A Little Expat Living… Cost of Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand (2021)

Last updated on September 5, 2021

cost of living in chiang mai, thailand
three on motorbike

So you’re researching how much your life will cost elsewhere in the world and you’re thinking about moving to Thailand. There’s a lot of information to sort through now. When I moved to Chiang Mai a decade ago, the city was a very different place for expats (digital nomads were scarce but retirees aplenty), and information was nonexistent about what it would actually cost to live there.

This post was essentially the first online Thailand cost of living breakdown, sharing the nitty gritty details of what your money buys in Thailand, what costs more than back home, and how your own goals might align to moving somewhere in the country (digital nomads and retirees tend to choose a handful of key hotspots around the country). Since it’s hard to know what’s hyperbole in these types of guides, and how your mileage will vary, this guide—and all of my guides to the cost of living around the world—thoroughly cover factors that move the needle on helping you decide if Thailand is the right place to call your future home. This post demystifies the cost of living in Thailand, as well as covers a range of opinions on what it costs to live in the different areas.

Let’s talk in general about why Chiang Mai and other Thai cities are among the most popular expat and digital nomad locations. It comes down to the low cost of living paired with incredible culture and amazing food. These three factors alone contribute to the massive number of retirees who have known about Thailand for years—it’s no secret to them that your money goes far here. But when I arrived in 2011, the term “digital nomad” was in its infancy. A handful of travel bloggers decided to hang out in Chiang Mai for a season; we loved all three of those factors, and so we came back the next season, and then many just moved there permanently. Since then, (and really since I wrote this post, which went viral and was featured on the BBC, among other outlets) Chiang Mai lured other digital nomads with a low cost of living, the promise of good wifi, and a community of others who work remotely. Within a couple of years, Chiang Mai and Ho Chi Minh City became the hotspots in Southeast Asia for entrepreneurs interested in low living costs so they could build and launch businesses.

In 2011, my baseline cost of living for Chiang Mai came in at $485—this number excludes visas, visa runs, personal travel, and annual travel insurance). Adjusted for 2021, as you’ll see below, many digital nomads can live on a baseline of $650 a month. Again, excluding expenses that run annually like insurance, or quarterly like visa runs—these add hundreds of dollars to your average costs, but they will also vary depending on your own insurance costs, costs of running a business, and varying visa costs for some people. Retirees live a bit of a different life—they often buy a condo outright and then have baseline costs of $800 to $1200 for retirees, accounting for healthcare and other expenses and an easier visa situation. Any way you slice the budget though, it’s more affordable to live in Thailand if you’re able to make a living online. I’ve paid rent from Barcelona to Oaxaca to Orlando to Los Angeles, and my Thailand living costs averaged a third of my previous U.S. living expenses (and about half of my current expenses in Spain).

As with many places, there is a trade off living in some areas. Political instability, road conditions, and smog are just a few of the downsides—we’ll cover how those affect where in Thailand you might want to live. Although I’m surely in the “digital nomad” category, I’ve included many links and resources to help those at any stage of their lives. Retirees with a monthly social security check more easily secure long-term visas since they align more with the type of foreigners Thailand prefers living there full time. Note that cities and towns across Thailand not only have different costs of living, but the profile of the communities differs, too. Thailand offers a huge, varied, and vibrant expat community. We’ll cover it all, plus your quality of life, what you money buys, and how to know if moving here is right for you.

Note: Many countries are not currently accepting American travelers and have closed borders to prevent spread of COVID-19. Use this cost of living information as a baseline to plan your travels and move once the world reopens to tourism (likely 2022).

(Keen to access this information offline? We offer this as a downloadable PDF for $2.)

Why Move to Thailand?

When I moved to Chiang Mai in 2011, I had this suspicion that I could maintain a fun and full life without obsessing about my expenses. To make this travel life work, I needed to lower my cost of living to keep in line with my online income. I was building my SEO consulting work while also paying off student loans and medical debt, so I had prioritized becoming debt-free within two years. Although I could have moved back to my hometown in Florida and likely save some costs by pinching pennies, living as a poor person in Florida is not an awesome life—I did that for 20+ years. Frankly, the best way for me to not go further into debt was to stay outside of the U.S. If you’re a digital nomad on a tight budget, or a retiree with a fixed social security check, you understand the core desire for a low cost of living even if your circumstances differ.

So I moved to Thailand, talked to others, and discovered everyone’s core motivations for moving there came down to a few key areas. Medical care can be a major motivating factor. Thailand offers the some of the better hospitals in Southeast Asia, checkups are affordable, and dental care is on par with the U.S. When you move to Thailand, you don’t live in fear of getting sick and burying yourself under medical debt—Thai health insurance is moderately priced and it works. If you’re looking for a place that can support any of your current or future health issues, it’s a compelling factor.

There’s also the culture. Thai culture is lived out in the open at the markets and in the many celebrations that take place throughout the year (Loy Krathong, Umbrella Festival, and Songkran to name just three). It’s a vibrant culture and a fun one to access as an expat instead of as a passing tourist. So much underneath the culture is impossible to absorb during a two-week trip of the country’s “best of” highlights. That culture extends into the truly exceptional culinary traditions (you will eat your face off!), but also the sheer number of international influences (you can still find sushi and decent Mexican in the bigger cities!).

The expat community is another compelling reason to consider Thailand. More than many places I’ve lived over the years, including Mexico and Spain, Thailand has a truly unique range of expats. The community is huge and varies in each region, which means most expats can find something to love and a place they’ll enjoy calling their new home. In some places you find the community is retirees hoping to stretch their nest-egg and enjoy the twilight years, while elsewhere are concentrated packs of digital nomads looking to bootstrap a business from Southeast Asia. And within both of those communities is any and everything in between—some living there for the culture or the food, and some for shadier reasons that I won’t get into. It’s a mixed bag.

For me, I chose to live in Thailand for two years because it fulfilled many of my long-term goals. I lived a more minimalist life (I am a huge fan of the tiny house movement), but it was not sparse. I love beauty and spending money on things I valued. I lived in a Thai neighborhood, I volunteered locally and I ate locally, I made friends widely in the expat and Thai communities, and I spent my days working when I needed to, but not slavishly tied to my computer in a bid to constantly make more money. Living in Thailand allowed me to enjoy a slower life alongside some of my now closest fiends.

Visas: Chiang Mai is a great launching point to other areas in Asia for in-depth explorations of MyanmarLaos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and other quick flights and bus rides around Southeast Asia. If you’ve retired in Thailand, you don’t have to run to the border. And some friends have student visas for studying Thai, and they also don’t do visa runs. If you’re doing visa applications and visa runs, your costs are higher and your ability to stay long-term is also precarious (Thailand is cracking down on the number of back-to-back visas it will issue). This situation was made even more precarious and impossible in the wake of 2020’s lockdowns—those not legally living in Thailand on long-term visas faced some challenges as many nations across Asia (and the world) closed their borders for months on end.

What Does It Cost to Live in Thailand?

Living in Thailand comes down to two things: your baseline costs (fixed monthly expenses), and your personal lifestyle, which you add onto the top of those costs. Foreigners will have baseline living costs of USD $600 minimum. That’s in a place like Chiang Mai, and it will cost more to live in the Thai island, Bangkok, or retiree hotspots. This figure is used as a minimum—these estimates do not include the visa runs you’ll need if you’re on a tourist visa. Even with the double entry visa, border runs are necessary every 60-90-ish days. Retirees will have their own specific minimum social security income they need to prove before they will receive the retiree visa. This number includes eating a fair amount of Thai food, choosing a smaller apartment, and things like that—it’s about the minimum base average you could reasonably expect to maintain long-term, and I find that it’s mostly digital nomads who are willing to live on this figure. Retired expats report minimum monthly expenses above USD $1000 when accounting for different modes of transportation, healthcare costs, food, etc.

Minimum Cost Living in Thailand in 2021: USD $650

Your baseline cost of living in Thailand is $600 as a baseline minimum for Chiang Mai expats, and more like $750 to live in Bangkok—layer your Thai visa and lifestyle costs on top of these numbers.

Monthly ExpenseMinimum Cost (USD$)
Rent & Internet$230
Electricity & Water$30
Food $190
Scooter & Gas$100
Evenings Out$75
     Total $650

Chiang Mai Cost of Living: $650 to $1800

The table bears out my own minimum expenses to show how I lived on $600 USD each month in Chiang Mai (adjusted to 2021 dollars). Since I was not yet old enough to qualify for the income-based retiree visa, I did the the tourist visas and the border runs mentioned in the quick facts section above. The international flights bracketing my stay in Thailand were roughly $800 each way, so factor that into my “fixed” costs. If you are on a tight budget then you need to consider if and how often you will return to your home country. Another digital nomad detailed exactly what life looks like on $650 a month, with an expense breakdown, too.

