The Cost of Living Luxuriously in Chiang Mai

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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).

Tip: We recommend buying the Nancy Chandler Chiang Mai map for lots of useful recommendations that you won’t find in guidebooks. 

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.

Read our detailed guide to living in Chiang Mai for everything you need to know. 

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.

We track our travel expenses using our iOS app Trail Wallet. It’s designed especially for travellers so you can set a daily or trip budget, quickly add expenses while you are out and about in all world currencies (and see how much it costs in your home currency), and see which categories you’re spending the most cash on with the pie chart.

It even makes budgeting fun with a range of themes and characters. Join over 150,000 other travellers and try Trail Wallet for free from the App store

Are you planning your next travel adventure? See our Travel Resources page for our favourite tools and gear to help you plan the perfect trip. 

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75 Comments (13 pingbacks)

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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?

  4. 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. :)

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.