How much money does a person from Nepal earn or make a day?

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ November 12th, 2012. Updated on March 13th, 2013. Published in: Travel blog » How to live overseas » Nepal.
Holding Nepalese Rupees

How much money crosses a Nepalese persons hands in a day?

How much money does a person from Nepal earn or make a day?

It’s a question many Nepali don’t know themselves. The Nepalese caste system makes it often times inappropriate for a lower caste to ask or even question a higher caste about money matters.

Curious, and not knowing myself, I set about to piece together the answer to daily earnings in Nepal.

My biggest obstacle? The embarrassed, knowing, smiling faces of the many Nepali I spoke to about their earnings.

You see, the Nepalese are a proud people. They know what I am asking. And, they know their plight.

My most common answer at the start was simply an embarrassed and awkward grin.

Then “Not much, sir.”

Until finally when I revealed I was putting together this article people came out of their shells and openly wanted to contribute.

The reason why?

Because they want the world that only ever hears about Everest trekking to know about the people living here!

Cost of living in Nepal (average, local)

100 rupees (NPR) = USD$1.15

  • 45 minute bus ride NPR 30
  • Taxi across capital NPR 100-150
  • 1 litre of fuel NPR 125
  • Non meat meal NPR (dal bhat) 100- 150
  • 1 litre of clean water NPR 5-10

Wealth distribution in Nepal starts at zero

Go beyond the towns, trekking trails and out into the local villages. Many a mere two hours from the capital and you will meet families living on no money. They simply live off the land.

Rice is the main staple meal here along with vegetables and lentils. Mixed together with chili and garlic it creates the most popular meal that’s eaten only twice a day; Dhal Baht.

Rice is often taken to the roofs of many houses to be placed into storage for the winter months. This is when the average diet can get even bleaker.

On good seasons a large family can have a surplus crop and be able to trade it for meat or other crops in neighboring villages. At best they can sometimes sell their produce for some cash. 83% of the population live in rural areas.

Man waiting for work in Kathmandu

A man waits for more jobs to be given out in Durbar square – also a UNESCO world heritage site and tourist attraction – in reality at dawn it’s where jobs are found

Low income earnings in Nepal:

A housekeeper in Nepal gets paid 100 rupees per day. Sometimes nothing if they are plucked from a village and promised food and lodging.

An average guest house cook/cleaner/worker gets paid 100 rupees per day. Food is usually included here too.

A chief chef gets paid 150 rupees per day, plus food.

Manual construction workers get paid NPR 300-500

It should be noted that at this level, contracts are rarely written. Word of mouth is used to agree terms. Some tourist industry staff pay unions to represent them should a grievance occur.

The government states that the minimum wage in Nepal should be NPR 6,100 per month.

Middle income earnings in Nepal

  • A restaurant waiter gets paid 100 rupees per day, plus 10% of the service charge added to meals, tips, and food.
  • A taxi man earns NPR 200 – 300 per day after car rental (700-800) plus fuel.
  • Public primary school teacher gets paid NPR 5,000 – 10,000 depending on area. Rural teachers get paid less.
  • A starting bank staff member earns NPR 10,000 per month
  • Secondary and tertiary teachers NPR 20,000 per month
  • A starting level government worker gets NPR 7,000

Note: There are often hidden extras here, including monthly bonuses, food and fuel allowances.

Upper income salaries in Nepal

  • A parliament member earns NPR 45,000 per month
  • A bank manager can earn up to NPR 100,000 per month
  • Senior telecommunications engineer NPR 100,000+

Government salaries in Nepal

  • As of 2009 the Prime Minister of Nepal earns NPR 35,000 per month base + NPR 252,000 per month expenses/salaries for their team.
  • Deputy prime minister expenses for their team NPR 175,000
  • Minister expenses for their team NPR 132,000 (source)

Example of ministers salary system:

25 ministers on average in a fiscal year = NPR 4.47 million each month, including salaries and fuel, travel and daily allowances for all cabinet members.

However in the case of fuel expenses  6 million was spent for fuel while nearly 200,000 was actually spent …

Note: The above is for the ministers “teams” per month. And does not include additional expenses or “additional” funds. eg. transport out-of-town/country, out of hours work etc

Expats, NGO and overseas workers

Here we go into the strange world of incredibly high earnings of overseas worker in Nepal.

Cars outside KFC in Kathmandu

Kings road in Kathmandu – a line of new cars parked outside an international fast food restaurant that local salary earners simply cannot afford to eat in.

