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 18th June 2019

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Jay

Working in Lampang

Monthly Earnings 40,000

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

I teach full time at an international kindergarten. Unfortunately the salary is not up to international standards as I do not have a postgraduate in education but schools up here don't pay the big bucks anyway.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

I guess 10,000 baht a month would be easy. I just moved up here last month and had some moving expenses but I think this figure would be possible. I live with my Thai partner who sells beauty products on-line. Sometimes she does OK and does contribute a fair amount but she is currently setting up her own laundry business and cleaning service as well so I should be able to save at least 10K when that takes off.

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

We have a 38 square metred condo in the centre of Lampang for 4,000 a month. It's very nice and compact. We will move into a 2-bedroom house for 6,000 a month in a few months time.

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

Transportation

I drive a motorbike which is an automatic. I spend about 70 baht a week on petrol.

Utility bills

I don't like air-con because it interferes with my asthma and allergies so electricity is around 300 to 400 baht a month and the water was 240 baht last month and my girlfriend and I shower at least twice a day.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

Lampang actually is a hidden gem. There are some amazing restaurants here at much cheaper prices than Chang Mai and Bangkok. We are foodies also so it's great.

There are also several markets. One is open every evening and has a great selection of food. The weekend market on Walking Street is fantastic. I would say 15,000 a month for two people.

Nightlife and drinking

The Hangout Cafe in Lampang is where all the expats hang out. We go eating and drinking there in the middle of the week and at weekends twice a month we will go to Chang Mai and twice a month we will hang out in Lampang so I would say around 10,000 baht for two people.

Books, computers

I just bought a Dell laptop which is great for just under 16,000 and Chang Mai has many cheap second hand bookstores.

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

Comfortable but I need to start saving more. Once my girl has a steady income it will be easier. She's not lazy but Thai people who don't have a degree struggle to find fair and decent work (at least in my opinion) and I don't want her working so hard that I never see her ( and for what - 300 baht a day?)

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

I would say rent and hotel rooms. And also gyms in Lampang are 50 baht anytime!

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

If you are single with no family and have a partner with a steady income I would say 25,000 to 30,000 a month - but no teacher should work for that. Life is a lot easier and cheaper here than in Bangkok though. I lived in Bangkok on and off for six years and hated it despite earning decent money.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thanks a lot Jay. First off, you've picked a nice part of Thailand to live in. I was very impressed with Lampang when I went a few years ago. I thought it was a lovely town with a very laid-back atmosphere (I'm sure it's a lot busier now though) - plus you have always got the option of going into big city Chiang Mai if you fancy a change of scenery and a different vibe. 

We're getting reports down here that the pollution situation in the north is not too good at the moment though so please be careful with your asthma and allergies. Make sure you've got a proper mask on! 

What interested me most about your survey was your Thai partner's story. She's clearly someone who despite a lack of qualifications, is more than determined to make up for it with hard work. Running a laundry and doing some online selling sounds like an ideal combo and as you say - why go out and slave away in some office or factory for 300 baht a day and work such long hours that you never see her. That's no life for either of you! 

Actually, down here in Bangkok, there are more and more young people (both qualified and unqualified) who are trying their hands at online commerce and turning their backs on the daily grind of a 9 to 5. Many of them have been very successful because Thais can make great online customers once your name gets out there.     


Govis

Working in Chengdu, China

Monthly Earnings 100,000

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

That's a full-time salary. Occasionally I may do an extra private class that usually brings in an extra 10,000 baht.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

I save on average around 35,000 baht. Unfortunately, I have grown to have expensive taste and I enjoy traveling.

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

I live in a three-bedroom apartment which costs about 20,000 baht (including property management fee) My apartment is decorated in a very modern high-end style with a large outside area.

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

Transportation

I spend no more than 300 baht on transport. The bus and metro system are both efficient and cheap.

Utility bills

Electricity: 350 baht, Gas: 200 baht, Internet / Phone: 1,000 baht (That includes two mobile phone contacts, 200mbs internet, and TV service.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

12,000 baht. That includes the supermarket and eating out. I eat out three to four times a week.

Nightlife and drinking

Zero

Books, computers

I'm a member of an ebook group, so I only read on my Kindle.

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

Occasionally extravagant, middle class, almost perfect.

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

Dining out.

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

40,000 baht will offer you a very reasonable standard of living.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thanks Govis. Not knowing anything about Chengdu, I turned to Google and was surprised to discover it's one of the three most populated cities in Western China. It looks an interesting place with lots of history attached to it. It's also the home of the giant panda. 

Back to your cost of living figures, you must be living very well if you earn the equivalent of 100,000 baht a month but reckon 40,000 would be enough to allow for a decent living.  

