It may take a month or two to learn the ropes but it is definitely possible. That said, being capable of living off $500 (14,500) a month does not necessarily mean you can live like a VIP in Thailand or even that it is truly enough.
How do I now? Because I have lived on the cheap ($1000 for three months) and I have lived here lived like a VIP. I have stayed in penthouse suites for weeks at a time with a fat expense account, and gone to expensive restaurants and massage parlors. $500 might cover two days and nights of a VIP lifestyle, at best.
Questions to ask:
Are you single and just out of school? Do you truly plan on living in Thailand long-term. By long-term I mean more than three years.
Are you married? Married with children?
Do you qualify for a retirement visa?
Do you have the funds for a retirement visa or to purchase a condo here?
Do you know the type of visa for which you are eligible?
The Bare Necessities
If you’re single and have a clean financial slate, the bare minimum you'll need is a place to stay, and money for food, utilities, and transportation. With a paltry $500 budget, you'll have very little left over for any other expenses.
Rent - cheap apartments start at about $100-$150 or between 3000-4500 baht. Note, I am assuming you want to live alone. Personally, I would expect to pay between 6000-8000 baht plus utilities for a decent studio or one-bedroom apartment. I’ll throw in 1000 baht for the utilities (electric, cable, water, internet). (Figure 8000 baht including 2000 for all the utilities)
Food - if you eat three meals a day, all of which are at street stalls or shop houses, figure approximately 50 baht per meal including a drink. This totals 150 baht a day or 4500 baht a month. (12,500)
Transportation - assuming you use public transportation - Sky Train, MRT, Boat taxis and no personal car - figure 3x per week x 100. This works out to 1200 a month. I will round this up to 1500 baht in case you need to use a taxi once or twice. This can easily be much higher. Now we’re up to 14,000 baht a month.
That leaves a whopping 500 baht. Granted, you can get a 4000 baht apartment and this will reduce your expenses by 2000 baht, making your expenses 12,000. This would leave 2500 baht.
This is for spending, emergencies, and miscellaneous expenses. NOT MUCH.
Owning Versus Renting
If you do buy a place to live in Thailand, even if you pay for it in full, there are going to be additional expenses. Monthly maintenance, upkeep, and a sinking fund fee are a few of the additional costs attached when buying and owning a condominium in Thailand. Let’s say these expenses total 1500 baht a month. This saves you 4500 baht from our original 14,000.
If you own a car or motorcycle and use it, you will pay for gas, oil, maintenance, and insurance.
Sure, if your rent is a little less you’ll have some spending money.
If you smoke or drink, which I do not, who knows how much this will work out to, it’s up to you.
If you’re on a retirement visa, you’ll need to have 800,000 baht in the bank. Then you’ll need to pay 2000 baht a year for the retirement visa or extension of stay. Not much.
However, if you have an education visa, you’re going to pay about 20,000-25,000 baht a year for the visa and tuition plus 1900 baht x 4 = 7600. This adds 27,600-32,600 baht to your total budget, or an average of approximately (2400 baht.)
Medical insurance (1500-2000 mo) - Hospitalization - deductible / Doctor outpatient fees - the Thai government is thinking of implementing a law mandating medical insurance for expats. I won’t be surprised if this law passes eventually.
How old are you? Do you need daily care? If you’re old, or will need this in the future, will you need someone to help you around?
It is possible to live off $500 a month. However, and as I have pointed out numerous times, this budget does not take into consideration numerous other expenses and possible expenses:
Medical insurance, deductibles, Medicine, Check-ups at the dentist, clothing, Yearly physicals at the doctor, Visa runs or visa fees. What about if you fly home?
Also, what happens if the baht gets stronger and reaches 25 to the dollar? Are you prepared to get 12,500 baht for $500 instead of $14,500?
If you’re retired you probably already have at least some savings. If you’re coming over here as a 30-year-old man, you might want to considering dedicating a certain percentage of your earnings towards a savings plan.
If you are an American and young, as in your 20’s, early 30’s, you might always want to consider how working overseas affects your social security benefits. If you decide to live and work outside of the US for the next 20 or 30 years, your social security can end up being very little.
A single person may find it perfectly acceptable to share a studio apartment with several others. For the long-term, it may be less palatable. If you are married, your wife might think it is an adventure to sleep on the floor or in a studio apartment. As time passes though, it becomes more of a hardship and less of an adventure. If you have kids, this only compounds the problem.
Of course, the needs of a single male or divorced retiree are going to be different from those of a family or retired couple.
If you plan to live in Thailand (or elsewhere for that matter) for years or for the rest of your life, $500 a month allows for very little leeway in a budget. $500 bucks a month will give you a roof over your head, food in your stomach, and a little left over, but is this all you really want? Or need? If you’re only planning on coming for a few months, I understand the desire to stretch your money for an extended trip. But as I’ve said numerous times, $500 a month is chump change.
Whether or not you can handle living off very little really depends on your own situation, needs, place in life, and what standard of living you require or desire. I can understand retirees with a fixed budget wanting to live in Thailand. Why live in America, the UK, or Canada on $500 a month when you can have a higher standard of living in Thailand for the same amount. At least - for now.