My wife and I have finally gotten settled in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We spent a few days in Bangkok and are now going to stay here for 7 weeks before heading to Australia.
It has been about 6 years since we have been to Thailand, but this is first time we made the trip up north to Chiang Mai.
Why Chiang Mai is Popular for Retirees, Expats and Long-term Travellers
Every long term traveller makes it to Chiang Mai sooner or later, and for good reasons. Great food, great weather and great prices make it a hard city to top.
At only 1.6 million people, Chiang Mai is a little tamer than the raucous streets of Bangkok and its 9.1 million inhabitants. The lack of any public transportation system keeps the traffic a little crazy, but it is also possible to escape to the mountains or to nearby towns.
Chiang Mai Living Expenses
There is no denying that the cost of living is a huge factor in attracting foreign visitors and retirees. My wife and I have a hotel style apartment for $360 per month. My uncle is renting a three-bedroom house outside the city for only $200. I recently met up with Nomadic Matt and he was paying $7 a night for a guest house. Really posh flats can be found for $500 to $1000 if you wanted to splurge, even cheaper if you rent for a year. (2016 update – Check out my Guide to Finding Chiang Mai Apartments. My family has been renting a US$150 per month apartment in recent years.)
Meals typically range from $1 a dish in a cafeteria-style restaurant or food stand to $3 dollars for a nicer sit-down restaurant. Everything is made fresh so the food is fantastic.
Fresh fruit shakes are about $1.25 and a beer in a bar is $2 – $3 for the large 750 ml bottle.
There are endless markets and shops selling inexpensive tourist items, clothing and bootleg software and DVDs. Cafes are everywhere from McDonald’s, Starbucks, Doi Chang and many nicer local shops with good coffee at half the price of the franchises.
I am getting some major dental work done here at about 10% of the cost of Canada. The money I save on the dentist alone will more than pay for our entire stay and airfare.
Retire in Thailand
If you were frugal, Chiang Mai could quite possible be a great city to retire on $500 per month. Eating out two meals a day, going to a cafe every day and not really watching our budget, I estimate that my wife and I can quite comfortably live on less than $1500 a month here. If we were to stay here for the long term, travel less and spend more time at home, we could easily get it under $1000 per month for the two of us. That would get us under that elusive $500 a month retirement budget.
Over all it is a fantastic place to set up a home base for a couple of months.
I have already met Nomadic Matt, like I mentioned but I also have plans to connect with Erin and Simon from NeverEndingVoyage.com, Mary and Warren Talbot of Married with Luggage, James Clark of Nomadic Notes, and possibly even Cody Mckibben of ThrillingHeroics.com.
We haven’t done much work in the last couple of weeks, but hopefully that will change starting now. I will provide a more detail update on our plans, cost of living in Thailand and hopefully some videos very soon.
I’ve been living in Chiang Mai for about 2 weeks now and I totally agree. You really don’t need much to live here (can live on around 600 without really sacrificing too much). So if your nomadic businesses are clearing around 800-1000 a month, you’re not only living a pretty nice life…but saving tons. I love this city.
Thank you for the comment! $600 per month is great.
I have seen guest houses with rooms from $120 per month and with meals as little as $1 a plate, it is possible to eat out three times a day and still be under the $500 budget.
Can’t wait to get up there, experience Chiang Mai, and meet you guys. See you around Feb 26th!
Looking very forward to your cost of living updates and videos if possible. Enjoy your stay!!
Thailand, and specifically Chiang Mai, is one place I’m thinking about retiring early too.
We will be here!
Chiang Mai is definitely a great place to spend more time. We are talking about spending more time here every year.
The pollution is a little too much though. We are also going to check out Chiang Rai soon. Maybe that slower pace will be a little more to our liking. It sure would be nice to be able to run outside.
Hi John, great to meet up at last – glad you made the move!
It was great meeting you as well. I look forward to getting together again.
We are in Chaing Mai right now. We’re at a guest house until Sunday and were hoping to find an apartment for about 2 weeks before heading out to Laos. We’d love to meet up with some expats to h Eli get better aquatinted to the city, suggestions on how and where to find an apt, etc. please let me know if you’re interested to meet up!
