A Little Expat Living… Cost of Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand (2020)

Last Updated on July 4, 2020

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 hotspots right now. It comes down to the low cost of living paired with 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 keen on 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 2020, 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. 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 in both Orlando and Los Angeles, and my Thailand living costs averaged a third of my previous U.S. living expenses.

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.

(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 more precarious (Thailand is cracking down on the number of back-to-back visas it will issue).

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 2020: 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
Maid$15
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 2020 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 sacrifices in your budget that you wouldn’t if you lived in the more affordable cities like Chiang Mai. For $700, you are probably not in the expat neighborhoods 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.

Transportation

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! 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 or 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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316 thoughts on “A Little Expat Living… Cost of Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand (2020)”

  1. Hi Shannon….

    What A Great Video. 👍

    Thanks for sharing this.

    The Info Was Useful And The Hint About Visiting The Thai Embassy Was Good Re.visas.

    I Too Am Thinking Of The Digital Lifestyle / Nomad. So, It Was Incredibly Useful To Get A Good ‘Birdseye view’ from your Blog and Video.

    Keep sharing!😉

    Thanks again…
    Robert
    Author/Entrepreneur

    Reply
  2. Hello Shannon,

    My question is about mine and my wife’s ability to relocate permanently to her homeland Thailand. There’s too much untrustworthy information to know which end is up (…forums, arrrggghhh, government websites, ahhhhh…) and maybe you can direct me accordingly.
    Here are some of our pertinent facts. My wife is Thai. She was born in Thailand so naturally is a Thai citizen. She took up permanent residence in the U.S. in roughly 1994. She became a U.S. citizen in 2005. We met in 2009 and married in 2011. I was born in the U.S. so obviously am a U.S. citizen. I have read things that lead me to believe my being married to a Thai national somehow makes it easier for me to gain permanent Thai residence, without having to make border runs, blah, blah, blah. Maybe some kind of annual or longer visa renewal over a longer period. Can you shed ANY light of this Rubik’s Cube of information?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Hi Shannon,
    Thanks so much for such a comprehensive post. Because I have food intolerances and a very sensitive stomach coupled with being a picky eater (I don’t like fish, pork, or intestines for example), I can’t eat spicy food (even black pepper is spicy for me so their mild would still be too spicy for me) or from the local stalls.

    When we were visiting Bangkok on holiday, we only ate at expensive tourist restaurants/hotels which is of course not sustainable when we become digital nomads.

    From a budgeting perspective then, would your pizza example of 250 bhat be a good guide for calculating expenses?

    Would you also know if it is easy to get local domestic help, e.g. someone coming in once a week to clean and cook? If so, would you have any idea how much that would cost?

    Thank you and have a wonderful day

    Reply
  4. How do I get retirement Visa, and how much it cost, i live in Miami and thinking to move to Thailand do I get the visa before I go or do I ge it once there’s am collecting $1100 social security is that enough to live a decent life there single? CM is it a good starting place?

    Reply
    • I am not sure that $1100 meets the minimum income required to qualify for a retirement visa, which at last check was 40,000 Baht (about $1300+ USD). I would head to the expat forums and expat groups and read through the very extensive information online about what it takes to qualify for a visa. Once you have the visa, yes, CM is a great budget place to enjoy the lifestyle and culture of Thailand.

      Reply
    • Don’t go as a retiree, that ties your money up and no good if you don’t like it, then it is too late, go as a tourist and split your time from several different countries, mix it up, Vietnam, Kathmandu (can be very cheap, with visa for up to 150 days), Thailand, Philippines, just factor in travel cost that are cheap. Go cheap, go light, go now.

      Reply
  5. Hi, you mention doing volunteering work when you were there. What kind of project was it? That is something I’d be interested in. I am a teacher and qualified translator, though I’d be happy to help with a range of activities. Véro

    Reply
  6. Can I recommend our favorite hotels and hostels? =) I think there are not more than 20 of them, but it really is, in our opinion, the best hotels and hostels in Chiang Mai.

