Back in 2016, I visited Thailand for the first time and experimented with working while traveling.
I travelled across the country and visited the most promising cities such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai to see if I could use either of these as my home base.
Fast forward 3 years, I have left Germany for good and moved to Chiang Mai. As of now, I have been based in Chiang Mai for 6 months (targeting 1 year) and think I have a much deeper understanding of the day-to-day life now.
Especially when you’re starting out with your location independent journey, there are certain criteria a city needs to check:
Does it have FAST internet?
Is it easy to find short term accommodation?
Is it good value for money? (to take advantage of geoarbitrage)
Is the city safe? (especially for women)
Is it easy to get around? (public transport, taxis, etc.)
Can I have a healthy lifestyle?
Is there a great community of likeminded people?
Thailand, specifically Chiang Mai, checks a lot of these boxes.
In this article, I want to give you my latest opinion on whether Thailand is a good country to start your digital nomad journey.
The infrastructure in Thailand
I want to start off this article by giving you an overview of the basics first.
The internet connection
3 years ago, the infrastructure was already amazing. I’m glad to see that it has slightly improved over the last 3 years.
When I first came, I was amazed by the number of coffee places with high speed internet. It feels the number has risen significantly and there are even more amazing coffee places available where you can access fast internet and get work done.
How fast is the internet in Chiang Mai? It’s hard to answer that question because it varies. As with any country, it strongly depends on the time of the day and where you live. Popular areas like Nimman may have better connections because of a more modern infrastructure. But then, in highly populated areas, the internet speed might drop significantly when everyone comes home from work in the evening to watch Netflix. So it’s hard to give a definite answer.
In general, I found the internet at coffee places pretty stable, hovering between 10-30mbits. This may seem slow if you‘re into vlogging and need to upload videos. But for 95% of us who do normal remote work or build online businesses, it‘s totally enough. If you need faster internet, you can always get your private home internet with up to 100mbits or even more.
Facilities & Convenience
Good internet access is probably the most important aspect for digital nomads.
But what about the rest?
For many people it is surprising to know, that Thailand is not far behind other countries when it comes to the general infrastructure. Big highways, well connected metros, modern shopping malls, VIP Cinemas, convenient stores or even online shopping are available almost throughout the whole country.
It always amazes me how I can order fresh food / fruit from Tesco for the next day and only pay 2$ for the shipping. It‘s just insane and many times I ask myself how they make money from it? There are just so many things you can get, that you know from back home. It makes the transition so much easier and you start to wonder : „why not just stay?“
Getting Around the country
Compared to many other Asian countries, it‘s so easy to get around in Thailand. You can easily travel across the country using any of the major transportation methods (bus, train, airplane).
The main highways are well built and trains and busses are very reliable. Booking a ticket is no rocket science and can be easily done via 12go.asia.
Getting around in cities is also very convenient. Big cities like Bangkok have all sorts of public transportations available. Be aware that public busses or taxis are not the best choice during rush hour because the traffic jam can be quite bad.
Instead, take the subway/metro. In smaller cities such as Chiang Mai, renting a motorbike gives you the best flexibility. Otherwise GRAB is your best and most convenient choice. And compared to UBER, GRAB is so cheap in Asia with most rides ranging between 1.50$ – 3.00$ for a 15-30min ride.
Safety for travelers
Regardless of being a guy and traveling by myself, I can tell that Thailand in general is a very safe country. I’ve met so many solo travelers, among them many female travelers.
Bigger cities and more touristy areas such as Pattaya may have dodgy areas, but if you apply a common sense and don’t walk around at night with your 4k$ DSLR camera, then you don‘t need to worry at all.
In Chiang Mai, I never ran into a situation where I felt unsafe. Even when walking home at 1:00am. Of course it’s different for a guy, so I asked some female travelers what their experience was:“My experience with safety in Thailand came be summarized like this: I don’t think Thai men like white women. Half joking, but in all seriousness I haven’t had any unpleasant encounters. I walk with confidence at night – but I also take precautionary measures and keep my phone on me at all times with a loaded SIM card! I do use the app Grab if I am in transport after 10pm. In fact, when I leave Thailand for “visa runs” I am humbled but how good I have it here in Chiang Mai. It is the surrounding countries that make me a bit nervous.” – Michelle Roberts from www.massageeducationthatchangeslives.com“Some context: Chiang Mai (CM) was the first city I’ve travelled to as a solo female traveler. I’ve been there once before (a whole year ago), but I wasn’t familiar with it. I found CM to be as safe as any small city can be. One time I was walking across old town (the touristy square) by myself at 10pm and besides avoiding dark streets, I didn’t feel unsafe at all. Just respect the local custom and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do back at home. Common sense, really! If you are scared, then call someone while you’re alone at night. During the day, it’s totally fine!” – Bea from beawander.comNow, that we got the basics out of the way, let‘s talk about the general aspects of a daily life in Thailand.