Hi Jenny, Thanks for the comment. I will send you an email to meet up somewhere.
Hi John and hi all you digital nomads guys.
I’m Thai right now and I’ll be soon on Chiangmai.
I look forward to meet some digital nomads, since I’m quite ready to be one myself, with my few steady clients and living in a place with low cost of living…
The problem is to find the will to go back to work.
So I’d like to have someone working on my side in order to create a nice working “environment”…
You know what I mean?
Thanks for the comment.
There are many dozens of digital nomads working in cafes all over the city so it shouldn’t be too hard to find people to connect with. There are several Chiang Mai Facebook Groups as well that are good to connect with people. Please email when you get to town and I can help direct you.
I’ll definitely let you know when I’ll be in Chiang Mai.
Right now I’m in koh samui for at least a couple of days. Then I think I’ll go to Krabi, and then I think I will be ready to head to the north…
My husband and i will be in Chiang Mai by the first week of May. We need a place to stay in budget but not so budget that i have to fend off cockroaches and go to the bathroom at a nice wifi friendly cafe, you know what i mean? hehe… We only get Free Visa’s for 30 days, so i guess a place for 3 weeks is great! We will fly into Bangkok from Vietnam and then train up to Chiang Mai. I’m passing on Phuket after reading blogs like this one!! I don’t want to be a pain but how do i find exact names and places to rent for a good price for 3 weeks. Is it cheaper to rent for the whole month even if staying only 3 weeks? I am a GREAT follower and am not picky… but a location relatively close to the city and meeting people would be awesome. I don’t know where else to look aside from CS and Air BNB. It seems that i always end up reading about how cheap and wonderful a place is but i never get actual names of a place to stay.. at least some sort of guild line… like stay at this place for 1-3 nights and look at places on this street… expect to pay around 200-300 but don’t pay upfront.. etc.. any help thanks!!!!!
Three weeks is probably not long enough to get decent monthly rates. We stayed at Green Hill Place near Nimmanhaeman road for $360 per month. The $280 rooms are smaller and have less of a view. That might be a good option for you.
Smith residence has some nice monthly apartments and is in a great location, but I am not sure if they are worth it if you are only staying for three weeks. You will find dozens of nice places to stay if you walk around a little. My favorite area is Nimmanhaeman because of all the nice cafes and it is away from the back packer areas. I would avoid the night market area. It is a nice place to visit but not particularly a nice area.
Chiang Mai Residence is really nice, close to the mall (supermarket) and right on NW corner of the old city, and only 10 minutes walk from the Jazz Co-op for some great live music. For only three weeks, this would be a good choice. Their breakfast buffet is not great but the rooms are really veryclean and the location is convenient.
Wow, excellent post guys! Chiang Mai sounds like an incredible place to be. I’m still absolutely amazed at the prices for something that would be considered high luxuries here in the states, specifically all the amazing food and massages, ALL THE TIME. Have you taken the time to do a cost comparison of what this lifestyle would cost in the States? Definitely putting Chiang Mai on the map for my next South East Asia adventure! The food looks incredible, really cheap to live, and everything I’ve heard says that the Thai people are incredibly nice and hospitable! Thanks for writing this post
Thanks for talking the time to comment. Renting a hotel style apartment for a couple of months, eating out every meal (and the food is good, not the processed garbage in the west), going to live music venues, getting full body massages a couple times a week, using taxis as your primary transportation, etc. would easily cost $6000 to $8000 a month in a typical city in the US. Thailand is fantastic, but it is westernizing fast. It has changed a lot since I first visited more than 15 years ago.
I’m new to your blog, not sure how I found it but glad I did.
I am currently living in Bangkok but would love to move to Chiang Mai one day.
Could you please tell me a bit more about that three bedroom house for $200 a month please? Do you know how much three bedroom places near the town are per month?
I’ve spent some time in Chiang Rai and it is a lot smaller than Chiang Mai. The town is just one little street although it does have a Central mall out of town. But it is close to the Golden Triangle and is great for going on treks and stuff. But not sure I could live there as too small.
