Cost of Living in Thailand Part III

September 27, 2010

The first 2 posts about the cost of living in Thailand have proven quite popular (Part 1, Part 2). So I thought that I would periodically post an update and describe the cost of the “stuff” that I have been buying in my daily life here. The more one knows about how much you’ll have to spend living here, the better decisions you will be able to make about making your move.

The Baht exchange rate

First a note on currency.  I just looked and the baht today is at 30.23 to the dollar (bangkokbank.com).  I have been semi and fully retired here since 2001. At that time we built a small bungalow and had to transfer quite a few dollars here.  The exchange rate then was about 39.5 baht to the dollar.  About four years ago we bought the house we live in and transferred dollars at 35.50 baht.

If you are living on a pension or Social Security then your available cash has been shrinking since then.  I read in the paper today that the baht will probably continue to rise.  That is going to be hard on anyone who is bringing in money from abroad.

Here is how a $1,000 pension payment has changed in the last few years:

Today = 30,230 baht

2005 = 35,500 baht

2001 = 39,500 baht

That is almost a 25% loss in the last 10 years or so.  if you are thinking of bringing in $100,000, to buy a house, car, setting up a home, etc., take the above numbers and multiply by 100. You see how this can get pretty scary. This means you will have to plan accordingly, although with the constant changes that may prove difficult, in order to assure that you will have enough to live on here.

Internet Connection

There’s lots to choose from depending on where you live and what connection speed you want. Internet cafes cost about 15 baht per hour (except at fancy hotels where they can charge up to 10 times that amount). Regular dial-up from your home computer costs only a few baht per hour. You buy an Internet card, have your modem dial the number given, enter the user/password provided and you are on. The connection will be slow, and when your money is up you have to buy another card. ADSL connection is available in most populated areas. It is provided through the phone company and a few other ISPs. My current connection is about 6 mgs download speed and about .4 upload, and costs about 600 baht per month. Faster speeds are available for a higher price. I find that the connection is quite spotty and unreliable. But it is on 24/7 (when the connection hasn’t been cut) and is fast enough for most uses (downloads, Skype, streaming audio, uploads – to web logs like this one) although some videos, on YouTube.com for example, might give a few problems. BTW, there are an increasing number of places where you can get a free wireless connection.

6 mgps connection (TOT) – 590 baht per month

Router wireless, 4 port – 1,400 baht

Satellite TV

Regular Thai TV channels are available throughout the country for free, although there are a number of satellite TV companies which will offer much better reception for a few thousand baht set up fee with no monthly payments.  But they give only Thai TV and some other stations from neighboring Asian countries. For international TV, including CNN, ESPN, HBO, CNBC, BBC, etc., you will need satellite.  The major carrier in Thailand is True Vision.  For their “Gold” option you will have to pay around 1,600 baht per month. A few HD channels are available for an extra fee, and there is a “Platimum” option which has some extra channels (MGM, The Golf Channel, etc.) for about 500 baht extra.

For those interested in the “Grey Market” there are companies who will set you up with a satellite dish and a box where you can get all of the channels mentioned above.  Set up can range all the way to 25,000 baht for a one time fee and no monthly payments to a few thousand baht but with a small monthly payment.  Please don’t say that I recommended this system since it is “slightly” illegal.  But look around.  When you see those big black satellite dish instead of those small red ones, then you’ll see how much the “grey market” is flourishing.

Plasma TV

We just bought a new plasma TV.  The prices of theses things have gone way way down lately.  A 42″ TV now costs what a 32″ one did only 2 or 3 years ago. The brands Samsung and LG, Korean companies, are assembled here in Thailand now with parts from Korea.  Look for sales (called “promotions” here) and you can save a lot of money.

Prices below are for flat screen, plasma TVs (the LCD models are quite a bit more expensive since they are great for HD – only a few channels offered, cost extra).  The Japanese brands usually cost a little more than the Korean ones (which are assembled in Thailand).

Less than 32″ the prices are quite cheap and will usually be less than 5,000 baht

32″ 13,000 baht – 16,000 baht

42″  18,500 baht – 25,000 baht

50″ 30,000 baht – 50,000 baht

LCD TV

40″ LDC Phillips – 50,000 baht (bought by a friend just yesterday)

DVD players

You can find Blue Ray and HD players but they are very expensive and getting the disk will prove both expensive and difficult to find.  Most DVDs found in Thailand (for sale and for rent) fall under that “Grey Market” area, so are quite inexpensive. DVD palyers can run anywhere from 800 baht to 2,500 baht.  I have had both and they both play fine.  The more expensive ones just have more features.  The cheaper ones, having less features, don’t block .avi files (torrents downloaded from the Internet)  that you can play using a USB port and a flash drive or an external hard disk.

