The Cost of Living Luxuriously in Chiang Mai

We had heard the rumours that it’s possible to live in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand very cheaply. It’s one of the reasons that it’s such a popular destination for digital nomads and expats. And we found it to be true – it’s a very inexpensive place to live while maintaining a high standard of living.

Our friend Shannon from A Little Adrift shared her monthly expenses which come in at only $500 a month. This is definitely possible if you stick to a simple studio apartment without a kitchen and eat local street food.

But we aren’t very good at sticking to a rock bottom budget – we wanted a more comfortable apartment to work in, a kitchen to cook our own food, and although we do love Thai food we also like to splurge on the occasional Starbucks mocha frappuccino, pizza, or chocolate cake.

We haven’t worried too much about our spending since being in Chiang Mai. We chose an apartment we love, eat out when we want to, and have hired a motorbike to get around town quickly.

So how much does this rather luxurious lifestyle in Chiang Mai cost? These are our monthly expenses (in USD) for two people:

Monthly Expenses in Chiang Mai
Apartment rent $655
Electricity bill $49
Water bill $8
Internet $33
Food $492
Motorbike rental $79
Petrol $9
Entertainment $26
Total Monthly Expenses $1351 (£847) for 2 people

So what does $675 (£423) a month per person get us in Chiang Mai?

Apartment

Chiang Mai apartment

Our Chiang Mai apartment

We’ve already written about our search for a Chiang Mai apartment and how we ended up spending a lot more than we planned. In the end the 20,000B we pay a month has been completely worth it for a comfortable place to work, separate bedroom, kitchen (rare in Thai apartments), gym, and our gorgeous pool.

Our apartment pool

Our apartment pool

Our electricity and water bills are charged per usage. We use our air con quite frequently and our electricity bill increases in the hotter months. Some apartments include internet but we have to pay per computer (very annoying).

Food

Pad Thai Rod Tum Yum at Pun Pun

Pad Thai Rod Tum Yum at Pun Pun restaurant costs $1.30

We often cook for ourselves and buying vegetables, fruit, rice, noodles, and tofu from the local market is very cheap. But we also splurge on bread and cheese from the supermarket which is a lot more expensive.

Although street food can be found for around $1 a meal we prefer our favourite vegetarian restaurants where we might pay $2 for a dish. We also eat Western food which is definitely more expensive but being here for so long we need some variety in our diet (and Simon can’t survive without pizza). A pizza or large burrito costs around $5.

Other indulgences are Simon’s cappuccinos and frappuccinos, and cookies and cakes from the Butter is Better bakery which is dangerously near to our apartment.

Chocolate cake at Charcoa Cafe

Chocolate cake at Charcoa Cafe costs $2.60

Motorbike Rental

Us on a moped, Chiang Mai

Us on our moped

Chiang Mai is a compact city and it’s possible to manage by walking and taking inexpensive songthaew but we love the freedom of our moped and it’s so much fun! We pay 2400B for monthly rental of our 125cc automatic scooter, but it is possible to find one for less.

Entertainment

Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Singh

Our entertainment spending is very low because we rarely drink alcohol. Most of the socialising we do is at restaurants and those costs are included in our food budget. We do go to the cinema at times which costs about $3 each. We also enjoy free activities like hanging out by our pool or visiting the local wats (temples). Trips to nearby lakes, waterfalls, and botanical gardens don’t cost much either.

Other Expenses

There are some extra expenses that we haven’t included above as we don’t have them every month.

  • We have extended our visa twice in six months which costs 1900B/ $62 per person each time. This gives us an extra month on each entry of our two month tourist visa.
  • We did a visa run once after three months to activate the second entry of our visa. The cost of this depends on where you go.  We rode our moped to the Burmese border at Mae Sai which cost about 450B in petrol, 500B each to enter Burma, and 400B for a hotel in Chiang Rai. In total the two day trip (not including food) was 925B/ $30 per person.
  • Medical care is very inexpensive here but the quality is excellent. I’ve been to the doctors a number of times. A basic examination is $7 and a blood test costs from $15.
  • A haircut was about $7.50 each.

