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Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, Thailand

By Betsy Burlingame

Last updated on Mar 10, 2023

Summary: People describe Chiang Mai, Thailand as a vibrant city with a unique culture, stunning natural beauty, and a laid-back atmosphere. Expats love the low cost of living, the friendly locals, the delicious food, and the abundance of outdoor activities. The weather in Chiang Mai is generally warm and humid, with temperatures ranging from the mid-60s to the mid-90s Fahrenheit. The average cost of living for an expat is around $1,000 to $1,500 per month, depending on lifestyle. A one bedroom apartment typically costs around $400 to $600 per month, while a two bedroom apartment can range from $500 to $800 per month. The approximate population of Chiang Mai is 1.7 million people.

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What do I need to know about living in Chiang Mai?

When we asked people what advice they would give someone preparing to move to Chiang Mai, they said:

"Make a trip or two to visit for several days at a minimum before even considering a move. There are aspects of living here that even those who have prepared may not anticipate without firsthand experience," said one expat in Chiang Mai.

"Rent for one year before buying or renting long term. The city is very diverse and there are hundreds of housing communities to choose from. Make sure to visit all of the 7 international schools because each is very unique. If you have a family, also pick up the Sanook Book (www.sanookbook.com)," said one expat who made the move to Chiang Mai.

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What do I need to know before moving to Chiang Mai?

When we asked people what advice they would give someone preparing to move to Chiang Mai, they said:

"Before moving to Chiang Mai, expats should be aware that the city is known for its hot and humid climate. It is important to be prepared for the weather and to bring appropriate clothing. Expats should also be aware that the city is home to a large expat community, so it is easy to find support and resources. Additionally, expats should be aware that the cost of living in Chiang Mai is relatively low, making it an attractive destination for those looking to save money. Finally, expats should be aware that the city is home to a variety of cultural attractions, making it a great place to explore and experience the local culture," commented one expat who made the move to Chiang Mai.

"Chiang Mai is a beautiful place but we have seen many people get caught up in the dream without really thinking things through. Come here for awhile, get to know the people and not just the people hanging out in the bars and get to know the culture. It is easy to find a house here but it may never be a home," remarked one expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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How do I find a place to live in Chiang Mai?

We asked expats how they chose their neighborhood and found a place to live. They answered:

"One of the best ways to find a place to live in Chiang Mai is to search online for rental listings. There are many websites that offer listings for apartments, condos, and houses in the city. Additionally, you can look for classified ads in local newspapers and magazines. You can also ask friends and family who have lived in Chiang Mai for recommendations. Finally, you can visit the city and look for “For Rent” signs in the windows of buildings," wrote a member in Chiang Mai.

"Our friends are here and it is the perfect little soi. Not to quiet, not to noisy. The house was just perfect for us. It is in the city of Chiang Mai and close to everything. But, the pollution is getting bad. We may have to move up on the mountain," commented one expat who made the move to Chiang Mai.

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What is a typical expat home or apartment like in Chiang Mai?

"Expat homes and apartments in Chiang Mai are typically modern and comfortable, with air conditioning, high-speed internet, and other amenities. Many expats choose to live in condos or apartments in the city center, close to restaurants, shops, and other attractions. Outside of the city center, expats can find more affordable housing options, such as single-family homes or townhouses. Many expats also choose to live in gated communities, which offer a sense of security and community," explained one expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

"We have a private house, traditional Thai. We are the only expats we know who have a house here. Most live in guesthouses, condos..etc," said one expat in Chiang Mai.

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What is the average cost of housing in Chiang Mai?

If you are thinking about moving to Chiang Mai, cost of living in probably a key consideration. Expats commented about the cost of housing:

"The cost of housing in Chiang Mai varies depending on the type of accommodation and location. Generally, the average cost of housing in Chiang Mai is relatively affordable compared to other cities in Thailand. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center can range from around 5,000 to 10,000 baht per month, while a three-bedroom apartment can range from around 10,000 to 15,000 baht per month. Outside of the city center, rent can be significantly lower," remarked one expat who made the move to Chiang Mai.

"Lower. We don't have a/c, which we may soon regret. But average living costs for us are about 30,000B. But we like to go out alot," explained one expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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How do I meet people in Chiang Mai?

