Thailand has been a popular destination for those looking to move overseas for many years and for a variety of reasons. Not only is the Land of Smiles famous for its friendly welcome, but the weather is great, the food is fantastic, the culture is delightful and, perhaps most importantly, prices for most of your day-to-day essentials are consistently lower than they are in places like the US and Europe.

But how much lower? It’s hard to plan your budget for a life in Thailand without a clear idea of how much things cost. It’s not a simple calculation, either - some things are a fraction of the price they would be in the west while others can be more expensive. And that’s before you’ve factored in the differences from one province of Thailand to another.

To help you make those calculations and plan your future in the Land of Smiles, we’ve prepared a simple guide to the cost of living in Thailand.

How much is the Thai baht worth?

In order to understand how much living in Thailand costs, you first need to understand the value of the local currency. The Thai baht has been getting stronger over the years, particularly against the currencies of western countries hit by uncertain times (for example, the impact of Brexit on the British pound).

To get the up-to-the-minute value of the baht, you will have to use an online currency converter. However, it helps to have an approximate rate for calculating roughly how much you are paying on the fly. Here’s how the baht compares to common overseas currencies (at time of writing):

£1 = approximately 40 baht

$1 = approximately 30 baht

1 Euro = approximately 33 baht

100 Indian Rupees = approximately 42 baht

A$1 = approximately 20 baht

C$1 = approximately 23 baht

CNY1 = approximately 5 baht

It’s important to note that these values can, will and have changed over the years, which has caused some challenges to expatriates in Thailand. Those who moved here in the mid-1990s to retire were perhaps able to live more comfortably on a fixed income when £1 could buy them 70 baht. Two decades later, when the value of the pound is nearly half of what it was then, life may not be so comfortable.

Where is the cheapest place to live in Thailand?

Compared to the more popular tourist destinations around Thailand, the more rural provinces are undoubtedly the cheapest places to live. So long as you are happy to put up with minimal services and conveniences and almost no access to western food, you can quite easily live for a fraction of the monthly cost of life in the likes of Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket. The northeastern area of Issan (which consists of 20 provinces) is especially cheap.

However, assuming that country life is not yet appealing to you and that you don’t want to be the only non-Thai in town, you will find that the cost of living generally gets cheaper the further south you go. In the far north, Chiang Mai is the cheapest while Phuket is the most expensive. The one exception to the rule is Pattaya, which is slightly cheaper than Bangkok despite being slightly to the south.

How much does an apartment cost in Thailand?

The basic needs of life generally consist of food, shelter and clothing. We will start with shelter. As will become a trend throughout this guide, you will find that there is a lot of variation available in this category. The prices can vary depending first on which city or area of Thailand you want to live in and then on exactly where within that area you want to live and then in what kind of accommodation you want within that area of that city. For example, the same money that could pay for a small mansion out in the countryside may only afford a small studio apartment in the centre of Bangkok.

Other factors can also radically impact the price you will end up paying. For example, a property with no air conditioning, no kitchen and limited furniture will be significantly cheaper than one with a range of modern conveniences. As a further note, those modern conveniences add to the overall cost since regularly running the air-conditioning, even in a small apartment, will probably give you a monthly electricity bill measured in four figures. Finally, the age of the property also has an impact, particularly since Thailand’s humid climate is quite harsh on building materials and decorations.

This being the case, we will use average figures. Just bear in mind that there is a degree of flexibility available, if you shop around and are willing to trade convenience for affordability. You may also be able to reduce the cost by renting a small house or larger apartment and sharing the rental fee with others.

