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A Guide to Living in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is booming. Not only in terms of tourism does the city increases every year its numbers and has become one of Asia’s most popular tourist destinations but also the number of foreigners settling here rises every year. People who intend to stay only for a few weeks often end up staying many months, some even years.


No wonder, as Chiang Mai offers perfect living conditions for foreigners. But looking further, what actually attracts so many people, especially millennials, to stay longer here? Firstly, it’s the blend of an exotic new surrounding but with familiar influences from one’s home country. That being said, Chiang Mai is not a town which is heavily westernized as it surely keeps its wonderful historical heritage. And secondly, it’s the vibe of a bustling medium-sized city with modern shopping facilities, an abundance of coffee shops, inexpensive dining options and lots of recreation facilities while just a stone’s throw away from nature where countless rice paddies and national parks awaiting you.

Living In Chiang Mai

Let’s have a look at a couple of important points before you consider setting here:

  1. Visa

First and foremost, visa regulations may change out of sudden in Thailand. It’s therefore mandatory to check with your nearest Thai embassy or consulate about current visa terms and conditions. At the moment, only a Non-Immigrant Visa B gives you permission to stay for a full year. There are numerous visas like retirements visa, spouse visa, work visa among others, which have all different requirements to fulfil.

If you don’t have a job (yet), make sure to first obtain a 60-day tourist visa at ay Thai embassy. Many people do so called border or visa runs, speaking they rush to the closest border (Burma) at the end of the month, walk in and out within a few minutes in order to get a new tourist stamp, however, that is time –and money consuming after some time.

  1. Accommodation

Accommodation is the reason why many people love Chiang Mai – the rent and utilities are very affordable. You can rent an apartment as low as 5000 THB per month plus water (around 150-200 THB/month) and electricity. Sometimes internet is even available with the rental fee of apartments. If you’re staying long term, you can get furnished apartments within the city centre for 5000-6000 THB/month, if you’re signing a rental contract of 6-12 months. Living in a house can be significantly cheaper for the long term, whereat you can get a house from 7000 THB/month. You can search here for houses and apartments:

  1. Transportation

Although there is no metro/skytrain in Chiang Mai, it still has an effective public transport system; flag a red Songthaew (converted mini buses) if you want to go around town (20-40 THB per way/person). These work like taxi-buses and will drop you wherever you want. If you opt for tuk tuks, consider to spend much more than for Songthaews, at least 100 THB. If you want to drive your own motorscooter, you can rent those from 2400 THB/month (Honda Click or Honda Scoopy). Planning to stay longer? Consider buying a used one, starting from 12.000 THB. You can easily sell it again when you want to leave Chiang Mai. Fuel costs about 34 THB/litre, 100 THB is enough for a week. You can get a motorbike without license but expect to pay a fine of at least 500 THB if the police catch you. Get an international license before or bring your current country’s one and do the test here at the Traffic Department. Note: you can’t get a Thai license on a tourist visa.

  1. Dining

Dining out depends pretty much on your preferences as you can get anything from one-dollar meals to splurge or just prepare your food at home (see below point). Markets are very common to dine at, the prices are extremely low and you have a great variety of dishes. There are many typical family run restaurants around Chiang Mai whereat the prices are not much different from the market. Meals at air-conditioned restaurants start at 80 THB/meal.

  1. Shopping / Groceries

If it comes to groceries it’s best to buy them at Big C or Tesco Lotus. Buy vegetables and fruits on the markets in the morning, they are the freshest and cheapest. If you need something at night, visit any of the countless 7/11 or Tesco Lotus Express, as these are open 24/7/. Visit Chinatown (Warorot Market) for household items. If you’re looking for designer items or unique stuff have a look around Nimmanhaemin Road. Last but not least the mall if you’re looking for clothes; the best ones around are Central Festival & Airport Plaza, especially when you’re looking for European sizes.

  1. Co-Working Spaces

Chiang Mai is among the top cities worldwide for digital nomads, especially since the living costs are so low and many people are on shoestrings budgets. There are various co-working spaces around such as C.A.M.P. on the fifth floor of Maya and one of the most popular co-working spaces in town, PunSpace with branches at Nimmanhaemin Road and Thapae Gate and Starwork, located near Arcade Bus Terminal, just out of the Old Town. Most co-working spaces feature as well meeting rooms, lockers, printing/copying facilities and even dining options within or near the location.

  1. Jobs

If you’re not working online, one of the most common jobs is being a teacher. Being a teacher requires you to have the right degree and if not, at least experience in teaching and/or living in Asia. The most common language is English and while you can get a TEFL certification at one of the many TEFL institutes around, schools and universities will only take native speakers, period. Some schools looking also for German-, French-, Mandarin-, Korean- and Japanese teachers. Just make sure you don’t work illegally because most probably, you’ll get deported. You can find jobs here >

  1. Weather

One advantage of being in Chiang Mai is that the weather is relatively dry and mild in comparison to central or southern Thailand. Chiang Mai has three seasons:

  1. The cool season runs from November to February with max. temperatures of 28°C during the day but chilly mornings and nights where temperatures are between 12-15°C.
  2. With end of the cool season comes the quick change to hot season which lasts from March to June. Especially March should be avoided at all as it becomes very smokey for a few weeks; right after the cool season is over, farmers start burning their fields. Make sure you wear a mask when leaving your house/apartment.
  3. From July until October is the rain season. Although it doesn’t rain the whole day, it’s unpredictable when it rains and how long it lasts.
  1. Religion / Etiquettes

The majority of the locals are Buddhists, as the rest of Thailand is. Do respect Buddhism & the royal family at all times and never make any negative comments. Remove your shoes when entering temples. Do respect the king at all times as his picture is depicted everywhere, even on the money (don’t crumple or step on money). The national anthem is played daily at 08:00 and 18:00 and, if you should be in a public place, you have to stand still for the time it’s played.

Major Buddhism holidays such as Vesak or Songkran result in closed shops or short opening times. Dates and times differ (except Songkran) as these are celebrated according to the lunar calendar.

That being said Thailand has a freedom of religion; you can find also numerous churches and mosques across the town.

  1. Phone / Internet

First, your phone needs to be unlocked when you bring it from your home country. The best phone companies currently around are Truemove and AIS. They have plenty of service shops all over the city where you can buy and register the SIM card. You can easily top up your balance at any 7/11 or Tesco Lotus Express all over town at any time.

  1. Spare time & recreation

There are plenty of things to do all over the city without being afraid of boredom. There are countless parks within the Old City, such as the Nong Buak Hard Park where you can either stroll around or exercise; many public parks feature gym equipment like butterfly or leg press, free of charge. You can find many gyms as well here, from regular ones (from 800 THB/month) over Muay Thai boxing (from 5000 THB/month) to CrossFit (2700 THB/month).

Explore the nature by visiting waterfalls, nature parks or lakes such as around Huay Tung Tao Lake, a short 10-12 minutes-drive from the Old Town. Almost all malls feature cinemas as well and movies are shown in English with Thai subtitle.

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