Cost of Living in Thailand
Expats living in Thailand can experience a great combination of convenience and modern luxuries, while enjoying a cost of living sensibly cheaper than in other expat destinations around the world.
What’s more, many expats lured abroad by multinational corporations with offices in Thailand, most likely in Bangkok or in one of the nearby manufacturing cities, often earn salaries that are high by even western standards, and thus generally find themselves better off financially once relocated in Thailand.
Even those hired from within the country, like real estate agents, financial advisors, international school teachers, IT specialist or web developers, who tend to earn slightly less than the corporate bigwigs and aren’t often privy to the same perks, can still manage to attain a comfortable lifestyle while setting money aside. In fact, even ESL teachers and low-skilled professionals with a minimal income report a high quality of life given the low cost of living.
As a means of comparison, Bangkok, the capital and commercial centre of the country, was only ranked the 88th most expensive destination out of 213 polled (2011 Mercer Cost of Living Survey). That's well behind many of the Asian powerhouses (Tokyo was 2, Osaka was 6, Singapore was 8 and Beijing and Shanghai were 20 and 21).
It should also be noted that due to the low rate of urbanisation in the country (only 35 percent of the population was living in urban areas as of 2010), the cost of living can be quite different from one region to another. The most expensive areas are undoubtedly the main expat areas in Bangkok, and the touristic hubs of Phuket and Kho Samui; while in the more rural regions prices are easily two to three times cheaper.
Cost of accommodation in Thailand
Prices for accommodation range quite dramatically throughout the country, depending in great part on location. Luxurious beach view villas in the thriving islands of Phuket or Kho Samui can have monthly rental rates of 45,000 THB or more. Even more expensive are large condos or exclusive serviced apartments in the business district or in Bangkok, sometimes beggaring 90,000 THB or more of rent a month.
If these prices don’t fit in your budget, you might prefer moving into a mid-range accommodation. In Bangkok, for around 25,000 to 35,000 THB a month you can expect to be able to afford a nice townhouse or a furnished condo/apartment complete with a swimming pool, an ultra-modern gym and security. Accommodation of this type can also be found outside the capital city, where you will most likely enjoy more luxury and space for the same price range.
Finally, for those living on a limited budget, throughout Bangkok and Thailand studio apartments can be rented for as little as 1500 THB per month. The average price in Bangkok for a furnished, but very basic one-bedroom would be about 5000 to 8000 THB per month.
Transportation costs in Thailand
Whether budgeting for a bus fare for a weekend holiday to the beach or a cab ride around the corner, transportation costs are among the best bargains in Thailand.
The cheapest way to travel long distances is to use a bus or minivan, which costs around 100 THB for every hour of driving, more or less.
Trains are a little bit more expensive, but while being slower than buses, they offer greater cabin comfort and a sleeper option for night trips. To get somewhere quicker, catching a domestic flight is also an option. As an indication for flight fares, popular routes, such as Bangkok-Kho Samui (which saves a considerable 12 hour overnight bus+boat ride), goes for about 10 000 THB return, while a Bangkok-Phuket return flight is about 5000 THB.
Travelling costs within the city are between low and moderate. In Bangkok, a 30-min taxi ride costs just over 100 THB. Alternatively, you might want to consider using some of the city’s convenient public transport options, especially during rush-hour, such as the Skytrain or Subway. Tickets fares are pretty affordable, and generally peak at 40 THB a ride (you can even get a monthly pass to reduce your cost per ride).
Bus rides in Bangkok range from 10 THB to 20 THB, depending on the distance travelled and the type of bus (A/C or non-A/C). Finally, to avoid an uncomfortable long walk on a hot and sunny day, motorbikes, tuk-tuks and specially designed pick-up trucks (saongteao) can transport you closer to your destination for about 6b to 50 THB per ride, depending on the distance travelled.
Cost of schooling in Thailand
In you come to Thailand with children you most probably will want to send them to an international school. Located almost entirely in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket, international schools are recognised for their high standards of education and impressive campuses. However, these schools don’t go for cheap, even in Thailand.
Sending your child to a top-tier international school will cost you in the ball park of 500,000 THB a year. Cheaper international schools offer tuition starting at 150,000 THB per year; however, the quality of education is not nearly as good, the proportion of English speaking staff is less, and the prospect of your child being able to be successful in eventual studies abroad might be diminished.
It is also possible to send your child to a bilingual Thai/English program in Thailand. Half of the curriculum is taught by foreign staff (Filipinos, Indians, or Westerners) in English, while the second half is taught by Thai teachers. Prices for bilingual programs are more affordable, ranging from 45,000 THB to 60,000 THB a year. Be aware though, that the level of education in these schools is not comparable to what you could expect of public schools in Western countries.
Cost of health insurance in Thailand
Many companies offer expat insurance in Thailand as part of lucrative expat packages. Regardless if this is the case though, due to the incredibly low cost of medical facilities in Thailand– which is in no mean an indication of lesser quality of service - medical insurance does not constitute a major financial burden for most expats living in Thailand.
Depending on your age and the type of coverage plan selected, yearly premiums at one of the largest insurance company in Thailand start as low as 5000 THB. If you are in your 40s or 50s and are looking at a plan including outpatient treatment coverage, expect to pay in the ranges of 25,000 to 35,000 THB per year.
Cost of food in Thailand
One of the first things you will notice in Thailand is the impressive variety and availability of restaurants and street food. A quick snack from a street stall selling BBQ chicken or pork on a sticks, papaya salad, or other Thai delicacies can be had for just 15 to 20 THB or less. A full course meal from a street side vendor constituted of rice, meat and some vegetable won’t be too hard on your wallet either, going for about 35 to 50 THB.
Alternatively, if you decide to opt for the comfort and tastier meals of a restaurant, your bill in a middle-range restaurant should be about 150 THB to 200 THB per person.
Of course, plenty of establishments also cater for the needs of fine palates. Upper scale restaurants in the expat areas of the main cities or on the islands offer multiple course meals options on their menu for about 500 to 1000 THB per person, while hotels are known for providing amazing international buffets that generally go for 1000+ THB per person.
Taxation in Thailand
A resident of Thailand (someone who lives in Thailand for more than 180 days per tax year) is liable to pay tax on local income and on any income that is brought into Thailand. Non-residents are subject to tax only on Thai-based income. The tax rate for residents is calculated on a progressive scale starting from 10 percent for annual income exceeding THB 150,000, to 37 percent for anything exceeding THB 4,000,001.