Even including some extras we can live very comfortably in Chiang Mai for $1500/ £944 a month for two people. It’s definitely an inexpensive place to live, even if you don’t choose the cheapest accommodation and food options.

The reason we’ve spent so long in Chiang Mai isn’t the low cost of living though. It’s a very comfortable and easy place to live which is just what we needed to focus on work. We love the food, the weather, the friendly Thai people, the rich and fascinating culture, the mountain views, and the youthful vibe. It has been the perfect base for the last five months and although we’ll be leaving soon, we’ll miss it.

Trail Wallet

Trail Wallet

What’s the cheapest place you’ve lived? Leave a comment and let us know.

88 thoughts on The Cost of Living Luxuriously in Chiang Mai

  1. I can see why people flock to Chiang Mai. Looks like you’ve settled in quite nicely on a very reasonable budget and your photos are wonderful.

  2. I’m both impressed and surprised at your costs — cheaper than I thought you would spend when I found out how expensive your apartment is. Sheesh, I live here and am amazed that you two both manage to live at less than $1500! Also, the lack of alcohol is part of what keeps the costs low, like you, it’s more of hanging out at restaurants and that makes expenses significantly lower than they’d be otherwise. :)

    • Not drinking alcohol definitely keeps costs down – we’d always rather spend the money on tasty food :)

    • When you take the booze out of the picture, one can live very well in Thailand with a modest budget. I rarely eat western food out cause I can cook pretty well myself this also can bring the budget down greatly.. I live very comfortably on $600 a month, “not quite like Erin” and also documented a month on just $400 on my site.

  3. Wow, you guys have made me want to settle down in Thailand for a while! I plan to visit at some point, perhaps teach English there for a while. Since I’m starting in Europe and biking, by the time I reach that area I might well enjoy settling down for a few months. I’m jealous! These last few years of university can’t go by fast enough…

    • We know a few English teachers here and it’s a great option if you don’t have an online business. It’s a good place to settle for a while and rest up after months of travel.

  4. Thanks for the great information. When people share their expenses it really helps the rest of us plan for traveling abroad. Thanks again.

  5. Great insights into life in Chiang Mai. Your pix of food never fail to entice my tastebuds.
    What a lovely apartment. The pool must feel wonderful on a hot, humid day.
    I enjoy living vicariously from Utah!

  6. Great post, Erin! Even though everything is so cheap in Chiang Mai, we still managed to spend about $800 per person per month. This was without trying to be frugal though, and I am sure we could have spent less had we been on a tighter budget. I still find less than $30 per day including accommodation, food and all other costs to be fantastic.

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  8. Sometimes we just gotta splash out! I do similar things, and it’s STILL way cheaper than living a basic no-frills life back in expensive parts of Europe ;)

  9. Wow, I can’t believe how cheap your monthly bill for water and petrol is! To think that in Spain per week and with a car I spend 30 euros! Living in Thailand would be incredibly amazing, and from your post I can totally understand why!

  10. I only spent 5 days in Chiang Mai last Christmas but can’t wait to be back there in two weeks! It’s not only amazing how great the value is there, but how beautiful the city is, how much there is to do, and how vibrant the culture is. One of my favorites: $10 for a half day cooking class that included a 3 course lunch! Can’t beat that!

  11. Ahh, Butter is Better! We probably spent half our food budget on all those delicious pastries. Plus we bought two (or more) of their delicious whole grain loaves of bread every week. =P

    Your monthly costs aren’t bad at all – we likely spent something along those lines, though perhaps a little more because our apartment was more expensive. I think we might have spent less in transportation, though, which I didn’t expect (as we used songtaews instead of a bike rental).

