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 too, because we are planning to live in Chiang Mai for a few years after Mrs. RB40 retires.
A little about Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. There are about 160,000 people living in the city itself and nearly 1 million people in the surrounding urban 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 about 5 million visitors per year so they are used to foreigners.
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 most likely 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 care 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. The older folks might not last until Mrs. RB40 retires though. 🙁
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 $50,000. It depends on the location, of course.
- $350 Groceries – Mostly seafood. My dad loves seafood and avoids 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 equipments – 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. Local guys who eat out every meal at cheap local restaurants 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 costs more than Thai food.
- $600 Beverages – My dad say 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.
- $50 Transportation – 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 $1,000/month and budget $1,000/month for traveling. This is much less than our current expense of about $4,000/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.
Photo credit: wikipedia
For 2018, Joe plans to diversify his passive income by investing in US heartland real estate through RealtyShares. He has 3 rental units in Portland and he believes the local market is getting overpriced.
Joe highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help every investor analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.
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