Bangkok:

1-bedroom apartment in city centre = around 20,000 baht per month

1-bedroom apartment outside city centre = around 10,000 baht

2-bedroom townhouse in city centre = around 35,000 baht

2-bedroom townhouse outside city centre = around 15,000 baht per month

Pattaya:

1-bedroom apartment in city centre = around 16,000 baht per month

1-bedroom apartment outside city centre = around 9,000 baht

2-bedroom townhouse in city centre = around 18,000 baht

2-bedroom townhouse outside city centre = around 15,000 baht per month

Phuket:

1-bedroom apartment in city centre = around 13,000 baht per month

1-bedroom apartment outside city centre = around 9,000 baht

2-bedroom townhouse in city centre = around 35,000 baht

2-bedroom townhouse outside city centre = around 50,000 baht per month

Chiang Mai:

1-bedroom apartment in city centre = around 12,000 baht per month

1-bedroom apartment outside city centre = around 8,000 baht

2-bedroom townhouse in city centre = around 30,000 baht

2-bedroom townhouse outside city centre = around 20,000 baht per month

It’s worth noting that foreign nationals cannot own land in Thailand. You can own a condo, assuming that at least 51 per cent of the properties in the building are owned by Thais.

How much does it cost to eat in Thailand?

The next of our basic needs for life in Thailand, the cost of eating also comes with quite a lot of variety. If you are happy with eating local food (which, with Thai food being famously tasty, is not such an unattractive prospect) then your monthly costs will be quite low. However, if you want to eat just as you did in your country of origin, you might find your cost of living significantly increasing.

The reason for this is that agriculture in Thailand is a significant part of the nation’s economy. Nearly half of the workforce is employed in helping maintain Thailand’s place among the world’s largest exporters of rice and seafood, with coconuts, soybeans, sugarcane and tapioca also among the top exports. To help protect this valuable part of the economy, there are heavy import taxes on foodstuffs from overseas (along with almost everything else from overseas).

In order to give you as complete an idea of the cost of living in Thailand, we will provide three metrics - the cost per person each of a meal at a small local restaurant and of a meal at a more luxurious restaurant as well as the cost of a local beer to wash it all down. As a general rule, “luxurious restaurant” in Thailand usually translates to one specialising in foreign cuisines, though there are some exceptional Thai restaurants around.

Bangkok:

Local restaurant: around 60 baht

Luxurious restaurant: around around 800 baht

Beer: around 90 baht

Pattaya:

Local restaurant: around 100 baht

Luxurious restaurant: around 900 baht

Beer: around 80 baht

Phuket:

Local restaurant: around 120 baht

Luxurious restaurant: around 600 baht

Beer: around 100 baht

Chiang Mai:

Local restaurant: around 50 baht

Luxurious restaurant: around 550 baht

Beer: around 60 baht

How much does getting around in Thailand cost?

When it comes to getting around in Thailand, it’s quite hard to find a fair metric for comparison. Bangkok has an abundance of choice when it comes to transport options, including buses, elevated trains (the Bangkok Transit System or BTS), subways (the Mass Rapid Transit system or MRT), tuk-tuks, taxis, motorbike taxis and Grab. However, no other city in the country has a BTS or MRT, relatively few cities even have proper bus lines and some don’t have tuk-tuks or Grab.

What every city in Thailand does have is taxis and motorbike taxis. Unfortunately, calculating the cost of living in Thailand based on motorbike taxis would depend entirely on how good you are at haggling. As convenient as these fast and agile vehicles are, they have no meter and therefore no fixed cost based on time or distance. Each journey will cost whatever amount the driver decides is appropriate or that he thinks you’ll be willing to pay. Taxis, on the other hand, are strictly regulated and therefore provide a convenient metric.

Bangkok:

Taxi per km: 9.20 baht

Pattaya:

Taxi per km: 16.50 baht

Phuket:

Taxi per km: 25 baht

Chiang Mai:

Taxi per km: 12.50 km

There are some important differences in these four cities that will further impact your cost of living in Thailand. Bangkok is a massive, sprawling place and, while it has the cheapest taxis, getting almost anywhere in the city by car requires either paying for tollways or sitting in traffic for long periods of time. Being the largest Thai island, getting anywhere in Phuket means a long time on the road and, as it has the fewest transport alternatives, getting around may end up being your biggest expense.

