Cost of Living in Thailand
Thailand has always represented good value for money for expatriate living. However, recent years have seen prices gradually creeping up and up, particularly in big centres like Bangkok and even more so in the entertainment venues that cater to foreigners.
Like most places in the world, the capital city tends to have the highest prices, so we'll concentrate on Bangkok as a guide. If you're prepared to compromise and live as a local Thai, you can still live very cheaply in Bangkok if need be but you'll soon grow tired of such a lifestyle and find yourself longing the home comforts that your expatriate friends will no doubt be enjoying.
Outside the central business district of Bangkok, apartments in the capital can be had for as little as a few thousand Baht, though facilities will be very basic and will likely consist of a single room and fridge. You should not even be considering a room without aircon as life will be very uncomfortable for you in the hot season.
The 15,000 Baht mark is where you'll start to see a noticeable improvement in standards and comforts you are accustomed to in west will start to appear. Two rooms or maybe more, perhaps a shared swimming pool and use of other facilities and you can live quite a comfortable lifestyle in Bangkok for what can be quite a modest sum.
Above 30,000 Baht is where you'll start to enjoy a very high standard. You'll find local estate agent websites tend to only concentrate on this price bracket and above, so the best thing to do is be on the ground here in Thailand to search for the right place. Hotel accommodation while you're looking is very good value, so you won't run up a big hotel bill, if you're careful.
Location is probably more important in Bangkok than anywhere, regarding the cost of living. For example, living near a Skytrain or MTR underground station will cost you a good deal more than somewhere far away from one of the stations (you should try to live near the Skytrain if you can, or you'll be cursing the traffic on your daily commute).
Perhaps the biggest range of accommodation for the expatriate is in the Sukhumvit area, which is a major route in Bangkok and has many Skytrain stops. The middle section, around Asoke and for a couple of kilometres either side, is where Westerners tend to gravitate when looking for a place to live. There are many other areas though and too numerous to cover in this short article. See our forum for more details.
Electricity has become very expensive in Thailand and if you have you air conditioning switched on 24/7, you'll be rewarded with a hefty electricity bill. It really depends on your lifestyle. Your power bills could be as low as 1000 Baht per month, or 4000 baht and up if you have a larger place and use your aircon a lot.
Mobile phones are big business in Thailand and many people don't bother with landlines. They are very cheap and some offer GPRS internet access with free minutes. Prepaid SIM cards are available everywhere and are fairly cheap (See also: SIM Cards in Thailand).
As an expatriate, you'll most likely need fast access to the internet at home and so a landline with ADSL is a must. You should budget 1000 - 2000 baht per month for this.
Many apartments in Thailand have no cooking facilities. This is because so may people prefer to enjoy the numerous and very cheap restaurants and food stall that are nearly everywhere. A cheap but hearty meal of rice or noodles at a street food stall will be only 30 or 40 baht per head and are generally safe to eat. If you're new to Thailand, eating like this will take some getting used to and can be lacking in variety. The best thing is to eat with a friend who perhaps has more experience or speaks a little Thai. It's also a great opportunity to practice your own language skills. Eating is a very social and communal act in Thai culture and it is unusual to see people eating alone. You might also take note of any restaurants that will deliver to your home and have a greater variety of dishes.
The range of restaurants in Bangkok is mind boggling. At nicer places, a portion of food can cost up to 100 baht or even more. Generally, single portions are not ordered but multiple dishes that are shared between friends. A typical bill for four people might be around 500 baht at a moderate restaurant, not including drinks.
European food can be much more expensive than local food but if you can't live without your favourite dish from home, there are many bars and restaurants that have good western food for a reasonable price, particularly in expat haunts. A big Mac typically costs 60 to 80 Baht. A glass of beer in a western entertainment area typically costs 60 Baht (Happy Hour) to 250 Baht.
Drinking water is very cheap to buy in bottles and strongly recommended.
(See: Drinking Water in Thailand).
Most of what is written above would apply to a single person living alone. Expat families will have expensive international school bills to consider and in Bangkok, entertainment costs are comparable to most big cities. Throw in a night out every week for the family and things can start to look costly.
In summary, the cost of living in Thailand can be very low, or very high, depending on where you live, if you are single or have a family, and your personal needs.