Many diplomats are paid here on a two tier system. Base salaries are paid into their home accounts while a live in country salary is paid in Nepalese rupees. Plus additional expenses for staff such as drivers, cooks, etc.

The scale of NGO workers salaries here is dependent on the organization. I will tackle this in a separate article. Sufficed to say, it’s impossible to measure as it’s not nationally regulated. Overseas donations, in and out of country tax reliefs, plus expenses make this a very murky and unfortunate scale.

  • UN messenger (grade 1) per year earns NPR 454,849
  • A senior UN Admin (grade 7) per year earns NPR 2,253,914
  • A senior UN national officer (grade 7) earns NPR 4,957,280

Many senior positions, again, get a base salary +  expenses + spouse allowance + child allowance + 1st and/or 2nd language allowance (source).

A note on small expat businesses in the Nepal:

In order to run a registered business in Nepal you need to be a national. Foreigners generally (that I am aware of) have only three options.

  1. Marry a local: in which case the local will have the property or business in their name
  2. Become a private investor in a Nepalese firm, using legal letters to state your investment
  3. Come from a SAARC country and things ease up, eg. Opening a bank account

The fourth option is a rather murky one that involves independent freelance workers such as foreign trekking guides benefit from language skills that cannot be obtained reasonable within Nepal e.g. French speaking guides, Japanese etc.

This by the way was one the reasons TAAN (Trekkers Agencies Association of Nepal) stated when they tried to ban independent trekking in 2012. A better idea might be to improve the national education system rather than profit even more from tourism.

Equality & fairness in the Nepalese salary:

Compare the above salaries and you will see that a cleaner is earning less than one meal’s worth of money per day, for an 8-10 hour job.

Yes, the reality is they also get fed the standard Nepalese two meals a day. But still, that number for the work being done is horrific.

Match this with the vast amounts of money people are making in the tourism sector in Nepal and there is a huge difference.

While the Government officials salaries may seem low, as you can see it’s their expenses that make them some of the wealthiest in Nepal in terms of lifestyle.

It’s no wonder so many Nepalese seek work overseas and there’s a revolving door of Nepalese governments coming and going.

Nepalese working overseas

The average unskilled Nepalese worker in Kuwait earns NPR 13, 200 per month

Three generations of Nepalese men

Three generations of Nepalese males all going in separate ways to earn money to live

Compare that to a near zero income back home and you can see why over 15% of the population live overseas.

This is changing however with the last few years of global downturn leading to an estimated 17% drop in employment overseas. Examples of work drying up from Malaysia come from agriculture and manufacturing services not performing as well. And from the Middles East construction work and closures have led to a drying up of employment there.

There’s a chain effect in place. If construction work slows not only are their less Nepalese laborers needed, but there’s also a downturn in the number of  cooks, waiters and housekeepers needed to support the industry.

Life of an overseas Nepalese worker

The idea of the grass is greener overseas is slowly disappearing in Nepal. With many Nepalese overseas workers returning home, not just due to lack of work, but also due to serious mistreatment and financial ruin.

Pressured to pay employment agencies most unskilled Nepalese workers are forced into debt repayment with agencies in Nepal. Then when overseas they are forced to surrender their passports to employers.

Hard work, poor sanitary / living conditions and a decade of debt to pay off many Nepalese realize they are in a bad position and try to leave. Without a passport many are caught and sent to prison in foreign countries.

Every year over 1,000 Nepalese overseas workers die*.

*The Nepalese government has tried to step in and help. Offering 20% of the return fare should a worker want to leave after 6 months of employment overseas. But the reality of keeping this in order is another thing. Cheap burials overseas are commonplace and more affordable than sending a body home.

Rape, physical abuse, non issuing of salaries, accidents and heath care problems are often reported on a frequent basis from overseas workers.

Back home many children are raised by their aunts, uncles and grandparents as both parents work overseas.

Some children I’ve met have not seen their parents for many years.

The positive side of the overseas Nepalese worker

On the positive side of overseas workers those that can save money can often send a child to school back home. Or for many bring their families to a new country for a better standard of living.

In a generation or two the Nepalese families often return a single member home to build a new house on their hereditary land in Nepal. Or start a new business to hire family members.

Using the education received overseas and the money earned by some family members is often the biggest start in life new generations of Nepali families can have back home.

It comes at a price though. Parent-less families and a social upbringing that’s missing a link in traditional culture. The reward is that there is now an abundance of food at the table.