When we asked people living in Chiang Mai about club and activities where newcomers can meet others, they responded:

"Expats in Chiang Mai often join clubs and activities such as yoga, running, cycling, and language classes. Expats can also join book clubs, art classes, and cooking classes. Additionally, there are many expat-run organizations that host events such as movie nights, potlucks, and game nights. Expats can also meet people by attending local festivals, visiting local markets, and exploring the city's many cafes and restaurants," said one expat who made the move to Chiang Mai.

"There are over 5000 expat families living in this city. Because of this, there are literally hundreds of programs and clubs to join. From "Little League" to ballet classes to chess clubs to golf schools, this city is a great place for families. Our family was lucky enough to be transferred here for work," explained one expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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What should I bring when moving to Chiang Mai?

People living in Chiang Mai were asked what three things they wish they had brought and three they wish they had left behind. They wrote:

"When moving to Chiang Mai, it is important to pack items that will help you adjust to the climate and culture. Pack lightweight, breathable clothing that is appropriate for the hot and humid climate. Bring a few items of clothing that can be layered for cooler evenings. Make sure to bring a good pair of walking shoes, as Chiang Mai is a very walkable city. Don't forget to bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun. Additionally, it is important to bring any necessary medications, as well as a first aid kit. Finally, make sure to bring any items that will help you feel at home, such as photos, books, and other personal items," explained one expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

"More pictures of my family including my wedding album, shoes & wine. Shoes for my husband (size 12) are very difficult to find here and wine costs a fortune. I didn't bring anything that I wish I hadn't," said one expat in Chiang Mai.

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Where should I setup a bank account in Chiang Mai?

We asked expats in Chiang Mai what banks they use and there advice about banking. They advised:

"Before retiring in Chiang Mai, expats should be aware of the cost of living, which is generally lower than in other parts of the world. It is important to research the local healthcare system and to make sure that adequate medical insurance is in place. Additionally, expats should familiarize themselves with the local culture and customs, as well as the language, to ensure a smooth transition. It is also important to research the local visa requirements and to ensure that all necessary paperwork is in order. Finally, expats should take the time to explore the city and its surroundings to get a better understanding of the area," wrote one member in Chiang Mai.

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Will I be able to find a job in Chiang Mai?

When we asked people about industries and career opportunities in Chiang Mai, they reponded:

"Foreigners often find work in Chiang Mai as English teachers, tour guides, digital nomads, web developers, and hospitality workers. Additionally, many foreigners find work in the service industry, such as bartending, waitressing, and working in restaurants. Other popular jobs for foreigners include working in the tourism industry, such as tour operators, hotel staff, and travel agents," commented one expat who made the move to Chiang Mai.

"Tourism is very large in this city. As a foreigner, many end up buying a business or teaching. A lot of families come here with large NGO or missionary agencies. Others are self-employed and work from home (via the net)," remarked one expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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What is life like in Chiang Mai?

When we asked people living in Chiang Mai what life is like and how people spend their time, they said:

"Life for expats and digital nomads in Chiang Mai is generally quite pleasant. The city is known for its low cost of living, friendly locals, and vibrant culture. Expats and digital nomads can find a wide variety of accommodation options, from budget guesthouses to luxury apartments. The city also offers a wide range of activities, from exploring the city's many temples and markets to taking part in outdoor activities such as trekking and rock climbing. The city also has a thriving digital nomad community, with many co-working spaces and networking events. All in all, Chiang Mai is an ideal destination for expats and digital nomads looking for an affordable and exciting place to live and work," wrote one member in Chiang Mai.

"This is a very laid back place overall. People who are working still work hard but enjoy the social aspects available," remarked one expat who made the move to Chiang Mai.

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What do expats in Chiang Mai appreciate most about the local culture?

"Expats in Chiang Mai appreciate the city's laid-back atmosphere and friendly locals. They also enjoy the city's vibrant nightlife, delicious food, and abundance of outdoor activities. The city's rich culture and history, as well as its proximity to nature, are also highly appreciated. Additionally, the cost of living in Chiang Mai is much lower than in other cities, making it an attractive destination for expats," said one expat who made the move to Chiang Mai.