    Reply
      • Ok! Thanks!

        These are good (it’s important) hostels and hotels. But they may not seem quite cheap. But I hope that not only those who value the price, but also those who care about quality, come to Chiang Mai. At the same time, one must understand that a high price is not always a high quality, and high quality is not always a high price =)

        Best hostel Old City area: Hostel by BED, Sherloft Home, Eden
        Night Bazaar area: Plearn Hostel, Tawan Hostel Club, Monkey Toe
        Nimman area: Bed Addict Hostel, Bake Room

        Best 3 star hotel (swimming pool include) Old City area: iLanna House, BED Phrasingh
        Chang Moi area: My Chiangmai Boutique Lodge, Chedi Home
        Night Bazaar area: Villa Thapae

        Amazing 4 star hotels Old City: Pingviman Hotel (number 1 in my rating), Tapae Gate Villa, 99 The Heritage Hotel
        Wat Ket: Rimping Village, Riverside Floral Inn
        Arount Thapae Gate: De Chai the Deco Hotel, Tamarind Village

        5 star 137 Pillars House and The Dhara Devi (I like their cakes so much, but they also have an excellent hotel)

        Also, very good guesthouses in Old city: Green Tiger Vegetarian House, Pissamorn House, Thongran’s House and Baan Siwali

        Reply
  7. Thank you Shannon, I have lived in Thailand once before and loved it! Not Chiang Mai though, that would have been an amazing experience!!!

    Reply
  8. Just searching google for things about Chiang Mai and came across this. I never lived there but I have been there twice and am seriously considering “disappearing” for a year or so and CM is my first choice for living on a budget. Very reassuring to see you have the same experience with the city and the prices. This just inspired me even more. Thanks :)

    Reply
    • So glad you found the information useful Stereo, and that we are on the same page with CM. If you’re looking for a place to really just disappear and sink into the local pace of life, I think CM is tops for that. Good food, as many activities as you might want to do, and good expats all over the city! Good luck on making the transition! :)

      Reply
    • I think inside the moat can be great if you want a monthly guesthouse rental and to be walkable to a lot of things, or there are a *lot* of apartments off the Northwest corner of the moat, near Kad Suan Keaw mall and the Santitam area. Those all should have places in your price range! :)

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  9. I love visiting Chiang Mai. I run my own internet business and I’ve often thought of just packing up and moving there because it’s a great way to live cheap and save on expenses… Only thing is I have a cat and I don’t know what I’d do with him. I’m going to spend 5 weeks in chiang mai next year and working a bit as I travel with my boyfriend. I am very excited. I love finding articles like this and sharing them with my family because they can’t believe how cheap you can live in Thailand. I would probably spend much more than this for a bigger place and kitchen (I write recipe ebooks) but I love how all other expenses are so low. :)

    Reply
    • That cat is tough Veronica, I understand that it can be hard to tidy up things up home enough to be able to travel long term. Five weeks is a great length of time to figure out if you like the town. You would definitely need to spend more on rent, but you could get a *beautiful* place with a full kitchen and then still have affordable food for your cookbook work! If there is ever anything I can do to help, please let me know . Happy planning and safe travels :)

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  10. I was researching the cost of shipping Thai food to the US and on google I saw my name next to a link for this site(my name is Shannon O’Donnell) I just thought that was funny! Have fun in Thailand :-)

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  11. I’m planning on visiting thailand with my friends in march, where do you suggest we stay if we want to party and have fun..