By contrast, both Pattaya and Chiang Mai are relatively compact. In both cases, the heart of the city is a little traffic-choked and the cheaper accommodation is found in the suburbs. Chiang Mai’s roads tend to be comparatively easy to navigate while Pattaya is a little too heavily dependent on one main route - Sukhumvit Road. Despite the addition of tunnels to bypass the worst junctions, traffic jams are still very common here, adding to the duration of your journey. However, in both Pattaya and Chiang Mai, you can still get around cheaply enough even with a long commute.

How much do schools cost in Thailand?

If you plan on raising a family while you are living in Thailand, you will find that the education system here is a little chaotic. The cost and quality of schools - even international schools - vary wildly, but are usually on the expensive side. In fact, they have been ranked as the second most expensive in the APAC region and it’s not unheard of for expatriates to give up their life in Thailand to allow their children to be educated in their home country.

However, if you do decide to stick with the Land of Smiles, you’ll find that the best institutions are found in Bangkok. A few of Phuket’s schools have developed good reputations and Chiang Mai is getting better. Pattaya’s reputation is patchy to say the least, though it has one or two stand-out schools (which, naturally, cost a small fortune). The price breaks down roughly as follows:

Bangkok:

Kindergarten: around 8,000 baht per month

International Primary School: around 468,000 baht per month

Pattaya:

Kindergarten: around 9,200 baht per month

International Primary School: around 360,000 baht per month

Phuket:

Kindergarten: around 13,000 baht per month

International Primary School: around 340,000 baht per month

Chiang Mai:

Kindergarten: around 6,500 baht per month

International Primary School: around 333,600 baht per month

How much does healthcare cost in Thailand?

As we get towards the end of our run-down of the cost of living in Thailand, we reach the point where the place you live has limited impact on the price you can expect to pay. Healthcare is the first such case, with hospitals charging broadly similar prices for similar procedures wherever you go.

It is worth noting, however, that you can make some considerable savings in this area. Private hospitals in Thailand offer extremely high standards of service and competence - easily on a par with a western hospital - but at a fraction of the cost you would expect to pay for the equivalent in the US, Canada or even a UK private hospital. As a general guide, the cost of a basic checkup in Thailand is around 3,700 baht. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Thailand has become a very popular destination for medical tourism.

How much does a visa for Thailand cost?

Your visa is arguably the most essential expense when calculating the cost of living in Thailand, since you can’t stay in the country long without one. However, the exact cost you will incur largely depends on your circumstances. If you get a job, your company will usually pay for your visa (though some English teachers working for low-end schools have found themselves having to deal with the cost themselves).

On the other hand, if you plan to live out your retirement in Thailand, the cost works out somewhat differently. It’s a complicated subject, and one that needs its own article to explain.

You could arguably live in Thailand on a tourist visa, which costs only 1,900 baht for a single-entry visa or 3,800 baht for multiple-entry. However, you would need to leave the country and get a new visa every two months (a process known as “doing a visa run”). The Thai government takes a dim view to people living in their country on tourist visas and are making moves to clamp down on this, including limiting the number of times people can leave and then immediately re-enter the country. Add the fact that Immigration officers have the right to deny you entry to the country even if you do have a valid tourist visa and building a life in this way is extremely risky.

What is the overall average cost of living in Thailand?

The total cost of living in Thailand can vary from as little as 6,700 baht per month up to well over 100,000 baht per month and beyond, depending on exactly how you want to live. It’s virtually impossible to give a definitive amount you can live on since one person’s idea of a comfortable life is another person’s idea of hell.

The lower of these estimates comes from food blogger Mark Wiens, who chooses to live a modest life in a fan-cooled apartment with no furniture and gladly eats street food for every meal. By contrast, the upper estimate comes from Karsten Aichholz, whose idea of comfort costs 80,658.52 baht per month (or it did in 2018, at least). Other estimates in between are available from different sources. In order to get an idea of how much your life in Thailand would cost, it’s best to calculate it yourself based on your hopes and expectations rather than trusting to a generalised figure.