***Current exchange rate is figured at 32.50 baht to the dollar. Although the published rate may be higher, 32.50 factors in the approximate exchange fee.
Let's face facts: The majority of people moving to Thailand or who have already made the move do so because they believe they will receive a better value for their money than back home. There are usually other contributing factors; a relationship, the love of the country, using the country as a hub for travel, but getting a better value for the money is one of, if not the main reason for making the move. How many people have you heard of who decided to move to the United States, or Japan, or Switzerland because they think they can live for $500-$1000 a month?
Thailand provides a good value for the money. It used to provide a better value, but times change and inflation is the rule worldwide. The internet is inundated with stories of traveling to Thailand and living off next to nothing.
"How I Lived in Thailand for $10 a Day!"
Live Like a VIP in Thailand for $285.06!"
"Live a Fantastic Lifestyle for Less Than $1000 a Month!"
In most cases, there are stiff caveats to these claims. Some are pure rubbish. If a person decided to do so, they could sleep under a bridge, steal food, never shower and use the jungle as their toilet. Is this a fantastic value? Is this how most people want to live? People have different needs and wants, but most have a minimum standard they'll accept.
I was once contacted by a guy in his early 20's who told me he lived in Chiang Mai for $300 a month. He slept on a friends sofa, paid him $50 a month rent and spent the rest of his budget on his cellular phone, food and visa runs. He also made it a point to tell me that in Chiang Mai it was easy enough to walk on to someone's property and stock up on all the fruit or vegetables he could carry. Sounds like stealing to me, but he assured me the kindly Thai farmers had no problem with him taking what he needed. Sounds like a poor value to me, but then again, what do I know? I'm just some crotchety, old guy who doesn't know the real Thailand, as he put it. Maybe so, but I don't want to take fruit (or steal it) from someone else's property so I can live cheap.
His attitude surprised me, but considering we now seem to live in an age of entitlement, I quickly realized he is one of a growing number who feel the same way. Perhaps this is why I am apathetic when people tell me they believe Thailand should allow it's tourists greater freedom in living in the country. Homeless foreigners, foreigners with no way home, no way to support themselves, no way to pay their hospital bill—is it any wonder the Thai government is cracking down on tourists who are living, not visiting, the country? Say what you will, but the Thai government's obligation to it's citizens, not to foreigners who feel they have the right to live in the country as long as they wish.
Okay, back to the budget. If I were to come up with a budget for everyone, I would first add up the basics; rent, food, utilities, transportation and miscellaneous to account for unexpected expenses. A budget to live in Thailand is binary. You either have enough or you don't. You can either live within your means or not. So let's take a closer look at the basics.
Rent - if you (or your wife) own a home or condo outright, obviously there's no need to pay rent. If you owe the bank, then factor in the payment, maintenance and condo any fees. When looking for a place, ask yourself if you're getting cheap rent or a good value. Bangkok rent starts around 3500 baht ($100) up to 150,000 baht ($4615).
We used to live in a 4-bedroom, 2-bath house in Bangkok that started out at 6,000 baht. After a couple of years, the landlord raised the rent to 7,000 baht. When the entire block was purchased by Vejthani Hospital, we were forced to move. My wife looked around, found a place for 10,000 baht and we decided to move in. At the last minute she found a townhouse in the same village that was just as nice and 3,000 baht cheaper so we moved in and have been in the same townhouse for four years.
Food — one person could get by on 4500 baht a month. This works out to 150 baht per day or three meals at 50 baht each. It's enough, barely, and is one person getting by at best. Factoring in groceries, street food, and the occasional meal out, 7,500-9,000 is a more reasonable figure. Our family of four spends 16,000—20,000 baht each month. This works out to 4,000—5,000 baht each per person, per month.
Utilities (Electric, Water, Internet)
Electric — I have several expat friends who regularly pay 500 baht or less for electricity. Granted, they rarely use their air-conditioner. If you live in an apartment or rent a condo, there's a good chance you're paying a little extra, regardless, if you remember to turn your lights off and only use your air-conditioning when absolutely necessary. You should pay no more than 1500 baht a month. We live in a two-story townhouse, have two air-conditioners and our bill ranges from 4500 baht to 5500 baht a month.
Water — If you're living in an apartment, chances are your water will be negligible, maybe 50-100 baht. The maximum our monthly water bill has ever been is 200 baht ($6.15), with the average being 150 baht ($4.62).
Internet — True Internet provides 50/20 service for 799 baht ($24.60). This is fast enough to stream movies and is all our family has needed. If this won't suffice, True also has a 100/30 plan available for 1099 baht ($33.80). Some apartments provide free internet, others provide internet for 300-500 baht, and others either mandate you get your own service or allow you to do so if you like. Internet in Thailand is hit or miss. I have many friends who complain about their apartment's service and some who are happy. The majority of the time we find our internet to be acceptable, even good, but every once in a while we'll have an issue that causes a few days of drama and shaky service.