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  12. Shannon, thanks for your great blog and good luck on your blogging. Great going so far. I have been living in Thailand now for 10 years and ready to give BKK the push-off. I was thinking Chaing Mai might be a good alternative so planning an exploratory trip. I noticed your very modest price for a motorcycle rental. Where did you find one so cheap? Is it monthly, weekly? I did find Tony Big Bikes rents automatics for 210 baht per day. Your expert advice sought. Terry in BKK

    Reply
    • Hi Terry, I rented from a friend of a friend and that surely is why I got a lower price than it looks on the surface. If you rent from Bikey or Tony, the big ones, the prices are harder to negotiate. But even with them, if you are renting for six months to a year you have real room to bargain. A friend found similar rates with a year renting, I managed my rate for five months. Once you are there ask around, see if friends of yours in BKK have family that are keen to rent–that’s how I found a good rate. I know my friend who had the year managed to get it for about 2000b for the 6+ months. Hope that helps and best of luck moving north! :)

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      • Dear Shannon!

        I accidentally remembered that I recommended recently good hotels and hostels in Chiang Mai. hahhahaha )))) Therefore, do not hesitate to recommend our rental of motobikes in Chiang Mai! )))) Cat Motors forever! 555 Only I have a big wish – be sure to write that we do not rent motorbikes to travelers who do not know how to ride motorbike. It’s dangerous for life and can be fatality out. And it’s not a joke.

        See you next time when you will come to our city!

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  13. I’ll be going to Cambodia in a few months to teach english and really didn’t even consider Thailand because I only ever hear party stories about peoples visits there and I am not a big party person. But after reading this article I am definitely going to make sure I visit Chiang Mai and maybe I’ll even look for a teaching job there! Thank you for the article.

    Best regards,
    Meghan

    Reply
    • Thailand has some really wonderful areas! The north is more of the cultural center, and the partying you heard about happens down in the islands mostly (and BKK of course). Good luck finding teaching jobs, there are many in the region and each city can have such a different vibe from another, so be sure to explore! And let me know if I can help in any way :)

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  14. Do you still recommend Chiang Mai for older people? I need to quit working. I am 67 and just can’t do my job well anymore. It’s time to leave but I don’t have much income for retirement. Do you think health care is decent? Do you know any older Americans there? I’d be interested in their perspective. thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Candace! Your question is great, and yes, I think Chiang Mai is a really wonderful spot for older people–I know many of my expat friends were 50+ and they had a vibrant community and routines they enjoyed. Transportation is such that you can either use the shared open taxi-trucks, or you can buy a bicycle (one friend does this to get around) or even a motorbike–the city is small enough that a bike is a great option if you’re fit enough for it. As for healthcare, they have several US quality/certified hospitals, and I have always found them clean, efficient and to tell the truth, if I was diagnosed with a major illness I would likely go to Thailand for treatment, that’s how good they are. Hope that gives you some new things to look at/think about! ~Shannon ?:)

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  15. Hello, thank you for taking time to post some of your know how to live comfortably in Thailand. I am interested in living in Thailand for at least three months (get out of cold in michigan ) and maybe longer. ‘ve l worked and lived in Africa and have done some travel around Europe and Africa and enjoy the international annuities. I’ve heard about Thailand and would like to try it. I don’t need to work but volunteering sounds good.
    Thank you,
    Bill

    Reply
    • Thailand is a great place to go for three months– you can get a feel for the country, see a lot if you are keen to explore, or settle into a three month apartment rental and begin to feel like a local by the time you leave. Work visas are tricky and require some extra obstacles to jump through if you are keen to find work in Thailand, otherwise you could definitely find volunteering to do nearly anywhere in the country! :)

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  16. Thanks for all that useful information Shannon. I’m a Canadian teaching in Bangkok since 4 months and fell in love with ChiangMai. I’m looking into ways to break my contract here and move up there with my freelancer boyfriend (who is back at home also looking into ways to take a year off from work). Do you know if there’s a lot of teaching or web design jobs over there? We wonder how much savings we should take with us to cover for the first 2 months of job hunting… Bangkok seems to be more expensive but with more job opportunities. Maybe I’m wrong about the work though. Would be nice to get your opinion on that. I miss rock climbing in Bangkok and know that Chiang Mai got lots of climbing spots so I would be happier there I’m sure. How many hours a week do you need to work to live that lifestyle? Seems like I got the same in Bangkok but things are more expensive.