When you look at other budgets, understand that everyone includes different things that they prioritize in their lives. I wanted to provide the minimum so others could actually see the baseline they could then stack on top of that cost of living their own priorities, business expenses, etc. I paid more than the $650 if you average in things I pay for annually, like the US$600 per year expense for my annual travel insurance. Really basic medical check-ups are included in my monthly fee because they came to under $100 for women checkups and basic blood work across my many months living there. If you will need to obtain Thai health insurance, this expat breaks down that process.

In Chiang Mai, roughly $230 a month in rent pays for nice but basic digs. I shared a two bedroom house in the heart of Chiang Mai, within the moat of the downtown inner city (our $15 maid service was provided by my landlord and not optional). I shared the house with a roomie and fellow blogger, Jodi of Legal Nomads. We jointly paid 10,000 baht monthly for the house and wifi. The house had tiled floors, one and a half baths, a tiny kitchen (no stove, those are very rare in Thai houses), a sturdy dining room table perfect for working, and a comfy living room. It was Thai-style, so note that a Western-style apartment runs a good deal more.

Elsewhere in Chiang Mai, studio apartments run the gamut between 3,500 and 8,000 baht a month. These work well for solo travelers looking for something nice but budget. Nearly all apartments offer wifi. The internet in Chiang Mai is better than many places, but can wildly fluctuate throughout the day (my house had super speedy internet in the am, but not so much in the evening when everyone watched TV and thus slowed the cable internet down to a crawl). That’s when you might need to factor in the price of a monthly co-working space subscription.

Chris and Angela are a 30-something couple living in Chiang Mai long-term. They report a lovely house rental outside of the moat with good amenities—they’ve lived there for several years and average $2,624 a month for a couple. I don’t love that they included the cost of running their blog in the expenses as it’s certainly not a universal expense (and my expenses running this blog are half of theirs, so it’s not even accurate to all bloggers), but it’s interesting to note that only $456 of that figure is their rent. Their budget shows that one of the benefits of living in Chiang Mai is that your money stretches far and you can maintain a very nice life with just a bit more luxurious budget.

And if you’re really looking for comfort, you’ll pay USD $1,200 for a huge Western-style house furnished that is well-outfitted. Jubril from the Passport Heavy YouTube channel gives a tour of the house (minute 6:14), as well as what it costs to live that lifestyle in Chiang Mai.

Rental house in Chiang Mai, Thailand
silver temple chiang mai

Bangkok Cost of Living: Cost of Living: USD $700 – $3,000

Bangkok has a similar quality of accommodation, but the cost of living is higher in the big city. Karsten shares the most detailed budgets you’ll find for Bangkok, and he’s very open about sharing what it takes to maintain his life in the city. It’s a realistic look at what a 30-something expat can expect when living in Thailand’s capital. He spends on the upper range, he has a wife, but it appears that most of his expenses are solo? Although I am not sure, really, and his breakdown is unclear. He spends $2,600 a month and lives well on that much money. Of that money, about $400 per month goes toward a Western-style apartment. It’s interesting for anyone considering moving there to see how a $600 monthly budget in Chiang Mai compares to a higher budget in Bangkok—Karsten gets a lot for that much money.

On the other end, you can go bare bones in Bangkok and live in the $400 range (My friend Mark was living on less than $300 a month in 2011), but that’s going to be tough. Even for $700 a month, you will make serious sacrifices in your budget that you wouldn’t if you lived in the more affordable cities like Chiang Mai. For $700, you are not living in the expat neighborhoods (you’re certainly not in central Bangkok) and you are eating a ton of street food, probably not splurging on nights out at the expat bars and such, and you’re not using Uber and the like. But, you can definitely enjoy Bangkok still, grab coffees from a favorite vendor, use mototaxis or your feet to get around town, etc. I don’t think this baseline budget is sustainable long-term—you’ll need to plan on increasing your expenditures if you live in Bangkok for longer than a single three-month visa.

What’s the Quality of Life?

This section is a close look at what I get for the price of living in Chiang Mai. The quality of life will be similar in other areas of Thailand, it’s just the costs that will change. And the islands, of course, have beaches nearby and some other perks. The north, on the other hand, has mountains, hill tribe cultures, and different foods than you find elsewhere in the country.

What Do You Get for Your Rent?

Basic and budget accommodation in Thailand means Thai-style furniture and kitchens. This is usually fine for backpackers and those really prioritizing budget over comfort, but Thai furniture is much harder and less cushioned compared to traditional Western styles. So a budget studio apartment will likely feature an incredibly firm mattress and some heavy wooden furniture. Thai accommodation also doesn’t feature kitchens like most Westerners would expect—there is often no stove and it’s pretty sparse. Places boasting a Western style kitchen usually mean it’s a remodeled kitchen with a stove, at least medium sized refrigerator, and a few other amenities.

It’s for these reasons that many expats splurge and spend a bit more for Western style apartments, especially after the first year or two of living in Thailand.

To find long-term Chiang Mai spots, consider using Chiang Mai House if you are looking for help on a long-term house rental. I also collected a list of long and short term accommodation—all places friends have stayed, I have stayed, or I have seen recommended. This is also a good post that can help you imagine what places look like at different price points, as well as some solid recommendations on buildings and areas.

Notably, one ALA reader shared that Huay Kaew Residence is the best wheelchair-friendly accommodation in Chiang Mai (and perhaps the only, in his experience).

In Bangkok, you’ll likely want to find a real estate agent once you arrive; it’s the norm and is affordable. They will help you pick a neighborhood and find something in your price range. You can also start your research using this guide to apartment hunting in Bangkok.

Tasty Local Eats

chiang mai food
vegetarian soup from ming kwan

I regularly chow down on pad thai and pad see ew from the street stalls around town for about 40 baht a meal (a buck!). I add a fresh fruit smoothie to that for a mere 30 baht and call it a meal, totaling out most nights at less than US $3 for fresh, made-to-order Thai food from smiling street food vendors.

The occasional Western meal jacks the weekly food costs up quite a bit; a thin crust pizza from a farang restaurant sets you back at least 250 baht. I mostly eat Thai food, but expect that you will spend more than you anticipate on food from home—you just will. Plus, I confess that coffee is a daily habit and ice cream is a weekly addiction. iBerry, a trendy ice cream shop more fitting on a chic corner of Los Angeles than a side-street in Chiang Mai, shakes things up with tangy tamarind sorbet, a spicy roselle, and a cooler full of other flavors. Always different, always worthy of my undying affection.

Your balance of Western and local foods will greatly impact your bottom line, so consider how often you will cook your own food, eat local, and eat at expat spots.


renting a motorbike in Chiang Mai
tuktuk songkran

Chiang Mai’s small enough to either walk, push bike, or take local songthaews around town, but I preferred using a scooter. The rental was cheap enough and zipping around town made me feel that much more like a local. Plus, the local Thais burst into giggles when I rode up to the night markets with my roomie on the back. It was easier for us to take one bike when we were hitting up the same spots, so we’d ride Thai-style, with two farang on one bike. And they loved us for it, especially since my roomie is “Thai-sized” according to locals.

If you’re moving elsewhere in Thailand, consider the different types of transport options. In Bangkok, you definitely won’t have to buy a motorbike. It’s easy to catch a motorcycle across town for a buck or two, and Thailand’s metro system is operates across some of the more important areas of town. When all else fails, you’ll just grab a taxi and head across town. Bangkok transport costs can, for this reason, vary a lot depending on how often you go out and need to use the various forms of transport.

Most expats in the Thai islands use personal motorbikes. Although the small beach communities are walkable, it’s often a bit further to get groceries, and you won’t likely live in the downtown areas since the beach communities have gorgeous, quiet communities spread throughout the islands.

Most expats in Thailand for more than a year buy a bike, but if you want to rent you’ll find the best rates when you rent for six months to a year.

New Friendships & The Thai Expat Scene

expat friends also living in Chiang Mai
loy krathong

Chiang Mai has a vibrant expat scene. This is one of the key reasons I returned again in 2011 with my niece. I loved the mix of expats and locals and how accessible the entire town feels. Chiang Mai doesn’t lack choices for evenings out on the town. The city has a bit of something for any mood: karaoke, dance clubs, quiet rooftop bars, and bowling. In the years since I’ve left, there is also a much more vibrant digital nomad community, which has meant some new trendy bars to cater to them too!