Transportation — obviously the more you travel, the higher the cost of transportation, however, one of the best things about Thailand is the ease of getting around. If you're in Bangkok you can take the skytrain, subway, boat taxi, bus, motorcycle taxi, taxi, songthaew or minivan. In some cases it makes better financial and logistical sense to take a taxi instead of the skytrain or subway. If you live near the skytrain or subway or pier and travel minimally, 500-1000 baht might be enough.
My wife commutes to work every day and she budgets approximately 200 baht a day including her lunch. Sometimes she takes the boat, sometimes she takes a taxi and sometimes she rides with a coworker. The majority of the time she rides home with her coworker and every month she gives her 1500 baht. My budget for transport fluctuates and I may only spend 1500 baht a month or if I'm going out with my camera several times a week, I may spend as much as 5000 baht. So in this category, I'm going to say 3000 baht. There will be times when the skytrain or subway will suffice and other times when a taxi is necessary. If you own a car, factor in gas, maintenance, insurance and associated licensing fees. If you live in Bangkok, even with your own car or motorcycle chances are you'll still be better off using public transportation every so often.
Mobile Phone — in my opinion a mobile phone is not a necessity. There are times when having one definitely comes in handy. Assuming you want one and use apps to talk to people living locally, 300 baht a month might be enough. You'll have a plan that in addition to providing WIFI when service is available, also allows you to use a certain amount of data per month. My own service is 799 baht + VAT every month (855 baht) and I usually budget 1200 baht a month to allow me to make calls on the phone, without using WIFI or GPRS service.
Miscellaneous — Laundry, garbage pickup, overspending, tips, gifts, donations and unexpected expenses. Life is full of twists and turns and the unexpected. This is where miscellaneous comes in. one day you realize the sewage tanks in your house need to be drained. Five hundred baht times two tanks is 1000 baht. We pay 1500 baht a year for garbage pickup service
Maybe one month you go out more often than usual and end up spending more on transportation and spending than you budgeted for. Take it out of the miscellaneous category. Our family budgets 4000-6000 baht a month, which works out to 2000-3000 each for my wife and I. If you don't need the funds, you can always stash it for a rainy day.
A low-end budget might look something like this:
Rent (5,000 - 10,000) — 7,000
Food (4,500-9,000) — 7,500
Electric (500-1,500) — 1,000
Water (50-100) — 75
Internet (500-1,100) — 800
Transportation (500-2,000) — 1,000
Mobile Phone (500-1,500) — 1,000
Miscellaneous (1,000-2,000) —1,000
Sub-total - 12,550-26,750 (19,375 baht) / $386-$823 ($596)
Note the above budget is sans spending, savings, spending for clothing, travel, dental care, medical care and visa fees. If you smoke, drink, go whoring, have recurring medical issues, credit card debt, pay alimony or child support, your budget could easily exceed a $1500-$2000 dollars a month. Make no mistake though, the $800 a month budget is a low-end budget, meant to get by on until more funds become available. Add in dating, a girlfriend or wife, a kid or two, and the expenses rise even higher.
Spending (2,000-4,000) — 3,000
Savings (1,000-2,000) — 1,500
Dental Care (250-500) —375
Medical Care (1000-2000) — 1,500
Visa Fees (400-1,000) — 700
Sub-total - 4,650-9,500 (7,075 baht)
Total (Range) 17,200 (Lowest End) $529 / 36,250 (Highest End) $1115
Recommended Minimum 26,450 ($813.84) $800
Low-end Budget - $800 per month (Approximately 26,000 baht)
This is only a reasonable long-term budget if the expat is disciplined, knows a little about the country, speaks a little Thai or more importantly, has $200-$300K in the bank, a job or a retirement visa. If a foreigner is living in a home or condo that is owned outright, this can also help. For those living in Thailand on a visa-exempt entry or tourist visa and with no savings, this budget could be challenging, not to mention dangerously low.
Many people believe that if Thais can live off $500 a month, foreigners should be able to as well. However, most foreigners do not wish to retire or move to Thailand for years on end to live in a studio apartment and only eat street food. Personally, I like knowing that if I need ink for my printer, or a new camera lens, or a couple of shirts for my kids, the money is there or will be shortly. I'm not one to piss away money frivolously, but neither did I move to Thailand to be unable to afford a taxi when necessary or buy my kids a pair of new shoes should they need them.
WEEKLY MEET UP
For those interested, unless otherwise noted, I'll be at Starbucks every Tuesday from 10:00AM — 12:30PM starting August 8. I have decided to try these member's only meet ups because logistically, getting visitors and expats all together at one time is difficult. If possible, please let me know in advance if you plan on attending. The Mall Bangkapi is very easy to find.
Via Auto / Motorcycle - Go to to The Mall Bangkapi.
Via Boat: Get off at The Mall Bangkapi pier and walk right in.
Via Skytrain / Subway - Take the Skytrain (BTS) to the Subway (MRT) and get off at Lad Prao station and walk out on the Park and Ride side of the street. Take a taxi to The Mall Bangkapi.
There are three Starbucks in The Mall Bangkapi. I'll be on the ground floor. Starbucks is at the front if the building next to Burger King.
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