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.

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Approximate Thai Baht (฿) conversion rates as of 26th September 2020

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฿40 to one Pound Sterling
฿37 to one Euro
฿22 to one Australian Dollar
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Jamie

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 30,000 + 15,000 (from partner) = 45,000

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I receive 30,000 baht a month from a private language school here in Bangkok, located in one of the city's shopping malls. I also get 15,000 a month from my girlfriend who is lucky to have a higher paying job, so can share bills with me.

Disclaimer: I am a student here (from UK) doing an internship, finishing a degree related to teaching and at the start of my TEFL career.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

Usually between 15,000-20,000

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

I pay 10,000 a month for a condo that is within 5 minutes walking distance to the BTS.

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

Transportation

I spend 2,500 a month on transport. Although the condo is located next to the BTS, the language center isn’t. I usually have to get either a bus or a motorbike to the MRT. Then coming back, a motorbike from the MRT to the condo. It all adds up!

Utility bills

Usually between 600-1,000. That includes the electricity, wifi and water.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

Food is usually between 9,000-10,000 a month. Certainly no big Western style restaurants at the salary I am currently receiving. Normally, it would be a big C type of food court or grabbing a few things from the local market nearby.

Nightlife and drinking

Very rarely. My budget doesn’t allow for this. If I was to make it a regular thing, a higher salary would be required.

Books, computers

I have a decent DELL computer (1-2 years old) and a recently brought an Ipad air. You can download pretty much anything for free nowadays.

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

It's OK, if I was comparing myself to a Thai person. I live in a decent condo, I take motorbikes/MRT to work, I eat better food then some. However to really enjoy myself here and not to feel restricted I need a higher salary and unfortunately, due to my internship, I do feel pretty trapped.
Although I do save a slight amount, this money is for both myself and my girlfriend for the future, so I have to be mindful and not ‘dip’ into it.

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

The price of food can be cheap and also inter-provincial travel. For example, I can get to Samut Sakhon for just 22 baht on a local air-con bus.

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

I have always said you need at least 50,000. My 30,000 baht salary is pretty low for a native speaker with teaching experience. It’s certainly not a salary I want to be living on for too long.

Luckily, in a few months I will have been here for one year and I’ll be asking for a pay-rise. If I don’t get it, I’ll go elsewhere.

The future? I’ll be going back to the UK, getting a PGCE and getting a decent, serious paying job, hopefully at a private or international school in Bangkok. It sure beats running around at a language center for 30,000 a month.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thanks Jamie.  You're almost living the life of the 90's language school teacher - 30,000 baht a month and a third of it going on accommodation. In the 90's it was doable because there was far less to spend your money on and Bangkok was a much cheaper place to live anyway. But times have changed, and as you say, 50,000 is a much more realistic target.

Not to worry though. You seem focused on your goals and the only way is up! I'm sure better times are not too far away.  


Thomas

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 40,000 to 50,000

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I make a salary of 40,000 baht a month from my full-time job at a Thai school in downtown Bangkok and I also make 10,000 baht a month from doing a corporate class at a small insurance company two evenings per week. It's a sweet deal because the company job is pretty much on my way home; however since the Co-vid outbreak, the lessons have ceased because the firm want to save every penny they can. I guess English lessons are always going to be the first to go!

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

I try to save enough to make the annual trip home to Wales to see my family and friends and enough for a few weekends away in Thailand. I love Koh Samet and Koh Chang! I would put this overall cost at about 100,000 baht a year and I just about manage it.

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

I share a studio apartment with my girlfriend and it costs 6,000 baht a month. I pay the whole amount because my partner only earns 15,000 and it feels unfair to ask her to contribute. If the Covid situation continues much longer, she could be out of a job soon. These are quite stressful times for many of us aren't they?

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

Transportation

I get to school and back by motorcycle taxi and then half a dozen stops on the sky-train. Throw in the odd taxi at the weekend and this is probably a couple of thousand baht a month.

