The affordable cost of living in Bangkok is one of the primary reasons foreigners choose to relocate here and it is especially attractive when it comes to housing and food. However, the scale of salaries is enormous and prices have risen considerably of late. Some studies have cited Bangkok as being among the top 20 most expensive cities in the world.
Although a cringe-worthy statement and obvious, the cost of living in Bangkok ultimately depends on how you choose to live as there are all brackets of living standards here. There are multinational corporate executive who are on 200,000 baht a month and there are English teachers on 30-50,000 baht a month. Both manage to live quite comfortably compared to your average working class Thai Bangkok resident, who might get by on under 10,000 baht a month. This means that there are plenty of cheap eateries and markets and facilities to suit all budgets.
It all means that while you will no doubt be drawing a lower salary than you would in the West, the cost of living is such that you will be able to enjoy a vastly superior quality of life to what such a salary would afford you back home.
Keep in mind, though, that while you are living in Thailand you will be earning a salary that, while high for Thailand, is nowhere near the holiday budget of vacationers in Bangkok. Regularly visiting areas that are targeted specifically to Western tourists, such as parts of Sukhumvit and Silom and even some of the bars and restaurants near Khao San, will make your salary disappear very fast!
Household expenses in Bangkok
Bangkok has a wide variety of accommodation suitable to every taste and budget. Studio apartments are the easiest type of accommodation to find in Bangkok and the cost of these can be relatively low. Studio apartments with phone, hot water, air-con, furniture, and cable can be had for between 5,000-10,000 baht if they are located about 15 minutes from the city centre by BTS Skytrain. The MRT subway and planned expansions on the Skytrain line have opened up the market even further and prices have yet to catch up, making it possible to find quite a livable place for 4,000-5,000 much further out of town, though this might be quite inconvenient and result in lots of commuting in traffic.
Simple two floor townhouses are also available to rent for between 5,000-10,000, with prices lower and higher than this depending on the size of the house, amenities, and its proximity to the Silom/Sukhumvit districts. The closer you are to these two popular expat areas, the more you will pay and for a reasonably comfortable apartment on say, soi 10, with a separate bedroom will cost in excess of 15,000 baht.
If your budget allows it, the sky is the limit in terms of condominium and serviced apartment accommodation, with some truly luxurious digs on offer that include daily maid service, gymnasiums, pools, stunning views of the city, and so on. These can go for anywhere from 25,000 up to 150,000 baht and beyond. Deposits are always required and in Bangkok there is little room for negotiation. The standard is two months and one month in advance; so, on a 20,000 baht apartment, 60,000 baht is needed upfront. Most landlords will not budge on this.
The cost of living in Bangkok is most affordable when one considers the widespread availability of delicious and cheap local dishes. By eating as the locals do, you can get by on about 200 baht, or less, a day. A full meal, including soft drink, when purchased either at a local restaurant (the open-air kind with plastic chairs) or a street vendor should cost you around 50 baht.
A standard, in-house restaurant might set you back 100 baht for a simple dish and drink, but when you start eating in the popular tourist areas, such as on the trendy, upper-Sukhumvit Road area, expect to pay 200 baht and up for a basic lunch.
Then there are the fancy restaurants in upmarket areas and hotels which, while still presenting value relative to Europe or the US, will set you back over 1,000 baht for a dinner for two.
There is a lot of money in Bangkok and plenty of venues to cater for it, so some places, by the location alone, can seem a complete rip-off by Thai standards. Obviously, Western food is always going to be more expensive than local fare.
Cost of living, miscellaneous items
Many Western products that weren’t originally part of a Thai diet are available in big supermarkets at local prices, such as cornflakes (80 baht), though some luxury items, like pasta and jams, are imported and cost much the same as in your home country. Tesco’s, for example, has a full bakery section and carries other items, such as bacon and some cheeses. They will also grill fish for you – simply choose the fish from the wet fish counter and ask for it to be grilled (barbeque) while the rest of the shopping is done. It takes about 30 minutes and costs nothing extra. It comes back wrapped and with a bag of spicy sauce.
- Can of coke: 15 Baht
- Iced coffee/iced tea: 10-15 baht (off the street); Starbucks: 80 baht!