Have you thought about Pai? I’ve not been there but it is supposed to be nice and in the same region.
Great blog, I’ve subscribed to new posts and the email list.
Thanks a lot!
Sorry, I missed this comment before I emailed you.
The way to get inexpensive houses is to live away from the city center and find a Thai introduction. My uncle found that house through a friend of a friend.
The best deals for house rentals are longterm. If you rent for a year, the price is generally half that of a monthly rate. We have found some beautiful houses in the city, but they tend to go for $700 to $1000. There are cheaper and older Thai style houses outside the city, but we don’t want to make the commute.
Pai sounds nice in the off season, but in peak season it gets overrun with backpackers. We haven’t been there, but we were talking to a Thai that used to live there and he said it has completely changed in the last few years. We try to stay away from the backpacker scene.
Everything about Chiang Mai is great, except the pollution and traffic. We love the cafes, restaurants, music scene and all the digital nomads that work here. However, the air can get bad, particularly in the new year when they start burning the rice husks. However, coming from Bangkok it will probably be cleaner and more relaxed for you. 🙂
Hi John, thanks for the reply.
I will have a look for some online listings of properties in Chiang Mai. If we could find a three bedroom place for around $600 that would be doable. Our condo in Bangkok is about $500 per month and is nice so I’d hope to pay about the same in Chiang Mai.
I’ve never really noticed the pollution in Bangkok, unless walking down Sukhumvit or other main roads at rush hour, and how often do you walk in Bangkok? 😉 Is it much worse in CM? I never noticed it before when we went.
I would like to spend 3-6 months up there but not sure if it will happen. Might leave Thailand altogether for our next move.
I think you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a 3 bedroom place for $600, especially if you commit to half a year or more. One year rentals can be found for half of that.
I don’t think the pollution here is worse then Bangkok but it does get bad in burning season.
Here’s my digital nomad review of Chiang Mai, check it out for another nomad’s view of this wonderful city.
There is a mistake: Chiang Mai has a population of 184.887 (wikipedia), not 1.6 million.
Sorry, I made a mistake in the post.
I guess it depends on which “Chiang Mai” you are talking about. If you only count the central core, than it is under 200,000 like you say, but the metropolitan area extends out further and encompasses a much greater area and population. (Over 1 million)
Chiang Mai is also the name of the province and it has a population of 1.6 million.
Karl Thew | Static Shift
Hey, I’m currently reading the 4 hour work week, and have decided that the life of the digital nomad is very appealing to me. So I am just starting to do some research. I have never been to any Asian countries, but I’m thinking Thailand sounds like the perfect place to start. I’d be wanting to go for 2-3 months. I’m 25 and run a web design & SEO company in Australia. I currently spend too much time working in the business so I’m looking to reduce that drastically through automation etc over the next 6-12 months so that I can set off.
Being fairly young still (and single) I am looking for a place where I can relax and work in a stress-free environment, near a beach, get massages and good food etc, but also where I’m only 10-15 minutes away from a city where you can party and meet lots of people. I wouldn’t mind there being backpackers as it’s appealing to me to meet lots of people from all over the world. I’m not interested in the girlie bars etc. I want to meet real girls 🙂
Any suggestions for good areas to look into? I would appreciate any direction you can give.
p.s. I love the blog and it has been bookmarked and subscribed for regular reading 🙂
Thanks for the comment Karl!
Beaches and city is a little difficult to combine. Chiang Mai is an amazing city, but there are any beaches. Krabi and many of the smaller islands are also cool, but none have the culture, music and cafes of Chiang Mai. You can always get to an island for less than $100 though.
I’m seriously thinking of retireing to Asia.
I’m 66, on an Aussue aged pension and working about 10 hours a week that gives me an extra $300 a week… a job I can continue doing anywhere in the world as long as I can get good Internet access at home and Sky channel for the Aussie greyhound races.
I’d be looking to rent a Thai house, with Air con and several bedrooms, full kitchen etc. My budget assuming I can get Sky channel and internet (for my work) would be about $2,400 a month (pension plus my casual job).