Utility bills

Add on another 2,000 baht for this I guess.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I try and keep this bill to as much under 10,000 baht a month as I possibly can, without going hungry of course. Even 10,000 baht a month is just 330 baht a day for two people so there isn't much scope for weekend Western treats. During the week I 'live like a Thai' as the old saying goes. I'll lunch on whatever lukewarm food the school is serving up in metal trays and I'll grab bags of food from street vendors on the way home. Food is the one area of life where I sometimes feel I'm going without. But you just can't do Western restaurants on a 40,000 salary when there are two mouths to feed. Maybe once at the weekend, but even then I feel guilty about lavishing 500-600 baht on one meal.

Nightlife and drinking

This is virtually zero. I go out drinking once in a blue moon. I enjoyed Bangkok after dark when I was younger but now I find it stale and boring.

Books, computers

I tend to just read articles while I'm surfing the internet. I'm not much of a reader.

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

Could be better. I really miss that extra 10,000 baht from the company work in the evenings. It doesn't sound like a fortune but it makes all the difference. My standard of living seems to plummet and I become more stressed out when I'm having to rely just on my full-time salary.

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

Street food is still very reasonable, although I do tend to notice portions getting smaller and smaller. Little over a dollar buys you a meal. You won't be patting your stomach and loosening your belt, but those meals fill the gap.

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

I've only ever taught in Bangkok so I only know how expensive this place can be. I think for a single guy, 40,000 is the absolute bottom end and even then you are not saving for any kind of future. I think 60,000+ would give you a much better lifestyle. As I've said, with just my 40,000 baht full-time salary and my partner's 15,000, that total of 55K really isn't enough. But we'll muddle on.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thank you Thomas for such an honest survey.

"My standard of living seems to plummet and I become more stressed out when I'm having to rely just on my full-time salary"

I hear you loud and clear. I was in the same position for a number of years, earning a full-time salary and putting 10,000 on top with private work. That extra 10K does make all the difference. It pays your rent. It pays your food bill for a month. It gives you an extra 120,000 baht a year for travel. 

But as you say, these are stressful, uncertain times for many teachers (and those with low-earning Thai partners). Let's hope there are better times ahead.


Please send us your cost of living surveys. We would love to hear from you! This is one of the most popular parts of the Ajarn website and these surveys help and inspire a lot of other teachers. Just click the link at the top of the page where it says 'Submit your own Cost of Living survey' or click here.      


Ian

Working in Hat Yai, Songkhla

Monthly Earnings 31,500 + overtime (usually close to 40,000 total)

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I work full-time at a college. My overtime hours generally involve one-on-one or small group teaching, but sometimes fill-ins for other teachers at larger schools.

I should note that my contract for the coming year (2020 - 2021) included a pay raise. I worked for various companies in America between 1999 - 2015 and never once received a raise. It's a more responsible culture out here.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

At least 60% of my income, sometimes more. I am from America, a country where my generation has almost zero savings and loads of debt. As such, I made sure to reverse this situation in Asia. Also, a very overlooked opportunity in Thailand is the S.E.T. (Stock Exchange of Thailand). Unlike the Western stock markets, Thai shares are very cheap and have loads of potential upside. Not to mention, the covid hysteria caused a small, temporary dip in share prices - anyone smart enough to invest in February or March has seen at least a 50% return as of this writing (June).

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

7,000 baht per month for a condo in a building with two pools, library, lounge, recreation areas, rooftop garden, etc. I pay around 70% of the rent and my girlfriend pays 30% while she works on building up her sandwich / pastry business.

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

Transportation

Next to nothing. I walk and bicycle a lot. I live within walking distance of my school. I rent a 2nd hand motorbike from my friend and spend at the absolute most 500-1,000 on gas / petrol. I enjoy taking long drives in the countryside, along the coast, etc.

Utility bills

During the covid hysteria, the government has slashed electricity to the wonderful rate of 88 baht per month. This will end soon, and I expect to be paying about 1,000 -1,200. When I lived alone, I was paying 400, but I also use a lot less air-con than my girlfriend would prefer. Set the timer so that it switches off at 2am (ha ha). We share the costs of utilities. We have our own washing machine and as a consequence the water bill can be as much as 500 baht.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

As I mentioned above, my girlfriend has a nice little food business, so I eat like a king and very rarely go out to restaurants.