    Reply
    • Hi Isabel! Thanks for commenting and sharing your situation. There are definitely teaching jobs in Chiang Mai, I have several friends who work as teachers, but it is competitive and you should give yourself time and perhaps time your move to when schools hire new teachers (after breaks maybe, not sure when that is). Web design is a lot harder — there may be companies needing that, but at the same time Chiang Mai bussiness-wise is a lot smaller market. Has your boyfriend considered freelancing for any past clients he had so he is making a stronger currency? Rock climbing is available in CM for sure, it’s not a huge community, but I know there is a rock climbing wall and often trips outside of town. Networking is a big part of it all, if you have connections, start asking them about friends and opportunties in CM, it’s a small country and there is a lot of overlap in the businesses and people in many ways. And lastly, consider the non-profit community for opportunitites–CM has MANY more non-profits and organizations like that and you or your boyfriend could look into that route as well.

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  17. I am an American Expat living in Pattaya. I have lived in Thailand with my Thai partner for 20+ years. I recommend a LENGTHY visit before jumping in with both feet. No two peope have similar tastes, so hence individual cost of living vary. During the past coupe of years there has been a steady rise in inflation. The dollar has fallen in value, and the Thai Baht has gained some strength. Excellent medical services are available at a lesser costs. If can offer any seasoned advice, you can reach me at RPRON@AOL.COM.
    Regards, ROBERT

    Reply
    • Hi Robert, thanks for weighing in on this, and for providing your email for anyone interested–that’s very valuable to have a seasoned expat on tab! I usually send people to the Thai Visa forum to ask there since I haven’t lived in Thailand long enough to have a lot of the hurdles like taxes, visas, businesses, etc., all figured out. Cheers and thanks for providing yourself as a source of help! :)

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  18. hi shannon how are you? i have been to thailand 4 times before and love it. i have always dreamed about living there full time. im from northern ireland. i was always worried about the visa – what type would i have to go for and could i live there permanently just by doing visa runs? by the way im 36 and was considering selling my home and try and live off the monthly interest (whatever that may be now!!) of course i would check it out before i came to any rash decisions! many thanks :)

    Reply
    • Living in Thailand for years on end, just on visas, is difficult. You can get away with the double entry visa that gives you roughly six months with a few hoops (you have to renew the visa at 60 days, cross a border at 90, then once you cross back in … can be the same day…repeat for the second “entry” — renew after 60 days, leave at 90 and get a new double-entry from a Thai embassay). It’s not overly difficult, but you couldn’t do it for a decade. The forums at Thai Visa are FULL of useful information http://www.thaivisa.com/forum/ on this type of situation. Easy solutions are often simply taking a language class a few times a week. It can be done and you can look around the heaps of advice in the forum for some other ideas :)

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  19. Hello Shannon, Thank you for this great blog info on living in Thailand. I’ve been really thinking if i save enough dough while working here in the US i can live there F/T in roughly 10yrs very comfortably, i have a full military pension so based on your blog notes i think it won’t be a problem living stress free there. I have a question about the banks, if you have a short list of good reliable banks there?. Thank you again and TC from Maryland, USA. Best Regards, Brian C.

    Reply
    • So glad you found it helpful, it’s important to note that it really depends on what standard of living you want to maintain. In the post I link to a lot of things you should look at — other budgets, rental houses, condos, agents, etc.Fully furnished is tough–nice condos with a full kitchen could run $600-700 in just rent (check out here: http://www.neverendingvoyage.com/the-cost-of-living-luxuriously-in-chiang-mai/ While a one bedroom at Smith Residence http://www.chiangmaismithres.com would be more like $400 perhaps. There is a lot in between as well. And you can rent an entire house for $350 rent (no furniture or utilities).