 This is an additional feature article about how much money a person from Nepal earns


Travel Tip:

If you’d like to visit Nepal then do check out my free travel guide to Nepal


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30 Great responses to How much money does a person from Nepal earn or make a day?

  1. Anna's World says:

    It continues to amaze me how little some people in the world live on. Not sure how I would cope.

    • One learns to live on less. If you are born into less, it’s rare to know what “more” is.

    • Bijay says:

      Dear Anna, i am from NEPAL. If i were in your place and you in mine, maybe i also would have a question like yours! The life here is far more better than that it was earlier. It is sometimes believed that there are creatures on the other planets out there in the space, much developed and civilized that our earth, who knows if they pity over the life of Americans and Europeans!

    • Joanne says:

      Great article ! Makes one appreciate what they have, and again the wisdom of growing your own produce for health and financial sense.

  2. Emma says:

    Great article Dave. I’d like to see you write something similar about the state of US earnings!

  3. Good post!

    Shocking …but not surprising. I guess through travel you really discover how there are many cultures/families out there who don’t have an income but live off of the land. It’s amazing that they can produce enough to get by. U.N. & expat salaries, no shocker there- westerners can’t cope in a similar fashion and somehow, they always squeeze a better deal out of the situation. Hardly seems fair. =(

  4. Anamika says:

    Thank you for sharing this eye opening and informative article! It’s true that most third world country lives with just around $1 per day. It’s time to let other people see this situation! :(

  5. Jim says:

    Interesting read, though I’m not sure what Nepal’s politicians will make of it! I’ve been following their lack of progress since the revolution. Your past article on the caste system there sums it up nicely with this. No wonder they don’t want to leave office. When they do it is just to create a new party with the same old people. A vicious circle that doesn’t see any end. I suspect it will end in a second revolution or a return of the monarchy. I’d vote for the monarchy at this stage even though current king is straw short of a full bale.

  6. Laura says:

    I remember when I first met some UN workers in East Africa and was astounded by the salaries. One guy was a filmmaker from Los Angeles who basically took an archiving job in Tanzania and said his salary was 2.5 times that of his salary in LA! And I imagine cost of living is about 1/10th.

  7. Mark says:

    You could take this in a western perspective too. How much do we really know about our Senators, Governors or civil service pay packets.

    I remember working (briefly) in government. There were no issues taking the odd “expenses” paid lunch etc. After all, “we deserve it and it’s work related”.

  8. Clay says:

    Thank you for gathering and sharing these pieces of information! I’m amazed to see such simple living conditions in Nepal while people there often seem much happier than the wealthiest countries’ inhabitants…

  9. brandy bell says:

    wow- what an eye opening post. thank you for bringing this to our attention… I am hoping to visit Nepal this summer and will make sure I take extra time and attention to find out how I can give back to communities meaningfully while traveling through the country. Thank you again!

  10. Patrick says:

    Great post. Am about to do the Everest 3-passes trek here so it is good to read this first.

  11. Kumar kancho says:

    Every thing above is fact and im proud to say im Nepalese
    Lots of people are poor but they r not under pressure of any thing
    Nepal is undeveloped bcoz of deplomatic people like people from
    The upperlevel..and will never develope
    And im in US since 2010 finally what i knew with in three years
    is that the life of Nepal
    Is much happier then in US though nepal is poor im comming back soon……

  12. Anthony says:

    Unfortunately, this is the way most of the world lives. Can be quite confronting for some Westerners!

  13. Navin says:

    it’s an awesome post. A person outside from Nepal can have a rough idea on how much person in Nepal earns and cost of visiting Nepal.

  14. Shub says:

    Hi Dave,

    This is quite an interesting article. I am a Nepali girl studying at a top-notch-hyper-expensive university in the US with the constant guilt that some weeks I spend more money on books than the GDP of my country! I totally agree with your point that wealth distribution starts at zero in Nepal– and its quite ironic that I understood how poor my country is recently as I was working for a group project where my study base was Rolpa, a rural district in Mid western part of Nepal. I was trying to figure out how much a person earns a month– and I was stunned to see the dollar conversions of the figures. Though I am from KTM, I have traveled across the country for interviews and what not. I am curious to understand your methodology for the study. Would you be willing to share how you came up with these figures?

    On behalf of the Nepalese, thank you for taking the time to study about our society.