"Thai people are generally gracious and welcoming. They are extraordinarily tolerant. The food is marvelous. The cost of living is very low; medical care is inexpensive and excellent. There is very little crime. Older people are visible and respected. Humility, kindness, and generosity are valued," explained one expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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What do expats find most challenging?

"One of the most challenging aspects of the local culture for expats in Chiang Mai is the language barrier. Many locals speak only Thai, and it can be difficult for expats to communicate with them. Additionally, the local customs and traditions can be difficult to understand and navigate for those who are not familiar with them. Expats may also find it difficult to adjust to the slower pace of life in Chiang Mai, as well as the hot and humid climate. Finally, expats may find it difficult to make friends with locals, as there can be a cultural divide between them," explained one expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

"The language. Without being able to speak Thai, one's social life depends upon other expats. Chiang Mai is very transient when it comes to expats. Many Westerners move here thinking it will be permanent but then cannot adapt culturally and move away. Single Western women looking for a dating life struggle to find partners," said one expat in Chiang Mai.

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Is there a lot of crime in Chiang Mai?

We asked people if there is a lot of crime. They answered:

"Crime rates in Chiang Mai are generally low compared to other major cities in Thailand. Petty theft is the most common crime reported, though more serious crimes such as kidnapping and human trafficking can sometimes occur. That said, Chiang Mai remains a relatively safe city for travelers and tourists year-round," explained one expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

"Very, very little crime here. You can leave your groceries in your motorbike basket, go do more shopping and when you return, everything will still be there," said one expat in Chiang Mai.

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Is there a lot of diversity? Are people in Chiang Mai accepting of differences?

"Chiang Mai is a diverse city with people from many different backgrounds and cultures. The city is known for its acceptance of different cultures and religions, and there is a strong sense of tolerance and respect for diversity among the people of Chiang Mai. People from all walks of life are welcomed and accepted in Chiang Mai, and the city is a great place to experience different cultures and lifestyles," remarked one expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

"This is a diverse and accepting area. I was not aware of the extent and presence of Christian groups, facilities and missionary work," wrote one member in Chiang Mai.

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What are the schools in Chiang Mai like?

"Just visit the school - you will be impressed. So peaceful, quiet, pretty and also a strong academic school. Easily the best in Chiang Mai," wrote an expat with kids at Prem Tinsulanonda International School in Chiang Mai.

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What are the pros and cons of living in Chiang Mai?

Expats, digital nomads and retirees living in Chiang Mai responded:

"Thai people are friendly and gentle. Health care is excellent. Crime isn't an issue. Very affordable. Before COVID, lots of cultural opportunities. I dislike smoke season. The expats here tend to be cliquey," said one expat living in Chiang Mai.

"Chiang Mai has been documented as one of the premier expat locales in the world for good reason. It has one of the best street-food scenes of any city anywhere. There is a rich diversity of cuisine. The weather is wonderful. Housing is affordable and world-class. In fact, everything is incredibly affordable - food, housing, transportation. It's easy to get around the city. It has better internet than most of the United States. There are numerous social activities. With all of this said, there are two drawbacks. First, there is no beach/ocean here. The islands of Thailand are justifiably famous as some of the best in the world and Chiang Mai, while in the northern part of the country, is still a hot area. Nevertheless, a short flight down to Koh Samui or Phuket can cost as little as $80USD. The second drawback is, in my mind, more concerning. In recent years the annual burning of the rice-husks in the lead up to the rainy season for the new planting, has created an environment where, for months at a time, Chiang Mai has the worst air quality of any city in the world. In fact, I no longer live in Chiang Mai and have permanently moved to Bali as a direct result of this situation. I can not overstate this enough," mentioned one expat inChiang Mai.

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What type of social life can someone expect in Chiang Mai?

When we asked expats and global nomads about their social experiences in Chiang Mai, they replied:

"There are numerous social activities for Expats of various age demographics. Chiang Mai has been known, among other things, as the digital nomad capital of the world for the past few years, so there are particularly a large number of younger [20s-30s] foreigners living here with lots of social activities for them," said an expat in Chiang Mai.

"If you do t like to cook you never have to here. Restaurants are high quality and more than great value. If you like to cook, ingredients for almost anything are available. Good wine is expensive and in short supply but local beer is readily available. Cost of living ranges from almost nothing to almost not affordable and everything in between. Most places are furnished although peronal-preference kitchen supplies will probably have to be bought if you're going to cook. People are friendly and many speak English but I have found the Thai language very difficult - not only because of the different alphabet but because the meanings of several words change with the different tones. Altogether, thumbs up for living here," remarked one expat in Chiang Mai.

