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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|
|Total Monthly Expenses||$1351 (£847) for 2 people|
So what does $675 (£423) a month per person get us in Chiang Mai?
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
$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….
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
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.
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.
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.