    • Who can resist Butter is Better?! Yum.

      It’s more expensive to rent a motorbike but we love zipping around on it.

    • I still find myself running over town to make sure I get good butter, nothing sucks like going to big C and seeing your favorite NZ butter out of stock..

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  13. $1351? What! Wow! I make a measly $150 usd a month at MCD in Chiang Mai. How in the world do you manage to have so much money. That’s a lot of money for 2 people to spend in Chiang Mai or even the USA. When I was living in Queens, NYC, rent was $150 split 4 ways. Food is cheaper in the USA by all means. A chicken sandwich cost $1 and water is free. I got paid cash as a waitress on my spare time and massaged players at poker games for tip. I was able to save over 5000k a month in NYC and was living luxuriously. $150 a month is a far cry from the $5000 I was making in NYC. If I had $1200 to spend in Chaing Mai a month. The sky would be the limit. A mansion, a car, a maid, a cook, a bathroom attendant, a driver, a masseuse, somebody doing the visa run for me and still have about $200 left for savings.
    Maybe it’s only because I have connections and the know how as a Thai native.
    Just a broke thai citizen dreaming of going back to america to live it up.

  14. Looks like quite a nice lifestyle in Chiang Mai. I think I could be very comfortable in that apartment and have plenty to do — affordably.

    • It’s definitely a comfortable lifestyle and Chiang Mai is very liveable. It’s popular with everyone from young backpackers to retirees escaping European and American winters.

  15. Wow – Great post. Thanks for sharing the budget specifics. We are getting ready to go on our own year-long travel sojourn and reading posts like this are very exciting. It is a great resource about the actual costs associated with long-term travel. Thanks again :)

  16. Not much point battling to live frugally if you can get away with such a great lifestyle for such a relatively low cost :) Great post, really informative. Must swing by Chiang Mai for a few months at some point and relax!

  17. This is really informative. There is a good chance I am going to end up living in CM for a bit, and this really helps give me a good idea as to what my expenses will look like! Thanks for this!

  18. Hi Thanks for sharing about your adventures and budget which was quite a good read. We were just in Thailand on vacation which is quite different and were on the south coast and most definitely would go back and stay longer if we had a means for working. safe travels

  19. 1500$ for Chiang Mai? Where do you live? In a palace for sure!! I live in a comfortable 1 bedroom apartment in Hang Dong which is a really nice town about 5 Km from Chiang mai and I pay 7000 baht per month (w/swimming pool + fitness). Plus I buy food and other supplies from Lotus and Siam Makro for 6000 baht every month. Adding utilities + transportation and entertainment I would say another 5000. The total is 18.000 baht per month and we live in two. Maybe you throw away so much money cause you are two farangs and every time Thais see you like walkin’ bags of money and double charge you. Shannon has been much more realistic in her blog. Pardon me if I’m impolite

    • Thanks for the info. I am actually glad to read that the $1350 or so is actually considered outrageous by several here–that you can still get a decent place, with a pool, and eat decently for a whole lot less!

  20. Great info! I don’t like the idea of living at rock bottom budget conditions but I definitely like to save money, so this is very helpful. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Amazing! I’m considering spending half a year or so abroad with my youngest daughter. Chiang Mai sounds almost too good to pass up.

  22. I love Chiang Mai but we wouldn’t move from Nakhon Sawan because there is too much to potentially blow your money on. N.S is a typical Thai town with nothing to blow cash on. There is a KFC and a Pizza Company and thats it for Western food! We’re working here and saving for our travels. As a result we don’t have a pool but the park and free gym is 2 minutes walk away. We have more than we need and live comfortably on less than 10,000 baht a month between the two of us. Perhaps because we are fresh out of uni and used to saving our pennies it makes it a bit easier for us. Even so, interesting to hear how the other half live ; )

    • It’s definitely possible to live in Thailand for much cheaper. We are in our early 30s and work online from our apartment so have different priorities. Chiang Mai definitely has a lot of temptations!

