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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.