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"Chiang Mai is a vibrant city with a lively social scene. There are plenty of bars, clubs, and restaurants to explore, as well as a variety of cultural activities and events. The city is also home to a large expat community, so it's easy to meet people from all over the world. Chiang Mai is also known for its night markets, which are great places to shop, eat, and socialize. Overall, Chiang Mai is a great place to meet new people and experience the city's unique culture," commented one expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

"The Thai culture is extremely accommodating and welcoming for Expats. As a Buddhist country, respect is a very high virtue for them and this accrues to their relations with foreigners as well. Additionally, Chiang Mai is a bit different from the social experiences of the capital city, Bangkok, as well as the more traditional vacation spots on the islands of the south where interactions between local natives and Expats can be more strictly transactional and money-driven. Chiang Mai still has enough of the traditional northern mountain-village ethos that the locals aren't simply looking to make money off of foreigners and are just as happy to help give directions or simply interact in a friendly way," remarked one expat living in Chiang Mai.

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What advice to expats in Chiang Mai have about housing?

"In Thailand one cannot own property, hence purchasing house not possible unless married to a local person," commented one expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

"Compared to similar housing in Western locales, it is amazing in Chiang Mai. A two-room condo with high-speed internet, cable TV, a pool, daily cleaning, indoor parking, in the heart of the city can cost as little as $400USD," remarked one expat living in Chiang Mai.

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What are medical services in Chiang Mai like?

When we asked expats and global nomads about the quality of medical care in Chiang Mai, they replied:

"As noted, I do not have health insurance because the cost of walk-in care is unbelievably cheap. Additionally, most doctors, particularly at hospitals, are western-trained, so the level of service is just as good as the States," commented one expat who moved to Chiang Mai.

"Excellent healthcare. Doctors are knowledgeable and personable. Hospital well run and efficient," said one expat.

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Are healthcare and health insurance expensive in Chiang Mai?

"Healthcare and health insurance in Chiang Mai can be quite expensive. Private hospitals and clinics tend to be more expensive than public hospitals, and the cost of medical care can vary depending on the type of treatment needed. Health insurance is also available in Chiang Mai, but the cost of coverage can be high, especially for expats. However, there are some affordable options available, such as the Thai government's Universal Coverage Scheme, which provides basic health insurance for all Thai citizens," commented one expat living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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Is the cost of living in Chiang Mai high?

We asked people about the cost of living in Chiang Mai, they wrote:

"The cost of living in Chiang Mai is generally quite affordable. Rent for a nice 1 bedroom apartment is typically around $400 USD per month, while a nice 2 bedroom apartment is around $600 USD per month. Eating dinner at a moderately priced restaurant in Chiang Mai will usually cost around $10 USD per person," remarked one expat living in Chiang Mai.

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What are the visa & residency requirements in Chiang Mai?

"In order to visit Chiang Mai, visitors must obtain a visa prior to their arrival. The process of applying for a visa involves submitting an application form, passport-sized photographs, and a valid passport to the Thai Embassy or Consulate in the visitor's home country. Depending on the type of visa, additional documents may be required. In order to obtain residency in Chiang Mai, Thailand, applicants must submit an application form, passport-sized photographs, a valid passport, and proof of financial stability to the Thai Embassy or Consulate in their home country. Depending on the type of residency, additional documents may be required. Once the application is approved, the applicant will receive a Non-Immigrant Visa, which must be used to enter Thailand. Upon arrival, the applicant must apply for a residence permit at the local Immigration Office," mentioned one expat inChiang Mai.

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Why do people move to Chiang Mai?

When we asked people why foreigners move to Chiang Mai, they responded:

"Chiang Mai is a popular destination for expats due to its low cost of living, vibrant culture, and stunning natural beauty. The city offers a relaxed lifestyle, with plenty of outdoor activities, delicious food, and friendly locals. The city is also home to a large expat community, making it easy to make friends and find support. Additionally, Chiang Mai is a great place to learn about Thai culture and language, as well as explore the country's many attractions," said one expat.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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