It is amazing to still find people claiming to live like VIPs on seemingly tiny budgets as expats in Bangkok. As this really is not modern-day life in the city, and it is more just sensational bloggers hyping up their own lifestyles. Ignoring many of the realities of the actual cost of living in Bangkok for most expats. And I will try to break this up further into this post, as there are varying variables to be considered, like employment, VISAs, and which area to live. Also just the overall definition of living, rather than surviving. And in many ways, we stopped living in Bangkok due to not having the right budget to make the most of our life there (although we are back regularly as our second home). Anyway, this is not about penthouse apartments, staff, and the VIP treatment… although it’s not about the backpacker budget and bedsit studios either. This guide is aimed at sharing a normal cost of living in Bangkok, for normal people, who don’t want to live in either luxury nor squalor. Although life is undoubtedly good for most expats in Bangkok.
Accommodation will be the obvious concern for any budget when living in Bangkok. And of course it will vary considerably, depending on comforts and areas. Personally, I bought a one-bedroom condo (and share my experience here) before living in Bangkok permanently. Choosing to go high-end, in the central Asoke area (pictured above), so I will always have a nice pad to fall back to, even when I’m broke. Where I can enjoy beers by the pool. But to rent something similar it would cost around 30,000 Baht per month which really isn’t too affordable on a local wage. So this is obviously expensive for most, but moving outwards from the central areas, following the Skytrain line (BTS), similar accommodation may be found for around 18,000 Baht per month. Give or take. Then downgrading a bit, to simple, yet comfortable, 1-bedroom apartments, for maybe 10,000 Baht per month. Although any lower and I would honestly consider outside areas and Bangkok’s “suburbs”. That have their own benefits, which I have shared with my experience living in Ramkhamheang.
There really are few major monthly concerns after accommodation in Bangkok, as the basic overheads of water and electricity will be no different to anywhere else in the city. And monthly I would be paying around 500 Baht for water direct to my condo office, as well as 2,000+ Baht for electricity, which is paid at the local 7-11. However, we do spend much of our time indoors, in a one-bedroom condo, with the air-conditioning running. But I can’t see there ever making a huge difference otherwise. Our other monthly cost would then be the internet, and while some apartments include shared connections in their rentals, the speeds are normally crap. So for a decent enough internet connection, we pay around 500 Baht per month. On top of these are the smartphone contracts, which again are similar (500 Baht per month), but when it comes to TV I am clueless. We just download stuff. So going by our own monthly overheads, these should be roughly 3,500 Baht in total.
I personally moved to Bangkok for the food, although this is more for the affordability of all food, as there are great international restaurants found at every corner. Otherwise, you can easily eat on a dollar when living in Bangkok, where most local foods cost 30–40 baht from food courts, street food and shophouse restaurants (our guide to cheap eats here). However local foods can be intimidating to newcomers, and most people will aim to space out eating with familiar western foods and comforts. Rather than eating Thai food, for every meal, of every day, forever. And western snacks can still found for a dollar (although not recommended) at the local 7-11s, and I have shared a list of the 7-11 highlights here. Also, McDonald’s do 24-hour delivery (Big Mac meals cost around 150 Baht). But the range of food also made it hard to live on a lower budget, given every day there was somewhere new I wanted to visit. And we lived a ridiculous life of glutton before spacing it out with life in the rice fields. Also, a good place for cheap international food, wine and frugal romance, is the Wine Connection chain.
Drinks and Nightlife
Big beers cost around $1.50 (50 Baht) at the local corner shop, and local liquors like Sangsom or Blend (70cl) come to around $7 (220 Baht). Although my go-to liquor would be Bells Whisky (I am half Scottish after all) at around 350 Baht for a big bottle. Otherwise, when it comes to nightlife, Wine Connection was about as far as we would go. And if planning to party when living in Bangkok, it can become expensive. And I will use an old hangout as an example, with Route 66 (RCA) where it is 300 Baht entry (that is then returned in drink coupons). For a bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label it is then 1,400 Baht, and around 150 Baht for beers. So it is easy to spend $50+ on a night out. Very easy. And this goes the same for most areas, including Sukhumvit 11, although it could easily double again towards the likes of Ekkamai and Thong Lor, and triple with rooftop bars.
