Can You Live on $500 a Month in Thailand?

Transportation will cost you at least 1,200 baht a month and that's if you don't take taxis


There are numerous posts on the Internet about how you can live on $500 a month in Thailand. But is that true? No, it’s not. It was true maybe 8-10 years ago but, as Thailand has become more expensive and western currencies have taken a nose dive compared to the Thai baht, living on $500 a month in Thailand is only possible if you want to live like a poor Thai.

So how much is $500 a month in Thai baht? With the current exchange rate, it’s around 15,000 baht. Now considering an average middle-class worker in Thailand makes between 25,000 to 75.000 baht a month and lives with family so, in many cases doesn’t pay rent,, that some westerners (usually trying to sell you something on their websites) still insist you can live on 15,000 baht a month, it’s a disservice to foreigners who come here and then realize, you can’t. You will also find while smaller towns are slightly cheaper, in Bangkok, 15,000 wouldn’t even give you the bare minimum of a lifestyle.

Average Monthly Living Costs in Thailand

To make this even clearer, take a look at the average cost of things in Thailand and, by that, I mean buying things like a low-income Thai would, and not as a middle-class Thai or western visitor to Thailand would.

Rent – In most places in Thailand you will pay 4,000 to 5,000 baht a month for the most basic one-room studio apartment with a Thai shower (not western-style bathroom facilities) and often no hot water. These are tiny rooms in usually lower-level buildings, with only basic amenities. They will sometimes have air conditioning, which you pay extra for, but often they don’t,. These rooms are not luxurious. And no, they are not ‘apartments’ as some low-income westerners here would have you believe. They are a small room with a bed, a closet, a table, and a chair. They are also often in inconvenient locations, which can increase your public transportation costs every month.

Utilities – If you want air conditioning along with your regular electricity use, and Thailand is one of the world’s hottest countries, you’ll pay between 750 and 1,000 baht a month for it. Water is usually another 100 baht.

Transportation – Most people use a mixture of buses, taxis, motorcycle taxis and tuk-tuks with, in Bangkok, the underground and sky train very popular. Expect to spend a minimum of 1,200 baht a month on transportation, usually more.

Food – If you don’t buy food at the supermarket and only eat at outside street stalls or at food courts, you can get away with 40-50 baht a meal, depending on if you have a drink with it or not. That’s a minimum of 2,800 to 4,600 a month and that doesn’t include a meal in any of Thailand’s incredible restaurants, or even a meal at McDonald’s, which is around 100 baht per visit. If you buy even minimal groceries like milk, bread and other staples, your monthly food bill will be higher.

Miscellaneous Expenses – Shampoo, toilet paper, soap, deoderant, cleaning supplies — basically anything you need to live for a month, add another 1,000 baht.

Internet – If you want internet access in your room, that’s 500-600 baht per month, or 950 baht if you have your own internet connection rather than the slow one the whole building uses.

Visa Fees – The other expense most of these “you can live on $500 a month in Thailand” folks don’t tell you about are visa fees – travel visas so you have permission to live in Thailand. At an absolute minimum, that will cost you another 25,200 baht a year, or 2,100 baht a month for the cost of a visa, visa runs to Cambodia every three months, and visa extensions at immigration in Thailand every two months.

Now, your basic expenses are up to 13,450 to 15,400 baht, so at the high end of the scale you’ve already spent more than $500 a month, and that’s without anything but the basics – no entertainment, no books, no movies, no treats like an ice cream or a dessert now and again, no traveling around this amazing country,and certainly no beers – and at the low end of the scale, you have no life at all. It is a basic, basic lifestyle with no room for any extras or emergencies.

Medical Expenses – So what happens if you get sick? Are you paying for insurance out of your $500 a month, or will you have the money to pay for all your medical expenses when it happens?

As you can see, living on $500 a month in Thailand? No, not possible. Not unless you are willing to share a small room with at least one other person, or have a family that supports you.

Now $1,000 a month. That’s a whole different story.