    Regards,
    ~S~

    • Hi Shub,

      Similar to you I’ve traveled to many parts of Nepal and indeed other countries with similar queries. Some of the costings are based on averages from major and rural areas. Others are from national daily figures that are published by the department of trade/finance. Government salaries were very difficult to get hold of with the last public publication that I could find listed as being from 2009 – if anyone has anything more recent I’d be very happy to read it.

      As you can see it’s a culmination from many different areas.

      I wouldn’t fall into the pit of guilt about spending more than Nepal’s GDP. The USA is on a different economic level to Nepal so a straight up comparison of guilt is not something I personally would dwell on. I would be more concerned with spending USA level wages and recreating a USA lifestyle within Nepal and the detrimental effect that can have on local socio-economic input.

      Thanks for stopping by and I hope you studies are going well!

  15. Jason Khadka says:

    Hey Dave,

    I am really surprised to find such thorough reporting on the income status of Nepalese and also more surprised to find such a recent one. Like you, I traveled parts of Nepal learning their daily livelihood and the trade construct they live on. At this point, I would have to let you know I am a Nepali currently studying in Germany.
    Some of the figures are really surprising to me, especially as a Nepali, the salary of Prime minister is just Rs. 35000? And the expenses for his whole team is just another Rs. 200000+? May be there are more unmentioned add-ons, however, you must have easily realized the lavish lifestyle these high government official can afford. But here I would not like to go on a discussion about misuse of National wealth.
    Another thing I found surprising was the Rs. 100-150 for a taxi ride around the town. Everyone knows a cab ride from Baneshwor to Newroad (I am guessing you still remember name of some places around KTM, anyway that would be 5-7 KM) would cost at least Rs. 200-250, also considering how recent the article is. I was just trying to pull your leg there.
    I would have to say the intriguing idea that you posted in your article and I quote, “A better idea might be to improve the national education system rather than profit even more from tourism”, amazed me the most. I always believed Nepal can only benefit from the Tourism industry. Nepal lack any other resources to establish itself on the global market except sale the natural beauty of its mystifying Himalayas or also the centuries old culture and heritage.
    It might be always a good idea to improve the national educational system, especially considering more than half of the country is illiterate. But the question is where will the money for the improvement come from? We have generations of people living in foot hills of Himalayas and following traditions that is surprising in most unique of sense. And I believe if given more advertisement to it, excluding the already existing Mount Everest Image, Nepal will be able to attract double or triple the amount of tourists.
    This will increase employment and earnings for lowest of levels to the highest of entrepreneurs. The local level tea shop owner en route to Poon Hill will be able to sell tea and send his daughter to school and a Kathmandu based Trekking company will be able to hire local guides and profit from it.
    In conclusion, I believe development in tourism sector will have spin-off effect in every sector Nepal is currently lacking and only this can drive country away from this bleak reality. Also being a economist enthusiast, I cannot help but mention the law of comparative advantages and Nepal with the scenic beauty and unexplored cultures and traditions, has some serious advantage in Tourism.
    I hope you continue the wonderful research that you have been doing in Nepal and other countries, and will make more people aware internationally on where the problems for humanity actually lies.

    Best,
    Jason

    • Hello Jason,

      Yes, I’ve mentioned additional “expenses” in terms of political earnings.

      Taxi fares are as good as the days fuel price and ones bargaining ability. I’ve seen many wealthy Nepalese students not care about the price of a fare and just throw 300 rupees at the driver.

      In terms of earning money for education through tourism. Many would argue that Nepal is suffering from too many tourists and the torque of over burdening them with costs. Think of Kathmandu Durbar Square. A main throughfare. 2007 = 200 rupees to enter or just pass through. Then 300 rupees. Now 700 rupees. Yet the development of the zone has not changed in all these years aside from some excavations. Ditto many other sites? Does this money get to education? I don’t think so.

      Think of the Annapurna Circuit now with a road nearly completed that leads around it. A terrible shame that will turn tourists around all in the name of helping people in remote villages.

      Nepal has one of the world’s largest potentials for hydro power yet it sits there unused. Coffee plantations lack support for large exports, as do apples and honey. Textiles and handicrafts are being scaled back too.

      All the potential in the world is at Nepal’s finger tips. Much like tourism was 10 years ago. The problem was money was not invested wisely and sectors like tourism have become over exploited to the point of now turning away people.

      Nepal must diversify in my opinion.

  16. shankar chaudhary says:

    thanks for providing information of nepal goverment

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