It’s important to note that my entertainment budget for Chiang Mai is conservative. I’m not a party animal, so those who are will definitely find this portion of expenses quite a bit higher if they really like to get their groove on regularly. In fact, add at least $100 per month if you go out 2+ times per week and drink.

For the rest of Thailand, the community really differs. Bangkok has a much larger expat community spread across a much larger area. You can find expats of all ages and styles. There are communities of retirees, a startup and entrepreneurial scene, and a good number of digital nomads who want a big city feel. The Thai islands also have a contingent of expats, though I found this scene to have a much smaller community of long-term young expats. There are older expat families and retirees, and then there is a large number of short-term partiers in the region for just a couple months.

Thailand offers great hospitals and an affordable life. Checkups are affordable and dental care is on par with the U.S. In Thailand, I don’t live in fear of getting sick and being buried under more medical debt. It’s just nice.

I am a traveler. My stories span the globe and I’ve been traveling and expat-ing steadily since 2008. Though I no longer live in Thailand (I moved to Mexico and wrote a cost of living post about it too! And as of 2021 I have lived in Barcelona, Spain for three years. Check out all my Cost of Living Guides here), I return frequently. Since my first visit, I returned to Thailand with my niece for our year of homeschooling and travel.

This page represents my research and experiences over the years. Many of my friend live similar lifestyles in the region. They live and work in the city long-term, and they live simply (and locally) on this budget. It’s about your travel style. I don’t party and I love Thai food, so it’s easy for me to eat cheaply and enjoy the many, many free local festivals that happen monthly around Northern Thailand. It’s a wonderful spot for socially responsible tourism. Thailand has a compelling quality of life and culture. One of my favorite parts about Chiang Mai was the ability to jet off on the weekend for trips around the region (not included in my baseline costs).

As a freelancer, I enjoy knowing that Thailand is a wonderful spot to live, work, and play. Below are the resources I have collected over the years to help with a move, living there, researching, etc.

If you’re still researching various expat spots, check out our other Cost of Living Guides for a look at what it takes to move to the world’s most popular expat spots.

Resources for Moving to Thailand

The Basics of Moving to Thailand

  • Travel insurance: You will need comprehensive worldwide expat insurance and separate property insurance policy once you’re living overseas—I’ve used IMG Global and Clements for many years now with great success and highly recommend both. World Nomads is the perfect for insurance for covering your health and belongings while you’re in the transition phase of moving overseas, or visiting to scope it all out. It’s a solid company and the insurance plans are designed for extended stays. I’ve used them since 2008. Once you’re in the country living there legally, you’ll want local insurance. This expat has a great guide to securing Thai Health insurance. You’ll also want property insurance once you’re living overseas—I’ve used Clements for many years now.
  • Learn Thai: Thai for Beginners is the most recommended starting point as it’s a bit outdated but does the lessons well. This gives you a good head start and a paper book, which is valuable for studying, but you will need more information beyond that. You may want to hire a tutor when you arrive, or use one of the recommended online courses like ThaiPod 101 or Learn Thai from a White Guy. My niece and I took private lessons from Lah in Chiang Mai—she’s great. If you’re learning Thai for the student visa, however, you have to go through a language school.
  • Handling Taxes: The Tax Book for U.S. Expats is well-priced and unique to expats and retirees filing abroad. It gives a granular look at forms, terms, and sorting out exactly how to file — good for those with complicated tax situations. More recently released, U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans goes broader and is aimed at younger expats and digital nomads still working and handling how to earn income overseas, pay taxes, and live a nomadic life. It doesn’t explain the terms or niche situations/forms as well as the other book, but instead acts as a guide for younger expats. Depending on your situation, pick up a copy of one of these guides before you leave so that you will have a tax system in place that maximizes the opportunities to easily file.
  • Making the Move Overseas: There are a lot of general guides for moving or retiring overseas. Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America is the better of the “move overseas” books—it covers the practicalities and very hands-on information you need as someone considering living anywhere outside the U.S. If you’re new all the researching, this can kick-start your process. And if you are laser focused on the retirement topic, versus moving overseas at a different state in life, this retirement guide has great advice.
  • Cost of Living Elsewhere in SEA: In case you’re weighing the thought of Cambodia, it’s a destination that is hard to find covered online, and Move to Cambodia is one of the best resources you will find. If you’re considering Vietnam as well, the Vietnam Cost of Living Guide covers it in depth.
  • Cultural ReadingsSightseeing is a thoughtful and intriguing look at the two sides of Thailand. The one for tourists and the one plagued with economic and societal issues. If you’re interested in better understanding Thai culture before you move there, start here. The short-story format makes it an easy but compelling read.
  • What You Should Know About Smog: Jodi gives her take on what a particularly bad smog year looks like in Chiang Mai. Make sure you time your visit well since you’ll be out and about. Google now lets you easily check air quality levels right now, and use these tips to keep your lungs healthy.
  • Get Around Town: Absolutely use a Nancy Chandler map when you first move to Chiang Mai or Bangkok, the maps are amazingly detailed. And I have a thorough guide to transportation in Thailand here.
  • Running a Business: A classic reader for business owners is How to Establish a Successful Business in Thailand, though it has no e-version so it gets minus points. And for a first-person account, Karsten shares his actual expenses here.

Planning a Research Trip to Thailand?

how much does it cost to live in Thailand?
Where to Stay

If you’re moving to Thailand, it’s best to arrive in and book at least a week in a guesthouse. And definitely consider just doing a reconnaissance trip to scope it all out. Before you book long-term, you’ll want to all the options in person.

What to Do

Cost of Living PDF: Thailand

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Cost of Living Comparison

Still researching the right spot to live? Our Cost of Living Guides share extensive resources on all the major expat spots around the world. These guides include thorough breakdowns of the culture, quality of life, vibe, and—importantly—budget breakdowns so you can better plan which spot in the world best meets your needs.

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319 thoughts on “A Little Expat Living… Cost of Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand (2021)”

  1. Hey thanks so much for giving up your time so patiently. Hubby two kids and I are making plans for a move early next year and finding so many positive people who are Expats in Thailand is clearing away a lot of my fears.

    • You’re welcome, so glad you found it helpful. Thailand has an enormous expat community, and if you are sending your kids to an International School, you will have an even more instant community to tap into. So much good luck with the move, and I hope you enjoy your time over there :)

  2. Once again thank you your site has been very helpful! I think cm may be a great place to start! We are planning on spending 4 years in S.E. Asia. Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines are also on the list before we go to Europe. Where are you going next and will you be doing a similar blog?

    • That is a fantastic length of time — you will see and experience a lot over four years! I am unsure of my next plans, but they may include South America I think, and I will continue to update this site with stories and photos as I travel. :)

  3. Wow! Thanks for all the info :-) I would prefer 10,000 baht per month because then I would not need to work and don’t really mind if I’m in north cm or even Korat. Is $350 a place that would have a western style bathroom and kitchen with air conditioning? Also any other suggestions as to cheap areas to rent fir 10,000 or less? Thanks again!

    • Chiang Mai is a great spot because it straddles the traditional culture and Western conveniences. And yes, the bathrooms are most often western, and there is A/C in many, you can easily find one that accommodates that need. But know that electricity in Thailand is really very, very expensive!

  4. Do you know what the average monthly rent is in bkk and cm for 2-3 bedroom with AC? House or apartment would both be fine.

    • That’s a tough one because it would really depend on what area you were in (and that can vary widely depending on what school job you get) but I would plan that a 2-3 bedroom would run you $500 – $1000? I only ever lived in Chiang Mai in the north, and I know Bangkok is more expensive than CM. In CM, you can get a house for as little as 10,000 baht…which is about $350 US, so I am really guestimating. Thai Visa Forum is a great place though to find specific information from other expats: http://www.thaivisa.com/forum/ :)

  5. I was in Thailand last November and fell in love with the way of life and how cheap everything was! I’ve been working fir banks for the past 13 years. Unfortunately I do not have a college degree but with my professional experience I was told it should be est to get an English teaching position with the tesol. Is that correct? Also what might I expect for a salary?

    • November is a beautiful time of year in the country (rivaled only by December I think) and I loved the Lantern festival they hold at the beginning of the month, I hope you were able to see it? As for teaching English over there, a TEOFL is the core requirement, so if you take that course there is a good chance that you could easily find a job. The salaries really range on the country/city, but I think they average very roughly about $1000 US per month — I am told this is often higher in Vietnam and/or China, but I’m not sure. Good luck finding work and with the move!

  6. Thanks for posting your experiences and costs for what looks like a wonderful life in Thailand!I love it over there in Thailand, and I am seriously considering flying over, taking a TESOL course, and staying to teach English. It looks like the salary ends up being about $1000 or so USD a month, but it looks like that would be plenty!

