studio flats, in frankly miserable and run-down areas of Birmingham (my home city) were renting for 600-700 pounds a month excluding bills.    


Aaron

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 65,000 - 85,000 baht

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

I work at a large private Thai K - 12 school with a base salary of 65k . In addition to this, we have the opportunity to work extra hours (both during the regular school hours as well as Saturdays) and so this nets me an additional 5k to 20k baht per month. This is only possible during the periods of the year where we have regular instruction time so only about half of the year.

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

On average on the base salary I'm putting away about 30k, with a little more during those extra working periods. I caution the reader on this in that I haven't made significant purchases here such as new laptops, iphones, etc. Flying home costs about 35,000 baht if I get a decent deal on the flight and that certainly cuts into the savings.

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

My monthly rent for a studio condo is 8,000 baht. The condo has a pool, small exercise room, 7-11, laundry, coffee, and a restaurant. It's in Onnut and about a 15 minute walk to the nearest BTS. Size is about 30 sqm. The condo itself came with most everything I need, although lately I do wish I had a better kitchen set-up. I think at some point soon I'll splurge and get a bigger place with a kitchen to do some cooking at home.

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

a) Transportation

I spend about 2,000 baht a month on this. If I recall correctly a 40 trip BTS rabbit card is about 900 baht a month. In addition, I typically take taxis a couple of times a weekend when I'm with the girlfriend.

b) Utility bills

These are dirt cheap here and a real bargain in my opinion. Electricity is billed directly, and I never go without air-con when it's hot. This runs me anywhere from 700 to 900 baht. Water is 150 baht, internet and basic TV channels 750 baht, mobile phone plan 200 baht. I just assume between rent and all my utilities it's 10,000 baht total, which is pretty good in my opinion.

c) Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

This one gets a bit expensive. I do like my Western food, and without a kitchen I'm at the mercy of the restaurant and pubs. During the week I typically don't spend more than 200 baht a day on food and a latte in the morning. Weekends I'm apt to spend about 500 baht a day on average, though this also includes my girlfriend eating too. In total, 8000 baht a month for food.

d) Nightlife and drinking

This one's also a bit expensive. A night out with the lads would run me anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 baht about. We do this I would say twice a month, with that number going up for birthdays and other celebrations.

e) Books, computers

I spend on average about 3000 baht a month on books and 2000 baht on PS3 games. The books honestly aren't a necessity as one can often get them on Kindle and ebook from download sites, however I still like wasting a few dollars on Dungeons and Dragons and Comic stuff (nerd).

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

I feel that I live better in many ways than my teaching colleagues back home, in that I don't take work home and can afford to go out and do things if I feel the desire to do so. I feel I can get around the city pretty easily, eat what and where I want, see movies, play games, enjoy a few beverages with the lads and enjoy warm weather and still put a few bucks away for a rainy day.Sometimes however it does still feel as if I'm living a university life, in that I live in a studio and such.

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

Hmm, well I think transportation is amazing. Back home between car payments, petrol, and insurance you could be looking at a solid quarter of your income. This is simply not the case for me here. Also, rent CAN Be had for a decent price, but to an extent you get what you pay for. Finally, hey c'mon who can argue with those utility bills I stated. Back home I was paying about 2,500 baht...just for mobile phone service per month.

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

In Bangkok I'm going to echo what others are saying at 35k to 40k baht. If we break down the numbers, one could live on 20k I suppose. However, I don't think most of us came from Western nations to live poor in Asia. Even at 40k baht it's a struggle to fly home and visit family and friends, which should be considered a necessity in my opinion. Saving for a rainy day, enjoying more luxury and such quickly pushes this amount towards or north of 50k baht.

Phil's analysis and comment

Anyone who earns at least 65,000 baht a month and spends just 10,000 of that on rent and utilities is always going to have plenty of money left over for treats. And that's exactly what we see from Aaron's figures above. He clearly enjoys his lifestyle in Thailand.

A couple of points I'll comment on though.

I'm not sure by cooking at home that Aaron will particularly save money on food but as a colleague of mine once said - "When you cook at home, you don't save money but you do eat far better'. I totally agree with this. For the 60-100 baht you would spend on an average meal in an average Thai restaurant, you can cook a fantastic meal at home for that same money. And I really started to enjoy cooking once I got into it. I think it's a very important skill for a man to have.

The annual flight / trip home to see family and friends is always an interesting discussion point because as Aaron says, it can really eat into your savings. I also agree with Aaron inasmuch as the flight home once a year is just something you have to do. 

I think there are two ways to handle the trip home. You can look for the cheapest flight possible and spend 12 hours or more cooped up in economy class. Then when you get home, rely on the generosity of family and friends to provide you with accommodation and meals, etc.

I did this myself several times in the 90s. I remember paying 17,000 baht for a return flight with Bangladesh Biman (are they even still in business?) and then for the two weeks I was back in England, apart from the odd round of drinks and a bit of shopping, I hardly got my hand in my pocket. I think I did the whole trip for about 30,000 baht. There's no shame in it. Let's face it, when you're a 30K a month teacher, it's all you can afford. Family have to understand this.

Now I'm a bit older and with perhaps a little more money around me, I can't do the economy class thing anymore. I can't afford business class either so I tend to shop around for those airlines offering 'premium economy' with a better seat and a bit more legroom. And once in England, it's nice to meet up with friends and 'pay your way' and take your family out for a meal or two, etc.

In conclusion, nowadays if I did the annual trip to England and went the Cheap Charlie route, I could maybe get away with doing it for about 70,000 baht. But as it is - premium economy ticket, gifts for the family and not being particularly thrifty while you're there - that figure has risen to easily 110-120K a trip.

Either way, it's still a significant amount of money.    

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