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.

Submit your own Cost of Living survey

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Ashley

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 50,000 baht

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

I work full time at a language school making about 50,000 baht/month.

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

About 20,000 baht

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

I pay 9,000 baht/month to rent a condo near the river. It's very small (28 sq m) but I am only one person so it's fine. It has one bedroom, partial kitchen, western bathroom with stand up hot shower, living room, little balcony only big enough to hang my laundry, and the dining room table is small and in the kitchen. There are 2 efficient air-con units , its fairly modern, fridge, microwave, flat screen tv (but only a few Thai channels). There is also a pool and fitness room.

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

Transportation

About 2,000 baht. I live a short walk from my school and only pay for transportation when I go into the city. My condo has a shuttle that takes me to the BTS for very cheap and I usually take taxis at night.

Utility bills

About 2,400 baht. Electric runs around 700 baht, cell phone about 900, laundry services about 100, Internet 590. Water 100. I don't have cable because I watch everything online.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

both restaurants and supermarket shopping, I spend about 5,000 baht on groceries and 2,500 on eating out. I do eat Western food frequently but mostly by making it at home. I eat mostly Thai food when I'm with my friends.

Nightlife and drinking

About 1,600 baht monthly. I go out maybe once a week.

Books, computers

I am given gift cards from family back home to buy things on iTunes, so nothing really. I do spend money on clothes, various odds and ends for my apartment, massages, manicure, pedicure etc. that's about 2,500 baht.

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

My money goes a very long way and I think it will be very easy to have a good time and travel while here.

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

Thai food, clothing (not name brands), massages.

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

Just surviving, paycheck to paycheck, only about 20,000 baht. If you want to have some fun too, about 30,000.

Phil's analysis and comment

It's not a bad life is it Ash? Taxis, massages, manicures, pedicures, all your clothes washed and ironed. These things cost a fortune back home you know? And your small one-bedroom apartment sounds just like the place I lived in for three years and was generally very happy with. 28 square meters is more than enough for a single person. And I was paying about 8,000 baht a month 12 years ago. From what I'm reading here it sounds like you want for nothing and to be honest, I would expect that on 50,000 baht a month. That's a decent enough salary for a young, single female. 


Katherine

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?

Transportation

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.


Brent

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings Base salary 43,000 baht a month plus 10-30K from corporate work.

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

I usually end up around 60,000 - 65,000 or so.

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

I save every satang from the corporate work. I only touch that account when I go back home annually to visit my family and when I bought my 50” Plasma TV. My goal is to buy a condo, but the laws are tough for a mortgage, so I have to do it with hard work.

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

I have a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, two-story townhouse in the On Nut part of town. My monthly rent is 6,000 baht per month. I live with my girlfriend.

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

Transportation

I spend about 600 baht a month on gasoline for my Yamaha Nuevo.

Utility bills

Nothing. My girlfriend pays the electricity and water bills. I pay 300 baht for internet shared amongst 3 neighbors. I pay something like 1,500 baht for True Visions Gold Package.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I am a light eater, so I don’t eat much. My diet is primarily western food. I would say I spend about 15,000 per month.

Nightlife and drinking

I mostly drink at home, and I buy beer by the box. So, about 15,000 baht is my estimate. Cigarettes add up to another 2,000 baht.

Books, computers

Well, I tend to buy things impulsively. XBOX, etc. It varies from month to month, but I usually blow my base salary on such things. DVDs, games, professional ironing, etc. This doesn’t really always happen in one month, but the money in my main account starts adding up, and I splurge at Khlong Thom or the like.

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

Life here is wonderful, but I work a lot and haven’t got a lot of free time.

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

My rent is shockingly cheap! My transportation costs are next to nothing because I drive everywhere.

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

I know people making 25,000 a month or less and surviving. I know of apartments for 1,500 baht. To be reasonably happy, I wouldn’t live here on less than 40,000 per month.

Phil's analysis and comment

I like this guy and I like his strategy. Brent manages to live very comfortably on his 43,000 baht a month base salary, and he's saying that any money he earns from extra corporate work - usually in the region of 20,000 baht a month - is going straight into the bank. That's 240,000 baht a year so more than enough for those annual trips home. In fact he could probably afford to go twice! Brent's lifestyle cost is uncannily similar to my own. The numbers are almost identical. If I factor in a couple of holidays a year, I figure on spending about 65,000 baht a month. You can have a very decent life here on 60K plus, especially if your partner is working and paying a few bills - and in Brent's case, if you've got a great big house that costs you peanuts to rent. I would certainly keep that location a secret.


Craig

Working in Surat Thani

Monthly Earnings Less than 30,000 baht

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

After tax I end up with about 29,000 a month.

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

Now I'm single I don't really save money anymore, especially as Koh Samui is just a ferry trip away every weekend. I can burn over half my wages in two nights on that Island, lol.

