Last December, a member of the ‘Phuket Teachers and Friends’ Facebook group posted the following question, “Is it possible to make a living on a 30,000 baht salary?”
I’ve been helping people find teaching jobs in Thailand since 2007, so I’d like to think I can help when questions such as these come up. As such, I replied with something along the lines of, “Yes, but you probably wouldn’t want to. Try for at least 32,000 a month, and if you can get 35,000, all the better.”
Much to my surprise, an English woman replied stating that she lived on Phuket for 20,000 baht per month. I was so intrigued, I messaged her to ask if she’d agree to an interview explaining how to live in Phuket on such a low income.
She agreed, but she likes her privacy and asked that I didn’t use her name. What I can say is that she teaches secondary students at a large school on a full-time basis. She’s got a degree and works legally here with a work permit. She makes over 50,000 baht per month but chooses to live on only 20,000.
With all that extra cash she puts away, she was able to enroll in a PGCEi course. Once completed, she’ll get a pay raise and will soon save even more every month. Considering the strength of the baht right now, she’s probably banking more pounds into her UK bank account than a good percentage of Brits—most certainly more than most teachers in the UK can.
Better than that, I got the impression that she genuinely enjoys living a modest, if perhaps frugal life. It doesn’t sound as if she’s just scraping by, living hand-to-mouth, and she’s certainly not complaining. Honestly, I’m a bit jealous.
Here’s her advice on how to live in Phuket on 20,000 baht a month:
Can you give a breakdown of your primary living expenses per month?
My rent is 4,800 baht and my utilities are about 600 baht after I forced myself to acclimatize so now I rarely use aircon.
I drive an old motorbike I bought for 10,000 baht a year ago. It costs about 100 baht for petrol and 100 baht to change the oil once a month.
As for food, it’s about 12,000 baht. I give myself 3,000 a week and usually have change. I spend around 300 baht a day on food on average, but I get lunch free at school. This money includes socializing - I don't drink alcohol so it's cheap!
I spend about 1,000 baht on new clothes.
What do you typically spend your disposable income on?
I go to the gym every day. I paid 9,000 baht for a year's membership. (750 baht per month).
How would you summarize your standard of living?
I live a very simple life but it's perfect for me. I never go without nice food or experiences, but the things I like aren't expensive. And if I need extra for something special, I can spend more. I just choose not to.
What's the key to your success with regard to living on what most consider to be a very low salary?
I don't drink alcohol, and I live a very simple life. I work quite long hours and go to the gym when I'm not at work. Other than that, I meet friends for food or coffee and that's quite cheap here—certainly less than in the West if you choose the right places. I usually pay around 120-200 baht for an evening meal in a decent restaurant, but sometimes I eat in a Thai restaurant and that costs 40 baht.
Based on your experience, what is the lowest salary an average foreigner needs to earn in order to live relatively comfortably in Phuket?
I live more cheaply than most people, I know, but I used to share a house and pay even less rent (3,000). If you really wanted to be super cheap, I think you could do it on 15,000 baht. But I wouldn’t want to!
Were you able to afford your PGCEi on your salary alone?
I put it on a zero percent credit card but the money I'm sending home is paying that off pretty quickly. I'll have paid it off in about six months (it cost 145,000 baht).
Given that you've nearly completed your PGCEi, what are your future employment plans/goals?
I have no plans to move from my current position as I love my school, colleagues, and students.
Do you have any advice for people who are thinking about teaching English in Thailand and want to live on 20,000 baht per month?
If someone is coming here for the first time, they should come with a lump sum to cover a deposit, which can be significant, and visa runs, which can also add up quite a bit. Also, it's better to buy a bike and there's always secondhand ones going cheap. Or you can hire for 2,500 per month. I would say 40,000 baht would be enough to start with but a little more would be better.
Eric Haeg first came to Phuket in 2004 and is now the Course Director for TEFL Campus Phuket/Chiang Mai. He also writes a monthly education column for The Phuket News and routinely helps teachers find work on the island. For more information on TEFL certification or how to live in Phuket on a teacher’s salary, Eric welcomes your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.