Southeast Asia is one of the world’s most culturally rich destinations – a region that combines ancient civilizations and the modern world like few others can. Known for its gorgeous beaches, beautiful volcanic mountains, and incredible cuisine, there’s a good reason Southeast Asia has been a travel and retirement hotspot for many years – it offers a lot more than many other parts of the world.
With so much to offer, many would-be visitors to Southeast Asia expect a high price tag to match the level of natural beauty, incredible service, and modern living that’s on offer. These people would be surprised – not disappointed, of course – but simply surprised, to learn that Southeast Asia, despite its rapid economic advancement and its focus on luxurious and comfortable living, is one of the world’s most inexpensive places to live.
From rapidly developing countries such as Malaysia and Thailand to lower-income countries such as Cambodia, Laos, and Indonesia, Southeast Asia offers a huge range of destinations with one factor in common: uniformly low prices. From inexpensive luxury apartments to cheap street-side food, life in Southeast Asia is very cheap.
Just how cheap? Read on to learn more about the average price of housing, services, food, and living in Southeast Asia. We’ve used data from three of the most popular cities in Southeast Asia – Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore – to give you a look at the cost of life in one of the world’s most vibrant regions.
Housing in Southeast Asia ranges from incredibly inexpensive in rural areas to very pricey, particularly for central real estate in high-demand cities such as Singapore. A small home in a Thai province – Mae Hong Son, for example – can be rented for just $350USD per month.
The same home in central Bangkok, however, would cost over $1,500USD per month. In Singapore, it could cost well over $5,000 per month. The cost of housing in most of Southeast Asia is determined primarily by the location, and in the case of condominiums and apartments, by the age of the building.
It’s worth considering that wear and tear on houses and apartments in Southeast Asia can be a considerable expensive, given the somewhat turbulent weather. While buying a home may be a cheap option in the United States or other countries with a less humid climate, maintenance and repair costs can quickly add up in rain-heavy Southeast Asia.
Food And Drinks
If Southeast Asia truly excels in one department, it’s in the culinary arts. From street food stalls to high-end restaurants, nowhere else on earth is such a huge range of high quality food so easily available, and so easily affordable. Southeast Asian food ranges dramatically in style and taste, but it is uniformly cheap across the whole region.
From Singapore to Hanoi, Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, street-side dining and hawker stands are ubiquitous in Southeast Asian cities. Offering meals from as little as $1.00 USD, these stands are a great way to enjoy local food for very little money. High-end dining is also cheaper than back home, with great international food available in Singapore, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur from just $10USD per head in a mid-range independent restaurant.
The cost of entertainment, particularly alcoholic beverages, ranges from one city and country to another. In Buddhist and secular countries, such as Thailand and Singapore, the cost of drinking alcohol is relatively low. A domestic beer in a Thai restaurant, for example, rarely costs more than $2 USD. In countries with higher ‘vice’ taxes, such as Malaysia, this type of beverage can easily triple in price.
For those that like to prepare food at home, the cost of basic ingredients is uniformly cheap in Southeast Asian cities. Singapore, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur all score low on the ‘Big Mac Index’ of food costs, making them good destinations for affordable grocery shopping.
Thanks to high minimum wages and strict labor laws, hiring a maid is an expensive, stressful process in many Western countries. In Southeast Asia, however, the cost of hiring at-home help is very reasonable and the level of service received frequently exceeds that which you would find in many Western countries.
Live-in maids are available for as little as $200USD per month in Thailand, although many of these maids will have only basic English skills. In Singapore, the ‘domestic helper’ has become ubiquitous amongst middle-upper class households, and offers non-resident workers from countries such as the Philippines and Myanmar a chance to work overseas. As a result, many Southeast Asian households employ helpers.
Other affordable employees include drivers, which can be hired from as little as $300 USD per month; childcare assistants, which can be hired from as little as $300 USD per month, and gardeners, which are priced similarly. Many large homes in cities such as Bangkok and Singapore are designed with a maid’s quarters as part of the home plan, and as such require no adjustment for housing a live-in helper.
General Living Expenses
The largest expense for most households in Southeast Asia, besides food, tends to be electricity. With a year-round tropical climate and extreme humidity, keeping your home cool can be an expensive process. Large homes and apartments in Thailand or Singapore will frequently cost over $200 USD per month to cool.
In coastal and mountainous regions where the temperature is more moderate, this cost decreases substantially. Similar, in homes where electric fans are the primary form of daytime cooling, the cost will be lower still. Water and internet access are both inexpensive in all Southeast Asian cities, rarely costing over $100 USD for both per month.
Despite the high cost of electricity, and the great demand for it during the peak of summer, general life in Southeast Asia is very inexpensive. From cheap yet spacious apartments to inexpensive yet delicious food, life is very cheap in Southeast Asia for those willing to adapt to local customs.