Life feels so effortless
From finding an apartment, to getting home internet, to getting a Visa Extension or getting a SIM card…everything just feels so much easier.
Compared to Germany (where I am from), I would probably need 3 months to find and move into an apartment. Furthermore, the landlord would need all sorts of financial proof and backup upfront before he even considers me as a tenant.
Then, it would take me another month to get my home internet and another 12 month to cancel the contract. If I forget to cancel my contract 3 month before the end of a billing cycle, it would be renewed without warning and I would have to stick around for another 12 months.
Everything needs double confirmation and double proof. It sucks because it wastes everyones time and most importantly a lot of mental energy.In Chiang Mai, it takes me 1 day to walk around to find a suitable place. It takes me another day to sign the contract and move in. And on the 3rd day, I would get my internet that I can cancel on any given day.
A lot of things you need are so effortless to get. It is really hard to convey the point through an article, but you can only experience this when you‘re actually here. A local person my have a different perspective. They may have to deal with a lot of crap that you need to deal with as a citizen of a country. But as a tourist, just be grateful that you’re not part of the system.
You don’t need to know Thai
There are certainly people living in Thailand for nearly a decade and don‘t speak fluent Thai. Some probably don‘t even speak Thai at all.
You will get around with speaking english just fine. Especially in popular cities and most restaurants. Of course, not everyone speaks English. If you go to the local market, you will probably run into challenges. But even then, people are so friendly and want to help you out and in the end. Just don’t use sophisticated english language.
As a common mistake, I see foreigners talking to local thai people like they would talk at home. Using many unnecessary fill words. It just doesn‘t work! Maybe it’s because I’m not a native english speaker and therefore can empathize more with thai people. Use simple words and short phrases and you will get what you want. At least in 95% of the time. It works for me.
However, the purpose of traveling is to immerse yourself in a culture. On one hand, it’s sad for me to admit that you don’t need to learn Thai at all. On the other, I encourage anyone to learn as many simple phrases as possible. Imagine being in your own country. If you see a tourist making an effort, you will appreciate it.
You can have a healthy lifestyle
This is one of the most important aspects to me which is why I want to mention it.
I‘ve been around in many Asian countries and found that Thailand actually has the best healthy food options. You can get fresh fruit, healthy smoothies and good vegan food almost everywhere.
I‘m not vegan anymore, but I like to keep a healthy balance. It‘s so sad to see that a flood of convenience food is flooding all Asia.
The lifestyle in Asia used to be very healthy with fresh vegetables dominating the meals. Now it‘s McDonals, KFC, instant noodles, tons of oily fried stuff and many other unhealthy processed food.
Thailand, in my opinion, still makes healthy food very accessible. But nutrition is just one side of the equation. Especially when you travel full-time, it is so important to get your movement in. I found gyms very accessible in Chiang Mai with prices starting at 60 THB (not even 2$) for one session. It‘s insane. Germany has cheap gyms too, but then again, I would be trapped in a freaking 6-12 month contract. Runners will probably face more challenges in Thailand. As with many South East Asian countries, there are no consistant side walks and big green parks are not available everywhere. In addition, running during the day is almost impossible because it’s very hot and humid. As a result, you have to limit your outdoor activity to very early mornings or late evenings.
The living costs are pretty low ~ 1100$/month
Let’s discuss to the most exciting part of the article: the average living cost. Many articles have been written and videos have been created about this.
If you look on YouTube or google „living cost in Thailand” or specifically Chiang Mai, you will certainly come across digital nomads who lived in Chiang Mai for under 600$ (it’s not a big deal by the way if locals can live off 300$/month)
For that reason, I don’t want to create just another „living on the cheap in Thailand“- article. I want to give you a realistic perspective of the living costs in Thailand with digital nomads or location independent entrepreneurs in mind.
You can always have a cheaper lifestyle and eat instant noodles all day, but neither does that make you more happy in the long run nor is it the most healthy lifestyle. If you‘re unhappy, your business will suffer and for that reason, I‘m not a big fan of the „don‘t buy the latte“ mentality.
In order to make more, your mind needs to be in a certain state. If you have a cheap mindset, you‘re stuck in scarcity rather than living in abundance. But you need the abundance mindset in order to grow. I‘m also not promoting excessive spending. I‘m all about conscious spending. It doesn‘t make sense to drive for 30min through heavy traffic to save 1$ on a 4$ meal and it also doesn‘t make sense to eat out every meal for 20$ If you live on 600$ per month.
With that out of the way, here is my quick take on the living costs.
Costs of apartments in Chiang Mai ~ 160$-290$/month
When it comes to renting an apartment in Chiang Mai, I find a price around 5.000-9.000 THB (160$ – 290$) reasonable. There is always a cheaper option. But if you come from a western country, it is hard to adjust to a 18qm room with no aircon because you want to pay 3000 THB (100$).