  23. Well, now I will have a special budget set aside just for this. Why not? Pinch pennies everywhere else and kill it in Chang Mai.

    Great Article!

  24. Great breakdown and useful one as well – I plan to move to CM in September so this info is pure gold. My monthly budget is lower (around $1k), but I all by myself so it shouldn’t be a problem :)

    Kacmi
    1000 Calorie Challenge

  25. Your pool does look fantastic. But I think we save a lot by not having a pool and not being within walking distance of any pricey cafes!
    I do love it here, though. I’m going to miss Chiang Mai a lot when we move on.

  26. This is a great example of what you can get in Thailand. It took me 18 months to figure the cheese thing out, just go to Macro and buy it by the kilo 800b gets you two months supply. I’m just starting to like Chiang Mai slowly after a few visits. I settled on it’s little sister Chiang Rai. The only thing we dont have here is a community of people working online, apart from that Chiang Rai rocks let me know if your in my neck of the woods some time.. 089-263-8286

  27. I am glad that I stumbled upon your blog. I love how you are documenting not “travels”, per se, but a rich and rewarding lifestyle! Chiang Mai sounds awesome, I may have to add it to my list. I spent 7 weeks in Japan last year (mostly up north in Sapporo), and absolutely loved it. In about 6 weeks I am leaving the U.S. on what will be an around the world trip of at least a few months, but I’ve been thinking for some time that I simply won’t come back, except to visit.

    Love what you’re doing, and thank you so much for sharing your life with the web! :)

  28. Thank you for a very informative and encouraging site. We are looking at retiring in Thailand and hope to be there soon. With all our children grown up and spread across the world it sounds like a great solution to being in an accessable and facinating place for them to visit us.

    • Thailand would be a great place to retire. There were plenty of retirees in Chiang Mai and you can live very comfortably. I hope you make it there soon.

  29. Great info. Planning to retire to Chiang Mai in a couple of years. Have been living in China for five years and have visited Thailand a couple of times. Fell in love with CM (and the cooking classes!)
    The only thing that worries me is the internet speed since I do a lot of stuff online. I have heard mixed reviews, although anything will be better than China. How have you found the internet compared to other places?

    • We work online so internet speed is important to us too. It’s fine in Chiang Mai although sometimes gets slower in the evenings. I think our problems were more to do with the annoying internet provider our apartment building used though.

  30. hello, thanks for sharing your travel experiences especially in Thailand,it was a big help knowledge for us as a couple too. actually we are also planning to visit Thailand. I am a filipino and my husband is american. we are currently living here in my country (Philippines) so maybe you can also visit Philippines sometime. God Bless on your Futures trips Guys.

    Thanks alot

    Irene Agua Key

  31. Hi all, I am 54 years old, I have worked all my life (38 years), I want to move and retire in Thailand, I can have $2500 per month coming from USA without working, I want to move and never return to USA, but I am so worried and unsecure in taking this step, I really need some advise and dirctions form young pepole like all of you to do this, please give me your advice. Thank you so much
    my e-mail: torab92128@yahoo.com

    • Hi Torab,
      That would be a very decent income in Thailand, especially in Chiang Mai. There are many retirees in Thailand and they live a very comfortable lifestyle. It’s always scary before you leave but perhaps you should visit Thailand first to get a feel for the place. We say make the leap and you won’t regret it. Good luck and let us know if you have any questions.

  32. Thanks for sharing your costs of living – it’s very useful for people planning to spend some time in Chiang Mai! Seems that Chiang Mai is a paradise for all mobile entrepreneurs. Northern Thailand fascinates me. I think that Thailand in general is a very nice place for vacation, long-term stays and retirement.

