Hey Everyone, I’m in Chiang Mai and it is great here. Mrs. RB40 reported that they had record snowfall in Portland and all kinds of problems followed. Lots of people lost power, a big branch broke off our neighbor’s tree and almost hit our house, our gutter froze and our basement is wet, our car needed to be move, and lots more. Yikes! She shoveled snow all day yesterday. Whew, I dodge that bullet. Hahaha! It is a bit hot here, but I’d take 90 degrees heat over snow any day.
Anyway, Chiang Mai is a great place to visit. But is it a good fit for retirement? It really depends on you. I speak Thai, have families here, and I’m a Thai citizen. It will be a very easy transition for me. That’s not true for most foreigners. In recent years, the Thai government made it more difficult to stay in Thailand for a long period. Foreigners have to spend a lot of money to get a retirement visa or fly home periodically. (I think that’s the current rule. It seems like they keep changing it.) I think the Thai government prefers short-term visitors. They spend a lot more money than retirees. Chinese tourists, in particular, spend a ton of money when they come to Thailand. They buy jewelry, luxury goods, skincare products, souvenirs, and who knows what else to take home (for use, gift, and resale.)
I first wrote this post in 2013 when I came to see my parent. I used my parent and their Japanese retiree friends as the study cases back then. This time, I’ll update the post with 2021 numbers and give more examples.
Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. There are about 130,000 people living in the city itself and nearly 1 million people in the surrounding sprawl. If you have been to Bangkok, you know it is extremely hectic there. Chiang Mai is a little calmer and you don’t have to deal with gridlocked traffic all the time. The cost of living is also quite a bit cheaper than Bangkok.
The climate is tropical. It’s hot and humid, but it’s better than Bangkok. There are many temples, festivals, and activities to do around Chiang Mai. The city also gets over 10 million visitors in 2019 so they are used to foreigners.
Cost to retire in Chiang Mai
We have 4 cases here.
A local office worker. A friend works in Bangkok and he makes about 25,000 baht per month. ($1 USD = 30 baht) He said he’d make much less in Chiang Mai, maybe 19,500 baht. That’s $650 USD/month.
My dad’s friend, Leo, is an ex-pat from the US. He lived in Thailand for years. His lifestyle is “Spartan” so we’ll use his numbers as an example of the lower end.
This is what I’d spend if I live in Chiang Mai.
Luxury. There is no cap if you want to live a luxury lifestyle. A nice omakase dinner cost over $100 each. You can buy luxury cars, house, clothes, and whatever you want. I’ll just make some guesses here.
Bar $? I don’t know. I haven’t gone to a bar in ages. Maybe $6-7/drink.
Golf $30-$60 depending on the golf course.
One week trip to the beach $300.
Camping/rustic countryside trip over the weekend $50.
Local office worker – $650/month (low income)
$150 Rent – He can rent an apartment about 10 minutes from the city center for about $150/month. This would be inconvenient for ex-pat retirees, but not a problem for local people.
$250 Food – He can buy ready-made from the market and eat out at cheap Thai food restaurants around town. There are plenty of cheap and good restaurants. You just need to know where to find them.
$50 Transportation – Most local young people have a moped. The gas is cheap for that. I guess $50/month for owning and operating a moped. That’s probably on the high side.
$150 Entertainment/misc – I’m not really sure here. I guess $150/month for going out with friends and having fun around town. This category is highly dependent on the activities.
Leonidas – $1,130/month (Spartan ex-pat)
$300 Rent – Rent is discounted heavily this year. You can rent a 400 sq ft studio in my dad’s building for under $300/month. This building is very close to the touristy area. Normally, rent would be about $500/month.
$400 Food – Mostly, Leo orders deliveries from cheap local restaurants. There are many Grab drivers/riders here in Chiang Mai. Leo also orders various supplements from the US.
$20 Transportation – Usually, Leo spends time around his apartment. He walks everywhere and only occasionally takes a Songthaew (taxi bus).
