Is Thailand Cheap? The Pros & Cons of Living in Chiang Mai

The Wandering Elf
by The Wandering Elf

As an expat who has lived here for three and a half years, I feel inspired to share my personal experience and answer the question “Is Thailand cheap?” for those of you considering making a move here.

I will cover many topics such as rent, electricity, internet, food, and one small thing that might be a drawback for you, but for some people, it might be tolerable. Living in Thailand has allowed me to continue on my journey to living slowly, intentionally, and minimally.

In October 2018 my partner and I were on a short trip to India, and we were on our way to Bali to start looking for a house. We watched a video about Chiang Mai in Thailand, and the person was talking about how cheap it is, and you get a good deal for your money.

Rent is affordable and the city is vegetarian-friendly, digital, and nomad-friendly. We were curious about what it would be like to live there.

Neither of us had ever been to Chiang Mai or Thailand in general, so we decided to check it out before making a final decision to move to Bali.

It was supposed to be a two-week trip in Chiang Mai, and we were just there to check it out to see if everything that the YouTuber said was true. We were impressed by how affordable it was, and there's just great access to nature, so we decided to stay.

Housing costs in Chiang Mai

Housing cost

Then we started looking for a house, and we found one that was only $400. There were two bedrooms, an office space and kitchen, a living room, a yard, and a garage. There's a space at the back for doing the laundry, so it was a good deal. It's fully furnished, with two bathrooms, and hot water in each bathroom. There's also AC, TV, and everything. 

It's just in a quiet neighborhood, so it's a good deal. As for electricity, as I mentioned, we have two air conditioning units. We have hot water. We use the AC pretty much 24/7. Every month we pay around $90 or $120 max. 

Here’s the breakdown of our monthly expenses (a family of three):

  • Rent - $400
  • Groceries - $300
  • Electric - $60 (during November to February) $90 - $120 (March to June) $70 - $80 (rest of the year)
  • Internet - $20/ month (200 mbps)
  • Visa - $57 for a 1-month tourist visa extension; $1,300 for 1-year Education visa
Internet router

Internet connection 

Another thing that we like about Chiang Mai is the Internet connection. My son does homeschooling online, and I do some online work, and my partner also does the same thing. We need a fast Internet that is relatively stable and reliable.

In our experience, what they have here exceeded our expectations. We got an Internet plan that cost us $20 a month, and it was pretty fast, 200 Mbps, and it's stable. We never experienced it going out, so we were very pleased about that.  

Shopping for Thai food in a supermarket

Thai food

Now let's talk about food. If you prefer to cook more than eat out, there are many supermarkets here where you can find your organic produce, rice, and fruits. We would spend about $75 on our weekly groceries. That includes food and toiletries which is a pretty reasonable price for a family of three. 

There are also convenience stores here. There are lots of 7-11 stores, pretty much on every corner here in Chiang Mai. It's a good place to get some quick snacks if you want. 

Visa situation

Visa situation 

Now, the visa situation here is pretty much straightforward. We arrived here on a tourist visa. So that gave us 60 days plus a 30-day extension, for a total of 90 days.

If you plan to stay here long term, then you can get an education visa, and the price depends on the school. You can either study the Thai language or martial arts, and both are pretty much the same in terms of price. 

Is Thailand cheap?

Burning season

Now, I mentioned earlier that there is one small thing about living in Chiang Mai that can be a drawback for some people. There is this thing called the burning season, which happens as early as the middle of February and can last up to the rainy months, which could be May or June.

In the past year, 2019 and 2020, it was pretty bad but this year it's not that bad. You can see a bit of blue sky outside. So I think they're improving every year, which is great. 

Here are some resources about Chiang Mai’s burning season: 

Is Thailand cheap?

If you like a tropical climate and affordable living where you get the best value for your money. If you want to live in a place that's vegan friendly, and with fast Internet, then Chiang Mai is a good place to stay. It's family-friendly, there are lots of hikes and lots of nature, and I personally love it. 

There's no such thing as a perfect place. Anywhere you go, there will be pros and cons. It’s good to study those things before making a decision to finally relocate there.

I hope I’ve helped you discover how cheap Chiang Mai is and you’ll consider it for your next home. Have you been to Thailand? Let us know about your experience in the comments below.

Join the conversation
4 of 6 comments
  • John Matthews John Matthews on Nov 18, 2022

    You remarked about an education visa cost of $1300. Is that for all three of you? If so, how much would the cost be for 2 people? Are there alternatives for retirees? Enjoyed the article. The housing sounds really nice. Also, since we are retired, what is the medical care situation? Is setting up a bank account difficult? What about teaching some Thai students English? I appreciate your response.

    • See 1 previous
    • The Wandering Elf The Wandering Elf on Nov 19, 2022

      That's $1300 per person. But for retirees, the visa price is cheaper. I discuss it further in my recent video - Medical is also relatively reasonable. A typical doctor's fee for checkup is about $15 and the price for medical procedures vary. In Chiang Mai, we have been to Chiang Mai Ram Hospital for check ups and my partner had fistula removal surgery for $2000. Here is a blog post I found on medical costs in Chiang Mai, Thailand

  • Mary pachas Mary pachas on Nov 25, 2022

    What about pets? I am a huge animal advocate and are there many homeless dogs or cats ? That would break my heart.

    Is there freedom to practice your Religion ? Western Churches ?

    We are also retirees and wonder if there are many others so to have social connections. Thank you