    • $1000 will definitely get you quite far over there, and I have several friends who have done the courses (you can take them online) and then arrived and managed to find work (sometimes in Thailand, though Vietnam and China are also good options). Good luck with the work, teaching English is a great route to go! :)

  7. I have noticed some places will let you pre-book. If someone is planning on staying 3 months during the high season, do you think it’s necessary to pre-book? I found a place for 11,000 tbh (plus electricity and Internet), but after reading your article/ some other research, it seems like that might be the high end. Any thoughts/ or even direction to another article would be awesome. 

    • 11,000 may be on the high end, but it really depends on what you get for that amount. You can find it for less, and I generally recommend that you book a week in at a guest house in town and then go look in person at a few of the popular areas. I linked to a couple of accommodation posts from other bloggers, and that’s a good starting place once you’re in town. Even in high season, there is a good deal of housing in the city and you will find a place to stay. The GotPassport link at the end of the post has a lot of spots you can check.

      If you’re up for on-the-ground research and don’t mind arriving without all the details locked in place, then I suggest renting a motorbike, riding around town, and looking at the various options, it can vary so greatly between newness, ammenities, and location :)

      Good luck, shoot me an email if you need any other help!

  8. Personally the idea of eating Thai street every day sounds
    appealing as I hate cooking. I’d love to do something like that but I’ve never
    been outside the US so I’ve got a bunch questions that might sound silly. The
    visa thing, can you renew that indefinitely i.e. forever or is there a limit? I’m
    guessing you would almost have to work online somehow for income (for those of
    us not already set for life lol)? With an economy like that I would imagine working
    there isn’t an option? Any suggestions? Are many people bilingual there? Can you buy
    beer by the case more inexpensively and bring home like you can here lol?

    • It’s so great to be able to eat affordable street food and in small shops for just a buck or two a meal. As for the visas, you can not review the tourist visa indefinitley, but once you are there, there are few different ways people stay. You can like get nearly two years of double entry tourist visas, or you can pay to go to a language school a few times a week and get a student visa…that tides people over for a couple years as well!

      Lots of English is spoken, and depending on your trade, there is a whole lot of expat work in the NGOs if you were really keen to work locally as an expat: https://alittleadrift.com/2012/06/how-to-travel-and-work-abroad/

  9. Hi thanks for you post, can’t help but noticed the costs are only for temporary living, otherwise you need to add many additional costs which you didn’t mention:
    – Clothes & shoes
    – House items (kitchen utensils & appliances, sheets, towels, drapes, etc)
    – Computer stuff (assuming your replace you equipment every 3 years or so)
    – Mobile phone (buying a new one every 2-3 years)
    – Medical costs (it comes out to maybe $50 per month on average, if you don’t need surgery)
    – Vacations (assuming you are living permanently, you need a vacation now and then)

    All the above can add on average $500 to your monthly costs, perhaps more.

    • Thanks for weighing in on it Jeff; in the post, I noted those were the baseline, bottom costs, and didn’t include my plane tickets (ie vacations and that sort). But for baseline, the least you are paying with your own lifestyle heaped on top –well, I think my estimate is pretty good. At the end of the day, yes, some of those other ones have to be included for sure if you stay long term, but the amount of clothes/new things you buy vary so much according to age/person — I didn’t want to assume. And for me, I try to make my gadgets last somewhere in the five year range :)

    • And the big one is the cost of visas. The actual runs and cost to do a border run. I spend 36,000b on it this year. Flights abroad to a con-solute, hotels, tuks tuks, visa fees, cross the border every and buy visas every 90 days, drive there. Most English teachers (no degree) make $35,000 a month and struggle. You are suggesting to be in Thailand with out medical insurance as well.

      • The costs can add up, particularly if you fly, I have always made a mini trip out of the border runs though, and went overland to Loas, which kept my daily costs down a bit. And you only need the major border run ever 180 days, otherwise the cheap daylong run to Burma and back is a mere 700 at the 90 day mark. I have friends teaching in CM who live on the budget I suggest, but since they are teaching they have year-long visas (that they do not pay for, the schools do), so that is a non-issue for people working there. Most of my friends working in the country have visas handled for them. As for medical, I suggest nothing, I merely pointed out that my costs did not include medical — I carry a year-long travel medical policy that is affordable, though I rarely use it and just pay out of pocket for minor checkups since I can get my lady appt for less than $30 each year in Thailand and that’s about all a twenty-something person in good health needs regularly outside of disaster medical. Best of luck, ~S

  10. I have just moved to chiang mai, and we are looking for nice / cheap apartments… any suggestions on what part of town to look in?

    • Hi! I listed a couple links in the post to friends who had blog posts with links to apartments and that sort of thing. Also, some friends have used agents if they were looking for a nice rental (also linked at the end of the post). And ultimately, if you’re keen to drive around a bit, I like the area across the street from Kad Suan Kaew shopping center (go back into that neighborhood behind there and there are options!).

      Good luck!

  11. Nice one.  Finally somebody who doesn’t “have to” spend crazy amounts on rent just to feel comfortable in Thailand.  :)

  12. Whoever you are bkohlh/craig gardner et al – what totally daft questions. Do you want the author of this website to do your washing for you also? There seem to be some people who are asking questions here that live with their mother – it is obvious – before you move somewhere – do a recky and check the place out.

      • No problem Shannon – I need some help actually – apologies.
        As said I am doing my 14 months in CM. Just the visa issue.  I saw this website – http://uk.siam-legal.com/1-Year-Thailand-Visa-for-UK-Citizens.php – it basically seems a way of paying to do the 90 days visa thing. I am a UK citizen but don’t want to do the 30 day fly in and out thing. I hope I am making sense here – the link seems like an expensive way around this. I am not near a Thai Embasy so kind of stuck for my options.  Any suggestions? Thanks for any help./

  13. Would like more info on the food.   I am addicted to my beef and chicken so I would want more American type foods.    
    How much would that add to my cost of living if I ate different?

    • Beef is not very popular in SEA (or Asia for that matter) but pork and chicken can be found everywhere! It’ll add quite a bit to your food bill to eat that regularly, perhaps a $1 or 2 per meal with meat, and more like $3-4 for western meaty meals :)

  14. hi,shannon, My name is Randy, is it possible to live comfortable there with budget of 700.00 dollars are less, also are there many if any afro-americans living there. : )

    • Hi Randy! It’s definitely possible to live there on that much, but know that it’s your baseline costs, if you’re living on that, you already have your visa situation figured out, and you are eating at
      local restaurants and markets for many of your meals! If you’re budget-conscious you will get by perfectly! :)

      • Hi Shannon, I am planning on spending 6 months in Thailand, is US$12,000 doable? I am thinking of working at home (US) for six months then go back to Thailand for the other six on a tourist visa. I plan on doing that for a couple years to travel and enjoy life. Thanks!

        • Hi Rob! $12,000 is a really good sum and you should be able to stretch that quite far (possibly even beyond the six months if you’re a minimalist). When I am in Southeast Asia, I usually average about US$1000 per month. Your 6 months on, 6 months off sounds like a great plan as a way to see places in the world but still fund your travels! :)

    • With $2,000 your budget is pretty solid, and you should be fine showing up and looking around. My friends stayed in a really wonderful apartment on the higher end, at nearly $700 per month, could be good for you. I rec that you get an agent to take you around, they’ll drive you to various places, and they take a commission on the other end, so it’s worth it for you!

      Then with the rest of your budget you can spend on food, transport, etc, and likely still have some leftover :)

      Here’s my friends post on find an apt:  http://www.neverendingvoyage.com/the-search-for-an-apartment-in-chiang-mai/

      Cheers and good luck!

  15. Hey Shannon,

    I have to say that your blog is awesome, so full of essential information and really interesting and fun stories about your experiences in CM!

    I am planning to move across there in the coming months, i am a full time internet marketer, so the living costs you have highlighted seem easily affordable to me.

    Once i have moved out there who would you recommend seeing about rental properties and scooter rental?

    Keep up the fantastic work, you are one amazing lady!!!

    All my best,


    • Thanks Michael! It can really fluctuate if you plan to go out a lot more, and depending on lifestyle, but I find the above is a great baseline budget to use for a lot of the costs in the area.

      I’m not sure about rental properties, some friends have listed out some common expat properties

      And for rentals, long-term prices at Bikky are pretty decent and they have multiple places throughout the city!

