Living in Chiang Mai

Here is information to help you prepare for life in Chiang Mai, since transition to a new country and culture can be a challenging process. We hope this information helps you better understand what to expect and makes your move easier.


Located in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is easily accessible from most points in Southeast Asia. It has an international airport offering direct flights to and from cities including Seoul, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Phuket; flights to Bangkok run hourly or more.


Thailand’s climate is tropical monsoon with three seasons: the warm season is hot and dry from March to May, the rainy season is from June to October, and the cool season is from November to February. Daytime temperatures range from 16 degrees C (60 F) to 36 degrees C (97 F). Evenings are a bit cooler. In cool season you will want a light sweater, but likely won’t use it the rest of the year.


Chiang Mai has something for everyone! Near the city are waterfalls, elephant rides, whitewater rafting, rappelling, hiking, spelunking, and other outdoor activities. GIS facilities are available to staff and their families, including outdoor basketball and a weight room. Five modern malls have stores, restaurants, and multi-screen cinemas (movies cost about $5 USD). 

Dining opportunities abound. Western chains include Sizzler, KFC, McDonalds, Subway, Starbucks, and Pizza Hut. In addition, hundreds of locally-owned restaurants provide good value in Thai, Chinese, German, French, Mexican, Mediterranean, Italian, Indian, and American cuisine.


Numerous international churches meet in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai Community Church, Chiang Mai International Christian Fellowship, and The Gathering are largely constituted of foreigners from the Christian worker and business communities. These have youth ministries, Bible studies, mens’s and women’s ministries. Several Thai churches also have English translation during services.


It is not too difficult to get a Thai driver’s license, especially if you have an international license, available through AAA in the U.S. (you don’t need to be a member).

Singles or young couples may choose to use bikes or motorcycles as their primary means of transportation, but families and people with long-term commitment will probably want to buy a car. Dependable used cars start at about $6,000 USD and hold their resale value. New motorcycles are about $1,000 USD. There is also public transport, via public bus, truck-style taxis (songtaew), modern taxis, and unique “tuk tuks” for hire.

Grace is in the southwest area of the city about 20-25 minutes by car from city center. GIS is about a 10 minute walk from the main road, where public transportation runs.


A wide range of housing is available in Chiang Mai. Single family homes and townhouses are plentiful. The GIS recruiting office keeps a log of available nearby housing. Friends, acquaintances, and an area-wide weekly “classifieds” (from Chiang Mai Community Church) are good sources for housing. These real estate agencies may help:

Expat Homes  053-447-985 , skype: ExpatHomesCM or
Better Homes 01881-8055 (mobile phone), 262-588, or
Chiang Mai Real Estate 053-217-769 or 053-215-606
Swed Home 053-802-822 or 053-806-823 (fax)


Considerations when looking for a home:


Many Grace families choose to locate within a few miles of GIS, for convenience and community. You can find cheaper rent, if you search nearby neighborhoods, but you’ll likely need a car or motor bike.


Houses rent for anywhere between $300 – $800 USD per month, or more, depending on size, location, age, and amenities. Utilities are rarely included in rent, but are quite inexpensive, like water, electric, garbage pick-up, and neighborhood security.

Fans/air conditioning

Many homes have air conditioners in one or more bedrooms. Some rooms may have ceiling fans. Floor fans are affordable and readily available.

Furnished or Unfurnished.

“Unfurnished” can mean “virtually nothing” in the house (no cupboards, counters, sinks, appliances, or hot water heater). “Furnished” can mean a bit furniture or all you need, maybe even appliances. Some landlords will move furniture in or out to suit you, from other rentals.

Phone/Internet Service

Check to see what internet is available. Mobile phones plentiful and cheap throughout Thailand. No monthly fees; only pay-per-minute for calls, text, and data. Different fees per company

Electricity is 220-240 volts x 50 cycles, so do NOT bring 110 v appliances. Monthly electric bills to run one or two air conditioners at night are usually less than $100 USD.


City water is cheap but not always dependable. Most houses also have a storage tank. City water is not potable, but water for drinking is purchased in bottles from a water distributor, delivered to your home weekly and inexpensively (20 liter = $0.75). Commercial filters can be purchased and installed. Water bills are hand delivered monthly, paid in cash online or at any 7-11, or at the office of the water company.

Gas to Cook

Most kitchen ranges use bottled gas (LPG). If your home does not have a tank you can buy one from a shop that will deliver, usually within the hour. After that, the shop will trade a full tank for about $5 USD for your empty.

What to Bring

See also “Chiang Mai Shopping List” at right.

Equipping Your Household

Thais are friendly, and though it’s not always easy, you can shop by pointing, without speaking any Thai. Chiang Mai has many major superstores that carry almost everything! Appliances, entertainment systems, and a great variety of household items are here. Several grocery stores carry lots of imported food items, but many imports are heavily taxed, therefore expensive.

Fair to good to excellent quality sheet sets are available. Quality pillows, blankets, and comforters also, in a variety of colors and styles. Pots, pans, dishes, silverware, and misc. are all sold in many qualities, from discount to high cost.