It would be interesting to compare two teachers, both say earning 40,000 baht a month - one in Bangkok and one in a large Chinese city. I wonder which one would have the better standard of living in these current times? 


Randy

Working in Korea

Monthly Earnings 117,000 baht equivalent (after taxes, insurance, and pension are taken out)

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

This is a full-time salary teaching at an international school.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

85,000-100,000 baht depending on the season. Once motorcycle season hits, I'm out on the road enjoying this beautiful country on my bike. Gas is much more expensive here than in Thailand, and an overnight stay in a love motel will run about 1,400 baht/night. In the winter months I stay close to home though, so no real expenses as I tend to stay in and watch TV with my girlfriend and our cats.

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

We live in a 3-bedroom 2-bathroom apartment rent-free.

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

Transportation

300-400 baht

Utility bills

Zero. The utilities are paid for by my school.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

10,000 baht for the shopping and an occasional meal out.

Nightlife and drinking

I almost never drink at bars and have an occasional drink/beer at home. 1,000 baht/month at the very most.

Books, computers

Zero. I have my own desktop computer and a school issued MacBook. I read on the internet and occasionally download a free ebook or two. I also pick up books from friends or colleagues that they want to pass off after they've already read them.

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

I enjoy a wonderful standard of living in which I never have to be concerned about money.

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

Korean food is a bargain, and it's delicious. Also, the beer selection at the convenience stores is excellent. You can get 4 mix and match 16oz cans of just about any beer you could imagine for less than 300 baht. I'm not a big drinker, but I enjoy an occasional beer and it's great to have such a wonderful selection to choose from when I'm in the mood.

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

English teachers earn around 60,000-70,000 baht per month here, minus taxes, insurance, and pension. You could live very comfortably on that as long as you didn't have any bad habits such as being a heavy drinker or a shopaholic. If you earned less than that, I think you might be uncomfortable and wouldn't be able to save anything for the future. I never really consider what one would need to simply "survive". I suppose that's relative.

Phil's analysis and comment

Wow! 117,000 baht a month plus your accommodation and bills paid for by the school. Sounds like a very nice life as a teacher in Korea. Nothing to complain about there.


Come on! send us your cost of living surveys. We would love to hear from you! This is one of the 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.    


James

Working in Shanghai

Monthly Earnings 150,000 (including a housing allowance)

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

My full-time teaching salary is the equivalent of 150,000 baht net. That includes a generous housing allowance.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

We live on 50,000 baht a month. After servicing our credit cards and topping up our mortgage repayments we save about 75,000 baht per month.

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

My packages includes a monthly housing allowance. This completely covers our rent, which is approx 45,000 baht a month.

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

Transportation

School buses are provided. We use the subway on the weekends but a single journey is no more than 40 baht. I would say no more than 500 baht a month for a family of three.

Utility bills

Our electric bill usually comes in at about 1500 baht a month. That's with two air-cons running all night. Heat in winter and cool in summer. Gas and water are about 1,000 baht a month each.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

Supermarket and wet market shopping approx 10,000 - 15,000 baht per month. Eating out adds another 5,000 baht a month.

The supermarket prices in Shanghai are almost the same in Thailand. The restaurants too, depending on the level of luxury.

Nightlife and drinking

Don't do nightlife. I occasionally have a few beers with friends on a Friday outside of a Family Mart near my compound. Approx 1,000 baht a month. No more than that.

Books, computers

I have a Kindle and a good book usually lasts me a month, so not even 200 baht a month. I purchase a PS4 game from time to time, which could be between 1,500 - 2,000 baht.

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

I would say that we are far better off in Shanghai than Bangkok. I could barely save 10,000 baht a month when I worked in Bangkok with a young family. Now my family's future is looking good.

I would say we live a life comparable to the middle class in the U.K. My son goes to football practice every week. My wife and I have gym memberships and I have a good life insurance policy. We can afford clothes from places like Ralph Lauren, Timberland, Marc Jacobs, Nike and Adidas. In Thailand these clothing items were out of the question due to high prices, even clothes purchases from Zara/H&M were very infrequent.

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

In Shanghai I would say that mid-range international cuisine is really inexpensive. We have been to great boutique restaurants and never spent more than 2,500 baht total.

Our favourite bargain has to be 11/11, this is a famous shopping day in China. It is done online through Taobao (Chinese eBay). The discounts on there are phenomenal.

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

I would say anything between 120-150k baht net in Shanghai, depending on your circumstances.

In Bangkok, we struggled on 65,000 baht. 100,000 baht and we'd have been OK in Bangkok, but that said, Thailand is getting more and more expensive.

Phil's analysis and comment

Good to hear from a teacher in China. Thanks James. China always seems to be a bit of a Marmite teaching destination if you've already spent time teaching in Thailand - you either love it or hate it. But it's clearly been a wise move for James and his family.


