Thailand is one of the world’s best-known tropical paradises and home to many thousands of expatriates enjoying a comfortable, low-cost life amidst the country’s virtually endless natural beauty. Thailand has undergone rapid development in recent decades, spurred partly by its tourism industry. Consequently, many favorite tourist and expatriate destinations offer excellent infrastructure and a wide variety of services oriented to expat needs. However, while living standards have risen, costs remain low.
As of 2015, in its annual survey of worldwide retirement destinations, International Living magazine rated Thailand as the world’s 10th-best country in which to retire. Thailand excelled in three scoring components in particular. It garnered the second-best score in the Cost of Living component, the top score in the Entertainment and Amenities component and the second-best score in the Health Care component. These are excellent results on the three categories most important to a typical expat.
Housing costs vary quite a bit depending on where you settle. That said, a $1,000 monthly budget should be enough to live in whichever city interests you the most in Thailand. Bangkok rents rank among the highest in the country.
In Pattaya one-bedroom apartment in the city center goes for nearly $500 on average, while similar housing in an outlying neighborhood costs just over $300 per month. A two-bedroom condominium outside Pattaya’s center costs about $720. Down the Malay Peninsula, the near-shore island of Phuket has centrally located one-bedroom apartments not far from the beach for just under $390, while two-bedroom condos cost around $975 per month. Farther from the beach, one- and two-bedroom apartments are available for around $200 and $515, respectively.
Basic utilities including water, electricity and garbage service cost $50 or $60 per month in most locations. Bangkok utilities are an exception, averaging around $100 per month. International Living magazine suggests that around-the-clock air conditioning adds about $70 to the monthly electricity bill in most parts of the country. Unlimited broadband Internet service is pretty cheap throughout Thailand, averaging under $20 per month. Prepaid cellphone service averages about five cents per minute across the country. Cellphone plans are also available from a number of Thai providers.
Living costs are quite low in Thailand, especially compared to costs in the United States or Europe. Fresh fruits and vegetables, packaged food products and consumer staples including pasta, bread, eggs and meat are widely available and inexpensive throughout the country. According to Numbeo.com, the national average for a loaf of bread is less than $1, a dozen eggs is about $1.50, rice is less than 50 cents per pound, and boneless, skinless chicken breast is about $1.30 per pound.
Grocery stores in Thai cities overflow with familiar and exotic ingredients to spice up your home-cooked meals. Most expatriates who eat meals primarily at home should be able to dine very well on less than $200 per month. Expatriate reports suggest frugal shoppers can lower this figure by 20% or more while still maintaining a balanced and varied diet. Dining out is also a good option in Thailand, even for those on a budget. A cheap but delicious and hearty meal from a busy local restaurant or a food cart frequented by locals costs less than $1.50. If you feel like splurging, a three-course lunch or dinner at a mid-range neighborhood restaurant costs only about $17 for two people, not including beverages.
Other basic living expenses such as household cleaning products and personal hygiene products are inexpensive in Thailand if you stick to local brands. A budget of $50 to $100 should be plenty for these items. Your costs may be higher if you regularly purchase contact lenses, cosmetics, clothes and souvenirs.
Public transportation options are available everywhere in Thailand. Bangkok has a public bus system and a mass-transit rail system. The most common transportation options outside of Bangkok include taxis, minibuses, motorcycle taxis and three-wheeled vehicles known as tuk-tuks. Taxis are quite inexpensive on average, starting at $1 plus about 40 cents per mile. Other options are substantially cheaper. Numbeo.com data suggests an average fare of less than 60 cents for local transport.
Let’s face it, one of the main reasons people move to Thailand is because it’s pretty cheap, and damn awesome, of course.
Thailand ranks as one of the cheapest places to live in SE Asia. Overall, it’s cheaper than neighboring Laos, Malaysia and Cambodia. For pennies on the dollar you get access to modern comforts and conveniences, including affordable, high quality medical care. On a budget of around $2,000 a month including rent a couple can live well anywhere in the country.
You’ll often hear newcomers express their surprise at how easy it is to acclimatize, to find First World comforts while still enjoying all the excitement of life in Asia.