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Cost of Living in Phuket, Thailand

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How much does it cost to live in Phuket? This is a difficult question to answer because there is so much variance in what expatriates want and think they need.

For example, a Chinese or Thai made dress shirt costs, say 70 baht, at an open air market, a shirt from a men's clothing store might cost 700 baht and in between are shirts from the Big C Super Centers or Tesco priced around 300 baht a shirt.

This discussion is more oriented toward those who would buy the 70 baht shirt, and maybe the 300 baht shirt. Generally speaking, if people live in a way somewhat similar to how average Thais live, they can live quite reasonably and comfortably. If expatriates want to imitate upper middle class middle life styles in their home countries they will find that costs can increase sharply.

Perhaps a good way to begin considering the question of "how much", is to consider what typical Thais earn, which is generally between 6,000 and 12,000 baht a month. Thus, in theory, an expatriate should be able to get along on roughly that amount.

That, however, is probably unfair because Thais know their way around and most of them seem to be bringing in extra income one way or the other. So it is a good idea to increase the amount. Double the range - from 12,000 to 24,000 baht a month.

This figure DOES give a reasonable estimate of how much money is necessary to live comfortably in Thailand, although most expatriates in Thailand probably need more but not necessarily a lot more.

Below is an examination of some major expenditures which a budget must account for or usually account for: housing, food, clothing, transportation, "ordinary" entertainment, and communication. Medical care and "adult entertainment" need to be considered as special categories.

Housing

Most Thai people spend between 3,000 to 7,000 baht a month on shelter. For 7,000 baht, a person can rent a quite nice, large, air conditioned, fully furnished room with toilet on a higher floor in a good apartment complex.

The amount one pays will increase if one gets a place in a heavily touristed area. It is said that fully furnished, air conditioned houses can be had for 8,000 to 18,000 baht a month on Phuket Island with prices varying a lot according to location. "Palaces" on the ocean can be rented for a relatively modest 60,000 to 80,000 baht a month.

Thus, relatively nice and comfortable housing satisfactory for a single person or couple can be had for a modest amount of around or under 10,000 baht a month, including utilities. Unless one uses the air conditioner for long periods, which can add to the total cost substantially.

Food

Eating in Thailand is cheap. Most Thais eat three quite nice meals daily for around 30 to 40 baht a meal, or 120 baht a day. If one adds some snacks and drinks, the figure might rise to 200 baht a day.

In consideration of an expatriate's love of and need for eating, another 100 baht a day could be added to the "allowance". This would mean that one person would need about 9,000 baht a month for food, which is an amount probably too generous but would allow for some "spurging". If anyone needs more than this, they definitely need to go on a diet or they are eating mainly Western food.

Clothes

This should be a small expenditure in Phuket, unless perhaps if a person is regularly employed. Even then, it shouldn't be so much. A few cheap shirts and pairs of pants, some shorts, T-shirts and bathing suits, a few ties and dresses or skirts for ladies are all that are required for the well dressed Phuket expatriate.

Taking into account that an expatriate might have to spend heavily in the first few months of residence, clothing expenses should still be no more than 1,000 to 1,500 baht a month over a yearly period. The only clothing items which could really hurt the clothing budget is/are shoes.

Thais make terrible shoes and Western shoes are very expensive. In recent years, shoes from China have been coming into the market and while they are not as good as Western shoes, they are much cheaper (around 400 to 500 baht a pair) and they are much better than the Thai shoes.

Transportation

This expenditure is probably the most difficult of the items considered to estimate. It has the potential to be a real budget buster. Since most people live in local communities, however, and are able to walk, it is quite possible to avoid using transportation most of the time. It is reasonable to say many people might have a very modest weekly expenditure of perhaps 300 to 400 baht – and perhaps not that much.

Of course, this figure has the potential to increase sharply if a person travels around the island a lot in tuk-tuks. It could easily rise to, say, 5,000 baht a week. Therefore, many find it more convenient and cheaper to rent a motorbike – generally around 3,500 a month – or to buy one.

New ones cost anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000, but there are a lot of cheaper second hand ones available. In an effort to find a reasonable figure for transportation costs, the figure for renting a motorcycle can be used along with a maintenance and fuel fee of another 1,000 baht. This will come to around 4,000 baht a month.

Ordinary Entertainment

Most items that could generally be classified as normal, usual or traditional entertainment – going to movies, bowling, video home rentals, sitting on the beach in a rented beach chair, etc. - are modestly priced.

To see a movie in a theater, for example, costs no more than 120 to 160 baht a ticket. Ordinary entertainment in Phuket should cost no more than a few thousand baht a month. A figure of 3,000 per month, excluding dining costs, is a very reasonable estimate.

Communications

Mobile phone and Internet use have come to be considered a necessity by most people. In Phuket, costs are lower than they are in most places. Those using mobile phones should be able to get by with fees of no more than 2,000 baht a month – unless they make many international phone calls - and those using the Internet should be able to surf and communicate for around 1,000 baht a month – Internet rates at cafes are typicaly 20 to 30 baht an hour - for a total communications cost of around 3,000 baht a month.

Adult Entertainment

This is an item which ordinarily would not be included in a budget because it is completely discretionary and unnecessary. Yet, in Phuket, it is an item that many people feel they can't live without and it can destroy a budget and send the cost of living into the stratosphere.

It is completely reasonable for a resident or visitor to Phuket to anticipate a minimum entertainment expenditure of 5,000 baht a week if they go to clubs, bars and discos: drink alcohol at club prices and entertain guests in his (or her) home or apartment and this is only for one or two nights "out on the town!!" Costs can rapidly escalate!

It is necessary to include an "adult entertainment" expenditure of at least 20,000 baht a month in the budgets of those who feel that this is a necessary part of their life. To not do so, would be unrealistic.

Healthcare

Heathcare costs present a problem similar to those of "Adult Entertainment" but for different reasons. Whereas adult entertainment is totally unnecessary but many people want it, health insurance is a necessary item, that many people do not get. If people do not get it, then it should not be included in a budget either!

Health insurance can be expensive, at least by Thai standards. Depending on a variety of factors, it can cost between 1,000 and 4,000 baht a month – generally, when the cost increases beyond 4,000 baht a month, insurers will simply refuse coverage. Ordinary day-to-day health care in Thailand, however, is very reasonable.

Unless one has bad teeth, one thousand baht a month should be enough to cover costs associated with colds, headaches, infections, etc. It must be remembered that in Thailand one can simply go to a pharmacy and get a medication (and some "free" medical consultation) for very small sums, typically from 50 to 100 baht, that might require three or four visits to doctors and pharmacists in a Western country, and to cost from 500 to 1000 US dollars, and not including all the travel and waiting time involved!!

Evaluating the Numbers - Total Cost

An evaluation of the numbers indicates that a single person will need a little more than 30,000 baht a month to live comfortably. With the added cost of health insurance the monthly cost of living will still be under 35,000 baht a month. If one adds "adult entertainment" to the numbers, then the costs escalate sharply to well over 50, 000 baht a month.

Of course expatriates will need additional money for what might be considered unusal expenditures, most noteably travel to other countries or return to the home country. Some cost of living surveys include costs of educating children as part of the cost of living.

They are not covered here for various reasons, most noteably these costs are so severe that a person of modest means simply can't afford them. Most people who bring children to Thailand and send them to (private) school are usually employed and have this expense paid for by their companies.

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