$350 Entertainment/misc – Actually, Leo lives in a bigger apartment. He spends $300 extra for a 2 room apartment. So it has a living room/kitchenette and a bedroom area. This is the only significant optional spending he has. Yes, that is Spartan…
Joe – $1,610/month (Comfortable life)
$500 Rent – I’d splurge on a nice studio in the touristy part of town. I’m not poor anymore.
$550 Food – Normally, I only have coffee for breakfast. That’s pretty cheap at home. For lunch, I go out and try different restaurants. Lunch at cheaper local eateries cost $2-3. Nicer lunch can be $5-6. Expensive lunch cost about $10. Usually, I drop by a coffee shop to work after lunch, $2-3 each visit. For dinner, my dad cooks. When I retire here, I’d probably go out for dinner much more often. I think $15/day sounds about right. Luckily, I like Thai food so I can eat at local places. In fact, I didn’t even have a western meal once on this trip and I don’t miss it at all.
$100 transportation – A ride on the songthaew (local taxi bus) costs $1. It’s a cheap and easy way to get around town. So 2-3 rides/day would be around $100/month. You could rent a moped if you’d like. I think that would cost about $100/month.
$400 Entertainment/misc – I didn’t spend much this time. I got one massage and that was it. On this trip, I spent a lot of time helping my mom. If I retire here full time, I would travel much more. I wouldn’t mind a trip to the beach every month. That cost about $300 for a one week getaway.
Luxurious retirement – $3,300/month
$1,000 Rent – You can rent a nice townhouse for about $1,000/month.
$1,000 Food – I think this is a very generous budget for food.
$200 Transportation – You can call Grab instead of waving down a songthaew/tuk tuk. I guess you could buy a car, but that seems like too much trouble for me.
$1,000 Entertainment/misc – ??? Shouldn’t be too hard to spend $1,000/month.
Okay, that’s my updated numbers for one person. I could live a pretty comfortable lifestyle here for about $1,600/month or maybe even less. I have families in Thailand and they can help me figure things out when I move here. Also, I don’t have to deal with any visa problems. That’s a big issue for foreign retirees.
Oh, I put ? in the healthcare column. Thai people can go to the public hospital, but the wait is very long. For small stuff, I’d probably go to a private clinic and pay. Healthcare is much cheaper in Thailand than in the US. Leo had 2 cataract operations last year. He paid about $3,500 for them. The amount you spend on healthcare really depends on your health.
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As some of our long-time readers may know, my parents are semi-retired in Chiang Mai, Thailand. They are here for an extended visit so I thought I’d take this opportunity to pick their brains on how much it costs to live there. I’m very curious to find out because we are planning to live in Chiang Mai for a few years after Mrs. RB40 retires.
Why retire in Chiang Mai?
Here are some reasons why I want to live in Chiang Mai for a few years.
Travel Headquarters – We would love to explore Asia more and Chiang Mai would be a great HQ. Burma and Laos are within driving distance (long drive.) Chiang Mai also has an international airport with flights to many other surrounding countries. I would love to visit China, Japan, and Korea again.
Healthcare – Mrs. RB40 will retire before Medicare kicks in for us. We can get public healthcare in Thailand and that can save a ton of money. If the public system doesn’t work out, then we can use the private hospitals. The cost of healthcare is much more affordable there than in the US.
Cost of living – It’s cheaper to live in Thailand than in the US (at least for now). We probably have to try it ourselves to know for sure if we can do it.
Family – I still have some relatives in Chiang Mai and it would be nice to catch up and spend some time with them.
How much it costs per month to retire in Chiang Mai
My parents are pretty frugal. My mom, in particular, doesn’t like to spend money at all and lives a simple lifestyle. My dad is usually very cheap on most things, but he likes to splurge on good food and wine.
$200 Housing – They live in a condo they own free and clear. Their bills include HOA, electricity, water, and phone. They do not have internet connection at home. You can probably get a nice 1 bedroom condo in the city for around $60,000. It depends on the location, of course.
