Live in Thailand on $500 per month

My wife and I recently spent two months in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Relative to living costs, it definitely is one of the best cities for quality of life. There are other great cities around the world, but for a similar lifestyle, you would likely pay many times more. I have already written about why Chiang Mai is such a haven for digital nomads, so in this post I am going to provide more specific details on our living expenses and lifestyle in Thailand. We didn’t quite keep our costs under the elusive $500 per month budget, but we weren’t far off.


Accommodations in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thailand is fantastic for short-term rentals of both guest houses and apartments. While most other countries still expect long-term contracts, Thailand is geared towards casual travelers and has accommodation for every budget and duration.

My wife and I paid $360 per month for a nice hotel style apartment ten minutes walk from the trendy Nimmanhaeman Street of Chiang Mai. Internet was included, but water and electricity were about an extra $30 per month.

Chiang Mai, Thailand - Apartment

$360 per Month Chiang Mai Apartment

There were cheaper options, but we wanted a nice balcony with a view, a usable kitchen and a building with a swimming pool and exercise facilities. Eating breakfast on the garden facing balcony everyday was definitely worth a few dollars per day.

Our Apartment's Balcony

The view from our balcony

I had an uncle say in the busier night market area for about $280 per month. He didn’t have a balcony and the building was a little run down, but it was still very acceptable accommodation.

$280 Chiang Mai Apartment

$280 Chiang Mai Apartment

Another Uncle rents a house outside the city for about $200 with about another $100 per month for Internet and utilities. The house was furnished with three bedrooms, making it a great choice for a family or for those with roommates.

Chiang Mai House - $200 per month

Chiang Mai House – $200 per month

I have also met others who were renting for as little as $100 per month. Great deals like this take a little more leg work, but they are available.

(2016 Update – Here is my latest guide to finding a Chiang Mai apartment. My favourite building is only US$150 per month.

Food and Entertainment.

A meal at a street vendor can be had for as little as $1 per plate. These little food kiosks are set up all over the city so they are easy to find with plenty of options to choose from. One of our favourite meals consisted of:

  • 2 wonton soups $2,
  • Plate of stir fried vegetables $1,
  • 3 barbecued squid $2,
  • 2 large soda waters $1

Total = $6 for two people.

Wonton Soup In Thailand

Wonton Soup In Thailand

One of our favourite restaurants, Kuhn Churn offers a vegetarian buffet with dozens of items, including drinks and dessert for $4 per person. It is very easy to find great dishes in all types of restaurants for $2 to $4.

One of our biggest expenses was for espresso in various cafes where we worked. A latte or cappuccino will cost $2 to $3. Alcohol can also add a lot to your budget, with large beers going for about $3 and cocktails up to $6 in some trendier bars or restaurants.

Fresh coconut water, from a coconut cut open in front of you can be found for $0.50 to $1. Fresh fruit shakes go for $0.65 to $3.

Other Expenses

Thai Massages

One of my favourite parts of Thailand is the inexpensive massages. It is possible to get a one hour massage in the markets for $4, with higher end places charging $10 to $15. My wife and I tried to go for a couple of massages every week.

Visa Runs

Unless you are over 50 years old and have a retirement visa, you will have to leave the country regularly to renew your visa. We had the 60 visa, so we didn’t have to leave, but for longer stays, there are people who leave the country every 30 days. (2014 Update: This used to be 15 days for land crossings and 30 days for air, but 30 day land crossing visas have been reinstated. Crossing the border will give you a 30 day extension.)

You are not supposed to be able to do this indefinitely, but I know of  people who have left the country dozens of times without incident. There are bus tours set up to do visa runs for less than $50, however if you were doing this twice a month it would definitely add to your expenses.

Thailand Living Expenses

Here is a summary of our expenses in Thailand for 2 months including 7 days in Bangkok, which is much more expensive.

  • Rent $630
  • Hotel (6 nights in Bangkok) = $180
  • Return Airfare: Bangkok to Chiang Mai $280 for 2 people
  • Thai 60 Day Visa for two: $80
  • Food and Entertainment: $1141
  • Local Transportation: $124
  • Other: $305

Total = $2740

“Local Transportation” includes all the taxis, trains, tuk tuks and other public transportation in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

Tuk Tuk in Thailand

Tuk Tuk in Thailand

“Other” includes purchasing a table and chairs for our patio, cleaning supplies, clothes, sight-seeing admissions, massages and regular swims in our hotel’s pool at about $1.80 each time.

We also spent $437 on dentists because my wife and I also had some major dental work done, but this amount is not included in the total.

Can you Retire on $500 per month in Thailand?

Overall, our expenses were $1370 per month, which works out to be $685 per person. It is not quite $500 per month, but we aren’t far off. On our next visit, we will stay longer and possibly even fly directly into Chiang Mai, which will lower our total costs substantially.

As a retirement destination, or even a short working vacation, Chiang Mai offers great food, entertainment and weather, all at a price that won’t break the bank. There are decent internet speeds at most cafes, great live music, a growing art scene and countless expats and travellers to meet up with. My wife and I will definitely be going back to Chiang Mai later in the year.

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

107 Responses to Live in Thailand on $500 per month

  1. […] She was right. We now have a pretty firm budget of $1200 a month. But I have to say when were in Chiang Mai we spent $800 a month. More on that in a later […]

  2. Robert says:

    Hi I will be travelling to Thialand for my 4th trip I love the place i met a great thia girl have known her for over 1 year
    I have never been to chang mia planning to stay there for 20 days I’m looking for places to stay that have kitchens
    Close to all on the river side can you recommend any please

  3. neil says:

    how do you go about moving to thailand and living there permanently,turned 50 . no income.just my savings etc.

  4. Stephen Fryer says:

    Thailand was never on my radar until I had a conversation with a woman from China now living in Canada. I asked her how easy is it to go to China to meet a future wife to bring back to Canada. She said very easy but go to Thailand instead, much more affordable. After reading this blog I think she’s turned me unto something. I’m recently divorced and I think my plan will be to live 6 months in Thailand on savings. Then return to Canada to l for our summer months to work to pay for the next 6 months in Thailand. Where in Thailand is the living easy, very reasonable and the weather great from November to April? Thanks for any help offered.

  5. Bob Smith says:

    Looking at retiring to Hau Hin as a single male on a retirement visa, I’m 55, can I live on 70300 thb per month? And could I work on a retirement visa teaching English? and is there a enough of social clubs to keep from going stale?

  6. Melba Leach says:

    I am a teacher in the US and want to teach abroad. I am nearing retirement and am not willing to stay in the US. Where can I get a good Thai book for some basic phrases. Are there many expats in Chaing Mai? Need a/c. Thanks,Melba

  7. Peter Dunlop says:

    Just returned from Phuket.
    No health and safety rules in Thailand.
    Food (meat, fish etc) stored openly at room temp,people coughing and sneezing on meat.
    Nurofen at chemist is fake. (Doesn’t work)
    Bread half the size as in Australia approximately $4, mucher larger loaf in Australia $1.50.
    Punnet of strawberries $8.
    In Australia $4.
    Breakfast at hotel various versions of fried rice and steamed rice. Discovered I have a rice intolerance.
    Thai people love cooking with palm oil (palm oil increases risk of heart disease dramatically).
    In Australia we use olive oil, sunflower oil, canola oil (much healthier options)
    If u want to eat a healthy low fat western diet in Thailand, such as fruit,veges, real meat, virtually impossible and will cost you double the price. And because no health regulations be prepared to be violently ill regularly.
    Couldn’t find immunity boosting foods like garlic and ginger in Thailand.

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