Chiang Mai and my cost of living in Thailand


There are few people that can ignore how much

the cost of living will be in Thailand


, Mexico, Spain or wherever their idea of paradise is. When I left Tucson Arizona, in January 2013, for greener and cheaper pasture I was also a little apprehensive. I was hoping that my choice of Mexico was indeed a good choice.

In an earlier article,  I cited that one of my reasons for leaving San Miguel de Allende, Mexico was the huge increase in the cost of living there. Ecuador was going to be my next country to enjoy, however the cost of living there was only about 25% less than my current costs in Mexico.

Thailands cost of living looked considerably cheaper on paper. Like so much research we all do, other people’s research often never matches our own experience and “your mileage may vary” creeps into the overall equation.

Now that I have

lived in Chaing Mai,

Thailand for 4 months I can give you an accurate report on my experiences and a little about general finding here in Thailand. But first here are the numbers from a site that I like that has some good information that I actually based my move on before I arrived here: Cost of living comparison between Tucson, USA and Chaing Mai, Thailand. That report basically states that I would need TWICE as much income to live the same lifestyle here in Thailand than in Arizona. Oh dear, how on earth would I accomplish that? I think my costs would be triple for me in Tucson than compared to here in Chaing Mai!  Hence the flood of retirees to places like Thailand and Ecuador!

First my housing. I live in a 46 sq. meter studio condo that is in a very modern building just 1-year-old. In Thailand, this size condo is considered big. To most, especially American, farang (a farang is anyone from outside of Asia) 46 sq. meters, or about 500 sq. feet is tiny. Right? I have a combo mountain and city skyline view, great location to shopping malls, main street, walk to restaurants and walk to my Thai language school. I have a kitchen that by Western standards is paltry, with just a hot plate, induction heater to be exact, to cook with and a microwave oven to warm things.


I have a large modern bathroom with  a walk-in shower, a balcony also with views and a place to dry my washing and defined areas for sleeping, sitting, eating and working. I agreed to a 1-year lease period and my rent will be 12,000 baht each month. At the time of writing this article, that is about US$360, which is what my rent was in Santa Monica in 1974. My electricity is expensive at this time of year due to the air conditioning on most of the day and night: 1,600 baht a month, my fast internet is 500 baht, water 200 baht and I have a maid clean my room twice a week (see those shiny floors in the photos?) for 1,200 baht each month. Total housing cost: 15,500 baht, or about $460.

The style of my home would have been never my choice earlier in my life; too modern and too small. As I have stated many times in my articles: the key to living happy and comfortable, in your own paradise, is throwing out your old way of living your life and accepting the changes that will be inevitable. Trying to recreate, in your future paradise, what you left behind in England, USA or wherever will be difficult and expensive to accomplish.


chiang mai, cost of living thailand

The next biggest expense is food and drink. So far, I have not cooked any real meals in my own kitchen. First of all I do not know how to cook Thai food and what ingredients to buy. I make porridge with fresh fruit, toast and popcorn and that’s about it. My groceries and household items cost me about 2,000 baht each month plus about 800 for beer :). Meals at restaurants and street food cost another 8,000 baht a month and beer outside my home another 2,500 baht. That is a total of 13,300 for all my food and drink. About $400.



At the moment, my only means of transportation is a songthaew, a covered 2-bench truck that I may be sharing with others and for 20 baht each journey I can get around to most major landmarks in this city up to about 4km away. This is now getting old though and because I do not speak Thai then asking the same driver to take me to a certain address (still must be on a songthaew route) is not possible for me. I also walk a lot, which I enjoy if it is not too hot. I probably spend 200 baht each month on songtaew rides. One more option here for me and the rest of Thai cities is a tuk-tuk. These smaller vehicles will take me and 1 or 2 of my friends, to an exact location and often the driver will  speak a little English but the cost is much higher at 60 to 100 baht inside Old Chaing Mai.


Street food! So much better than your average hot dog stand!

I have decided to buy a scooter. This form of transportation is the most common here in Chaing Mai and I would guess all of Thailand from the little I have seen. A new scooter will cost me about 70,000 baht, but since I do not need a new bike then a 30,000 baht, to purchase a late model Honda Click will be just fine. Besides the initial investment of  US$880 there will be the cost of petrol, maintenance, insurance and legal stuff that will cost about 2,000 baht a YEAR if just riding around town and nearby.

My Thai language lessons, I just began at the local YMCA. The cost for 30 hours of instruction is 2,700 baht, about US$80. I buy electronic items from time to time, such as a streaming media player, a computer monitor, mouse, keyboard, electric kettle and a fan. All these items new, are priced the same or less than in the USA and much less than England.

Up until this point my housing, food and a few other items amount to a grand total of US$860 plus the cost of one-time costs which must be figured into a person’s budget over time. Of course you can live here MUCH cheaper than my way of living; smaller and older condos can cost only 7,000 baht and some rooms just 3,000 baht “Thai style”, you can save money on no beer drinking, no internet and using the free internet at many coffee shops. I have also put on weight, about 2 kg, so I could save money on food too! Other expats that live here spend 30,000 baht each month on rent and buy a car. You can also live outside of the city and rent a nice 3 bedroom house starting at 8,000 baht each month. Many choices for all sorts of budgets.

Some of my meals here cost only 40 baht for a simple port curry with rice and a cup of iced water. fancier places can be 200 baht per dish. Street food is perfectly safe, or just as safe as a restaurant option will be. I have never been sick here with any major stomach upset. In Mexico I was sick many times for the first 8 months; maybe I have not been sick here because Mexico helped build up my bug immunity, not really sure.

My life here is comfortable and easy. It is also easier, for me, to make friends here. The

farang community

here, both working and retired is much easier to connect to and to meet smart people. My experience in San Miguel was not nearly as good as here. So far so good. My pension is more than enough and so I get to save each month, although the first few months in any move always costs more because of initial expenses settling in.

Do you have a question about an item that is missing from my article. Hit the CONTACT button above or leave a reply to this article below. Wherever you are as you read this: enjoy the Planning and set it in motion!



song thaew


tuk tuk

About John Arnold