On the other end, everything above 10k (320$) doesn‘t make any sense if you travel solo or don‘t have the financial backup. These are the people who spent 15.000k on a fancy apartment in Nimman and go broke after the second month.
Please make smart decisions! If you want to bootstrap a business and need a long runway, don’t stay in Nimman! My friend Bea did all the leg work for you and wrote about her apartment hunting experience in Chiang Mai with lots of recommendations. Check it out here: Apartment Hunting in Chiang Mai: I Visited 35 Places in 2 Days!
Every Day Costs ~ 12$ / Day
I don’t really count pennies. I track my spending, yes, but if I like to eat something, then I just spend the money on it without thinking.
Why? First, because I can currently afford it and second, because it makes me damn happy not to pinch penny each time I go out.
If I wouldn’t have a job and only a few hundred $ to live off each month, then I would probably be much more conscious about my spendings but right now, I don’t really care much about it. Especially when it comes to food, I care a lot about what goes into my body. With shitty fuel, there is only shitty output. Therefore I eat a lot of veggies, fruits, drink smoothies and freshly cooked meals from the local market. Occasionally, I would treat myself with quality food from restaurants as well.
But my usual day in general includes this:
Breakfast with pastry & coffee (~65THB)
Lunch + drinks (~60-120THB)
Afternoon Coffee / Smoothies (~40THB)
Random snacks (~60-80THB)
Dinner + drinks (~100-120THB)
In a very generous month, I spent around 400$ on food. This not only includes normal meals like lunch and dinner, but also coffee, snacks and drinks when going out with friends. But on average, my spendings are around 340$ which is insane if you compare it to western standards.
If you break it down, then you will see that my daily spending is around 12$. And this is WITHOUT thinking about Money all the time. Because I track all my spendings and share them publicly, you can see them in my monthly updates.
Rent + Food : ~ 720$
If you combine rent and food, then I end up with around 720$ for a generous month. Now add up random costs like transportation or visa extensions and you get a more realistic view on the monthly living cost in Chiang Mai.
Random Costs : ~150$ – 200$
To give you an example, here are some of my random costs. This is different from person to person because of personal circumstances.
Visa Extensions: 1900 THB = 62$ Transportation / GRAB = 35$ on average High Speed Home Internet: 500 THB / Month = 17$ Mobile Data Cost: 400 THB / Month = 13$ Gym : 60 THB / Day, ~700THB month (2-3 times/week) = 23$ —————— Total : 150$
Don’t forget business expenses and health insurances
What most people never mention in their epic “Living off 600 bucks a month”, are business related costs and travel insurances. Again, these are costs that vary from person to person, but they are essential monthly reoccurring costs that you need to consider in your calculation.
In my personal case, I spend around 100$/month in accounting services and my international insurance sets me back with another 115$. These are another 215$ that I have to include in my monthly budget.
What is the total monthly living cost?
Let’s add everything together:
Apartment: 320$ Food: 400$ Random costs: 150$ Business & Insurance: 215$ —————- Total: 1085$
In my humble opinion, this is a much more realistic view on the average living expenses in Chiang Mai as a location independent entrepreneur.
Summary – is Thailand still the best country to start your digital nomad journey?
In my opinion, YES.
Thailand ticks so many boxes. There may be other countries with lower living costs or better infrastructure. But in my opinion, Thailand is the best combination of all and offers the best overall package.
Ok, I admit that at the beginning I talked about Thailand in general but many facts in this article are actually based on Chiang Mai. But for a good reason. Besides Bangkok, Chiang Mai is one of the most popular cities among expats. Although I traveled to many parts in Thailand, my experience is mostly based on living in Chiang Mai. I think it‘s ok, because many aspects of the daily life will not be much different whether you live in Bangkok or in Chiang Mai.
Where I think the biggest difference is, are the living costs.
I know, not everyone wants to start out in Chiang Mai and rather go to the southern parts with the islands and beaches. In this case, I would recommend to have a budget around 1500$/month to be on the save side, as southern parts and bigger cities like Bangkok are generally more expensive when it comes to food and accommodation.
Nevertheless, I think Chiang Mai gives you a great reference if you consider to start your location independent journey in Thailand. For people considering moving out here to bootstrap a business, I would recommend to have enough money saved up to survive for at least 6 months, or even better 12 months.
I hope that article gave you a helpful insight look of the location independent lifestyle in Thailand. If you‘ve never been to Thailand, then I would recommend to visit the country first for a vacation. Don‘t sell all your stuff, burn all bridges and jump into the blue without having a plan. Experiment with a 2 week vacation, maybe even 1 month. Bring your laptop and see if you like the lifestyle.
If you do, then take the leap of faith. Because in the end, you can only win.