Players – 800 baht and up

Watching movies at home

DVD rental – 10 – 50 baht

DVD purchase 100 – 200 baht

(Can anyone pronounce “copyright infringement”?  How about “piracy”)

Blank DCDs – 275 baht for 50

Blank CDs – 195 baht for 50

Movies at the theater –  100 baht and up (Avatar in 3D was more than twice the normal price.  Here in CM Wednesday is half-price day)

Air Conditioner

If your bedroom at least doesn’t have an air conditioner then you may find Thailand a very uncomfortable place to live.  I am one who does not like “conditioned” air but have had to give in to technology on this one.  “Global Warming” and being 64 years old has taken a toll on me.

The cost of an air conditioner is the first thing to think about and then the cost of the electricity to run it is another.

Air conditioner for a bedroom (4m x 5m), installation and maintenance included – 12,000 baht to 14,000 baht.  More to cool larger rooms of course.

Electricity bill – In the hot season we had 2 bedroom air conditioners going most of the night and sometimes during the day and this about doubled our electric bill, or about 2,000 more per month. In my opinion, well worth it. Because we use some much energy we have planted over 150 trees to balance out our carbon footprint.

Now, we live in Chiang Mai, quite cool in the winter, very hot in the summer. Other areas of the country might be hot all year round (Can anyone say Bangkok?). Consider this when figuring out what your electric bill might be.

This just in:

An old friend just sent me a photo of Chiang Mai he took back in 1969, when I first sojourned here as a Peace Corps volunteer.  So I jumped on the web and looked for a photo taken from a similar angle today.  These were both taken from near the temple on top of Doi Suthep mountain.

The Chiang Mai valley 1969

The Chiang Mai valley today

No wonder I didn’t need an air conditioner back then.

This just in

Chiang Mai has been selected as one of the “12 Places to Go if the World Goes to Hell

The baht is at 29.98 as of Oct 6, 2010.

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17 Responses to “Cost of Living in Thailand Part III”

  1. Chuck said

    Hugh, two questions 1- how does paying US federal income taxes work when you live in Thailand (write offs, credits, etc.)?, 2- have you ever found a retirement calculator which accounts for living in other countries? you have talked about living on SS only, but I think it might take more than that since I have another 7 to 8 years left here.

    Thanks in advance,

    Chuck

  2. Chuck,

    Regarding taxes, you do exactly what you would if your were back home. If you have a U.S. taxable business then your business expenses are write offs just as they would be back home. If you don’t pay U.S. taxes on your business then of course you cannot write your expenses off.

    I owned a business where we imported Thai handicrafts and sold them in the States. My travel expenses to Thailand and cost of living here were write offs for the business. Check with your accountant about this.

    Note: If you have a job overseas your first $86,000 earned is exempt from U.S. income tax (please double check this number because it seems to change all the time).

    Calculators? I don’t use them. Calculators are only as good as the input you give them (garbage in garbage out). One of the problems in life is the unexpected. You’ll have lots of unexpected costs (life getting run over by a raging buffalo) that you probably won’t enter into your calculator so the results won’t really tell you much. Here is what I do. I estimate my costs and multiply by 1.5. That is usually lots more correct.

    As to living on Social security, I never tell anyone what I think it will cost them to live here. I only tell them what it costs ME to live here. Everyone has different lifestyles and needs. My advice is to try a trial retirement first, see if you like it, see if you can afford it, and then you will know what your costs might be (adding of course those unexpected events).

    I lived here 7 years (part time) before collecting SS. Did it on savings plus what I could make selling those handicrafts. We made it. And now SS gives me enough for daily expenses. We are going to take an overseas trip later this year and that will be beyond what SS will cover. So you probably should have some other form of income besides SS if you want to do those little extra things that make life so much fun.

    Good luck.