      Hope that helps, best of luck on the move and happy planning, and safe travels!  :)

  16. Hi there – I am taking a year off work and will be in CM in July – I teach at a Brit school in the Middle East but need to get my skills up. I did love CM
    when I was there previously; as a just over 40 year old guy I feel Chiang Mai is the ideal place to study and appreciate life. Totally understand your reluctance to spend all your money in bars – it isn’t that much fun and can prove expensive. Would be nice to catch up with you and just share some views on life. Really appreciate your blog – found very interesting.

    • Hi Noodles! The city likely hasn’t changed too much since you were last here, still has a great small city vibe :) I won’t be here in July actually, I head back to the States for the summer, but there is a great expat community here (and a couple CM facebook groups if you’re interested) with some great expat friends who spend the summer months here :) Safe travels and let me know if there is anything I can do to help you settle in here! :)

      • Thanks Shannon. The link to any CM facebook pages and contacts would be great. I have been living in the Middle East for 9 years so can’t express how much looking forward to this. I have been looking at condos – there seems to little competition with regards to costs – I could not afford to take a year off anywhere else and study and have such a good standard of living. Thanks again for your help. oops – noodles is uncovered! :)

        • One more thing – intend to get parents over next February – how bad was the pollution then? Was reading about evacuation – looked quite serious for a while.

        • There really are a wide range of affordable options, and even better deals once you’re here and can go look at the places in person (and I highly recommend getting an agent to help you find a place if you’re here for a year or more, commission is very small and they can help set you up with a great deal). As for FB groups, is one of them. And Chiang Mai in February is a tricky question, it was pretty smoggy and gross this year, but last year was rainy, cool and zero smog in Feb…it’d be hit or miss, but if it’s bad you could always just take them south to BKK or the islands :) Cheers and good luck with the move!

  17. I’m right around the same number as you each month, $600 gets a pretty decent standard of living. I recently documented a month at $400 a month on my site, that was hard but doable.

  18. I’m right around the same number as you each month, $600 gets a pretty decent standard of living. I recently documented a month at $400 a month on my site, that was hard but doable.

    • Thanks Neale, I think the real difference comes down to the food you like, and what you consider a good time. I am living here with my niece this year, and am still well under $1000 for two people! Happy to hear others have found the same here….400 must have been a bit tricky though! :)

    • Thanks Neale, I think the real difference comes down to the food you like, and what you consider a good time. I am living here with my niece this year, and am still well under $1000 for two people! Happy to hear others have found the same here….400 must have been a bit tricky though! :)

  19. Me and My Son are moving to Thailand in the next 6 months as teachers. We have everything sorted just saving up for visa and flights and stuff. Just wondering what the cost of living is? and what sort of money and things we will need to bring over?

    • It’s still really close to what I outlined in my post, double or triple the food budget for two people (and particularly if you think you’ll be eating Western food frequently). I haven’t visited where you’ll be staying, but it has the potential to be really affordable since its not BKK or the islands. As for what to bring, don’t worry too much, anything you forget can be bought here, they have huge malls and stores with just about anything you need :) Cheers and safe travels over here!

    • It’s still really close to what I outlined in my post, double or triple the food budget for two people (and particularly if you think you’ll be eating Western food frequently). I haven’t visited where you’ll be staying, but it has the potential to be really affordable since its not BKK or the islands. As for what to bring, don’t worry too much, anything you forget can be bought here, they have huge malls and stores with just about anything you need :) Cheers and safe travels over here!

  20. Hi Shannon
    I am sooo happy for you and your new life. I have been to Thailand (many moons ago) and would like to have some insight on Chiang Mai. I am a massage therapist (and a nurse) who would like to add Thai Massage and study at ITM. I would be interested in topics like accommodations, cheapest flight into which city as an entry point……my plan is to stay 3-4 weeks….not sure if an apartment or guesthouse is the way to go. I am definately on a budget as I have obligations back in the US.
    I would appreciate any imput……..and thanks for your blog……so inspired by it.
    PS I have a scooter at home, so not a problem for me regarding transportation, although funds favor walking. So a reasonable distance to ITM would be a preferance. Flights seem to be on the high end so any suggestions???????? Thx Cheryl

    • I have a few tips for you Cheryl, I did a guide to CM post here: https://alittleadrift.com/2011/08/best-places-in-chiang-mai/ with hotel and restaurant recs. Finding a good guesthouse and renting for 3-4 weeks at a discounted rate is your best bet, if you look around once you get here, you can likely find something great. Here is a longer list of accommodation options: .
      For flights, flying into Bangkok is often the most budget option, check Skyscanner.com for the discount airlines in the region. Also try Hipmunk.com and Kayak.com to perhaps find more budget options getting here. Once here, flying around Thailand though use the discount ones. If you want to be mostly walking distance for the month, making sure you book something near Thae Pae gate is best :) Good luck!

  21. Thank you Shannon for you information. It coincides with what I have experienced and what four other links have put out. My girl friend, her son (6 years old) and I are considering Thailand for residence. I have been there 5 times for 2 to 4 months. I have done the Myanmar Visa run renewal three times. My girl friend has not been to Thailand.

    • Your welcome, glad you found it helpful and good luck with the move! There are a lot of expats with children here, particularly if you put her son in an International school, so you will find a great community when you come! :)

  22. I just got back from Thailand a few months ago and did not really get to visit Phuket or CM since most of Bangkok outside of the financial district was flooded. The taxi brought me to Pattaya when I ask to go to the beach lol and stayed waiting for the water to run off in Bangkok. I’m looking into Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to see where my money will go farthest and hope to teach English as well. Do you know if Thailand is the cheaper of the three? Also any other cities I should consider for cheap and good quality of life?

    • I think it really depends on what you are looking for– a lot of expats choose Thailand because there is so much access to Western amenities. But as far as teaching English, both Thailand and Vietnam are really great options and both have large expat communities. I have friends who have lived in Hanoi and really enjoyed teaching there. Same thing with here in Chaing Mai, if you have your TEOFL certification, then you could likely find a job here (if you came at the right time while they were hiring for the new school year). There are many opportunities and I think Vietnam and Thailand likely sound like the best options for price and ease of finding a job! :)

  23. Oh, one more question. Sorry.

    I would love to save as much as I can for the next 5 years and then go there to retire. (I’ll be 48 then.)
    I do love Thailand and the food. It’s a wonderfully strange country, friendly, interesting, exciting…


    I’m not interested in going over there to buy a bar girl to be my girlfriend. I’m not interested in meeting someone who just sees me as a wallet and/or a sponsor for her family. I’m sure there are some great girls there but I’ve heard sooooooooooooo many stories of guys going there and getting taken that I would feel like I can never truly trust anybody. I wouldn’t have a problem providing for a girl that I have a real relationship with but I don’t want to be providing for someone who’s going to be working on the side and other nefarious things, if you know what I mean. Plus there’s the language problem that I’m not sure I want to deal with. I’ll learn some, of course, but it would take years to learn enough for real communication and I don’t know if I’m ready to invest that level of effort in the language.

    So, I guess what I’m getting at is, are there any western women over there? Obviously there are, since you are there, but aren’t most of them just dropping by for a couple months? Is there a significant number of long-termers there or should I just resign myself to the fact that bar girls are (and if not, girls just looking for a free ride for them and their families) all that is available?

  24. This is a great post, Shannon. And your diligence in answering everyone’s replies is admirable!

    I don’t normally post on blogs, but Rachel and others have me wanting to ask some questions…

    $200 covers your rent, electricity, water, internet and maid.
    $175 for food
    $65 for scooter and gas
    $50 for evenings out

    If this is accurate, I don’t understand why so many others say you’d need $1000 or even $1500 a month to live a “reasonable” lifestyle. What are they doing?!

    I’ve been living in Japan for the past 15 years in Osaka, which is apparently the 2nd most expensive city in the world.

    This is a rough breakdown of how much I spend (figures in yen, which is currently at about 80yen to the dollar).

    Rent and water, 91,000 (for a pretty good sized two-bdrm apt, one room I use as a classroom)
    Electricity, about 9,000 on average (high because I teach out of my home and need the air con on all the time – it would normally be closer to about 5000 yen if I had a normal job)
    Cell phone bill, 8000 yen
    Gas bill, 5000 yen
    Phone and internet, 5000 yen

    In addition to all this, I budget around 90,000 yen ($1125 US) for all other expenses. That means groceries, eating out, drinking out, meds at the pharmacy when needed, toiletries, public transportation ($5 for a round trip), gas for my motorcycle, AND $300 smoking. (Bad habit I need to quit, I know!)

    Remove smoking from the equation because I don’t think most here are including that when they ask how expensive Thailand is and I’m left with around $825 US for the month for all that stuff.

