How to Buy or Rent Real Estate in Chiang Mai | Finding an Apartment or House for Retired Expats

Foreigners’ Guide to Buying or Renting an Apartment, Condo or House in Chiang Mai:

Thailand’s natural beauty and low cost of real estate make it a wonderful place to retire, particularly Chiang Mai due to its perfect size (not too big, not too small) and diverse offerings. We recommend you to rent within 5km of the city center your first year in Chiang Mai while you get to know the neighborhoods and decide which will best fit your lifestyle. There are many reasons why we make this suggestion before you select more permanent housing:

    • Rental prices in Chiang Mai and the vicinity are very inexpensive, so unlike renting in many western countries, where you feel like you are “throwing away” money when renting rather than buying, this is not the case in Chiang Mai.
    • There are many diverse environments and lifestyles based on the neighborhood you elect to live in. The center city is fun and bustling and you can walk to your favorite local restaurants and stores, but being just a 10-15 minute drive or songthaew ride away from the city center can offer you lush vegetation and solitude.
    • You will be making many new friends during your first year, and visiting them in their apartments, condos or homes will give you a better idea about what you will like best.
    • You might even decide not to live in Chiang Mai at all, rather in one of the many villages that are considered in the “Chiang Mai vicinity” but are their own unique cities with their own town center with many restaurants and stores. These small towns offer the quiet of village life, and even lower real estate prices than the already low Chiang Mai prices. Visiting and getting a good feel for these many villages takes time.
    • As a newcomer, it will be hard for you to envision what your life will be like a year later: who your best friends will be and where will they live; what activities you have learned about that you didn’t even know existed when you arrived; what golf club or resort do you find yourself enjoying the most; what social clubs and activities have you joined, et cetera. You will most likely want to buy a lease a home, condo or apartment in the region where you are doing most of your favorite things.
    • It takes awhile for newcomers to get a feel for Chiang Mai transportation. In your first month or so you may not imagine yourself driving a car, or riding a motorbike, around Chiang Mai. This is because some first-time visitors (especially in their senior years), look at the bustling traffic in the city center (and imagine having to drive on the left side of the road), and think it will be too complicated for them. So these people may think they need to limit themselves to living close to the city center so they can easily walk or bicycle, or use songthaews, buses, tuktuks and Grabs. For most newcomers, however, this anxiety disappears with regular exposure to Thai driving, and they end up buying a motorbike or car. This gives them the freedom to live further from the city center than they might have first imagined.
    • And lastly, there is the sad reality that for some people, Thailand might not be right for them. You will arrive with certain expectations in your mind of what life in Chiang Mai will be like, and that dream may not be reality. Many expats love Chiang Mai so much they consider it their new permanent home and prefer the kind Thai people and their gentle and accepting philosophy of life. Often they find the warm weather and low cost of cost of living preferable to their original country. But you might not be one of those people. If you decide to return to your home country, or move elsewhere, it will be easier to do so if you have only been renting rather than buying.

 

After one year of living in Chiang Mai, you will better know your long-term desires. You will know your favorite environment, whether it be a particular region within Chiang Mai, or a village just outside the city. You will know who your friends are and where they live. You will know your favorite hobbies and activities and where you most like to do them. You will know if you prefer to walk or ride a bicycle or take easy local transportation (buses, songthaews, tuktuks, Grabs) to your favorite places, or if you will feel comfortable on a motorbike or driving your own car.

To Rent or Buy in Chiang Mai: House, Condo or Apartment?

Once you’ve made up your mind and chosen your region, your next decision will be to buy or rent. There are many methods available for foreigners to own or lease real estate in Chiang Mai that are reliable and trustworthy. Many expats elect to rent property for the convenience and flexibility, but Thailand also permits foreigners to buy, and many expats choose this option due to the low prices in Thailand. 

Although foreigners are welcome to buy property, Thailand’s property and ownership laws do have some restrictions on foreigners’ “freehold land ownership.” These laws are designed to maintain Thai culture, protect the natural environment, and assure continued affordability. While these regulations impose limits for foreigners, they protect the real estate market from over-development and preserve the Thailand we love.

You will often see this general summary of Thailand’s property ownership laws for foreigners:

“You can buy a condo, but not unimproved land or a single-family dwelling on land. However, you can rent or have a long-term lease on any type of property: apartment, condo or free-standing house on land.”

As we will discuss below in more detail, however, as with all country’s laws, there are exceptions and legal maneuvers that can allow even foreigners to buy land, a home on land, or buy land and build a home, if that is truly your desire.

Whatever option you choose, you can confidently make a home in Thailand. A foreigner’s ownership or lease rights are formally recognized by Thai law. But before making the plunge on a big decision, you will want to make sure you understand the laws and terms of agreement. 

At Land of Smile Retirement Assistance, we are here to help that happen. Our programs include introducing you to our recommended Chiang Mai real estate agent, who is familiar with working with expats and fluent in English. She will clearly explain the many options to help you find what you feel is best for you. Plus, our packages will also provide you with information to make you more familiar with the city - and through getting to know you and your lifestyle - we can recommend a neighborhood that is a good fit. (Our recommended real estate agent works with you to find the perfect home, whether you are buying or leasing an apartment, condo, or free-standing home. 

Renting an Apartment, Condo or House in Chiang Mai

Renting involves little paperwork or advance funding. And whether you elect to live in an apartment, condominium or free-standing house, renting monthly or leasing is very affordable. Like in western countries, although short-term rentals can be found, long-term residents will want a lease, usually renewed annually. 

