A question I’ve occasionally been asked since moving to Thailand is: “How much does it cost to rent a place?” The answer, of course, largely depends on where you choose to live. I would like to point out that foreigners are not allowed to own property in their own name in Thailand. A foreigner may buy a condominium, but not land. It either has to be in a Thai person’s name, or there are ways to purchase property as a commercial investment through a company. Therefore, I will be discussing my experiences with rental properties.
The first apartment I rented in Thailand was in Kata Beach City on the island of Phuket. Phuket is one of the most expensive places to live in Thailand. I had a small studio apartment with a separate, very small kitchen, which was 14,000 baht ($420) per month. The apartment building was located approximately two miles from the beach and the main shopping area. If I didn’t have a motorbike, it would have been an inconvenient place to live. The place wasn’t fancy by any means, but the price included electricity, water, cable, and it was furnished. It also had air conditioning which is a must for most westerners living in Southern Thailand. I stayed there for a few months, and it was fine for me. All I owned was what I had brought with me from the U.S. in a suitcase and carry-on bag. Then I made the move to Chiang Mai.
Northern Thailand is significantly cheaper than Phuket. I could have found an apartment comparable to my last one for close to 6,000 baht ($180). I’ve seen a few even bigger for that price. Instead of looking for a cheaper place, I chose to spend the same amount and upgrade to a nicer apartment. I ended up at a place called Huay Kaew Luxury Apartments and rented a large, one-bedroom for 14,000 baht. This place was centrally located, close to two shopping centers, dozens of restaurants, food markets, and the Nimmanhaemin district (Nimman for short). Nimman is a trendy part of Chiang Mai, packed with restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and hotels. It is popular with Thai university students as well as tourists. The apartment complex has a community pool, sauna, and small gym. Security is very modern, requiring the use of a fingerprint scanner to enter the lobby, and an electronic numeric code required to enter the room. The apartment itself was new, and came furnished with a clothes washer on the balcony, among the amenities. I enjoyed the freedom of being able to walk anywhere I wanted to go. A similar apartment in San Diego (where I lived before moving to Thailand), would have cost at least $1,800 per month.
Growing tired of apartment living, I discovered that housing just outside the city is considerably cheaper. A friend put me in touch with a real estate professional, who showed me a half-dozen houses in communities surrounding central Chiang Mai. Still staying close to my normal budget for rent, I found a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath house for 15,000 baht ($450) per month. I also have to pay for electricity, cable, and water, so this ups my expenses a bit. My most recent electric bill was $50 (running the air conditioner all night), and water was $3.50. I spend about $80 per month for my cable package which includes cable TV with English channels, my unlimited cell phone plan, and Internet/WiFi within the house. The two-story house is located within a gated community and has 24/7 security guards, checking everyone who enters or exits. The community also has a very nice swimming pool and gym. My house has fruit trees and a covered driveway. I’d estimate the place to be in the neighborhood of 2,000 square feet. I rented a similar house in a suburb of San Diego for nearly $2,500 per month, so $450 seems like a great deal!
I’ve been at this house over a year now, and I am very content. The neighborhood is quiet, the people are friendly and keep to themselves, and although it’s a 20-minute drive to the city on my motorbike, I don’t mind. There is a grocery store that caters to foreigners two miles away, two 7-11s within a half-mile, and every other necessity within a reasonable distance. I even have a lovely lake on the premises, although it is prohibited to do anything but admire its beauty.
I realize that there are apartments available in the United States for $450 per month, but I think it would be difficult to find a house like the one I’m renting for that price. If you are really strapped for cash, it is possible to find a livable, small apartment in Chiang Mai for 3,500 baht ($104) per month. You may not have an air conditioner, but you can get by in Northern Thailand with a fan.
If you read my first blog, you may remember I mentioned if I stayed in the U.S. and tried to live on my pension, I would probably be living in a trailer in the desert, shooting rabbits from the front porch for dinner. While that actually sounds kind of fun, I think moving to Thailand turned out to be a nicer alternative.