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A tale of three expats





Three expats, three lifestyles, three locations.

We spoke to the trio and publish their thoughts on the costs of living to provide a broad comparison of lifestyles for expats living in the Kingdom. There are plenty of other variations and the story is not meant to be a definitive list of costs. The people are real but the names are fake.

Here’s their stories…


British – 46 years old

Has lived in Chiang Mai but now calls Bangkok his home. Whilst he has worked a few different jobs he’s now coasting along as an English teacher at a private school in the capital. He arrived in Thailand in 2004 after working as an investment banker in London. He made some good money but needed a change. George moved straight to Chiang Mai, studied Buddhism and massage and lived “a three year holiday” before getting a job with an NGO.

They gave me a Work Permit so I could stay but there was no payment. I have plenty of money invested and was just living off my interest. I volunteered with them for another two years before needing a faster pace of life again. I had several relationship during my time in Chiang Mai but found most Thai relationships ‘complicated’ so have stayed happily single ever since.”

George moved to Bangkok and had a job at a government school teaching english within a week.

“It wasn’t difficult. In those days you could slip through the net without a TEFL certificate. But I eventually did the full TEFL (teaching English as first language) course whilst actually working an English teacher. Was only being paid 28,000 baht at the time but my life was not complicated and I didn’t require much out of my savings at the time to have a simple, but adequate lifestyle.”

“I now work at a private school where I’ve been for three years and getting 62,000 baht a month salary. Every holiday I venture off somewhere new for a break – there’s three main breaks each year and I always head off for at least two weeks. I’ve been to Cambodia, trekking in Nepal, Melbourne and Sydney, Dubai and Qatar and a crazy month in South Korea.”

“I live quite simply and only dig into my savings for the overseas trips. All my visas and paperwork is handled by the school so life is simple!”

Monthly costs

• Rent – 28,000

A one bedroom apartment, nothing fancy, in Sukhumvit Soi 56. Been living here for four years and have a great landlord that keeps everything working. Five minute walk from the BTS.

• Monthly food and entertainment costs – 26,000

I eat out three meals a day and go out for a drink only once a week. Maybe a movie each week. I get out of town and do bike rides with a group often but that’s free.

• Transport – 7,000

I use the BTS and motorbike taxis, have my own motorbike for short trips around and use motorbike taxis if I have to go anywhere where I’ll be drinking.

• Insurance – 38,000 per year

I have a Thai health card which entitles me to basic services at a public hospital in Bangkok. I also have private health insurance from BUPA so I know if anything serious happens I can fall back on a private hospital of my choice. So far, I’ve never had to claim on the BUPA insurance and have used the local health system for some minor flues.

• Visa

“I’m on a Non Immigrant B visa with a Work Permit through the school I work for. They look after everything. I have to report to Immigration every 90 days.”

PROS: The city lifestyle, hot weather, the food

CONS: My bad Thai speaking, footpaths, traffic


Australian – 58 years old years old

Has been living in Chiang Mai for nearly 20 years with her husband. They both have some savings from their business back in Australia. But Gloria likes to work so they have to dip into their savings less.

“We came here for a holiday and just stayed – we loved it and will never return to Australia. We rented for three years but then bought a small old style house on the river which we spent the next two years renovating – something we’d done back in our Queensland homes over the years. But renovating in Thailand can be a monumental headache!”

Gloria has worked for a chain of Thai restaurants as their guest and tourist services manager for nearly a decade and says she loves the work and the fun she has with the local staff, and meeting people from all around the world.

“I work a full 45 hours a week, just like the local staff, although I know I am paid a lot more than them.”

“The work is important to me so we can live a ’normal’ life here. Both of us participate in a local soi dog charity where we’ve made some great friends from all over the world. They come and go but it’s never boring. We’ve adopted four or five dogs over the years.”

Gloria’s husband has a niche online business selling Lampang-grown organic coffee but says he does it mostly as a hobby.

“It started as a hobby but we end up with more in the bank every month. After doing it for four years we’re now clearing about 20-30,000 baht a month after costs. So it’s becoming semi-serious.”

Gloria and her husband travel every year but restrict themselves to Thailand and neighbouring countries.

“We don’t ‘rough it’ but we always fly discount airlines and stay in smaller family-operated hotels.”

Monthly costs

• House

“We paid for our own house (leasehold) out of savings we brought with us. We have a leasehold on the property which we intend to rollover when the time comes. But we’ll worry about that at the time as we’ll both be getting quite elderly at the time and will probably want to downscale. Our bottomline is that it’s all costing us less than renting the same thing and we enjoy having a place where we can do what we like. To rent something like we’ve living in would cost around 25,000 baht I think.”

