Several years ago, the internet was filled with stories from people claiming that you could live like a king in Chiang Mai, Thailand for as low as $500 a month. Basically, any place in Thailand was a heaven for cheap living and feeling like a king or a queen. Since several years ago, Thailand has become one of the biggest destinations for nomads, travelers and people looking for cheaper living than at home. But can you still live in Thailand on $500 a month? This is the question that I’m asking and answering in this article.

Actually, it’s not me who will answer: it’s my friend A. (who actually calls himself The Ultimate Vagabond) who recently returned from a 3-month stay in Thailand. And, just to make things clear before getting into this, he was able to live on around $500 per month in Chiang Mai – the most popular destination when it comes to living in Thailand, but we’re both sure that a similar cost of living can be achieved anywhere in the country.

So… how can you live in Thailand on $500 a month?

One of the biggest expenses will be accommodation. You can still find decent rooms for as low as $100 per month: we’re talking about a studio here with air conditioning, wireless internet that’s not completely crappy, a small kitchen area (fridge and small electric oven that you won’t be doing much cooking on anyway) and bathroom. No, this is not a king’s castle, but for a single person works perfectly! Also, expect to pay about $50 more for all the utilities and bills (although they could be way lower depending on how you live).

You could expect your $100 per month studio to look something like this
You could expect your $100 per month studio to look something like this

Food costs in Thailand are very low. A decent budget if you’re not very picky can be of $9 per day, which includes three meals and eating out each time. Yes, as incredible as it sounds, you can easily eat out for very small amounts of money. Actually, you can feed yourself with $1 per meal once your system gets used to the shadier/local food stalls, but just to keep things safer, I’d keep the average to $3 per meal.

Of course, if you go to more touristy places or better restaurants, you can expect to pay $10 – $15 for a burger and fries, but if you can live on different types of rice, wonton soup, fried vegetables and all the other goodies that Thailand has to offer (and you should, since you’re there!) then a budget of $270 per month for food will be enough. Do some home cooking and things will get even cheaper, but do have in mind that if you’re renting a $100 studio, chances are that cooking at home will be almost impossible!

Adding the numbers, we’re already spending about $420 on food and accommodation (although you can save about $50 more if you’re really frugal and careful).

There are a lot of cheap food options in Thailand
There are a lot of cheap food options in Thailand

This leaves us with about $100 for everything else: entertainment, transportation and other expenses. No, that’s not a lot, but it’s doable. There are free entertainment options in Thailand, the most important being free beaches (but not in Chiang Mai, which is far from any beach!) but just walking up and down the streets, people-watching and enjoying life can be enough. Drinks are pretty expensive, so have in mind that a few nights out will really blow your remaining budget!

But it is doable. With the proper mind set, with the proper frugality and food preferences, you can still live in Thailand on $500. But don’t expect to live like a king! You will live a modest… let me rethink that and say a very modest life with little to no entertainment. The biggest problem is that if any unexpected, larger expense hits you and you don’t have more than $500 a month, you could be in big trouble.

Even though people in Thailand are extremely friendly and nice, and the places are beautiful, you will instantly be considered a foreigner. Until you learn the prices and how things are going there, they will usually try to sell you things at double their actual price (this is why you should only purchase from places that have the prices listed). If it’s your first time visiting Thailand – no matter if you choose Chiang Mai or other less expensive (or more expensive) areas, it will be difficult to live on just $500. Not impossible, but difficult.

However, if you’re living in the US and your monthly budget is $500, then definitely get into the first plane to Thailand! You’ll get a lot more for your money there. And you will surely meet a ton of great people, because Chiang Mai – and most of Thailand – is full of expats, from those spending a few thousand dollars per month to those living on $500.

What do you think about this? Is this type of frugal living a thing you think you can do? Have you experienced life in Thailand and maybe want to share your story? Let us know by commenting below!

2 COMMENTS

  1. I m planning to move there from october 16′ to march 17′.
    Where should I look for an apartment? Any suggestions?

    And what and where could be the biggest trap for foreigners in chiang mai?
    Thx in advance 🙂

    • Tolga, as soon as you get there, you will get a million potential places to visit and potentially be yours. As strange as that might sound, just ask around: I’d do it at a restaurant, and immediately you’ll have somebody pop up with an apartment for rent. If you’re not on a very tight budget, I’d recommend going for the gated communities where you will feel safer (although Thailand is very safe overall). Have fun!

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