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How to Live Easy in China on $475 a Month and still be able to Save Money


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This is the kind of issue that gets discussed a lot in Asian expat forums.

In Thailand the minimum wage works out to less than $200 / month and almost anyone with a degree can come and teach English (assuming they are a native speaker of it) and earn 5 times that. So why couldn't they also save half of their salary?

Wes's question starts toward an answer. Expecting health care that is on-par with that in the West would result in more costs than minimum wage employees would face, and health care coverage might be quite limited at some entry level teaching jobs. So there are really two separate issues.

Most of the general answer relates to what trade-offs an expat would be willing to make, which parts of their lives in the West they could do without changing. Eating Western foods makes a huge difference in expenses. Here McDonald's is a lot more expensive than local foods, costing maybe 5 times what local meals do, or exactly the same as converted currency rates, so therefore negating the entire cost of living difference. Even cooking something like pasta involves buying Western-style food; even if the idea is to make it from scratch flour and tomatoes can cost more. Just shopping in a grocery store almost doubles food expenses, with local markets costing much less, but without the convenience of offering everything grocery stores do, eg. soaps and such.

They didn't mention going to the movies in that article. That's another type of expense that costs nearly the same per converted currency values here as in the US, or in other words, typically a lot more in comparison. Some things cost less for residents than foreigners (two-tiered pricing) so reducing some expenses down to local levels isn't always an option. Another Asian practice is living together as an extended family, so that in many cases multiple generations and earners live in the same household, obviously a practice an expat generally couldn't adopt.

Children's education is very expensive here if you send your child to an international school where they can learn in English, and Thai schools also are not free (completely covered by taxes). Visa's are costly and not all employers would pay all of those expenses, although better ones would.

In the end there is plenty of room for expats earning at the top end of the pay scale to live better than in the US (with some differences that don't match "better" or "worse") but it would take a lot of flexibility to adapt to the entry level scale and lifestyle. Some obstacles would prove very difficult, for example, learning the local language to enable following the same practices.
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