• Monthly food and entertainment costs – 45,000 (for two)

We always have a our breakfast at home. Lunches and dinners could be anywhere, sometimes home as well. My husband is a much better than I. We have friends over a couple of times a month and attend various events almost every week. We go to little local street restaurants and splurge once a week on a really nice place – we love exploring new eateries around town.

“We might have a wine each evening, that’s about all.”

• Transport – 4,500

We both have a car. We paid cash for them about ten years ago and they’re still going. We paid about 300,000 each for them, old Hondas, just go and go. We never use local public transport though my husband has been known to grab a local taxi from time to time. Petrol and service costs for the cars are about it for transport. We’ve been using Grab lately rather than the local taxis, much better value.

• Insurance – 92,000 per year

“Both of us have private health insurance which covers us here in Thailand and any overseas trips as well. The policy says we pay for any upfront costs then we can claim after. We’ve only used it three times over the past decade or so – me with a fall down from stairs where I broke a leg, my husband with a mystery skin infection and just lately when I had a few ‘ladies problems’. We’ve always gone to the private hospitals in Chiang Mai and been very happy with the staff and services.”

• Visa

“I’m on a Non Immigrant B visa with a Work Permit through my own company. My husband is on a ‘retirement visa’.”

PROS: Fresh air, always things to do, the local people

CONS: Miss our family sometimes, city traffic, can’t think of a third one


American – 68 years old

Don arrived in Pattaya after a failed marriage in 1997. He’s travelled extensively around Thailand and only been living off his savings. He had a large property company based around the US west coast for twenty years and has enough savings to ‘get by’. He says he’s spent the past two decades in and around Pattaya spending his money on “all the things Pattaya’s best known for.”

“I’ve never had another serious relationship since my marriage failed but I’ve always had the company of pretty ladies around me. I bought a motorbike when I first arrived here, worked my way around the bars, been horribly drunk a lot of the time and had the time of my life. People might look down on me but it’s been a great time. It’s just been one long holiday.”

Don says he used to rent a large condo with a view which he was paying 35,000 baht a month for. But now rents a much smaller place back off the beach, but in an OK area, for 8,500 baht a month.

“It’s not that large but I really don’t spend much time there anyway.”

When it comes to making his savings keep lasting he’s fairly philosophical about it.

“When the money runs out I have no idea what I’ll do. I think there’s enough there to keep me going another decade – that should see me out,” he laughs. “I have no relatives or friends back in the US, so I’ll be staying here for the rest of my life.”

Don has a few friends from the UK who, he says, are doing it hard with their pensions, in baht, dropping value over the past five years.

“They’re really worried as the cost keep going up here but their pensions are valued a lot less than they used to. They’ve got no back up plan – they’re in a real mess.”

“Life for me in Pattaya has been one long party, the best years of my life. Whilst the ladies still like me and I can afford to eat, I’m happy.”

Monthly costs

• Rent – 8,500

A one bedroom, 32 square meter condo. Fairly new and ‘cosy’ without being cramped according to Don. “You can rent something with a view but it’s going to cost over 20,000 and I can walk to the beach anytime I want for free.”

• Monthly food and entertainment costs – 42,000

“I only eat twice a day. I have a bruch at home usually then head out for the day. Dinner would usually be at one of my favourite Thai places where I can get a good fresh meal and a drink for less than 150 baht. I admit to spending a lot on alcohol each month, probably more than I spend on food.”

• Transport – 10,000

“I have a motorbike and keep the machine running to zip around the city. I’ll get a taxi home after a big night, plenty don’t but I’ve seen too many old fellas getting rotten at the bar then driving home killing themselves on the way.” Don says he takes taxis a few times a week when he knows he’s going for bug night.

• Insurance – 58,000 per year

“I’ve always had full health insurance. It’s expensive but it’s good piece of mind. Never had a claim since I started about 15 years ago. My premium has stayed the same even though I’ve gotten older – not sure how long that will stay like that. I’ve gone to local hospitals and paid for a few bumps and scrapes.”

• Visa

“Been on a ‘Geeza Visa’ (Retirement Visa) since I was 50. Before then I used to do visa runs and just made it up as I went along. Except for the 90 day reporting, it’s fairly easy. I have put reminders in my phone for the next ten years!”

PROS: Lots of friendly ladies, cheap to live compared to US, away from the wife

CONS: Shit beaches, some expats, can’t speak Thai


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