    So, this is where I’m a bit confused.

    Rachel says around $1000/mo for comfortable. I’ve seen other blogs where guys are saying they wouldn’t recommend less than $1500. This seems very high to me.

    I’m spending $825 a month for these expenses, but your list already includes food and at least some going out. If it takes an additional $500/mo to be comfortable, that’s almost as much as I spend here in Osaka!

    Is there something I’m missing? Or when people say “have a life” they actually really mean “go drinking a lot”? I don’t really drink much so I can’t imagine spending much more than maybe $100, MAYBE $200 more than your budget to do everything I want to.

    As for things not included in your budget, such as clothes, I know that you can get lots of great clothes for cheap enough to almost be negligible. (Jeans for $10, t-shirts for $5 — and these were great quality knock-offs. Lasted me ages!)

    Can you (or maybe Rachel and others) show me where the additional $500-$1000 would be needed? Maybe I’m not considering everything properly.

    Thanks for reading!

    • Thanks for including your breakdown for Osaka…I had no idea it could be that affordable! As for prices here, there really is a difference between living a bit more local, and the Western conveniences. I think 1500 per month is awfully high for CM, but you could wrack that much up if you are in a nice apt, eating Western food, and consuming a lot (buying clothes, shopping, etc). Then there are the visa-runs to factor in, which add a bit to the expenses (a quick run to the Burmese border here runs about 700 baht at 30b to the USD, and if you need a Thai visa that could be as much as 2,000 baht or more for the visa alone).

      I eat like a local, and live in a pretty small apartment (and when this post was rented lived with a room-mate in a house). $500 was the base cost, I couldn’t spend less than that. Medical expenses, checkups, more Western food, that sort of thing maybe added another couple hundred, but if you are based here long-term, for a year or more, you could DEF find a way to live well under $1000/month.

      For another post on CM budgets though, friends of mine wanted a nice apt with a full kitchen, and that made living costs sky-rocket in some ways: http://www.neverendingvoyage.com/the-search-for-an-apartment-in-chiang-mai/
      On the other hand, you could have a “kitchen” in the cheaper places if you go Thai style with a propane tank and burner. :)

      So yes, there are options, all depending on how long you’re staying. If
      you’re here for three months and plan to party a lot, then $1500 could be
      right on. The better deals on motorbikes, apts, etc come when you’re here
      for a while, and when you find the great local spots to eat and hang out!

    • 1.  You’ll need more than $200 to cover your rent/electricity/cable/internet etc.  Just running your air conditioner for the hot months (8 months out of the year) will run you $50.  For $150 you’ll be living in a room…not an apartment.  I’d recommend $300-400/month for rent on the low(ish) end.

      2.  There is NO way that you can rent a motorbike and gas it up for $65/month.  Last year, Jan, the owner of Bikky charged 2000 Baht a month for her cheapest rentals (Honda Wave/Suzuki Shogun) and this year (March) the price was 2500 Baht. Pay the extra 200/month for a better helmet also.  Realistically, you can get by for $100-120/month including gas.

      3.  Western food is more than $3-$4/meal.  A double-cheeseburger at McDonalds is 78 Baht and most western meals (not fancy meals btw) will run you at least 180 Baht.  Forget eating cheese and other western foods while you are there.  Fruit is 10 Baht a serving.  A latte (like the ones that Shannon pictured) is 60 Baht.  Stay away from the fruit “shakes” it’s just a bunch of simple syrup mixed with some fruit and ice.  Sugar overload.  Thai meals will cost you 35 baht and it is primarily rice.  You’ll probably want an order of vegetables also for nutritions sake (another B35).  I’d budget $10/day for food at a minimum including coffee and water.  $10 a day does not include western food or beer/soda. 

      4.  Karaoke is one of the more expensive things that you can do in Chiang Mai…unless you are renting a booth at one of the malls (Airport Plaza or Central Kad Suan Kaew).

      5.  Toiletries aren’t cheap.  Especially if you want your western brands.

      6. Cell Phone.  Use True Money sim cards.  1 Baht/minute for calls to the U.S.

      6 You’ll spend much less on Smoking in Thailand than Japan.  Marlboros are 78 Baht / L&M are 58 Baht.

      7. A movie will cost $4.  Bowling is about $1.25/frame

      8 Gym membership (you do want to stay in shape don’t you?) will cost $40/month short term (one month) and $33/month for a six month membership at the cheap places (fitness thailand)  Cali Wow will cost much more.  It’s too hot to exercise outside (not to mention, too polluted).  Thais don’t seem to exercise much.  The women are thin, but they have no muscle tone.

      9 Haircut $5.  Massage $5 hour.

      So, bottom line, there is NO way that you can live in Chiang Mai on $500/month.  I sure can’t and I drink/party less than Shannon.

      Here is my breakdown to live cheaply…

      $400 rent/utilities
      $300 food
      $100 motorbike
      $100 incidentals (toiletries, vitamins, haircuts, phone etc etc etc)
      $100 entertainment

      $1000/month bare minimum… $1500/modestly comfortable

      And we haven’t even touched on medical, visa costs, longer distance travel (or are you just going to stay in Chiang Mai?)

      Source…been there done that.

      Everybody likes to brag about how *cheaply* they can exist in Thailand.

      • Thanks for weighing in, I find you right on a lot of fronts, and grossly different than myself as well. Since this is a personal site, I did in fact live on a bare minimum of $500 (which is what I called it and said that visas and medical was not included. And, I stand by the fact that:

        1) 10,000 gets you an entire house with many bedrooms, a one bedroom can be around 5,500b if you look around and don’t go to the expat spots. Very cute studios for 2,500b even if outside the moat.
        2) I left CM last month and STILL paid 1,500b per month and I rented locally, not from Bikky.
        3) Who the hell would go to Thailand to eat at McDonalds? And, simply ask for a shake without sugar (Mrs. Pa at CM gate does great ones and will point you to the naturally sweet fruits so it tastes good!). Also, as I say, I’m vegetarian, enjoy a lot more expenses if you indulge in animal flesh regularly, veggies are cheap and delicious!
        4) The mall, exactly what I mention in my CM post as cheap and fun things to do, did it with friends just last month and it was great fun (and cheap!) 5) Agreed, I try to bring deodorant from home since I hate the selection of liquidy gel stuff.
        6) True sucks for everything other than calls home (which is free on Google Voice), I use DTac
        7) Yep, 4 bucks for a movie, and 2.50 for a popcorn – perfect afternoon! 8) Running is free. Plus, I don’t exercise unless it’s to P90x in my house, so it looks like CM is cheaper for those ppl like me. :) Check out the CM marathon and other monthly races if you want to get involved with the community, a lot of them fundraise for the refugees!
        10) yep, and how many haircuts do you need, I certainly don’t get one a
        month, which is why it’s ridiculous to put that in a montly budget.

        Bottom line, I just left CM after living there for 5 more months with my 11
        year old niece, and though a few prices had gone up (smoothies 20b instead
        of 15, vegetarian dinner is 5b more too) we BOTH lived for right around 1,000 per
        month, so I don’t know what the heck you people are talking about. Get some
        local friends, eat with them, rent from them, and life gets cheaper :)

        Cheers and thanks for sharing what it costs to live a bit more in CM!


        • Shannon

          I lived in CM and Bangkok for a total of 2 years. I hope you aren’t running on the busy streets of Thailand. If you are, you are inhaling alot of carbon soot that will never come out of your lungs. Have you noticed any decline in your breathing capacity? If so, you have black soot in your lungs, and it doesn’t come out. Fair warning to everyone reading this.

          • Thanks for pointing that out Tom, the smog this past year was really intense, and it did have health effects on me at the time, but from most of the research I found, it’s chronic exposure to smog that causes the serious issues. The research studies I found showed that your lungs and immune system can recover from just a season or two in it. It’s most unfortuante for the residents, who are exposed to the smog annually for months at a time. It is something to keep in mind, and I kept a mask on my face when the levels were particularly bad.

      • I have to argue: a $50 monthly rental for a scooter is pretty common. $100 per month on haircuts and toiletries sounds ridiculous but maybe you have 10 times more hair than I do and need to braid your back hair.

        My rent for a private room with bath was $140 per month. I personally visited Shannon and Jodi’s house and it was *sweet* — I was quite envious. A friend had a place for 170US that included wifi, AC, cable and maid service, all within the Old City walls.

        Shannon drinks about 1/100 as much as I do so her monthly costs are significantly lower than mine. But your claim of 1500 US per month to be ‘moderately comfortable’ is ridiculous. I partied like a rockstar and still came in under 1100 US per month. (total does not include cost of liver transplant)

        I suspect you’re what I call a “Get off my lawn!” — an expat who likes to do nothing but complain about the place they have chosen as a home and how much better it was 10 years ago.