Sports and Recreation
Not really my expertise to be honest, as I haven’t been to the gym for many years. But most apartment buildings will likely provide gym facilities of some sort and a swimming pool, and if they don’t then there’s probably little chance you can afford a decent gym membership either. Fortunately, there are cheap and free alternatives in Bangkok’s local parks, where your best bet when living in the Sukhumvit area is Benjasiri Park (Phrom Phong BTS) or living in the Silom area Lumpini Park. Where at both you’ll find free exercise facilities, as well as sports courts such as basketball, skateboard parks, Tai Chi and Sepak Takraw. And while Bangkok will never be the most bike-friendly of cities it is possible to cycle and rent bikes at Benjakiti Park (Queen Sirikit MRT) as well as Lumpini Park, again in the Silom area. And there is even a cycle lane between these parks which I included in my guide to cycling in Bangkok.
Travel in Bangkok (and Beyond)
I will always advise for Bangkok expats to stay near the Skytrain (BTS) or Underground (MRT). Simply because they are extremely convenient when living in Bangkok, as the traffic at times can be a nightmare in the city. And I have literally spent hours in taxis without leaving the central Sukhumvit during peak hours. Although taxi prices rarely go higher than 150 Baht within Bangkok’s CBD, so they are no doubt ridiculously cheap. Otherwise, to beat the traffic, motorbike taxis can nip through rush hour traffic for 10-20 Baht (in local areas), and are also great fun. Then there are minivans and Songtaews, which are cheaper again, but will take a bit of learning for expats in Bangkok. Then for long distance travel, I would honestly recommend flights (over buses and trains) as the prices these days are very similar, only flights are 10 times quicker (my long distance travel guide here). They also cover Southeast-Asia, and even further-flung Asia, for next to nothing these days. Which is a massive perk for expats living in Bangkok.
The Best Things are Free
This for me is the most important aspect when living in Bangkok. Where the best things in Bangkok are free. And if you don’t agree with this, then maybe you shouldn’t consider life as an expat in Bangkok. As there are already too many jaded expats here, who arrived with expectations of cheap living, a VIP lifestyle, and maybe the allure of Bangkok’s neon lights (although Pattaya may be best suited here). But if you don’t appreciate the people, the local cultures, and just the chaotic nature of big city living, then Bangkok may not be the city for you. Add in the intense heats, the seedy underbelly, the tourist tack, and a broken heart maybe, then Bangkok can quickly become a relentless city to live in. Fortunately, I cannot relate to this, as it is a city I loved for all the right reasons, from the very start. And Bangkok is a rather massive city to explore which is shown here by a good friend of mine (Justin Egli at Ikimasho.com) who wrote ‘Bangkok from the inside’ during a visit with us in Bangkok.
Budget for Living in Bangkok
I would put $1000US (30,000 Baht) per month as the bare minimum for living in Bangkok. And while I know it can be cheaper when living in squashed accommodation, eating instant noodles and boozing street liquor. But this is not really living. It’s more like surviving. So $1000 US is similar to my own monthly spending, and this doesn’t include accommodation costs. And I otherwise eat cheap, I travel cheap, and I would stay in 5 our of 7 nights a week. Living a relatively simple life in the big city. But factoring in spending on international travel, and VISA runs, and the cost of living in Bangkok quickly becomes pricey. Although, for me, worth every penny. So I have created a more up-to-date analysis of the actual costs of living in Bangkok, showing a basic breakdown of expat expenditures. As I know everyone is different, with different levels of comfort, and reasons for being in Bangkok. And so I have taken lifestyle and varying budgets into consideration as well. From a basic life in retirement to big city life and the so-called ‘VIP’ lifestyle. This can be downloaded in the free eBook below (don’t worry, we pretty much never send out subscription emails).