$350 Groceries – Mostly seafood. My dad loves seafood and dislikes chicken, pork, and other more affordable options.
$350 Eating out – They eat out about 4 times per week – two lunches and two dinners. Food used to be very cheap in Thailand, but it sounds like eating out in restaurants is getting much more expensive lately. Takeouts from the market and street foods are still very affordable.
$200 Beverages – My dad drinks about 5 bottles of Johnny Walker whiskey a month. He’d rather have wine, but wine is very expensive in Thailand and the quality is generally bad. While he is here in the US, he drinks about 1/2 to 1 bottle of red wine per day.
$0 Healthcare – Their healthcare bill is usually 0. Public healthcare is available for Thai citizens. They also get free prescriptions from the hospital. My dad had cataract eye surgery earlier this year and he paid about $300 to cover the hospital stay and surgery equipment – lens, stitching, and scalpels. The operation itself was free (public hospital) and it turned out well.
$100 Entertainment – Movies, live music, and other entertainments. There are also free classes at the university for the seniors.
$100 Transportation – This is just the cost of gasoline. Cars are very expensive in Thailand due to the tariffs. The traffic is also pretty crazy so I’d rather use taxis and public transportation, which are plentiful.
They don’t keep track of every dollar so this is just an estimate, but they generally spend about $1,300/month and live quite comfortably. My dad likes to eat seafood so that’s why his food expense is so high. Locals who eat out every meal at cheap food stands or take out can probably keep it under $200/month on food.
Did I miss anything? Let me know if you have any specific questions and I’ll get the answer for you.
Foreigners spend more
My dad rents several condos to Japanese retirees. They have pensions and it’s much more affordable to live in Thailand than in Japan. Many of those retired folks live part time in Thailand. Here is an estimate of their living cost in Thailand.
$500 Housing – Rent in a comfortable 1 bedroom condo in a high-rise (about 600 sq ft.) The location is conveniently located in the central area of Chiang Mai. It’s probably cheaper to live outside of the core area.
$700 Groceries – Mostly food. They buy more imported food so that’s why it’s more expensive.
$500 Eat out – They eat out 4-5 days per week. They prefer Japanese cuisine which is more expensive than Thai food.
$600 Beverages – My dad says they each drink about a six-pack/day… They drink mostly beer and cheap wine.
$? Healthcare – Most of them have health insurance coverage purchased in Japan. It must be pretty expensive.
$700 Entertainment – They go golfing 4-5 times per week and it costs about $35 each day. They don’t really go to movies or theaters.
$50Transportation – There are many Japanese retirees in the area and they often share the cost of transportation when they are out and about.
The Japanese retirees spend about $3,000 per month to retire in Thailand. They probably could cut costs a bit. I guess they have pensions and don’t mind spending it to have a more luxurious retirement.
Health insurance is still a big question here. My parents don’t have health insurance and rely on public healthcare. One of my uncles had a stroke a couple of years ago and went the private care route. My dad guesses they spent around $25,000 to deal with the stroke and the aftermath.
Inflation is also quite high in Thailand. The data shows that inflation is around 3-4% each year, but my dad said it feels like more. Everything just keeps getting more expensive.
Anyway, I would love to live in Chiang Mai for a few years. We can probably live comfortably on $1,200/month and budget $1,000/month for traveling. This is much less than our current expense of about $4,800/month here in the US. It would be great to visit the surrounding area. Once we get tired of SE Asia, then we can move to South America for a few years. When Medicare kicks in, we can move back to the US part-time. It’s a long way off though so there might be a lot of changes by then…
What do you think about retiring part-time in more affordable countries? It’s a great way to explore and get to know other parts of the world.
2016 update: I went to Chiangmai to check out a retirement resort and get an update on the cost of retiring there. See the Retirement Options for Foreigners in Thailand.
See my credit card page for instruction on how to travel hack and which card to signup for today.
Photo credit: wikipedia
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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.
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