        Don’t like it? Go home. And take your neggy peggy horseshit with you.

        • Thanks for weighing in Wes (and for defending the costs!). And good to know that even with a lot more nights out drinking, it is truly affordable. You definitely are able to include more of the costs if you go out a lot more but still hunt around for a good deal on the apartment. I never made it to your abode, but I know it was near the old city, internet, close to food and reasonably priced. Couple that with you being able to dink regularly for under $1100 a month and you have me convinced all over again that we should move back there and hang out some more! xo

  25. I think while you can live on $500 a month in Thailand (not Bangkok!) temporarily, it’s just not possible full-time.

    I’ve been in Thailand for 11 years and can get away with $800-1,000 a month in Bangkok and that’s a comfortable lifestyle. But, if I wanted to do any traveling or go out much at nights, or to nicer restaurants, that would easily rise to $1,300-$1,600.

    Plus, the dollar is set to fall even further, making $500 a month just about impossible, unless you have two or three roomates and never eat western food :)

    IMO, $1,500 a month is the perfect salary in Thailand. It allows you to have a life, travel and pay for the dreaded visa runs. I wouldn’t recommend much less than that long-term (and btw, I’m female so don’t have a Thai girlfriend to also take care of :))

    • Agreed, it’s not possible on just $500, but this truly is my base costs for being here in the North (not BKK), without visa runs and without frequent Western food (which I don’t do except for a couple times a month). I’d say that budget wise and as NOT a heavy drinker/partier I *easily* spent less than $1000 per month and still enjoyed my days, that was mostly just working and hanging out with friends though! :)  

      Glad to see how it can vary if you spend money in different areas (and definitely varies if you have a Thai gf, as you noted! :)  Thanks for weighing in on this with your expenses, it helps to have a wide range of people’s experiences here. 

  26. 50 bucks per month entertainment?? what do you do?? put 50 bucks down the toilet and see which way it spin’s?? 50 buck’s get’s jack sh’t in Thailand …

    • If you’re a frequent blog reader you’ll note that I’m not a big partier and preder a night of bowling or karaoke over sinking a lot of money into alcohol, so 50 bucks a month bought me a few beers with friends each week, which is quite enough for me. By all means, factor is a lot more if you have a different lifestyle, my intention was to give baseline costs for consideration. If you like to flush money down the beer-toilet, then by all means quadruple that number for sure. :) Cheers.

      • i agree with both of you. it depends on how you live. Ive lived in cm for many years and I have thai friends with 30,000,000 baht plots (US 1M) then again i know monks here who own and earn nothing.

        • Got to agree with $50 a month getting you nothing.  That’s only 1,500 baht. So, maybe five or six nights out over the month, and that’s it.

          Of course, if you go with a group of friends for dinner to a Thai restaurant you could stretch that to about 10 nights out. But it wouldn’t be anywhere near enough for anybody who likes a drink. One beer is 50-70 baht.

          • Gotta say, 5-6 nights out is about right, I think I noted in the piece that I go “out” about once a week at the time, and that includes karaoke nights, where beer is the backdrop to simply hanging out :)  

    •  Very few people will save money by spending less, it’s just not human nature. You may get more for what you spend, but you will not ‘save money’ or ‘live cheaply’. In fact, you will end up spending as much as you did in the country you immigrated from.

    • He gets 1ea.-bar girl for 50.00 a month.  LOL  You need about 4,000.00 a month (Minimum), unless you like sitting in your room alone for 30 days at a time.  If you pay cash for a condo and then have 4,000.00 USD a month for spending money, you will have a great time there.

    •  You don’t need much if you don’t party like a rockstar, I’ve been living in Chiang Mai for 3 years and my monthly budget on entertainment is about 10,000 baht.

      • Thanks for weighing in on that Chris, I was taking a bit of flack on that one :) Cheers and good luck living here!

    • Obviously if your idea of entertainment is getting wasted and all that goes with that daily … $50 dont get you a lot. 2000b gets me a whole lot of entertainment. My Idea of what is entertaining is probably different to yours though :-)

    • Obviously if your idea of entertainment is getting wasted and all that goes with that daily … $50 dont get you a lot. 2000b gets me a whole lot of entertainment. My Idea of what is entertaining is probably different to yours though :-)

  27. “The best way for me to not go further into debt is, frankly, to stay outside of the US.”

    Sad, but true! I’m seriously thinking to live there with my 2 little girls and My wife!
    Thanks for sharing!

    • I couldn’t agree more! It’s gotten so that even a modest income puts you at the poverty level, whereas you can live a really nice life over here in Thailand for that amount. Good luck with the planning! :)

  28. Shannon,
    What a generous spirit you are! I have enjoyed reading your blog and it is one of the first ones that piqued my interest in Chiang Mai. Reading about your adventures has been really inspiring. I have a question for you related to visa expenses; my husband is a telecommuter and we have decided to take a “personal development year” in Thailand. My husband will work remotely and I will be finishing a novel and perhaps volunteering. My question: If we want to stay in Thailand for a year or so, is it advisable to sign a year lease on a house or apt?  If so, what expenses can we expect to incur over a year to keep a valid Visa? I have been searching online, but haven’t found the answer to the question “What is the least amount of visa related expenses we would incur in order to stay in Chiang Mai for a year?” Thank you in advance for your time.. I know you are busy with your niece. ;-)  Would love to meet you and your niece when we get there.
    Peace out,
    P.S.  I also really resonate to your Joseph Campbell quite..

    • Hi Loree! Thanks for getting in touch and congrats on the move to Thailand, I am pretty partial to the country :)

      As for visas, that is one of the trickier parts of staying for a year. You will have really just a couple options since I don’t think you’re at retirement age yet (totally different visas!).

      The double entry visa: Gives you two entries, each on 60 days and each entry can be extended by 30 days…so this is about 6 months. Then you would have to leave and get a second double entry visa. With this visa, you have to leave the country every 90 days and at least cross a border. All told about 6,000 baht to buy it and then cross a nearby border). (Apply for your first double entry from home!)

      The second kind is a year visa but it’s multi entry (so you can come in and leave as many times as you want) and you get 90 days each time. I haven’t done this one, but friends have and it’s the ideal between the two. Call your closest Thai consulate and see if they would issue this one…it’s worth the fees.

      Also, for some more living here type posts and help: This family has some great resources.
      And as for the house, renting a house can be cheaper, but there are allll
      kinds of apts here in Chiang Mai, and just a bit outside the moat you can
      get a pretty great house for the same as an apt in the city, so it really
      depends on what you want (check out the link above, they also have a
      housing post!). Consider, if you do a apt and commit to 6 months, then you
      can easily get out of it if you decide to try out living elsewhere in

      Cheers and good luck on the move, if you’re here in the next few months we
      can definitely meet up! :)

  29. Hi Shannon. im actually looking into teaching ESL in Thailand in the next few months. I was wondering about Health insurance there. I have Insurance here till June and then I have nothing, but after that Id have to figure something out. If my job doesnt offer it can i get insurance there?

  30. hi there, ive done homework about working in thialand but ive seen nothing of the legality of an expat working in Thailand.  once i start the journey, what is a good staging area, maybe with a cheap pensione or youth hostel?
    thank you so much for your help
    jim, dallas texas

    • That’s a tough one Jimskid, it is completely illegal to work here in Thailand without a visa, so I can’t really recommend you do that, but yes, some hostels might let you exchange accommodation for work if you ask around. That being said, there are a lot of teaching English jobs here, and you could take a contract and save up money, and then leave, not sure what your travel plans look like, but there is definitely work to be found (both legit and not) all over SEA for backpackers simply asking around :)

  31. Hi Shannon!

    I know I’m this is an older post, but I have had it bookmarked for months in preparation for my own move to Chiang Mai! I’ve been here for over a week now and scored a pretty cool apartment on Nimman Road. I was wondering if you could tell me where you rented your scooter. I haven’t found any places with rates lower than 3000B. Did you have a native Thai speaker help you?

    Thanks so much, 

    • Nimman is such a great area, very lively and some of my favorite restaurants are over there! Will send you a message about the bikes :)

    • Scooter rentals are everywhere, around 200 baht. You give up your passport until return, get insurance please. Good luck you can get hurt and or killed! Thai’s do not stop!