To let pictures tell the story, here are some apartments and homes listed as available when this article was written in September, 2019. (Please don’t ask us for links to these specific units as they were likely rented soon after being listed. These photos are provided here as samples of typical Chiang Mai offerings to give you a real idea of what you will get for your money.) We feel these sample offerings are fairly representational on what is consistently available to rent or lease in Chiang Mai and the surrounding regions. You will note prices drop as you get further away from central Chiang Mai.

Housing options and prices - What to expect renting in Chiang Mai

Apartment for rent chiang mai housing options

Modern and convenient 1 bedroom 1 bath apt close to Nimman

 

  • 1 bed 1 bath with kitchen and balcony, 37 sq. m. on the 6th floor 
  • Fully furnished featuring AC, TV, Fridge, Microwave, Wifi
  • Facilities include a gym and swimming pool
  • 24/7 security with finger scan and cctv

$360 USD per month / one-year lease

 

Standard rental deposit

When signing a one-year lease, it is somewhat standard for the landlord to ask for one or two months rent as a security deposit (refundable if no damage to the dwelling) and one month’s advance rent. A new law became effective in 2018 which limits the security deposit to only one month’s rent, but this rule only applies if the landlord owns five or more properties.

What are typical utilities costs for water, electricity and internet?

One of the items you will negotiate with your landlord is if some or all of the utilities are included in the rent, or paid by you. Usually you, as the tenant, are responsible for utilities. As you will see, however, these are quite low in Thailand.

Water. A typical water bill for an apartment for two people would be about $10-$15 a month.

Electricity. If you don’t have air conditioning, expect your electric bill to be about $15 a month. If you have air conditioning, however, for the months you are using it regularly, expect to pay about $45 monthly for a one-bedroom apartment.

Learn of the typical living expenses you can expect retiring in Chiang Mai.

How to Buy/Own Property in Chiang Mai

Thai law prohibits foreign freehold ownership outright. Working within this framework, foreigners can own a 49% share while a 51% majority is owned by Thais. This rule applies to both condominiums and single family dwellings (as well as unimproved land), but the 49/51% rule is applied differently for each. Let’s review the different approaches foreigners use to find their perfect home.

 

Buying a Condominium 

One of the easiest and most straightforward methods of owning freehold property in Thailand is through the purchase of a condominium. This grants 100% foreign ownership with the title in your name, basically just like buying a condo in western countries.

But I thought foreigners couldn’t own property outright? 

The 1979 ‘Thai Condominium Act’ allows foreigners to own up to 49% of the total unit space. This means that in a condominium with 100 units of equal size, 49 are available for foreign freehold ownership while 51 are available for Thai citizens only. 

Owning a condo allows a foreigner’s name on the title deed (“chanote”). This grants the holder full rights over the land, to deal with or to use it to the exclusion of others. This is the best type of title deed and the best option for owning real estate in Chiang Mai.

Sample condos for sale

So what do Chiang Mai condos and houses actually sell for? And what do you get for your money? Below are photos and descriptions of properties listed for sale in September 2019, when this article was written. We think these samples are a fair representation of what condominiums and houses sell for in Chiang Mai and the surrounding countryside.

1 bedroom luxury condo in Nimman,

the most desired neighborhood in Chiang Mai

  • Fully furnished 1 Bedroom 1 Bathroom with kitchen and balcony, 70 sqm. on the 7th floor
  • Excellent location surrounded by restaurants, cafes, convenient transportation options
  • Facilities include a fitness center, swimming pool, garden, and security
                                    • 7,200,000 baht ($236,000 USD)

Buying a House or Land | How to Own Property in Thailand

Although condos are by far the choice of most expats buying a home in Chiang Mai, foreigners can also buy land or a free-standing home (such as a single-family dwelling). Thai law, however, prohibits foreign freehold ownership outright. A foreigner can own a share of property through a Thai Limited Company (basically what western countries would think of as a corporation). As with foreign ownership of condos, the 49/51% rule applies, but in the case of buying land, or an individual home upon land, the ownership of the entire property must be not exceed 49% by a foreigner, and at least 51% be owed by Thais. This is true whether it is a single house on a parcel of land, or the planned construction of a large condo development. Compare this to foreign ownership of a condo, where you own your property 100%.

Long-term Property or Land Lease

An option that might be considered as combining the respective benefits of renting and owning is the long-term leasehold. This can secure the property for your use for an extended period, without the need to bring in a majority-share Thai owner of 51% or more as when buying. Although in a long-term leasehold ownership stays fully vested in the Thai owner, you as the leasee can secure your full and unassailable use of the property for the period of the lease. For example, this could include you building a home on the property, subject to the terms of your lease agreement, or course. In fact, leases of more than three years will require the leasehold of the property in your name to be attached to the deed and registered with the Thai government.

The maximum lease period permitted by Thai law is 30 years. If you elect to lease property, it is highly recommended you consult a local attorney experienced in property transactions. For example, you will likely want to make sure to request certain lease “enhancements.” Also referred to as a “secured leasehold” these enhancements might include:

  • The right to renew the lease for a second 30 year term.
  • The right of your heirs to inherit the remainder of the lease term.
  • Clarify your permitted uses for the property.
  • Strictly limit the circumstances under which the lease could be cancelled.

An attorney could also explain possible benefits to securing your interest as an offshore corporate entity, rather than as an individual. 

Thirty-year leases are commonly paid for as one lump sum, as determined by the value of the property. So one disadvantage of this option is that it requires a significant investment of cash, just as when buying a property. We are not lawyers, so do not intend that this information take the place of a consultation with a professional specializing in foreign land ownership. We can, however, provide our clients with our network of professionals to guide you through a smooth and secure transaction. Contact us to set you up with a legal consultation to discuss your options with an expert.