I get a lot of people asking me to be more specific about what my retirement expenses are being a Chiang Mai expat. Again, as I pointed out in post about how I afford my life, the way I do things may seem extraordinarily extravagant or miserably deprived depending on your point of view. Is Thailand cheap? Is it easy to retire cheap in Asia? Well, I am simply doing what works for me. My days are filled with what I see as exciting adventures and honestly, I don’t feel that I want for anything material. I am satisfied. As the saying goes, “Happiness isn’t having what you want, but wanting what you have.” The numbers below don’t include what is actually my biggest expense: travel, but I look at that more as an investment in myself than an expense.
Since I last wrote I have moved from a studio apartment in town to a house about 5 kilometers from “Old Town”. It is a five-year-old, furnished three bedroom, two bath house with a garden and a full kitchen with granite counter tops. I would estimate that it is around 1,200 square feet (111 square meters). It feels a little large for Sarah and me but for $392 USD a month, it feels downright luxurious.
I am still renting a Honda PCX 150cc motorcycle for about $120 USD a month. I could buy something outright and cut down on that cost, but the convenience of having maintenance done by the rental place and being able to turn it in when I am finished with it or while I am traveling, makes it worth it to me. I usually drive it for about ten days before I have to put gas into it and I can fill it up for less than $6 USD.
Tap water usually costs about $3 USD a month and electricity generally runs between $12 USD and $40 USD per month considering if we are traveling or using air conditioning. Internet costs $27 a month for 10Mb unlimited service. A bottle of propane for the stove usually runs around $5 USD and has only had to be replaced once in six months. Service for my iPhone costs about $9 USD with unlimited 3G.
Household and personal items – detergent, shampoo, toothpaste, razor blades, et cetera – generally costs the same as I remember paying in the United States. Medical care is usually far more affordable, whether you go to local clinics or one of the many western style hospitals.
Food is probably my largest regular expense. You can get a simple meal of noodles and a bottle of water for less than one US dollar or you can eat in western style restaurants and easily spend $15 USD or more if you have wine. I mix it up a lot, a few noodle meals, some street food and a few western style meals, and my food expenses rarely exceeds $15 USD a day including a glass of wine or a beer or two. Also, if you want to cook, there are markets and grocery stores in town ranging from simple stalls where things are generally very affordable, to western style groceries that are as, or even more, expensive than their counterpoints in Europe or the United States. Locally grown vegetables and meat are relatively very inexpensive.
Much of the best entertainment in town, in the form of just wandering the streets to see the weekend markets, the street musicians, the festivals and temples, is free. Things like first run Hollywood or international movies, in English with Thai subtitles, costs less than $3 USD in theaters that usually exceed western standards with huge reclining seats, plenty of legroom and reserved seating. Seeing an action blockbuster in IMAX 3D, with popcorn and a drink, is less than $20 USD for two people. There is of course hiking in the mountains, visiting the area’s National parks and relaxing by the lakes, waterfalls and hot springs that cost little to nothing. Visiting some of the best/ most humane elephant parks, rock climbing, zip lining or trekking costs can be quite expensive, but many of them are deeply discounted to people that can show residency in the form of a driver’s license.
Throw in $50 USD or so a month for incidentals and that pretty much covers living expenses. Electronics here cost about the same as they do everywhere, genuine brand name clothing costs probably 50% more here than other places but there are local alternatives. Imported wine and spirits are heavily taxed and probably cost double what they cost in Europe and North America, but local beer and spirits cost about the same.
I know people that are easily getting by for less than $500 USD a month and they aren’t too deprived. I know others that are struggling to keep their expenses below $3,000 USD a month. I am sure there are a few that are spending much more than that but I don’t usually bump into them socially. I have met a balance that works very well for me.