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Average Salary In Thailand For Foreigners

Last I heard, Bangkok was home to 250,000 expats. Not to mention the many others dotted around Thailand. With so many foreigners living out here you might wonder what these people do for a living and how much they earn.

This article will fill you in on all the main types of jobs that expats do out here along with broad salary ranges. This information is not drawn for statistics or using official sources, just from my own purely unscientific experience. The answer to this question is also filled with “if”, “that depends” and “there are exceptions”, so excuse any inaccuracies. Or clue me in by commenting at the bottom.

I’ll even throw in a breakdown of how much I think a typical foreigner needs to earn to live in Thailand comfortably. The answer is, happily, pretty low.

ESL teachers

Salary: 35000-40000฿ per month

At the bottom of the salary range, we have the lowly English teacher. A typical ESL teacher is a tourist who wanted to live here and found the only thing they could get.

The minimum requirements for an ESL job are a degree (so they can get a non-B visa) and to be a native English speaker. These low barriers to entry mean these jobs are considered “bottom of the barrel” for expats in Thailand.

A typical salary of 35000฿ is a comfortable wage for Thais where the average salary in Bangkok is 25000฿ a month but low compared to Western countries coming in at just over $1000 a month. Expats may have to compromise on luxuries like Western food, decent accommodation or drinking/partying to make ends meet on this wage.

The degree is overlooked in some cases, although it means working illegally and probably for below market rate. Even the NES requirement can be fudged if you look in the right places.

Is it possible to move up the ladder? Yes, with a bit of experience, a touch of knowhow and a slice of luck, an English teacher might find themselves move up to the next rung of schools and their higher paychecks, explained in the next section.

Where are these jobs located?

English teachers are found across the country in the government schools that offer this salary to its foreign teachers. The further from “civilisation” the more you can expect lower salaries, more lax entry requirements and larger class sizes. And there’s always the chap who relishes earning 28000฿ in some backwater in Loei for teaching groups of 50 teenagers at a time!

Semi-qualified teachers

Salary: 50,000-80,000฿ per month

This middle group of teachers is kind of a weird one, but I’ve met enough of them to feel they deserve their own category. Their qualifications are decent but not good enough for the big-paying international schools.

Maybe they’ve been an English teacher for a few years and got a lucky break. Maybe they studied for an “iPGCE” which is kind of a fake online PGCE. Maybe they did teacher training in their own country but left straight after so they have little classroom experience.

Either way, you’ll find these guys in a bilingual school or “International Programme” which are essentially private Thai schools with foreign teachers. The students will be Thai or half-Thai and the language of the school will be Thai, as well.

They are more likely to be teaching a subject (secondary) or a year group (primary) as opposed to always teaching English or ESL lessons. They’re real teachers, basically.

The pay is modest but respectable by Western standards, however it affords a cushy lifestyle in low cost of living Thailand. The expectations and workload at these schools is low and these teachers seem to be among the happiest working here.

Where are these jobs located?

Bilingual schools are mostly found in the heaving metropolis of Bangkok, with a few dotted around other urban areas such as Phuket, Chiang Mai or Pattaya.

Qualified teachers

Salary: 80,000-180,000฿ per month

Let me begin by stating that this is the bracket I fall into. I’m from the UK and did my PGCE and taught for a year before getting fed up with the profession and the place. In comparison to the hell that working as a teacher has become in the UK, being a qualified teacher is a pretty good gig in Thailand.

There’s plenty of opportunity here. Wealthier Thai parents value the status in sending their kids to international schools. The Thai education system is poorly thought of, especially among hi-so (ไฮโซ) Thais and by following an international curriculum their sons and daughters will be fluent in the de facto global language of English.

On the top end you have prestigious schools like ISB or Bangkok Patana with high tuition fees and high salaries. These are real international schools and the standards are very high. Imagine the expectations from parents and management at a high fee public school in England and you have the right idea.

Teachers are often worked to the bone while earning an extraordinary amount of money for the profession. It’s realistic to save £2000+ per month given the cost of living and opportunities for private tutoring.

On the lower end, you’ll find students will be mostly if not completely Thai. The pay is lower but so are expectations. This is where I’m at, and frankly, I’m pretty happy. My life is stress-free, especially compared to when I taught in England. The only downside is it’s difficult knowing people who earn twice your wage with an identical CV!

Where are these jobs located?

Like the “semi-qualified” teachers, these schools are found in urban areas with the majority in that biggest of urban areas – Bangkok.

Corporate placements

Salary: 200,000-400,000฿ per month

Now we’re getting to the big boys. Meet someone at a bar ordering rounds of 350฿ cocktails without flinching and tells you about their apartment in Phloen Chit or Thong Lor, chances are they are on a corporate placement.

Lots of international companies have an office or base here and bring their employees in from USA, Australia or Germany for three or five-year placements in Bangkok. Usually on full pay, which makes the amount they earn compared to the Thai cost of living bordering on insanity.

These guys often have job titles like “Business Development Consultant” that make it very unclear as to what they actually do. Or they’re just lawyers. Either way, they’ve clearly done well for themselves as the salaries are generally excellent even by Western standards and you can hardly begrudge them enjoying their time out here.

How do you get into this line of work? Unfortunately, the answer goes along the lines of… go back to being 18, get an excellent degree at a prestigious university then apply to competitive graduate programs in things like law or finance, cross your fingers, and wait.

Where are these jobs located?

Jobs of this nature are found exclusively in Bangkok. The capital is where the wealth of the country is concentrated and is where big companies put their headquarters. (This phenomenon is known as a “primate city” and you can read more about it and how Bangkok is an interesting example of it, here.)

