If this were a tell-all book then this would be the point where you gasp in shock and awe – she’s going to lay it all out on the line for what it costs to live as an expat in Thailand? Really and truly?

 Okay, perhaps it’s not quite that exciting, but, even my mother last week on the telephone couldn’t help but dig for the nitty-gritty details on how much I pay to live in Thailand. As a traveler, I’ve always heard that it’s so incredibly cheap to expat yourself in the developing world–and it’s true, it’s cheap! I’ve paid rent in both Orlando and Los Angeles, and my Thailand living costs have averaged at least one third of my previous living expenses. Let’s first look at the hard costs, then I’ll go into what each element translates into in terms of what I get for that price! (All prices in USD). At the end of this post I share a huge list of resources for getting started in Chiang Mai — either visiting or living.

Total Cost for a Month Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand

These are my baseline costs – or rather more fixed monthly expenses. Not included in this price are the visa runs you’ll need if you’re on a tourist visa. Even with the double entry visa, border runs are necessary every 60/90-ish days. The border runs add to the spice of living here though! Chiang Mai is a great launching point to other areas in Asia for in-depth explorations of Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and other quick flights and bus rides around Southeast Asia. Factor in a quick one-day border run costs about 1300 baht (700b transportation to the border and 500b for a short-term Burmese visa). The international flights bracketing my stay in Thailand were roughly $800 each way, so factor that into my “fixed” costs as well.

Then you have the cost of just unexpected life. I’ve had some medical check-ups, my computer cord broke and had to be replaced, toiletries and that type of thing. My medical expenses are under $100 for women checkups and basic bloodwork and I pay that at Thai hospitals and out of my pocket (and I pay about US$600 per year for annual travel insurance with emergency). These occasional and personal expenses are not included, just the base-line rock bottom costs. Smile

**Alternatively, before you get too far into what this buys, consider that my friends also living here shared their Chiang Mai cost of living for two people living a bit more luxuriously than my budget. They spent under $1500 per month (jointly) and had a beautiful apartment and full kitchen, and also don’t party/drink too much. So, what the heck do I get for that much money? Glad you asked. Now we’ll take a look at the value for living there and what precisely I buy Laughing

Meet a Good House for rent in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The roughly $500 a month pays for my portion of a three bedroom house in the heart of Chiang Mai, within the moat of the downtown inner city monthly for the house without wi-fi. 1 bedroom apartments run the gamut between 8,500 and 18,000 baht a month. Most offer wi-fi and on this front, Chiang Mai is a solid choice. Internet is better than many places, but can wildly fluctuate throughout the day, but not so much in the evening when everyone watches TV and thus slows the cable internet down to a crawl).

And the Food that Fills My Belly

I regularly chow down on pad thai and pad see ew from the street stalls around town for about 30-50 baht a meal (a buck!). I add a fresh fruit smoothie to that for a mere 20 baht and call it a meal – totaling out most nights at less than US $2 for fresh, made to order Thai food from smiling street food vendors. The occasional Western meal jacks the weekly food costs up quite a bit; a thin crust pizza from a farang restaurant sets me back at least 200 baht. I mostly eat Thai food … but I must confess, coffee is a daily habit and ice cream is a weekly addiction. iBerry, a trendy ice cream shop more fitting on a chic corner of Los Angeles than a side-street in Chiang Mai, shakes things up with tangy tamarind sorbet, a spicy roselle, and a cooler full of other flavors. Always different, always worthy of my undying affection.

My Sleek Ride: Renting a Bike in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai’s small enough to either walk, push bike, or take local song thaews around town, but I prefer a scooter. The rental was cheap enough and zipping around town makes me feel that much more like a local. Plus, the local Thais burst into giggles when I ride up to the night markets with my roomie on the back. It’s easier for us to take one bike when we’re hitting up the same spots, so we ride Thai-style, with two farang on one bike. And they love us for it.

Update: Costs on motorbike rentals are likely $20 more per month as of 2013; still cheap if you rent from a local though, instead of a shop.

Chiang Mai Style Evenings Out

Chiang Mai’s not lacking in choices for evenings out on the town (though I use that loosely, there’s nothing too wild here). But between the karaoke, dance clubs, quiet rooftop bars, and bowling, there is fun to be had in Chiang Mai! I’m not a party animal, so those who are will definitely find this portion of expenses quite a bit higher if they really like to get their groove on regularly. In fact, add at least $100 per month if you go out 2+ times per week and drink. Smile

Quality of Life in Thailand

Part of why I moved to Chiang Mai was because I had this suspicion that I could maintain a fun and full life, without all the worrying about expenses if I lowered my cost of living. I’m still building up an online income for myself and paying off one last small piece of debt. The best way for me to not go further into debt is, frankly, to stay outside of the US.

The sad fact is, even living rent-free with my dad when I’m back in the US, I live in a perpetual state of fear. I don’t have US health insurance, it’s pricey and even the insurance I can get is lousy. On the flip side, Thailand has great hospitals, checkups are cheap, dental care is cheap and on par with the US, and I don’t live in fear of getting sick and being buried under decades of medical debt.

Many of my long-term goals are fulfilled through living here and continuing my travels and volunteering. I live in the Thai area of town, volunteer locally with Thais, and eat locally, so I have access to immersion in a foreign language (though don’t even ask about my Thai … it’s not going well), and the politics, values, and culture here is a window into something different than what I had for the first 27 years of my life. I only have a mere two months left in Thailand before I continue onward, but these first three months of stationary travel have been both affordable and enlightening. You can bet I’m already plotting out when I’ll come back to this neck of the woods! Smile

Update:  I am a traveler rather than a stationary expat in Thailand, however, I return frequently and have lived in Chiang Mai again since I wrote this post (and I lived in Mexico and shared that cost of living here). These are truly my baseline costs and I have friends who live similar lifestyles, who live/work in the city long-term, and they live simply (and locally) on this budget. It’s about your travel style. I don’t party and I love Thai food, so it’s easy for me to eat cheaply and enjoy the many, many free local festivals that happen monthly around Northern Thailand. And I do spend more money on weekend trips around Thailand to other cities; and I spend many months of travel in neighboring countries … then I come back and settle in Chiang Mai since I am a freelancer and enjoy having a great base in Asia to work and travel from–for me, this is my Chiang Mai.

Have you ever thought about expating/living abroad and what are your fears/hopes?!

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