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

I share a house with other foreign teachers. It took me three years to furnish it and it still looks empty. Every month the rent costs a 1,000 baht. But I don't usually sleep there. I tend to sleep in my Thai friend's air-conditioned house across the road. The area I live in is nice and peaceful. All my Thai neighbors are great. I get free internet as well - a perk of having a friend that works in the local TOT office.

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

Transportation

For transportation I'd say I use about 400 bahts worth of gas in my fino each month.

Utility bills

Water 86 baht a month and electricity about 150 baht every 3 months or so. (If you don't use over a certain amount of electricity you don't get a bill)

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I guess about 2-3000 baht. School dinners are 20-25 baht, I serve myself so I make sure I get a good deal. Usually my friends wife prepares spicy curries for dinner every evening.

Nightlife and drinking

Nightlife and drinking can be expensive if I leave Don Sak, which at the moment is most weekends to Samui or Phuket, so I'd have to say roughly about 15,000 baht on partying a month. (Occasionally my salary does run out , but it's not what you know, it's who you know. I'll never go hungry that's for sure)

Books, computers

My mum sends me lots of books that I sell on after reading. She bought me a new laptop as well, so I guess I make money in that category, lol.

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

I'm happy with what I have here in Thailand, I have a lot of great Thai friends, the school I teach at is nice and relaxed, and generally life is easy.

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

All the basic necessities you need to get by are so much cheaper here.

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

I've only ever worked in the sticks, but I did live in Bangkok for 6 months prior and I know it's easy to go out and spend lots of money in the big city. I guess it depends on the type of person you are, I think I would struggle to get by if I lived in Bangkok on 29,000 a month. A lot of the people I met while I stayed in Bangkok gradually got more hard up for money and ended up going home. Getting out of Bangkok benefitted me a lot.

Phil's analysis and comment

Hmmm....an interesting scenario. Although getting away from the temptations of Bangkok may have been a good idea at the time, Craig still has the lure of Koh Samui to contend with - and it's sucking up nigh on half his salary every month. Would Bangkok still have been a better option considering there's more, better-paid work available? Simply put - 29,000 baht is not enough to live on anywhere in Thailand - not in my opinion. Not when you factor in medical bills, flights home to see the family and hopefully stashing a bit away for your future. It's just an existence. It's nice to do for a couple of years when you are young but the reality has to kick in eventually. 

Update - After reading my comments in the above paragraph, Craig got in touch to say he felt I had been a little harsh on him. It's only fair I let Craig have his say and put his points across and he gave me a little more info about himself. For starters he's only 28. He has no credit card debts or stuff like that. His motorcycle is paid for. He goes on to say that he'll worry about the future when it comes and he's also had no trouble adapting to the Thai way of life. As a final comment, Craig reminded me that Koh Samui is the reason his salary disappears so quickly and were it not for the bright lights of the tropical islands, 29,000 baht would be more than enough to live on. 

I accept that these are good points Craig. But be warned by an old fart like me. The future can look very different when you are 28 compared to when you are 40. I was the 30,000 baht a month teacher 'living it large' in Bangkok - and I enjoyed the lifestyle for many years. Then one day, you wake up and you are approaching middle-aged and you do a few sums and you realise that you can't sustain that lifestyle forever. I still say 29,000 baht is not enough but we can always agree to disagree.  


Stephen

Working in Phuket

Monthly Earnings 60,000

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

60,000 after tax – I teach IGCSE maths at an international school in Phuket. Could do more but too lazy. Value my free time too much.

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

25,000 to 30,000 (I am single)

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

5,000 (incl bills). Apartment complex with hot shower, fan, TV, balcony (nice view), swimming pool and fridge in Phuket Town.

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

Transportation

1,500 baht petrol for my chopper (paid for).

Utility bills

Steve did not say but probably about 1,000 baht I guess

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

Never cook at home. About 5,000

Nightlife and drinking

Too much. Around 15,000 - 20,000.

Books, computers

600 internet as above.

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

Excellent. I earn the same as I did as an IT engineer in Northern England in 2005. Compounding this is the lower living costs of Thailand! The Quality of Life is superb here. However, I have just spent £2900 (about 140,000) on a PGCE course at Nottingham University - that should pay for itself in less than a year.

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

Food. Motorbike insurance and tax. Accommodation.

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

I earned less than 30,000 teaching in the sticks (2 years ago) and was able to live well. I reckon one could live well in the sticks for 30,000 (40.000 for Phuket). Add 10K to those figures and I'd imogen you could live like a premier league footballer - perhaps someone like Ryan Giggs.

Phil's analysis and comment

Steve first posted in the ajarn cost of living section back in 2009, when he worked in Trang and was earning 29,000 baht a month. Now he teaches maths in an international school in Phuket and has nigh on doubled his salary since then. Well done sir! But 20,000 baht a month on entertainment? Take more care of that liver Steve! 


Showing 5 Cost of Living surveys out of 337 total

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