      Full service and condos here: http://www.chiangmailocator.com/

      As for banks, I would head to the expat forums for Thailand: http://www.thaivisa.com/forum/ and ask around, they are wonderful sources of information for anyone considering the move. I know there are specific banking requirements if you retire there, so best to read through the forums and ask for recs! Best of luck :)

      Reply
    • Sorry if you get two responses from me, I responded to the wrong one at first! For banks, I would head to the expat forums for Thailand: http://www.thaivisa.com/forum/ and ask around, they are wonderful sources of information for anyone considering the move. I know there are specific banking requirements if you retire there (fees, and it has to be a government bank I believe) so best to read through the forums and ask for recs so you know all the nitty-gritty specifics! Best of luck :)

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  20. is it dangerous to walk threw town or go into a local place of business & is tai accentual or could u live there with out learning a new language »^+^« Kat from CA

    Reply
    • You should always be aware of your surroundings, and any place that is fine during the day could be different at night, but I generally feel very safe in many parts of the country and have walked home with friends from bars in Chiang Mai without a second thought.

      The accents in Thai make the language very difficult, but you can learn it, it’s definitely possible to study, you’ll have ample places to practice, and you can be negotiating/using basic Thai at restaurants within a month or two.

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  21. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and costs on living in Chiang Mai. My partner & myself are heading to Thailand in May for at least 8 weeks and I’m thinking very seriously about changing that to indefinite. You only live once – there’s so much more to life than the rat-race of London – I just have this gut feeling that indefinite is the right thing to do.

    Reply
    • Eight weeks is a really great starting point, and you may very well fall in love with the city. At the same time, it’s great that you are giving yourself a taste of it, and perhaps another area of Thailand will call to you once you visit. As you said, you only live once, so embrace the adventure, and I wish you so much luck on the trip. If there is ever anything I can do to help, let me know! :)

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    • While I don’t usually respond to inappropriate personal observations, I am nearly 29, not 25. As for the food, luckily you seem to have a misinformed opinion about street food, because it’s really great! There are many more options than just the fried dishes. Lots of delicious soups (khao soi=yum!), somtam is fresh papaya, curries that the vendors make at home and bring to the markets, and I love the grilled/steamed veggie vendors (I am a vegetarian, so I eat really quite healthy most anywhere I go). And if you’re in Chiang Mai, there is a really delicious (one of my favorite in the world) salad restaurants, Salad Concept, on Nimman and their huge fresh salads are only 50b! So, it’s really misinformation that you have to pay a lot to eat well, I prefer fresh or steamed vegetables and can usually eat for 30b Thai (and Burmese, def great Burmese food at that price too) and under 70b Western in Chiang Mai (much more expensive in Bangkok and down south though). Cheers and good luck.

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  22. HI Shannon
    Can someone from the South USA live all year round in CM. Is it prefereable to leave during the Wet Season or the REALLY Hot Season. Really fantastic BLOG

    Reply
    • It’s definitely okay to live there year-round, though I usually bow out during rainy season. My friend Dan and his wife Lindsay ( ) have lived there for a couple of years now (she’s a teacher), and they stay for hot, rainy, and dry and seem to enjoy it :) And, Chais and Shawna, , live in CM year-round too! Though I prefer the cool, dry season, it can be a wonderful place to live year-round.

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  23. Thank you so much for the conformation! I have been looking at both Vietnam and Thailand but have been worried about the employment should I decide to stay long term. Can you put me in touch with some of your connections or friends that teach conversational English so that I may properly prepare? My email is hansbergquist@yahoo.com

    Reply
  24. Hi again! I’ve been chatting with a few people from Thailand and wanted to confirm what I have heard. Is it true that a person from America without a degree can be hired by a language school to teach english with only a EFTOL or TESOL? I’ve been told yes but would have to make a visa run every 60 days…

    Reply
    • You don’t need more than that to get hired, and I have friends ( http://noplacetobe.com/ ) who got hired just months after finishing her TOEFL. Now, there are many people who also want to teach, but if you have the qualifications, the time to look and apply, and patience, you can find work in Thailand (and Vietnam, China, etc). Good luck! :) As for visas, if you are hired by a Thai school, they will give you a work visa and that does not typically require you to leave every 60 days.

      Reply

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