  33. All considering still not bad. Not everyone can live so very frugally and I feel that sometimes if you want to splurge a little, why not? I have a weakness for American style food sometimes too now that I live in Germany so I can understand the need for something like pizza. :)

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  35. I’m 62 years old and I have an income of around 2500 per month. What I’m concerned about living in CM is the cost of long term health insurance and then an eldercare facility.
    Can anyone recommend a website for information?

  36. My husband and I left the Philippines with our four children about 27 years ago. Without any definite plans of staying ,we came back to our country as senior citizens.Initially we were leaving on a one person early retirement income but this coming months we hope to live on both our early sss USA retirement pension. To augment our monthly income we have an extra receivables to pay the tuition of my husband in the medical school. His childhood dream was to be a doctor. He finished his MBA and a nursing degree and at 62 yrs old he is a medical student. Living in a rented newly built 2-bedroom home in a gated subdivision in the province and with a driver in our 2008 Toyota avanza is a dream retirement for a senior couple like us. Initially, it was not easy to get the best deals of bargaining since everyone looked at us as a dollar earner but eventually we learned to live the Filipino culture of bargaining and live a simple but comfortable life in the Philippines. In California we left our Church Prayer Group of seniors and we continue to invite everyone to touch base with us when they come back for a visit. There’s really no place like home. Contact us if you need info on how to retire in the Philippines anytime!

  37. Great article. We’re thinking about Chiang Mai next year. We’re digital nomads too – obviously internet is important. Can you give a sense of the speed and reliability you’ve found? And have you got any redundancy – for instance I have an unlocked iPhone where I can buy a data sim which I’ve used as backup (currently on the Croatian coast). Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

    • I am not sure of exact speeds but it was pretty decent and reliable. There is WiFi available in pretty much every cafe so there are plenty of backups if you have a problem in your apartment. Lots of people get Thai SIM cards for their iPhones and I think data is cheap so that’s always an option.

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  39. I last visited Thailand and Chiang Mai in 1990. I always thought I would go back, but your post has convinced me. We now live and work in Mexico, but Thailand seems to be calling.

    • We would definitely recommend it as a great place to live and work. We are actually heading in the other direction – to Mexico this winter.

  40. Hello
    I’m  a former security officer looking at moving  to Thailand . first i would like to visit-for a month in mid-January and wondering where is the best place to locate? 
    It has been recommend that Chiangmai is less expressive and beautiful.   

    I had looked at living in Koh Samui (Bophut) for the whole time but on closer inspection it seems that apartments in Bangkok, with a higher standard of finish, are much cheaper. If Bangkok fit the bill (with the exception of the beach), I could base myself there in a cheap apt and travel every few weeks to get the beach…

    Any recommendations on where to live would be great – first time to Thailand so feel free to be as specific as you wish!
    My aim for the  first month is  to visit and simply to work out in the gym, of course visit the sites and essentially live the easy life! However, I would like to be close to some sort of night life at the same time. So, in short, I would like to have the following within easy commute (preferably at my doorstep!)
    Also go to process to attain visa to live in Thailand  

    1) full weight and cardioGym
    2)pool
    3) City/Town with a good level of nightlife
    4) public transportation 

    A studio apartment would be sufficient but should have WIFI, a/c and cable TV and small kitchen
    My budget for accommodations would be in the region of 6,000-10,000 baht per month.
     
    Thank you

    Tony 
    Securitypro16@gmail.com

    • Hi Tony
      Well we only spent extensive periods in Chiang Mai which would meet your needs and Koh Lanta which has beaches but less nightlife and I’m not sure about the gym. Some people love Bangkok but it’s a bit too much of a big hectic city for our tastes. Maybe just try it and see if you like it and if not head to somewhere like Chiang Mai.

  41. $655 for an apartment? oh boy, you are paying way way above what you could rent a house for. Food $492? How do you manage to eat so much? I live with my wife on $1500 a month, everything included, we live well. We fill the freezer once a month for $60, drink about $50 of beer a month, are renovating our house, have a car….

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