  32. Hey Shannon. Thanks for this post and for giving us an insight into your life in Thailand. My wife and I will be going there again on holiday next April which I just found out is the hottest time of the year. :-r

    I’m still working on convincing her to agree to sell everything and go and spend at least a few months there but she’s not biting yet. Our child (a rabbit called Coco) might not cope with the heat though so
    for now we’ll leave him with a sitter and enjoy the holiday. She’ll be happy to hear that there’s some decent coffee and ice cream in Chiang Mai though and I’ll be using this info during the next round of our negotiations.

    • April is a tough time to travel here for sure, it’s baking hot and in the north, were they do crop burning the air quality can be pretty bad. But, it’s also not the high tourist season, so there is something to say about that! If you visit Chiang Mai you will be amazed by all of the Western comforts when you need them…ice cream is plentiful and coffee is often mediocre, but there are a few pretty decent spots! Let me know if there is any way I can help once you plan to come this way, I should actually be here in April :)

  33. I enjoyed reading your blog.  I live on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.  We have the highest electrical rate in the nation.  Our mountain ridges receive more rain than any other place in the world.  You would think we would harness the hydro and go green but the so-called enviornmentalist fight the Hydro Power.  So we burn fossil fuel to make electricity… Go figure!  BTW my electric bill runs about $400 a month, milk is $5 a gallon, etc….

    I’m building a new home, I am way over-budget.  One of the guys working on the house is married to a girl from Thailand.  They just finished building a home in Thailand.  It is comparable to my home on Kauai.  Their home cost them $50,000, I don’t even want to tell you how much I have into my home.

    Long story short, my friend and his wife are encouraging me to sell everything and move to Thailand.

    I googled Americans living in Thailand and found your blog…

    Mahalo Nui Loa!!!
    I plan to move to Thailand,


    • Hi Bruce, glad you found my site and perhaps a little bit more inspiration to perhaps move abroad, the cost of living is so much lower here than in the US it’s scarcely even comparable. That’s one of the best parts of moving abroad, keeping your quality of life, but scaling down the costs so you can enjoy your time :) There are so many other things to consider here (foreigners cannot own land directly), politics, and visas, but overall, if you can make the move work, and you like spending time in Thailand you could definitely be living for a fraction of the cost. If there is ever any questions I can answer, just shoot me an email! :)

  34. I’m so glad I stumbled across your blog! I’m also from Orlando, actually living here now. Just got back from living in Switzerland for a year, and I’m ready to head back out there!  What do you do in Thailand, job wise?

    • Hi Brittany! I’m envious of that year in Europe, I would love to find a way to spend a year traveling around their affordably :) As for work here in Thailand, teaching English is probably the easiest way, but there are also a whole lot of NGOs and similar type work too. I work online, but this type of work is what many of my friends do to get visas and live here long-term! :)

  35. Hello Shannon, thanks for your great articles. Is it a good idea to move in thailand with my wife and my 3 kids? Can I find good school? How much to rent a 4 – 5 bedrooms house?

    • I think it depends on what you are looking for, but there are many other expats with families living here, and numerous high quality international schools that give an excellent education. The family
      lives here and you might be able to find some inspiration on their site!

  36. Here is my budget when we move to Thailand in March 2012.
    But we will be living in Pattaya, on the Dark Side.The house is already paid for.Internet                                       $50

    Cable TV                                    $10

    Water (we have a pool)                $40

    Electric                                      $40

    Food                                         $250

    Truck and Gas (truck
    is paid for) $100

    Evenings out    (4
    times)             $200

    Travel    (2 times)                       $400


    Total                                        $1100If I can keep it to this I will living Phat!

  37. Typed in “cost of living thailand” in Google and your entry popped up as the highest-ranked non-sponsored one, and I was glad I came across it! Moving there has always been in the back of my head, and it’s mainly because of the affordability. The baht isn’t far from Philippine Peso, and I don’t make much, being only a few years fresh out of college. But I’ve been there and I like the culture, so I’m definitely going to explore the possibilities. Thank you for the details and the insights :) And feel free to ask me about anything at all if you plan to visit my country.

    • Glad you happened upon the post! I know of other Filipino expats here so I think you are right, it’s comparable and doable with the exchange rates…when you’re close to moving here, let me know if you have any questions, likewise, I will definitely send you an email when I visit the Phillipines :) Cheers and good luck planning your move!

  38. Loved reading your story. I am getting ready to retire on $1400 a month, Yikes! Can you imagine how I will live in the US on that! I’ve been making around $100k a year for the last 20 years so I am used to living well. (Would have lived less well and saved more if I had understood the reality of retirement)
    Thailand is one of the places I have admired from a distance and considered as my retirement place, but making the move without knowing anyone, it is scary, although I did read about the expat clubs there so besides you, there are plenty of English speaking folks around. I would not want to move without my daughter and grandson, which would mean she would need to find work. Things have to be considerably different there, so doubt you can answer this, but what are the chances for a home-improvement expert and artists to make money there?
    Thanks for the great articles,

    • Sorry to burst your bubble, but Thailand has very restrictive work permit visas rules and / or foreign business investment regulations… Your daughters best option for employment would be as an English teacher in the Thai school system, as long as she has a 4 year degree in something and a TEFL certificate…

    • Cheers and thanks for the feedback and for (not) reading so closely…lived there for five months actually (and am not really a backpacker at all so much anymore), and I am currently living here for another six months at least, in my book, that makes me an expat but you’re entitled your opinion! :)

      • Sounds like Erumdo is a traveler snob. I love those people. As in “you’re doing it but you’re not doing it as well as me.” I’ve surfed in a bunch of places around the world and there are all of these foreigners (guess what, we’re all foreigners) who have declared themselves the “locals” in all of these surf spots. It’s like “oh, you should have been here ten years ago, you missed it.” OK, whatever. We’re all trying to do it the best we can. As long as you go somewhere and are respectful to the natives and their culture, then you’re doing it right.

        • There are people for whom it will always be a pissing contest and this post has brought out a bunch of them! I appreciate you sharing your own experience Andrew. The world is dynamic and changing, and if you love a spot now, right now, then that’s the time to be there–that “10 years ago” argument frustrates me too! Good luck with the surfing, I have always loved passing through the beach communities that spring up around the great surf spots. Safe travels :)

  39. Thank you for sending that link, though I am not at the retiring stage, it is helpful to have that information here. Cheers and thanks :)

  40. Would love some advice. Coming for three months with my foster daughter from Ghana so she can do a course at a Thai massage school and although I have been to Thailand twice over the years, wondering what is our best option for housing. Been searching the apt/guest house sites and really want a place we can cook too. Any suggestions? I will be doing some yoga and whatever classes may take my fancy, some dental work and medical. We will do a  little traveling too. Would love to chat with you.

    • Have responded in email, but for general purposes to have the information handy, I really prefer to find a place in CM once you get there — book a guest house for several days and then do some hunting and you will find great deals :)

  41. Waaaa thanks for the info. I just came back from bangkok last week for vacation and fell in love with thailand. Planned to stay for 2 weeks but extended one more week just because it’s AWESOME :) Plus i met a girl over there and absolutely fell in love with her. Ya, call me naive but she’s 10x better then all my ex. We’ve been talking about opening a restaurant or hostel in CM in the future. Talk about living cost ggrrrrr. I make around $70k a year and it’s not even nearly enough to support the life style here in the US sighhhhhh. BTW know how much will it cost to open a small business there in CM? restaurant, hostels, tailor shop……..building/land cost?

    • The transition back home is a tough one once you’ve been to Thailand, it’s one of my favorite places :) Chiang Mai is a wonderful city and there are a a lot opportunities for expat restaurants and shops. I am not sure about the business start up costs, but I know that once you come back you will no doubt be able to find some of the local expats and they will give you candid details on the ups and downs of owning a business there! Also check expat forums and that sort of thing to find current Western business owners :) Good luck!

    • Ah, another farang newbie with Jasmine Fever… Do your homework grasshopper, before you turn your life upside down for someone you just met… No matter how well she treats you, now…

  42. I’ve always wanted to travel after I finish my undergrad. but I’m spectacle about the costs of living and how to pay for it all, but this definitely helped. Adding Thailand to the list!

  43. Hello I’m a retired military member Im very interested in moving an living in Thialand. I’m collecting data on costs an quality of life. In the various areas of Thialand. Also I’m curious about the volunteering in this part of the world.

    • Hi Roger, thanks for commenting, I really think CM rates high in Thailand for quality of living, and because CM is in the north, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities not only with the local Thai communities, but with Burmese refugees as well. Feel free to send me an email if there is anything else I can do to help! :)

  44. Thanks for posting this. I just showed this post to my husband.  It didn’t take long to convince him we should move to Thailand.  


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