Nightlife and drinking

I'm a semi-professional musician, so 'nightlife' for me usually involves working and being compensated for all drinks and food. I very rarely go to a bar unless music is involved. I enjoy high-quality vintage wines and single malt scotch, but I have 'connections' so I don't pay too much.

I suppose it's worth mentioning that I finally quit smoking (cigarettes) about 8 or 9 months ago. In America, cigarettes are insanely expensive, and I was never a heavy smoker but it still took its toll on my income, not to mention my health. I tried to quit many, many times and kept failing. It was a lot easier to stop smoking here in Thailand as the lifestyle is a lot less stressful compared to the West. I had some help from the Thai government program where you can get free / discounted nicotine replacement products, etc. I stepped down my dosage using the gum and have been nicotine-free for most of this year already! I'm in favor of smoking more medicinal varieties of plant material however, especially since they are being legalized. ;-)

Books, computers

I use wifi at the public areas of my condo. I'm a book addict, and there happens to be a free book exchange at the local university. If I'm traveling, I'll pick up books at hostels, etc. I always re-donate the books when I'm finished with them, so the cost is about zero. The last time I actually purchased a new book was Bruce Springsteen's autobiography in Rotterdam, NL back in 2017, for I think 15 euro.

The local public library is right across the street from where I live, but for some reason they've been closed since last year. It's a pity because it's a very nice facility. I don't think they have many English-language materials though.

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

180-degrees different from, and infinitely better than, what it was in America.

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

Rent and healthcare - the two things that tend to keep Americans broke. Also transportation is reasonably priced here. It is difficult to compare with the U.S.A., since that country does not have reliable, responsible, affordable transportation systems anywhere within its borders. I grew up thinking the NYC subways were supposed to be the envy of the world, 5555!!

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

Depends on one's definition of 'survival'. If the word is taken literally, as in 'not dying', then perhaps 1,000 baht. Monks live on less than that.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thank you Ian for a very interesting survey. We don't hear from too many foreign teachers who dabble in the Thai stock market but I guess they're out there. My wife does quite well with Thai shares but she's often moaning that she doesn't have enough free time to devote to analyzing the market, etc. She has a couple of friends who buy and sell shares far more seriously and they make great money! 

All in all, it sounds like you enjoy life here in Thailand far more than you did back home and you make some good comparisons. 

Good luck with the pastry business! 


Karen

Working in Bang Bon

Monthly Earnings 38,000 baht plus an income of £350 from the UK

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

My salary from teaching is 30,000 baht. I make another 5,000 baht from teaching online and 3,000 from a private student I teach face-to-face. In addition, my income from the UK is from a rental property.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

Zero.

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

The rent on my condo is 9,000 a month.

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

Transportation

5,000 baht on taxis and MRT fares.

Utility bills

About 1,200 - 1,500 on electricity and a 1,000 baht for wi-fi and phone.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

This comes to about 10,000 baht a month.

Nightlife and drinking

At the minute zero due to the virus situation but usual nights out in central Bangkok are 2,000 baht a night on average.

Books, computers

About 500 baht. I wish there were more good second hand bookshops in Bangkok.

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

It's OK but definitely not luxurious. My condo is 30 sq metres but has access to a pool and gym (although it's a Thai style gym where almost nothing works)
The odd extravagance of a weekend away or a stay over in central Bangkok is mainly paid out of the savings I had on arrival.

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

Anything you can buy at the roadside such as fruit/ vegetables in season.

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

To survive and be happy, I would say at least 40,000 baht. The nearer you are to central Bangkok, the more you'll need.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thanks Karen. So with that income of about 14,000 baht from a rental property in the UK, Karen's earnings get pushed to just over the 50K mark, which is OK for the Bangkok suburbs I guess. In fact to quote Karen - 'it's OK but not luxurious'.   


