Time to consider retirement in Thailand? A personal take By Patrick Meriwhether

I have been visiting Thailand as a tourist for over twenty years.  I shall briefly consider whether retirement at fifty is worth it and, if so, why Thailand.   By retirement, I do not mean literally “retiring” from life.  Let’s call it “semi-retirement”.

Life at fifty

Retirement is an opportunity to do what you want and according to when you want.  If you are not doing what you really wish to do at fifty then you are in danger of dying unfulfilled.  Before you think that the average person lives to about seventy-five years in the so-called “developed” world, give a passing thought to those you know who have died early or who have suffered life altering events for the worse before reaching fifty.  My mother’s early death and my own health scares cause me to reflect.

At fifty you can probably expect another fifteen to twenty years of reasonably healthy life.  You cannot take your assets or savings with you after death and, aside of giving some inheritance to family members, you should consider spending some of your capital in doing what you wish; in what is, effectively, the last third of your life.   Do not hold out for longer lasting medical treatments or “miracle drugs” or perpetual life; they are years away and world “unknowns” do not support the idea of sustainable life forever.

Assuming some good health, fifty is old enough to have experience and some capital behind you; and young enough to have some time and opportunity ahead.  So, fifty it is.

By retirement, I mean an opportunity to do what you want.  Getting started is often the hardest bit.  By all means plan ahead – to do otherwise is silly.

Having a partner can help but is not essential.  By the time you are fifty your kids should be nearing self-sufficiency; if not, then (save for “late” mums and dads) it is about time that the kids are.

There are plenty of things to do to keep busy and/or earn income enough to pay some of your expenses after fifty: charity work, teaching, TESOL/TEFL, life-coaching, self-employment, home businesses on-line, long-term travel, ex pat clubs, recreations.  I plan to take a TESOL/TEFL course in Bangkok or Phuket; something to fall back on, subject to visa requirements.  English language skills are in great demand in Asia generally – just visit any college or school and see.

There is no easy answer to how much capital you need to have saved before you retire to Thailand.  Personal circumstances are different; as are life-styles.  Little is to be gained by too much information overload on this point and there are enough financial gurus out there (via a simple google search) to gain an idea about how much one needs to retire.  Some of the ex pat forum website comments can make for amusing financial reading as experienced ex pat commentators bring the “newbies” up to speed.

For what it is worth, I think a minimum US$500,000 is desirable, probably not including the roof over your head or your accommodation costs.  Double that would be good.  Over US$2 million and much more and you are doing nicely.  Under US$500,000 and I think you are cutting it fine but possible.

Big “unknown” costs can include – health, unplanned air travel, interest rates versus inflation and losses on future currency exchange rates.  Look at the recent Euro and Aus. $ volatility.  Road accidents also appear to be quite prevalent in parts of Thailand and motor bikes a particular concern.  Friends tell me if they get seriously sick or injured, they visit private hospitals but try to avoid overnight stays that can be expensive.  I once visited a private hospital in Bangkok for a “skin rash” – blood tests, anti-biotics and a good local doctor cost me about US$200 (all in 2 hours).

Think about health and critical illness insurance but neither come cheap.

If you are sensible, a single person should be able to live on approximately US$2,000 per month in Thailand (including accommodation); a couple a bit more but with some economy of scale to be had.  It can be done cheaper.  However, allow for “events” and some front-loaded costs.  I aim to budget for about US$2,000 per month (including, my rent costs).  I do not drink or smoke, which will help.

Why Thailand

At fifty you can obtain a retirement visa, subject to applicable laws and criteria.  The income and capital requirements are not too strict.   Opening a bank account is relatively straight forward.  Pick your bank wisely (big and/or with a foreign association is generally better) and check your “depositor protection” status and bank charges as a resident foreigner.

Work opportunities will be limited but a good immigration lawyer and/or visa agent can assist; there are plenty on the ground in the big cities.  Godfree’s “Thailand Retirement Helpers” can assist here.

Thailand has a wonderful climate, provided you are not adverse to some heat.  It can rain some but often in predictable daily patterns you can plan around.  You rarely need to worry about more than one layer of clothing.  As a tourist, I normally only pack a few pairs of running shorts, tee-shirts, trainers and travel on the  plane in “smart casual” attire (should I need something to look presentable in, while on holiday).

The culture is friendly, provided you “return” smiles and show respect.

Local food is abundant, inexpensive and generally healthy.  Food costs in many parts of the world will become scarce and more expensive.  Thailand is an enormous rice grower and has a natural food growing climate (like Malaysia, Vietnam, parts of China).   Commodities and food will become even more important.   The next twenty-five years may well see a move back to farming.  It is unlikely Thailand will see major widespread water shortages.

Thailand has a relatively young population compared to many aging countries but one that is generally respectful of age.  Thailand is quite IT savvy but lags (say) Hong Kong and Singapore.

While there are political uncertainties in Thailand, and have been for the last few decades, these do not affect foreign retirees’ quality of life by and large.  I was in Bangkok at the time of some political unrest in 2010 and 2014 and never felt unsafe; in fact, quite the contrary.  Those incidents were (at worse) at times inconvenient.

Indeed, