Thailand is often referred to as being ‘dirt cheap’ for expats. Whilst this charming term may not seem particularly becoming, with rent, groceries and eating out over 60% cheaper than the UK, you can’t help but agree when considering the prices the Western world is used to.
The Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank, release their global Prosperity Index annually. The survey ranks the most prosperous countries in the world. Many assume prosperity is used in reference to the financial standing of a country and, while this is included, the Legatum Institute considers more factors in its ranking.
Ranking in 48th place this year (out of 142 countries) was Thailand. This puts Thailand in the top 30%, with its economy and social capital keeping it afloat. Personal freedom is the thorn in Thailand’s side, for which it ranks in 106th place. Safety and security also isn’t a strong area for Thailand, in 88th place.
But, how much does it really cost to live in Thailand?
Thailand is a newly industrialised country and the economy is heavily dependent on exports, which accounts for more than two-thirds of its gross domestic product. In 2011, Thailand became an upper-middle economy and, over the past four decades, has made remarkable progress in its social and economic development. The jump from a low income country to a high income country has happened in less than a generation. As a result, Thailand has become one of the most championed developmental success stories due to its reduction in poverty and sustained growth.
Thailand is still growing economically but, after such a strong surge, figures are now a little more modest. These figures are still positive, none the less. In 2014 the economy increased 0.9%, followed by 2.8% in 2015. Figures for 2016 predict that growth of 2.5% should be expected.
The currency used in Thailand is the baht (THB). It is subdivided into 100 satang and is the tenth most frequently used currency in the world.
Notes come in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 baht. The notes are all different sizes and easily distinguishable due to their different colours; green, blue, red, violet and brown. There are also nine coins, including satang and baht. Satang come in 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50. Baht come in 1, 2, 5 and 10 value coins. Although satang denominated coins are legal tender, some shops do not accept them and the 1, 5 and 10 satang coins are very rarely seen in circulation.
Housing in Thailand for Expats
Buying property in Thailand is basically not an option for non-permanent residents. It is a complicated process and, with most landlords being very sympathetic towards expats in terms of lettings, many choose to rent long term. This is very normal in Thailand and thus the market is varied and the process is very easy.
Renting can often feel extremely informal to foreigners and, for peace of mind, it is worth getting an estate agent to create a rental agreement for both parties to sign. When moving into a new apartment, expats should be aware that they will have to pay all their own utilities, nothing is ever included in the rental price. Energy shortages in Thailand mean that electricity is surprisingly expensive, and new expats should always keep an eye on their bills and save where they can.
Expat Healthcare in Thailand
Healthcare in Thailand is often good quality, especially in Bangkok and other cities. The majority of doctors and specialist staff speak good English. However, the level of everything deteriorates the more rural you get.
Although there are over 1,000 public hospitals in Thailand, equipment is often outdated and waiting times can be hours. For this reason, many expats opt in for private healthcare. All of the private hospitals in Thailand boast exceptional facilities and all staff have been educated in western universities. Private treatment is significantly less expensive than that in the likes of Europe or the United States, and many expats are pleased to be able to afford it in Thailand.
Expat Education in Thailand
For those expat families where one parent is Thai, and the birth was registered in Thailand, these children are eligible for free public education in Thailand up to the age of thirteen. For foreign expat children, private and bilingual schools do not carry the same hefty price tags as international schools and have adopted western teaching styles over the years. For families who plan on living in Thailand long term, these schools allow children to interact with other Thai kids, and understand Thai culture thoroughly. The English programmes will vary from school to school and it is best for parents to research extensively before selecting a school for their children.
Most parents, however, prefer to send their children to international schools in Thailand. Although they are significantly more expensive than bilingual private schools, they provide educational continuity for children by providing a variety of different western curricula. Expat parents should note that popular schools have long waiting lists and admission may be based on language proficiency and academic achievement. Requirements vary from school to school, but it’s always best to start the admissions and enrolment process as early as possible.
Transportation costs are an absolute steal in Thailand. The cheapest way to travel long distance is by bus or minivan. These can often become cramped or unbearably hot, so many foreigners opt to pay a little more for a train ticket. Trains may take a little longer, but they offer greater comfort and cabins for overnight trips.
Many expats use cheap taxis in the cities, or make substantial savings with the subway or Skytrain (particularly during rush hour). Expats will find that bus fares go up and down. Do not feel hard done by, this will be based on distance being travelled, and what kind of facilities the bus has.
As well as taxis, motorbikes and tuk-tuks fly around the streets, with very cheap fares based upon distance travelled.
Thailand has an unemployment rate of 1.01% which, when compared to the 5.4% of the UK, looks very optimistic. However, before you can even consider working in Thailand, you must have a work permit. To get a permit, expats must have a non-immigrant visa, which are extremely hard to obtain as you must already have been offered a job.
Companies employing expats must state the offer on their company letterhead requesting a non-immigrant visa for their prospective new expat employee. However, expats are more than welcome to come and explore the jobs market in Thailand for a month before having to obtain some sort of visa. Many visitors leave Thailand with job offers, and simply pop to a neighbouring country whilst their non-immigrant visa is sorted by their new employer.
Understandably, the majority of job opportunities for expats are found in Bangkok, but there are some expats who live and work in the southern islands. Most expats living in Thailand work in the service sector, particularly in the tourism industry. Teaching English is still the most common job role available to expats and offers a salary that is higher compared to local wages.
Salary in Thailand
Expats working in Thailand should always try and negotiate an expat package in the currency of their home country, or in US dollars. Those moving to Thailand do not move to the country to be financially better-off, but to enjoy the countries’ culture as a whole. Foreigners can make a decent living in Thailand, especially in IT, logistics or communication roles.
Comparison to UK
The world’s largest database, Numbeo, has a vast selection of user contributed data in regards to Thailand. Compared to the UK, groceries, rent, and eating out are all significantly less expensive in Thailand.
The tables below provide an over view of the differences in costs between Thailand and the UK. Please note that all Thai prices have been converted into British pounds.
|Groceries||UK Price (£)||Thai Price (in £)||Cheaper Country|
|White bread (500g)||£0.95||£0.90||Thailand|
|Local Cheese (1kg)||£5.87||£12.92||UK|
|Transport||UK Price (£)||Thai Price (in £)||Cheaper Country|
|Utilities (Monthly)||UK Price (£)||Thai Price (in £)||Cheaper Country|
|Electricity/Heating/Water for 85m2 apartment||£143.46||£59.95||Thailand|
|1 minute of PAYG talk time||£0.13||£0.04||Thailand|
|Internet (10 Mbps, unlimited data, cable/ADSL)||£21.05||£13.37||Thailand|
|Clothing||UK Price (£)||Thai Price (in £)||Cheaper Country|
|Jeans (Levi or similar)||£57.15||£46.82||Thailand|
|Dress (chain store)||£29.91||£28.54||Thailand|
|Nike running shoe||£59.40||£67.84||UK|
|Leather business shoes||£61.18||£56.81||Thailand|
|Leisure||UK Price (£)||Thai Price (in £)||Cheaper Country|
|Tennis court (1 hour)||£9.99||£5.43||Thailand|
|Cinema (1 ticket)||£12.00||£4.33||Thailand|
|Eating Out||UK Price (£)||Thai Price (in £)||Cheaper Country|
|Fast food meal||£5.00||£3.25||Thailand|
|3 course, mid-range||£50.00||£17.33||Thailand|