JD

Working in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Monthly Earnings 49 million VND (around 67,000 baht)

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I make 40 million VND from the regular job at a school. Then I make an extra 9 million VND from a language centre, where I teach English conversation to adults three evenings a week.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

I'll switch to Thai Baht from now on. I can comfortably save around 27,000. I could save more but I still like to have a decent quality of life.

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

I pay 6,500 baht for a small studio in a nice quiet but very suburban area about an hours moto ride from District 1. One thing that's disappointing in Vietnam is the standard of accommodation. Apartments here are mostly 'communisty-style', boxy rooms with bad paint jobs, weird decoration and bars on the windows.

Modern condos with pools, gyms etc that are common in Thailand are pretty rare here and cost more than they would in Thailand. That said, I still enjoy where I live.

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

Transportation

I rent my bike for 1,000 baht a month and spend maybe another 1,000 baht on petrol, depending on how often I travel into the city.

Utility bills

Wi-fi is included in my rent. Electricity and water is maybe 800-1,000 baht a month

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I'm not a fan of Vietnamese food so tend to eat more international stuff which costs more. On the whole, the food scene here isn't as good as Thailand. While I like Pho and there are a few decent street food places, I can't eat it every day.

Maybe 4,000 baht a month on food.

Nightlife and drinking

I don't spend too much on nightlife. Mostly I just go to the local Western pub with other teachers once a week for some beers and food, or I'll chill at a 15 cent a beer street-bar with one of my friends who lives near me. Sometimes I do go to District 1 but I'm not a big party animal.

A common complaint about Vietnam from a lot of experienced Thailand heads is that it's boring. While I wouldn't say it's boring, I can understand where they're coming from. Nightlife, even in Saigon, is much more provincial than Thailand and Bui Vien just can't match Bangkok's entertainment zones. Dating is also more difficult than it is in Thailand as it's a more conservative culture.

Hanoi is even worse as they are required to close all bars before midnight and the police regularly patrol to enforce it.

I definitely recommend Vietnam for more serious teachers rather than partying backpackers on a jolly.

Books, computers

I get mine from school so nothing spent in this category.

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

I have a very good quality of life. In the TEFLsphere x-y axis scale of salary/quality of life, I'd probably rate Vietnam, especially near Saigon, as one of the worlds best places. It definitely punches above its weight.

It's cheaper than Thailand and I can earn far more than I can there. The people seem better too as they are more worldly-wise than the Thais and not so nationalistic.

The visa red tape is a lot easier to deal with than in Thailand. Most companies will sponsor you for a two-year temporary residence card which you can enter/exit the country as many times as you like. There is no need to apply for a re-entry visa and there are no 90-day checks in. Agencies can also sponsor this for you.

Vietnam is a real up and comer in the emerging world so unlike military-dictatorship, going-backwards Thailand, there really is potential for growth in Vietnam in the future.

It's definitely worth a look at for any ajarns who are jaded with the low salaries, visa hassle and anti-farang sentiment in Thailand but who still want live the laid-back, tropical Southeast Asian lifestyle and want to earn some real dollar but don't fancy the lifestyle 'wastelands' of the Middle East or the freezing winters of Korea.

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

Almost everything.

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

Even on a part-time language centre salary of around 18 million VND (around 25,000 baht), you can live a pretty reasonable lifestyle and I think much better than you would in Thailand.

This also gives you a lot of free time to explore the country around you. In Hanoi or Saigon proper, you'll probably need more than this to enjoy the same lifestyle but there are also a lot of job opportunities. Many teachers just work one job and enjoy their free time or supplement their income with an extra part time gig online or at a language centre.

Full timers will typically earn around double this (50K+ baht) and this affords you a very good quality of life and saving potential. It really is up to you and what you prefer.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thanks JD, it's always good to hear from a teacher in Vietnam who also has Thailand experience. When a foreign teacher has had enough of Thailand but wants to stay in SE Asia, then Vietnam is often high on the list of escape routes. 

You certainly paint a positive picture of life in Vietnam and some of those numbers are impressive. Obviously the lack of quality accommodation is a downside but that seems far outweighed by the positives.    


Showing 5 Cost of Living surveys out of 337 total

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