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Planning to move to Bangkok? Over the years, Thailand's capital has gained a reputation for a more affordable way of life for expats, compared to other Asian cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo or Kuala Lumpur. Nevertheless, is it truly cheaper? For expats preparing to move to Thailand and have chosen to live in Bangkok, asking the right questions is essential. Do you need a lot of money to live comfortably? What's the cost of renting an apartment versus a house for a family of four? Which is more practical - to buy a car or take public transportation? For health insurance, school fees, and food, how much would you have to fork out? This guide to the cost of living in Bangkok should enlighten you.


Before Your Move to Bangkok


You're expected to do your research prior to relocating, of course, but in the end, it really depends on your preferences and budget. Some companies allow their staff to do a familiarization trip to the new country to get the lay of the land, so to speak. If you're coming from within the Asia Pacific region, a weekend to visit Bangkok should at least be helpful.


You can also check within your network to see if anyone has lived in Thailand before to get some practical advice. Some may recommend living outside the city, such as in Chiang Mai. Check with your company what your relocation package includes. Is there an amount set aside for basic living costs? Will your company shoulder your expat health insurance as well as your dependents? Having an idea of how much to expect can help you create a rough budget so you'll know what you may need to spend money on.


Bangkok is a modern city in every sense of the word. It can get very crowded and traffic congestion is a daily problem. It's daytime population is higher owing to the fact that many workers from provinces outside of Bangkok choose to commute into the city. Being the seat of government, it's also an economic powerhouse, with Thai businesses and global companies maintaining regional headquarters and offices in the capital.


The Bangkok Metropolitan Area (BMA), a government definition of the urban areas surrounding Bangkok, has seen continuous expansion over the years due to rapid urbanization. With no strict zoning laws, some areas in Bangkok have seen tremendous growth, resulting in higher rates for rents and massive land development, including Central areas like Sukhumvit, Sathorn, Siam, and Yaowarat. Thong Lor, in particular, is now considered a trendy area to live in, especially among expats. Its proximity to Sukhumvit Road, where the Thong Lo Station of the Bangkok Mass Transit System (also known as BTS or Skytrain) is located, makes it a preferred residential location.


The Essentials of Life in Bangkok


One thing worth noting is that while Bangkok is not considered one of the most expensive cities to live in, rapid growth and inflation have an effect on the cost of living there. In fact, in the Cost of Living Survey 2019 results released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Bangkok is now in 41st place, climbing from 53rd in 2018. In Mercer's 2018 survey, Bangkok came in at 52nd.


When it comes to quality of life, Bangkok was number 132 out of 231 cities in Mercer's Quality of Living Survey for the year 2018. Many experts attributed this to the political tension in Thailand, owing to military junta's takeover of the government. For 2019, the Thai capital moved down one spot, remaining ahead of Manila, Jakarta and Phnom Penh.


Living Accommodations


Upon the list of concerns when you move to Bangkok is the matter of housing. While Thai people usually understand English, it's better to contact a property agent to scout some potential accommodations on your behalf and to help with the negotiations. However, in the long term, it would be ideal to learn the basics of the Thai language in order to help you get settled better. Speaking Thai – even imperfectly – can go a long way in establishing good relations with your future landlord as well as work colleagues.


For leases, you're expected to pay a deposit worth two or three months' rent is expected, plus one month or two months' rent. The standard lease is around a year but you or your agent can negotiate on your behalf. You'll also need your passport, work permit and proof of income in order to rent.


The past few years have seen the development of condominiums in and around the city that has become popular for expats. Expats who don't have any family members relocating with them find these accommodations to be ideal as it may offer modern amenities such as a gym or pool. Most units also include air conditioning, which would be a relief in Thailand's constantly humid climate.


Most condominium rental fees, excluding utilities, are currently priced at THB 45,000 and up for a two-bedroom unit with two bathrooms in Central Bangkok. One-bedroom units hover around the THB 35,000 mark. However, property managers in condominium buildings are usually limited to the maintenance of common areas. Thus, it's up to the expat tenant to contact the owner for any problems within the unit itself.


If you're relocating with your family, apartments may be more suitable as these usually have two or three bedrooms included. These are quite popular with families and are easily snapped up. Excluding utilities, expect to pay upwards anywhere from THB 65,000 to THB 85,000 per month. Families may want to avoid areas in Bangkok that have many leisure areas such as pubs or clubs, owing to safety and noise issues.


Public Transport


Taking public transport may save you a fair amount of money, especially if you choose to live near an MRT or BTS station.


There are BTS stored-value tickets available, also known as Rabbit cards, and can be topped up with amounts as low as 100 baht per month up to a maximum of THB 4,000. It can also be used at select merchants, including fast food outlets and convenience stores. Other transport options are buses, taxis as well as the ride-hailing service Grab, which has replaced Uber in Bangkok.


With Bangkok's notorious traffic jams, it's a good idea to check out what transport options you have between your office and potential home location. If your journey requires many stops and involves switching between trains, taxis and the popular tuk-tuks, it's best to find a residence nearer your workplace to save time.


Healthcare Needs


Do check if health insurance is included in your Bangkok relocation package. You can choose to supplement your coverage by purchasing your own private medical insurance locally or choose an international health insurance plan. An international healthcare plan can give you the option to get medical treatment outside of Thailand, in case of an emergency.


Overall, public and private hospitals in Bangkok are affordable and offer great service. The city's reputation as a top tourist destination plus the presence of many expatriates means many medical professionals can speak English.


Food and Utilities


For the most part, food and utility costs are reasonable in Bangkok. The city is a gastronomic haven, and there are plenty of restaurants offering different cuisines. It's quite easy to fall in love with Thai food as it's plentiful and cheap, with a tasty and quick meal at street stalls available for as low as 100 baht per person. Buying at local markets can keep your food expenses low, but there are also Western shops such as Tesco where you can buy familiar staples from home. However, expect these to cost considerably more than their usual prices back home.


Utilities such as water are also pocket-friendly, costing around THB 300 or so. Electricity costs may be higher if you use air conditioning constantly. Internet access and cable TV can be anywhere from about THB 1,000 per month up to THB 2,000. There are the combined Internet and phone packages popular among Bangkok residents that provide competitive rates.


It's not uncommon for many expatriate families to get local housekeeping help. In the case of families with one or both expat parents working, or have several young children, an extra pair of hands is appreciated. Depending on the frequency and tasks involved, hiring someone to help can set you back at least THB 600 to THB 750 per week. In some cases, many migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos or Myanmar who live in Bangkok offer their services part-time to help support their families.

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