So you want to move to Thailand, but you are on a budget. Lots of people move here for that reason alone. It’s a cheap, fun and an exciting place to live. I get questions on how much exactly it costs to live in Thailand nearly everyday, so I thought I would shut that down by giving you an inside look on how you can live in Thailand on an fairly small budget, but live like royalty on that budget, too.
Before you start your journey into living your life in Thailand on a small budget, learn a bit of the language. Tourists get taken advantage of on a fairly common basis here, and its usually because they’re obvious tourists. They don’t understand the language, culture or how things are done here. Do yourself a favor and learn basic phrases like “Take me to x location” for taxis, yes and no, “How much?”, “Can you lower the price?”, and other very simple sentences. Thai isn’t a hard language to grasp, in fact, if I was born in a non-English speaking country, I think learning Thai would be more simple than English due to the way sentences are put together. There are no past, present and future tenses, and words are pretty much all spelled exactly how they sound.
Another key to making sure you aren’t ripped off is to stop looking like a tourist. This includes knowing the basic ways of Thai life and trying to blend in with the way you look, act, and behave. Don’t get upset, never yell, and avoid making others lose face (Don’t embarrass others). If you offend a Thai in any way, its very likely there could be repercussions. They’re don’t shy away from an unfair fight where it’s you against 10 people defending their own.
Also, take a way at the way you dress. Thailand is a tropical country, but dressing in Hawaiian t-shirts, shorts and flip flops is a dead giveaway you’re a tourist. Wearing that in a truffle down to the corner 7-11 is normal affair, but don’t think its a normal go out and hit the town or go shopping apparel. A t-shirt or button up collared shirt with jeans and dress shoes is my standard outfit when going out almost anywhere.
Take a few more lessons in Thai culture, too. Many tourists think “Wai”-ing is an appropriete way to say hi or thank you to everyone and anyone. While most Thais will chuckle and think its cute, you do not have to “wai” those younger than you, and should typically only really wai anyone you aren’t close to or don’t feel the need to give any respect to. Wai those you are doing business with (if you are going after their business, wai first). Wai to parents of your friends and or your boyfriend/girlfriend. You do not need to wai service people like those working in McDonalds or even expensive restaurants (Though most of them will Wai you after paying or walking in. Again, you are not expected to wai back here). If you have a personal teacher/tutor (say for those Thai lessons you need), it is appropriete to wai them before and after classes. It’s best left to personal meetings where there is some sort of importance.
Living space will be the largest thing on your bill. It’s very important that if you want to live on the cheap in Thailand, that you shop around. Many people thing that a studio here in Thailand is cheap at $500 a month, when that’s actually more than enough for a really nice 1 bedroom apartment depending on where you live. Do a lot of shopping around on Craigslist. What I used to do is set a maximum price and size in their search options and go through that daily where I would find some really good deals. Studios can be had here for less than $200 a month.
Note that the closer the location is to the sky train or subway system, the more you will pay. Also, rented condos usually only pay the government fees for electricity and water, where as apartments might bump that a few cents per unit. Good cheap locations can be found around Ramkamheang, Ratchada, Ladprao, Bang Na, or On Nuch in Bangkok. For even cheaper living costs in general, consider living in Chiang Mai in the North or Khon Kaen in the Northeast. Beach cities are usually expensive for most foreigners as there are already many tourists. Chonburi is a nice beach town that isn’t visited as much due to its proximity to Pattaya, but is much nicer and more relaxed.
Thai food is absolutely the most delicious food in the word. Spicy, sweet, sour, or a mixture of all that is what you can expect to find in almost every Thai dish. On top of that, it is extremely cheap. I can buy a filling meal any time of the day for less than $1.50. Thais, especially students, are as familiar with the idea of eating ramen cups (called mama here) on months on end just like many of my American friends in college back home. Getting rid of foreign foods from your diet will help you save hundreds per month. Try dishes like Som Tam (Spicy Papaya Salad), Kao Mun Gai (Chicken and Oily Rice), Panang Moo (Spicy Red Curry with Pork), or the famous Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Thai Shrimp Soup)
The great thing about Thailand is that even at expensive places, especially night clubs, its not very expensive. Still, if you gotta party, hit up some of the more local flavored clubs. Many of them will still play international tracks, but costs will be much lower. Luckily, there aren’t cover charges in most non-touristy clubs and bottles of alcohol are very cheap. You can get locally made stuff for less than $15 a bottle, or splurge on a botlle of JW Black Label for around $50. Again, stop looking like a tourist in clubs and don’t order a beer! If you go with locals, you’ll most likely share the total cost for the night, which makes living the night up very cheap. When you leave the club, make sure you take a taxi home that agrees to use the meter. If he even suggests a fixed fair, I move on to the next taxi without saying a word. Avoid getting upset as this is common practice late at night when most of the taxis que up at a Bangkok hotspot.
This is a huge issue. There are lots of horror stories on the web where many foreigner’s Thai girlfriends take them for all that their worth and move on to their next victim. If she says her buffalo is sick and doesn’t have enough money to pay for treatment, that’s a good sign that you should start running away (a little bit of an inside joke there). If you want to pay for a nice dinner once a month or so, sure, thats understandable, but many Thais look at all foreigners like they are loaded with money (hence why we get in trouble with all these tourist traps). A good Thai girl will have her own job, be able to pay for herself and should offer to pay for meals every once and a while. If you start paying for her rent, you’re an idiot (Yeah, I’m talking to you, buddy. Haha).
There is literally no reason you should own a car if you live in Bangkok. I don’t really understand why most people that live in the inner city have their own cars, or how they even afford them. A full tank of gas can cost over $100 in a car as civilized as a Honda Civic or Accord. Lets factor in the fact that they might cost upwards of over $50,000 and that it takes 1 hour to go 2 kilometers during rush hour and its just a recipe for disaster. Learn how to effectively utilize motorbike taxis, the subway and sky train system to move around the city as fast as possible. You can jump on the bus if you have the balls. They’re extremely cheap, but nothing is in English on them and don’t expect anyone to use English. They’re also usually very crowded. If you live outside of Bangkok, consider investing in a motorbike. Don’t forget to wear a helmet and avoid everyone else on the road, as Thais tend to make their own laws when it comes to driving.
If you follow most of the above guidelines I’ve set above, you can easily live anywhere in Thailand for under $1000 a month. While it might not be extremely luxurious, you will be able to eat 3 full meals a day, go out at least a couple times a month, and have an enjoyable life. The more you can increase that budget, obviously, the more outside the lines you can draw here and the more options you’ll have for accommodation, traveling, food and the sort. Thailand really is a lovely place to live, and as long as you aren’t your average sex tourist or numbskull that doesn’t care about Thai culture, I think everyone should at least visit Thailand once in their life.