Shopping for clothing and shoes may be a bit of a challenge if you are a typical western size. Children’s clothing is readily available in a variety of sizes, styles, and prices. Shoe sizes up to women’s 8 and men’s 8 are available at reasonable prices. Men’s sizes up to 11 are available in the better department stores. Swimsuits and swim trunks are sometimes challenging to find and suntan lotion can be expensive. Western-sized women’s undergarments can be found in the better department stores. If you have a preference or hard to fit item you should bring these items from your home country.

Chiang Mai has many excellent tailors and seamstresses, and fabrics are reasonable and of good quality.


Don’t Bring: Toothpaste, Shampoo, Soft contact lens products, Disposable diapers, Children’s Tylenol, Q-tips, antiperspirant. These are available, unless you have a special need.

Do bring Tampons, hard contact lens products, curly hair products.

Note: Thailand has great hairdressers, who can color and cut westerners $40 USD. A woman’s haircut and shampoo is $5-$20, depending on location.

Classroom and Teaching Supplies

Outfitting a classroom as you are accustomed may mean that bringing special posters, graphics, and visual aids with you. We have no specail “teacher stores,” but many decorative, paper, and class items. Bring special maps, stickers, rewards, incentives. We have mounting products.

GIS does outfit classrooms with all the materials required for teaching the curriculum, as well as manipulatives, office supplies, and technology. Particularly in elementary school, these is basic stock for bulletin boards, crafts, etc. Non-reusable classroom items are less likely to be stocked for you. There are, however, a myriad of stationary supplies available in Chiang Mai at inexpensive prices. Don’t hesitate to ask us.

Other Items

For families moving to Chiang Mai with children, do bring special toys and keepsakes for their transition to a new home. Favorite books, CDs, and DVDs will be of special value here, as the selection of legal copies of English language media is limited.


Updated 2016-11-07 (all costs approximate)

House Related Costs

  • Rent: $300- $800 USD, depends on size, location, amenities
  • Muubaan fees (Neighborhood Home Owners’ Association): $10-$40 USD yearly.
  • Electricity: $30-$150 USD depending on season and A/C use
  • Propane for cooking: $6-$10 USD a tank, which can last months
  • Telephone (local land line): $5-$15 month (not required; mobile phone is OK)
  • Cell phone (pay as you go): 3-cents-per-minute (local call); international from $.50-minute (with phone card); free with Skype, Facetime, Internet phone
  • Internet Service: $30-$60 month, depending on package, speed
  • Cable TV (for English language programs): $30-$60 USD month, different companies 
  • Water (tap): $3-$25 USD month, depends on inside/outside use
  • Water (drinking): $.75 for 20 liter/5 gallon jug, delivered (refundable 1x jug rent=$3)
  • Gasoline (petrol): $.20 cents to $1.25 per liter, depends on quality used
  • Household help (optional): $2-$3 USD per hour; half-days/full days/any days chosen (sweep, mop, dust, dishes, wash/iron clothing, trim/sweep leaves, maybe cook a little
  • Gardener: $15 USD four hours mow, weed wack, trim, sweep, (depends on yard size)

One Time Costs

  • Security deposit on rental house: three months’ rent
  • Utilities: No deposit required
  • Used car: Starting at $2,000(if lucky) to $6,000 USD; Motorcycle: $900 USD & up
  • Furniture: Prices like western countries; imported items (i.e. mattresses) are more expensive. It’s good to arrive early summer and buy used from a family leaving!

Food Costs

  • Thai lunch at GIS daily: Free
  • Thai meal at local café: $1.00-$3.00 USD
  • Thai meal at better restaurant: $3 – $10
  • Western meal at restaurant: $5 – $12 USD
  • Groceries: fresh meats, vegetables, fruits inexpensive; western/imports quite expensive

Miscellaneous Costs

  • Postage: $1.00 – $1.50 to mail overseas letter, depends on weight, (twice USA rates)
  • Car Insurance: $350.oo USD per year, various coverage
  • Pest Control: $12 per month (inside/outside ant/cockroach spray)
  • Public Transportation: .75 cents for yellow Songtaew to “town” (set route); $3. for Red Songtaew to “town” (wherever you agree to go); $6 for taxi from airport (with a/c)
  • Haircuts: $1.50-$20, Pedicures: $6; Manicures: $6-$8 USD
  • Cinema ticket (English with Thai subtitles): about $5
  • Teeth cleaning by American trained dentist: $30-$50

Health Care

  • Some people have short-term diarrhea when adjusting to Thailand. Have “persistent” diarrhea checked.
  • Habitually drink LOTS of fluids. Waiting until you’re thirsty is waiting TOO long. Electrolyte beverage packets can be purchased locally in drug stores.
  • Avoid stray animals because of possible rabies and skin diseases. If you are bitten, go immediately to a medical facility for rabies shots.
  • There is very little malaria in Chiang Mai; cases of dengue fever are more common. Avoid being outside when mosquitoes are prevalent (dusk/dawn) or use repellents.
  • Don’t be afraid of AIDS in Thailand, but be aware of it. Because the HIV virus is passed from person to person through direct exchange of body fluids (blood and reproductive fluids), high risk behaviors include sharing needles, sexual activity, and blood transfusions. For questions, contact ACT Center for AIDS education (66-53-214-846).
  • Hospitals keep a roster of Christian workers’ blood types, who live in Chiang Mai and donate to each other in the event of an accident or surgery.