Living in Thailand on $650 per month
I tracked all of my expenses for 30 days straight and recorded everything I spent. Below is a full breakdown of my cost of living in Thailand.
Note: I live in Phuket, a large island in the south of Thailand—and Thailand’s most expensive province. Undoubtedly, one could live even cheaper in another part of Thailand, especially up north in the Chiang Mai area. I currently work as a teacher, and my employer provides me with basic medical insurance for motorbike accidents and illnesses, so travel insurance is not included in this guide. Also, this guide does not take into account the cost of visa runs.
Anyone who has explored or wished to travel through Southeast Asia is surely aware of the low cost of living in Thailand and its neighboring countries. Aside from the food, culture, and history of the region, part of the allure of traveling through SEA is living well for a fraction of what it costs to live in the US, Europe, or Australia. During my third month of living in Thailand, I decided to discover my actual cost of living and see how much I was spending in a given month.
I tracked my expenses for 30 days straight and recorded everything I spent money on in a little notebook. I figured the third month is a fair estimation of my average expenses. My first two months here I had to buy various things I needed, and I said yes to nearly every opportunity that came up with friends. But now that I’ve settled into life here, it seems probable that my expenses will remain approximately the same from month-to-month.
In this cost of living guide, I’ll be breaking down just how much I spent on food (going out to eat), groceries, transportation, entertainment, beer, and other general things during this month.
I’m starting with food because it’s one of the best things about living in Thailand. A standard Thai meal usually costs around 60 baht ($1.68) and will include rice, meat, veggies, and sometimes a fried egg or small bowl of soup depending on the dish. If you’re happy eating Thai food all the time, you can easily spend 200 baht (<$6) a day on food. I try to keep most of my meals in the 50-80 baht range, and a few times a week I’ll splurge on something more expensive such as Penang curry (120 baht) or western food like a pizza (~200 baht).
During this month I went out to eat 79 times, and paid a total of 6,395 baht ($180). Food is my largest expense here, but I eat at least 3 meals a day and get to eat out for every meal (although some mornings I just have cereal or oatmeal for breakfast).
Pros of this lifestyle:
- Delicious food that I didn’t have to prepare
- Constantly getting to try new places to eat
- Never having to wash dishes
- It’s harder to eat healthy when you’re not the one preparing the food
- Sometimes I can’t find a place to eat that looks appetizing and I wander around for a while
- I enjoy cooking and I miss it sometimes
Examples of dishes I regularly eat:
Total food costs (eating out): 6,395 baht = $180
Most of my money spent on groceries went towards water, fruit, cereal and milk, nuts, and peanut butter. Since my apartment doesn’t offer means to do any home cooking, my grocery shopping trips were pretty simple and straightforward. I only spent 1,969 baht ($55) on groceries for the month.
To break this down into further detail, I spent 409 baht on bottled water (I don’t drink the tap water here), 205 baht on fruit, and 1,355 baht on all the breakfast items mentioned above (and multiple jars of peanut butter).
Here is a more detailed breakdown of what typical grocery items cost at a supermarket.
Total food costs (groceries): 1,969 baht = $56
Prices for housing can vary quite a bit depending on the location, but here in Phuket there are beautiful condos in high-rise complexes for 8,000 – 11,000 baht ($225-$310) per month.
In addition to the 8,000 – 11,000 baht for rent, you’ll have to pay for electric, water, and internet (which will probably cost around 2,000 baht total). Condos like this typically require a minimum of 6 months with your lease—with some requiring a year—and you’ll have to pay a 1-2 month security deposit. If you do negotiate a month-to-month contract, your monthly rate will be higher. With that said, your total housing expenses for a place like the one pictured on the right will probably cost between 10,000 – 13,000 baht per month ($280 – $365).
Furthermore, condos in these large complexes typically have a pool and fitness center with free access for residents. The condos at the price point mentioned above are usually a single room, sometimes with a sliding partition to separate the bedroom from the living room. Air conditioners are always included (if not, look elsewhere). They should include a small kitchen, a separate bathroom, and a balcony. The kitchens are basic compared to western standards, but they typically include a microwave, electric kettle, hot plate or counter-top stove, sink, mid-size fridge, and maybe a toaster.
Alternatively, if you can’t afford to spend this amount of money on rent, or if you simply wish to live in more basic accommodation and forego some things (namely, a kitchen), you can find nice studios for 5,000 – 7,000 baht ($140-$195). This is the route I chose as I’d rather save money.
