Working in Chiang Mai

Monthly Earnings Base salary 23,000 private teaching around 6,000.

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

I work full time at a school earning 23,000, and part time at a language school averaging about 6,000 a month (this can vary month to month though)

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

I actually manage to save about 10,000 a month, but I am actively trying to save money and could easily spend my whole salary.

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

I share a condo apartment with my boyfriend (also a TEFL teacher) so the 9,000 rent is split between us. For this we have a lovely western studio apartment with kitchen, large balcony, bath, air-con, sofa, large double bed, washing machine, wifi, flat screen TV/DVD and access to swimming pool. Water and electric are separate but the price includes internet, common area fee and TV package including western movie channels. The apartment is quite expensive for its size, but came fully equipped.

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


I rent a motorbike for 2,000 a month and I spend about 500 a month on petrol.

Utility bills

Water costs on average 100 a month and electricity about 500 (though we don’t currently use the air-con) and this is split between us.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I get lunches provided at school and eat breakfast in the apartment. Dinner is always eaten out or a take-away. I treat myself to western style food maybe once or twice a week, and eat relatively cheap local food the rest of the time. On average it costs about 2,500 – 3,000 a month.

Nightlife and drinking

I don’t go out too much, usually just a few beers at the weekend, and I tend to drink where prices are cheap. Usually around 1,000-2,000 a month. Cigarettes cost about 500 a month.

Books, computers

I tend to buy a couple of books, clothes, souvenirs a month but as I’m trying to save, no big purchases. About 3,000 a month.

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

For someone who doesn’t have a great desire to go out every night and drink, my money goes a long way. In the past four months of working I have managed to save enough money for a flight to visit the parents back home, and enjoy a reasonable standard of living in a small but perfectly formed apartment. I can afford to eat and buy what I want within reason, but the sacrifice is the long hours I have to work (a full time job plus some evening and weekend work).

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

Thai food, you can get meals as cheap as 30 baht and cigarettes for around the same price. My bike is also a pretty good bargain and it’s amazingly cheap to run.

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

In order to ‘survive’ I think you could live of 25,000 as a single person, maybe 20,000 as part of a couple where bills and rent are split. To live comfortably and be able to save a bit of money each month you really need to be earning closer to the 30,000 bracket. While I have been able to live a comfortable lifestyle and save money on my salary, I don’t have any savings put aside for emergencies (that bike accident, emergency trip home, school fails to pay etc).

Phil's analysis and comment

I really enjoyed reading through Katherine's cost of living survey. Living in Chiang Mai on a teacher's salary is always a topic that fascinates me. It's a place where so many teachers would love to live and work but it's also a place where the relatively low teacher salaries come in for a fair bit of criticism. 

Let's have a look at Katherine's situation. She sounds blissfully happy doesn't she? And I would be the first to say 'good on ya girl'. She lives in a nice apartment with all mod cons so it's a nice place to go back to and relax at the end of the day. She tootles around town on a cheap-to-run motorcycle and there's not many things that she does without. Books, clothes, a nice steak and chips - they are all there when she wants them. She's even managed to save enough for a flight home to see the folks. It goes without saying - Katherine does a terrific job of managing her money. And she enjoys life too!

The truth is that she could maintain this sort of lifestyle for many years to come (I'm guessing that Katherine is still in her 20's) but I'm sure deep down she knows it can't last forever. Does she even want it to? Eventually 'middle-aged responsibility' comes knocking at the door - or at the very least tapping at the window - and you realise you have to make some sort of effort to secure your future.

I was up in Chiang Mai a couple of weeks ago. The more time I spend there, the more I love it. Locals might moan constantly about the traffic and the pollution (wtf? have you spent any time in Bangkok?) but I think it's become a really interesting, truly 'international' city that still keeps much of its Thai rural quaintness. The main reason I went up this time was to touch base with one of my old Bangkok friends who moved to Chiang Mai six months ago and bought a three million baht condo overlooking the mountains. It's 180 square metres of sheer luxury spread over two floors. His only regret is that he didn't make the move sooner.

Bob was a professor at a university in New York until moving to Thailand about 10 years ago. Bob is also the kind of character who makes good friends and good contacts wherever he goes. Despite being in Chiang Mai for barely half a year, he has already partnered up with someone to run a fine wine business and it's already doing well. But it's purely something to keep him busy. Bob isn't looking for another career.

The point I'm getting to as far as Katherine is concerned is that Chiang Mai is literally awash with foreigners - many with healthy bank balances and enviable disposable income. If I were in Katherine's position, I would constantly be looking for gaps in markets and services I could provide - all with minimal start-up capital. Chiang Mai strikes me as a great land of opportunity. I wonder what 'sidelines' you could come up with if you put your mind to it? I remember when I first got serious about moving up there and I e-mailed about six local estate agents to ask if I could make an appointment with them to show me around some properties. Five of them didn't even bother to reply. It's not how competitive a business looks, it's all about how many people are doing it properly.

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