Thailand has a reputation as a very cheap place to live. Whenever I talk with my friends in Taipei and other countries, they always comment on how much I must be saving by living in Thailand compared to somewhere else.
At first glance, Thailand is very cheap. There are many expats here that survive for under 30,000 baht per month. Thats less than $900 US dollars, and thats their entire salary. They can rent a very modest apartment, eat local food and live pretty well for this kind of salary.
In this way, living in Thailand is very cheap. But if you want to have a better lifestyle the type of lifestyle you can get in most Western countries, with a house and car Thailand can get very expensive, very quickly.
For example, I was looking at used cars on One2Car.com the other day. Because of the import taxes in Thailand, even a very basic Volkswagen Golf from two to three years ago costs more than $30,000 US dollars. Thats a huge amount for what most of us would think of as a simple, affordable car.
The only way to reduce the cost of buying a car in Thailand is to buy a Thai-made car. Lots of Japanese companies like Honda and Toyota have licensing agreements with Thailand and make their cars in Thai factories, thus avoiding the import tax. If you want a simple, made-in-Thailand car, prices are low. If youd prefer a Ferrari (or even a BMW) you should be prepared to pay two, three or even four times as much as in other countries.
There are some ways in which Thailand is cheap, aside from the basics. Its also very cheap to go to hospital here. Medical care costs virtually nothing. I had lasik two months ago for just over $2,000 US dollars, which is a fraction of what it would cost from a good clinic in Australia. You can get dental veneers done in Thailand for $200-300 per tooth, compared to a fortune more elsewhere. In this way, Thailand is an amazingly cheap place to live.
So, to answer, Thailand is very cheap if you can live a Thai-style life, but quite expensive otherwise. Its also expensive in ways that we often take for granted as being cheap, such as buying a car or searching for a house. Land, vehicles, luxury goods and just about anything imported costs a lot in Thailand, and over time, those costs can add up to an expensive lifestyle.