  3. JC said

    Hugh,
    Very good info. To see videos of even more of the costs of living in Thailand take a peek at http://retirecheap.asia
    Keep up the great work.
    JC

  4. Roman said

    Hi, great info, thanks. I am a U.S. citizen that has been living in Germany for over 20 years. I have a house here, which I would sell, and two houses in the states that are rented out. I would have $100,000 (clear) from the sell and $1200 a month rent coming in. Would that be enough for me and my wife to retire to Thailand? We are mid 40s, and are not high maintenance. We raised 3 kids, so we know how to live on less. I lived a year in Shanghai so living in asia would not be completely new, although I know Thailand is not China. Thanks for any info. I also have skype if anyone already living there would get ahold of me, I would love to talk about it. Thanks again.
    Roman

    • Your problem isn’t the money. Although $1,200 is rather low it looks like you have some money to supplement it with. Your problem is the visa. You must be 50 years old to get a retirement visa. In your mid 40s you would need to be doing visa runs (i.e. crossing some border to renew your visa) constantly. and now there are restrictions on how often you can do that. Check out my website for more info on visas (http://retire2thailand.com/retire2-visas-immigration.php). Good luck to you.

      • roman said

        thanks for the quick response. i didnt know that about the 50 years old but that is not really a problem. that just gives me a goal date (year) now, something to work toward. it gives me a couple more years to get everything here ready, and with the housing market in the states still bad, maybe a third rental to increase my monthly income.?. thanks for the link also, exactly the info im looking for. have a nice weekend and take care.
        roman

  5. Young Choe said

    Thanks for all the information about living in Thai, but nobody mentioned about banking system in Thai.

  6. David said

    Thanks for all the helpful info. My wife and I are quite interested in retiring in Chiang Mai in 3 or 4 years. Money wouldn’t be a problem, but I would only be 36 or 37. We are both interested in taking educational classes such as Thai language, Eastern medicines, Yoga, Muy Thai, Thai cooking, and Budhism. Would it be feasible to get an education visa if we took classes year round?

    • David,

      Good luck with your move. I don’t think that an educational visa would work for you. It would have to be through a school like an international School or a university or some meditation centers. Looks like you would be taking classes at smaller, less officially recognized schools. At 36 I am not sure what kind of visa would let you stay in the country long term. Lots of people your age have to do “visa runs” every few months to obtain a new visa. Do a Google search on “thai visa run”. If your wife is Thai then you might be able to get a “spousal visa” which is good for one year and is renewable. Do a Google search on “thai spousal visa”. In order to get a “retirement visa” you need to be 50 years old.

      If you find a way that works for you drop us a line so that we can share it with our readers.

      Lot of luck.

      Hugh

  7. [...] Affordability:  I live off of Social Security along with some other savings that I have. That’s not a lot and if we had to remain living back in Seattle, a lovely place which we miss greatly, we would be quite hard pressed to make ends meet and would probably have to take on some kind of part-time work to survive. Thailand, although not the cheapest place to live in the world, offers a very affordable lifestyle for the amount of income that we now have. I have written on my blog about that in Cost of Living in Thailand Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. [...]

  8. Daniel said

    Hugh, your missives have been very helpful and many of us thank you. I plan to enroll in the Chiang Mai University for a certificate in teaching English to speakers of other languages. I understand that as long as I volunteer 20 hours a month I will be granted an educational non-immigrant visa good for one year at a time.
    Thailand isn’t the cheapest place to live on earth? Where is the cheapest???
    Thanks Daniel

    • Daniel,

      Good luck with your plans. I hope you are right about that visa.

      In answer to your question: Not sure but I would think that the following garden spots might be cheaper Than Thailand, Bangladesh, Somalia, Yemen. Not sure if the quality of life matches up with here though. On the other hand Cambodia and Indonesia I hear can be nice. I have been to both and I think I will stay put.

  9. Mike said

    Hugh, thanks for an informative website. I too will be retiring to thailand next year, and have thought long and hard about the financial implications. May I suggest to your readers wondering if they too can afford to move the Thailand that they read the cost of living section at http://www.ajarn.com. Although aimed at working teachers, the interviews show just how little, or much, you need to/can spend to live in various parts of Thailand.
    Although I’m old enough for the retirement visa, I’ll be getting the O-ED education visa to start with….I figure learning Thai is pretty much essential, so I’ll be enrolling at a language school and doing the 4 hours a week or more to qualify for the O-Ed visa.

  10. steven said

    Sawaddee hugh
    Please tell me about any problems you or your family have in Chiang mai in Jan. Feb. Mar.when all the burning and smoke is going on…thanks….steven

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