Liz

Working in Chiang Mai

Monthly Earnings 45,000 baht

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

I work full-time teaching kindergarten L2 at a bilingual school where I make 34,000 baht/month. In addition, I tutor six students outside of school which adds about 11,000 baht/month to my salary. Sometimes I work online (if I feel like it) which will maybe add another 2,000-3,000 baht.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

In Thailand, you seriously have to consider the start-up costs of getting a new apartment, visa, motorbike, putting deposit down for apartment etc. etc. To get myself set-up initially, I needed to borrow 15,000 baht from a friend (2 month deposit, 1 month security) for an apartment. The visa process is long, expensive and complicated too. Expect to have another 4-5,000 baht for the cost to extend the visa.

Once that's all done though and you have your visa and work permit, I'm expecting to save about 30,000 baht/month. Maybe more, maybe less, depending on travel and activities.

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

I pay 6,400 for my apartment and that includes water. Electricity is separate and is about 300-400 baht in low season (I barely use the air con since it's so nice outside); in high season/smoky season expect to pay around 700-800 baht. In Thailand you can pay your bills at 7/11 :)

I live in a fairly large, fully furnished studio just outside the old city, the center of Chiang Mai night life. They call studios condos, just FYI. It came with a fan, full kitchen, fridge, TV, tables, sofa, bed, dresser. My apartment is not the norm, unfortunately. Most people live in the Nimman area but I chose the east side where more Thais live. I think it is cheaper over here.

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

Transportation

Motorbike rental is 2800; Petrol comes out to 400.

Utility bills

Low season: 300-400
High season: 700-800
Water and trash: included in rent

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

This one is tough. I shop at Makro and spend about 1,000 baht every few weeks. I am upping my budget to 2,000 for food each month though.

I try to limit my restaurant/eating out, since most of the street food is made with MSG. But I put another 1,000 baht aside for eating out. However, I usually don't use it all.

Nightlife and drinking

I'm not a huge drinker anymore. Leo and Chang is nice, but after a while you get tired of drinking premium beer. Wine is expensive. Most of the bars are free to get into like Zoe in Yellow. Drinks range from 80 baht (shots) to 200 baht (cocktails).

After-hour bars like Spicy and Las Vegas have a cover charge to enter. It's like 100-200 baht. It's technically illegal to have after-hour parties past 12 am in Chiang Mai, so that's why they charge. Drinks are similarly priced.

Books, computers

I brought my computer and phone. If anything breaks or you need something fixed, go to your local market and they can take care of it. Don't go to the mall. They'll charge you twice the price for the same. Pantip Plaza near Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is your one-stop shop for electronics.

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

Start-up costs aside, I live quite comfortably. I just got back from a vacation in the islands (Koh Phagnan and Koh Tao) for 2 weeks, and that only cost me around 25,000 baht for everything! Flight, food, accommodation, activities, drinks, ferry rides, massages etc. etc. I say that because once you're set up, you have the luxury of travel at a very reasonable cost. There is a lot to see in Thailand and you don't need to go to another country to get beaches, palm trees and sunshine. It's all right here!

Overall, I live pretty well. I've been very lucky with finding good accommodation and transportation. Some of my friends spend about 5,000/month on housing and receive significantly less (bedding isn't included, no kitchen, little natural light) You can for sure live like this, but I choose to spend more on housing to feel more comfortable. What I spend more on housing, I spend less on new clothes and going out. It all balances out.

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

Chiang Mai is one of the cheapest places to live in Thailand. Housing, food, drinking, night life, transportation.... this city has the best prices. If you're a newcomer to ex-pat life, Chiang Mai is an excellent place to start.

Besides money, Chiang Mai has a beautiful culture and the people are simply wonderful. It's a real community of people who want to help you for the most part. The 'bargain' isn't only measured in money, but also in the kind of support you'd receive from the community here. It also has one of the largest ex-pat communities in Thailand - about 30,000 ex-pats live here I've heard!!

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

35,000 baht is pretty standard. Anything lower and you'd be living in a smaller apartment, with less money for vacation, eating out etc. etc.

If you make less than that, supplement with private tutoring (check with your school if you teach) and/or online teaching.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thanks Liz. It sounds like you really enjoy living and working in Chiang Mai. As you say, I've always felt that 35,000 baht a month is pretty standard for that part of the world, so your 45,000 a month obviously gets you a considerably better standard of living.  It's amazing the difference an extra 10,000 can make if you are prepared to put in the extra effort to earn it.

Regarding accommodation, I've said this many times and I totally agree with you. The more you spend on a rental, the nicer the place you have and the more you will enjoy spending time in it. This means you have less temptation to go out and wander the streets in search of entertainment - and that always costs money!


Come on! send us your cost of living surveys. We would love to hear from you! This is one of the 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.    



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