- Bottle water: under 20 baht
- Half litre milk: 50-60 baht
- Movie ticket: 100-500 baht
- Beer: 55-80 baht big bottle (in supermarkets); bars: 90-150 baht; 150 baht and up in posh hotels/go-go bars
- Whisky: 100 baht for a small bottle of local, though not very palatable, whisky
- Haircut: 80-150 baht (standard Thai barber), much higher for mall hairdressers
Shopping for these items at the specialist expat supermarkets on, or near, Sukhumvit Road will invariably cost more, but with a little patience and shopping around you can find reasonable, local substitutes to your favourite foods. Those with special needs might have difficulty finding what they want – organic sections in supermarkets are still limited as are the range of health food products.
Thais have a sweet tooth and although many of them diet, the range of fa- free or sugar-free products isn’t too broad. For example, the only sugar-free refreshment is Pepsi Max (available only in litre bottles) or Diet Coke cans; which aren’t widely sold.
The cheapest and most practical solution, ultimately, is to adapt to a Thai diet.
Common living expenses in Bangkok
Utilities: the water bill is almost always a nominal charge, and in some places, even with your own washing machine, will only run to 100 or 200 baht. Electricity is a different matter and can be more expensive; average anywhere from 200-3,000 baht a month, depending on if you have a condo or house and how often you use your air-conditioner(s). Older air-conditioners are not energy efficient and having one of these old guzzlers going all night can run up the bill. It’s common for apartment blocks to load a levy onto the utilities charge and phone bill. Serviced apartments charge around 7 baht a unit, while your own rented apartment should be straight from the utility company, at 3-4 baht a unit.
Phone: if you have your own dedicated phone line from TOT, your phone charges will be 3 baht per call for any length of time to another Bangkok land line. With a special code you can call mobile phones for a rate of 1 baht per minute. You will have to make special arrangements for your own phone line in Bangkok and it is essential that you learn your landlord’s policy for charges made through apartment phones. The typical cost is 5 baht for 10-15 minutes to a Bangkok land line (02 number) and to call a mobile phone from these is prohibitively expensive, and sometimes restricted. Mobile phone rates are very reasonable, provided you sign up for a contract (a non-imm visa is required for this). However, pay-as-you-go SIM cards a rewidely available, cheap, and offer reasonable rates of about 10 baht a minute.
Internet: if you’re going to be using the Internet at home it is worth seeking out an apartment block that will allow you to get your own dedicated phone line, which costs a little over 2,000 baht to have installed. To save the hassle choose a condo that has broadband on offer, which will mostly be in the popular expat locations, and within a week the local ISP will have you connected. It’s not terribly good value (though better in Bangkok where rollout and takeup have been thorough), costing 600 baht for an oversubscribed 10MB line, or around 2,000 baht for a lower contention ratio.
Kids coming home from school and jumping online to play games is chronic problem that bogs the connection down, so ask for an upgraded package (lower contention ratio) if you discover your area is ‘crowded’. Ultimately, though, the reliability comes and goes and is steadily improving. Many coffeeshops now provide wireless access, some even free. At the very least you can pick up a dial-up access card from a 7-Eleven and get online immediately via a regular phone line, though you can expect only about 33kbps. GPRS is another mobile option, either via bluetooth with your mobile phone, or a plug in USB device, but it’s also relatively slow.
Cable TV: is offered by True Visions at a cost of approximately 1,500-2,500 baht a month and includes about 40 channels, including BBC news, CNN, ESPN, Star sports, several football feeds, the History Channel, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, at least four movie channels, and some cartoon channerls, among others. There is an initial installation charge, which varies from supplier to supplier, but bank on about 5,000 baht as a one-off cost. Serviced apartments will sometimes let you have your own cable installed, but only if you are on a longer term contract – at least six months.
Transportation: is best served by the Skytrain (BTS) and Bangkok Expressway and Metro (MRT), with single journeys costing 15-40 baht. Daily tickets are 120 baht, although monthly tickets aren’t offered for unlimited travel, but instead you can either purchase 10, 15 or 30 trip passes (valid for a month), or top up a magnetic card that gets debited every time you pass through the barriers. On the MRT, there is a small discount for buying a ‘stored value’ ticket (50 baht deposit on the card) and pre-paid cards to 1,000 baht can also be had. A 30-minute taxi ride across town (typical in off-peak hours) will cost about 200 baht.