Based on what I’m reading here I think I’d be relatively “well off” in Thailand.
Any info on Aussie dog and horse racing on Sky or similar in Thailand, and costs, including high speed internet?
$2400 is a huge amount of money to live on in Thailand. You can rent houses for as little as $200 per month. My wife and I spend about $1000 to $1200 as a couple.
Thanks for replying John.
My main concern is the availability of receiving of Greyhound racing via a satelite service in Thailand.
I asked our pay TV here that has a racing channel, but they have no idea if their service goes into Thailand.
I know its available by satelite in the Philipines, so I’m sure I could get it in thailand, but I have no way of knowing how to find out.
If its not available my only income would be my pension… it would be reduced I think, but should still be about $1200 a month
I agree that for someone who wants a slower pace of life, Chiang Mai is a good place to investigate. I think Bangkok is a bad idea for the big city dweller or someone who figures it’s the only game in Thailand. Personally, I’d suggest Penang in Malaysia before Chiang Mai, but I’m a contrarian. 🙂
This is a great post, thank you. I can’t wait to begin my stay in Chiang Mai starting next week. My friend and longtime Chiang Mai veteran recommended I survey apartments – but I didn’t even think about renting a guest house outside the city.
Do you have any particular guest house realtor/ middle man you love and could recommend? My target is unfortunately booked for December.
Will be reading more posts soon!
I love the live music and art scene in Chiang Mai, but I haven’t checked Penang out yet. I’ve heard great things about it though.
I’ll be back in a few days as well.
Get on the I love CM facebook group. There are a lot of apartment options there. Bliss, Smith Residences and Varada are all popular choices.
Do you mean outside the OLD city? I don’t think you’d want to rent outside the city.
Decemeber is a busy month, but there are tons of apartments so you shouldn’t have much problems.
Ha, good catch, I did mean outside the old city. I won’t be living outside the city…
Thanks for the names. Can’t wait to get settled in and experience CM.
One more question: Where do you hang with other nomads and expat marketers? I connected with some organizers of Meetup.com groups – but it looks like most events aren’t happening until after Christmas. Any other meetups you recommend in the city for making friends with expat entrepreneurs?
Have a safe trip back!
CM Biz Group has regular meetings. They’re on Facebook.
You’ll meet tons of nomads if you work out of the good cafes. Everyone is out and about.
Yes it’s misleading, I thought that Chang Mai was a metropolis when I first read the post 🙂
Benefits Chiang Mai vs Pattaya?
Pattaya has a good infrastructure , hospitals, pubs etc.
Other benefits are that it is only 90 minutes by car to the airport
The Chiang Mai airport is about 10 minutes from the city centre with international flights.
Allright, we’re sold. Coming down asap! <3
nicely written. I would love to hear recommendations on the actual places to stay if I wanted to stay near pun space in the nimen hamen area. I’ve found a couple of airbnb spots at about $25 us a month
Ah cool! We have just landed here, sadly only for a week and planned it before we knew it was so popular for digital nomads- a tribe of which our family belongs!
Celia aka Travel Marinade
I’m planning on spending 3 months in Thailand beginning mid-October. Besides Chiang Mai, can you recommend any beach towns that are affordable and nice to stay this time of year? I’d like to live in a different location one month at a time. How do you find places to rent? Are there resources online, local newspaper, or a sign staked onto the property? I’ll be traveling alone as a woman and could use all the help I can get!
Koh Tao and Koh Lanto are a couple of Islands somewhat off the tourist trail. They are much better than Phuket or Pattaya.
There are tons of apartments available on almost every street. I usually recommend booking a guest house online and then booking longer-term accommodations in person.
Search travel blogs for Chiang Mai apartments and you’ll find dozens of recommendations.
Verada Place has great clean and inexpensive one-room apartments in a great part of town in Chiang Mai if you are looking for a specific place to stay.
All the best,
How is Chiang Mai in terms of safety (violence, crime, etc)?
Thailand is super safe. We’ve never had any problems, anywhere in the country.
Great post! I love Chiang Mai. I agree that it is one of the best places to retire because of opportunities that we can find here.