Here’s a basic, minimalistic studio apartment that will run 5,000 – 6,000 baht. It doesn’t have a kitchen or much storage space, but I don’t own much so this isn’t an issue.
Housing costs breakdown:
5,000 baht for rent = $140
1,900 baht for utilities = $53
Total housing costs: 6,900 baht = $193
Transportation – Motorbike Rental
The most common mode of transportation in Thailand is via motorbike. If, before coming to Thailand, you’ve never driven a motorbike before, you’ll fit right in. I never drove or even rode a motorbike in my life before coming here, and I rented one on my third day. And I love it. Everyone I know here drives a motorbike, and the roads are inundated with them. It can be incredibly intimidating at first to pull out onto a busy road with almost no traffic laws, but you can pick up tips by observing the Thai drivers and then mimicking what they do.
Anyways, if you’re going to be staying in Thailand long-term or even just for a few months, you should look into renting a motorbike by the month. This is especially true for a large island like Phuket, but in a dense city like Bangkok I’ve heard that a motorbike isn’t needed). The price for renting a motorbike ranges from 2,200 – 2,500 baht ($61 – $70) per month, and that may include a helmet rental as well. If your helmet is a flimsy piece of plastic though as many are, consider investing in a more protective and reliable helmet.
Additionally, motorbike insurance isn’t required by law here as it is in the U.S., but if you’re renting your bike and you damage it, be prepared to pay for the repairs.
For my motorbike, I pay 2,500 baht per month. It’s a Honda Click 125i, and I rent it from a friend. It’s also an automatic transmission so learning to drive it was fairly simple.
As for gas, my total cost was 410 baht ($12) for the month. I filled my tank 9 times throughout the month, so on average about twice a week. This is barely an expense at all, but I still wanted to include it.
I also took a cab a couple times, which cost me 200 baht (<$6).
Transportation costs breakdown:
Motorbike rental – 2,500 baht = $70
Gas – 410 baht = $12
Cab – 200 baht = $6
Total transportation costs: 3,110 baht = $88
This is a broad category and will vary greatly from person-to-person, as it’s entirely subjective to one’s habits and preferences. I enjoy free or very cheap hobbies such as reading, hiking, working out, and swimming, so this is a small expense for me. Also, while I may live where the cost of living in Thailand is the highest, I’m surrounded by various activities. And I’m never more than a 20 – 30 minute motorbike ride to the beach, where I can rent a surfboard for an hour or two (150-250 baht), go snorkeling, or simply play in the waves.
Since my apartment building does not include a fitness center, I joined a gym near me for 1,000 baht ($28) per month. I’m happy to pay this considering it’s a full gym with a bench, squat rack, and dumbbells, whereas many of the fitness centers I’ve seen here at apartment complexes are basic and lack proper weights.
In addition, I’m going to include alcohol in this category because if I’m enjoying a beer or two, it’s always with friends either at the beach, out to eat, at a bar, or wandering around a street market. Before starting this experiment of tracking my expenses, I told myself I wanted to budget 1,500 – 2,000 baht per month on alcohol. To my happy surprise, I met my goal. I spent a total of 1,489 baht ($42) for the month. That was going out more than half of the Fridays and Saturdays in a given month.
Entertainment costs breakdown:
Gym – 1,000 baht = $28
Booze – 1,489 baht = $42
Used books – 140 baht = $4
Total entertainment costs: 2,629 baht = $74
Phone (with minutes and 3 gigabytes of data for the month) – 500 baht = $14
Laundry (8 loads) – 310 baht = $9
Medical (band-aids, isopropyl alcohol) – 100 baht = $3
Clothing (flip-flops, two ponchos) – 385 baht = $11
Hygiene (toothbrush, hand soap) – 196 baht = $6
Total other costs: 1,491 baht = $43
Total overall expenses: 22,494 baht = $635
There are numerous reasons Thailand is so popular for expats and tourists: delicious cuisine, a fascinating culture, friendly locals, stunning beaches and jungles, and an incredibly cheap cost of living. A dollar goes far in Thailand and one could easily live a lavish lifestyle, but if you simply want to live comfortably, save money and travel often, Thailand is a great place to do that. While living in a foreign country presents occasional hurdles and petty frustrations, they are worth enduring for the incredible experiences waiting to be found. If you’re looking to leave your home country for a spell or permanently, Thailand is a welcome place to start.
Lastly, if you have any questions or comments about the cost of living in Thailand, please feel free to send me a message or comment below.