Digital Nomads

Salary: 10,000-300,000+฿ per month

The phrase “digital nomad” may be a new one for you, so let’s begin with a definition courtesy of Google.

Digital nomads are a type of people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their life in a nomadic manner. Such workers often work remotely from foreign countries, coffee shops, public libraries, co-working spaces, or recreational vehicles.

To put it simply, digital nomads make their money through a computer screen and aren’t tied to a physical location. Digital nomads include the entrepreneur who manages his dropshipping business online, the coder who does all his web development remotely or the freelance artist who picks up work from clients from internet job boards.

Chiang Mai is a hub for digital nomads, abundant with co-working spaces, cool coffee shops and meet-ups for like-minded people. Although you can find them anywhere there is an internet connection.

Digital nomads earn a wide range of salaries, with another advantage to the lifestyle being basically no upper limit. Entrepreneurs can be enormously successful or flat broke, sometimes at the same time! Freelancers or remote workers who earn a Western wage in low COL Thailand are in comfortable position.

Lastly, I’d like to mention the “wantrepreneur”, the guy who likes the idea of making money online but isn’t that successful at it or even willing to work hard at it. Rather, they spend their time in Thailand living off mommy and daddy’s credit card.

Where are these jobs located?

Digital nomads can be found all over with the hub of Chiang Mai hosting the largest community. All that’s needed is an internet connection. And don’t be jealous of the dude posting pictures of him with his laptop “working” away at some beautiful beach. It makes a nice photo, but the heat, the glare and the sand make for an unpleasant working environment.

Business Owners

Salary: 0-1,000,000+฿ per month

Starting a business in Thailand as a farang is a tricky affair. You’re allowed to legally own up to 49% of any business but no more, which puts you at the mercy of your Thai business partner or wife. In addition, businesses in Thailand have to deal with issues such as corruption that wouldn’t be present in more developed countries.

None of this seems to stop people opening yet another reggae bar in paradise or “authentic” takeaway of some kind int he big city.

The amount these guys make is more difficult to pinpoint. The entrepreneurial route is fraught with risk of bankruptcy yet paved with gold at the same time. Some become wildly successful and many more don’t. The people I’ve known who open their own ventures spend a similar amount to people who earn 80-100,000฿, not that that tells you much about their income.

Where are these jobs located?

Bangkok is where the wealth and the people are so the capital is where businesses tend to open. Another common example is a jointly owned bar or restaurant in a tourist destination, farang husband and Thai wife.

What Is The Cost Of Living In Thailand?

I initially wanted to make this section about what a normal cost of living would be for an expat in this country, then I realised that the scope of that would be a little too much! So I’m just going to tell you about my budget as a slightly frugal but mostly normal dude living in central Bangkok.

Rent: 17000฿ – One bedroom apartment near BTS asoke.

Bills: 2000฿ – Pretty typical for size of house. Includes electricity, water, internet, phone.

Food/Groceries: 8000฿ – I mostly make my own food with regular trips for fast food and to restaurants.

Going Out: 8000฿ – This is 1-2 nights out a week and I’m a pretty big drinker although I try to stick to cheaper Thai-style places.

One-off purchases: 3000฿ – I really don’t buy much. This might even be on the high end.

Transport: 1000฿ – Public transport here is an absolute bargain. Buses, trains, subways and boats that all cost 10-40฿ each. Lots of people get motorbikes as it’s easier to get around which would cost more.

In total that’s 39000฿ per month for regular expenses. On top of this there are unplanned expenses like hospital visits, trips to the beach or having to replace an old phone. And then the big expenses of visiting the UK to see family or just going on a big holiday abroad. I’d roughly estimate that all that comes to 21000฿ per month to put my necessary expenses on 60000฿ a month. Any extra is put into long term savings.

I would say my budget is achievable if not typical. My friends mostly earn very good salaries compared to the cost of living but prefer to enjoy their life now than put money away for later. That means nightly takeaways, a new wardrobe every month or so and spending the evenings at bars and clubs have prices more like Western Europe than South East Asia.

If you like reading about this kind of stuff then you have to check out this link. It’s page after page of user-submitted budgets from expats living in Thailand. I find it fascinating to see how I measure up against what other people spend here, and occasionally you get an insight from a 300,000฿ salary earner into how the other half live!

How Easy Is It To Get A Job In Thailand?

Ultimately, it’s not easy to find work here. Most jobs are for Thai people or people who are fully fluent in Thai. Even if you did speak the language, the pay for jobs is very low. A burger flipper at McDonald’s in the states might be on $10 an hour. Minimum wage here is $10 a day (300฿ give or take). It’s like that for most jobs.

If you’re on this webpage then chances are you’ve not got a corporate placement in the pipeline or thought about opening a business here. The digital nomad route works for some, perhaps if you’re an experienced coder or freelance writer. I can’t help you with any of that, I’m afraid. But if you tick none of those boxes, there’s only one thing that’s left: teaching.

A degree-educated English speaker will easily find lower-paid ESL work. You’ll have to forgo certain luxuries to survive at this pay, but many live rich and fulfilling lives doing this while getting to live in a country they love. The biggest issue, as far as I can see, is that you will not save much and you will not earn a pension, making it a precarious long-term position to be in.

Another option is to get trained as a teacher in the country you live in. It’s a big step to make a career choice just to move to a certain country, but qualified teachers can earn very good wages here and the quality of lifestyle is among the best in the world.


Did I miss any groups out? Let me know in the comments…

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