Hi guys, it’s me, Seven. I live the dream in case you can’t. Today’s offering is another in the “Thai Therapy” series, which is a list of articles supporting the idea that you can solve a lot of common Western problems by simply relocating to Thailand. If you’ve been following the series, you might find some overlap in this one, where sentiments from other segments (sentimegments) might be repeated. And while it might seem obvious at first, given the difference in the cost of living between Thailand and much of the Western world, it ain’t actually that cut-and-dried. In point of fact, Bangkok can be one of the most expensive cities on Earth, if one were inclined to live luxuriantly. But overall, living comfortably in Thailand can and should be much less expensive than even a meager lifestyle in the US or UK. For the amount it would cost to barely get by in these countries, a person could live quite happily here. So if you’re tired of being poor, or if you want to see your cash stretch farther, this is the place to be. Let’s count the ways.
As someone who regularly splurges on food these days, I’m often ashamed at the amount I spend, given how inexpensive food really is here. Back when I was living on 35,000 baht ($1k or 820 GBP) per month, I spent an average of 150 ($5 or 3.50 GBP) baht per day on food. Now I spend at least that amount for every meal, which is about middle of the road when it comes to a food budget in this city. If you eat only western food, you can really go through cash, whereas if you eat like a Thai person, you’ll get away with spending a surprisingly low amount. For example, street noodles run between 30 and 60 baht depending on where you are in the country. Outside the big cities, everything is much cheaper, especially food.
When I first moved to Bangkok, I was on a tight budget, so I found a small studio apartment for 1,200 baht ($36) per month. It was what they call “Thai-style,” meaning it had a bed, a wardrobe, and a small bathroom, and nothing else. If I’d had the money I could’ve got a microwave, TV, fridge, what have you, but being poor, I was forced to be content with less. I bought a small table for my laptop and a tea kettle. And that was it.
Now I live in a high-rise building with a view. Rent is 14,000 ($426) per month. If I didn’t insist on being walking distance from Patpong, I could easily cut that in half without sacrificing comfort.
The West can’t hold a candle to these numbers. I currently live alone in a loft, and my electric/water bill is on average $20 per month. A buddy of mine who lives in a house with his wife and daughter pays double that amount. My mobile phone plan is $24 per month. Wifi is $24 per month. HOA is $3 per month. Thus ends my list of bills. Unless you spend time living outside of Europe or The US, you’ll never realize just how much you’re being overcharged for basic stuff.
My employer provides medical insurance for me, though if I didn’t have that and went to a government hospital for treatment, it wouldn’t cost an arm or a leg. I got strep throat once before I had insurance, and it cost me $20 for a consult and meds. I also needed an asthma inhaler that would’ve ran me $100 in the US but in Krabi it was $2. I don’t get dental with my job, so when I broke a tooth, I was worried. Turns out there was no reason to. 30 minutes and $20 later, it was fixed. Every year I have to pay out of pocket for new glasses and contact lenses, $75 and $60 respectively. This is the reason people schedule surgeries and dental work to coincide with their holiday in Thailand. Even after the plane ticket and hotel, you’re still paying less than in the West.
In Bangkok, the buses cost around 30 cents, but it’s a miserable way to travel, but if your budget is tight, it’s the cheapest. The Skytrain and underground cost on average $1 to get somewhere with a maximum of around $2. Motorbike taxis are between $1 and $3 for typical distances. Taxis will run between $5 and $10 most of the time. If you’re in another part of Thailand with less-reliable public transport, you can rent a motorbike for between $60 and $90 per month, depending on location (Phuket and Samui are the most expensive). A bus ticket from Bangkok to Pattaya is about $3.25.
A movie costs around $6 on opening night. If you wait a few days, it drops to $4. Popcorn and a drink are $4. Admission into many clubs and live music bars is free. Happy hour specials and ladies’ night promotions abound. A night of bar-hopping will typically be between $30 and $50 if you avoid the pricey craft and European beers.
So, let’s crunch the numbers. If you live frugally, in a Thai-style apartment, eating Thai food, going out on weekends for fun, your average monthly Bangkok bills would be around $200 per month plus $300-$500 for food. Double that for a middle-class lifestyle with occasional western food and a nicer apartment. Add $100 for fun, and maybe another $100 for miscellaneous. So a low-end, low budget lifestyle would cost an average $900 per month while a typical middle-class comfortable existence would be closer to $1,800 per month. Not bad. Not bad at all. And these amounts drop significantly if you choose to live outside of Bangkok, Phuket, or Koh Samui. These days, I burn more that latter amount every month, but it’s because I live like a fiend. A more sensible person would not throw money away with reckless abandon like I do. But you could if you wanted to, is all I’m saying.
One more thing to consider, though, is the fact that you can’t just come live here because you want to. You have to qualify for a certain kind of visa in order to stay long-term. A work visa will allow you to remain for a year at a time as long as you’re employed (see my previous article “Thai Therapy: the cure for unemployment”). If you’re over the age of 50 you can get a retirement visa. If you marry a Thai, obviously you can stay. Or you can try to get a student visa. There are companies that specialize in procuring one or more of these kinds of visas. Give it a Google if you’re interested.
And while you wait for your visa application, you can live vicariously through me by following my Twitter @BangkokSeven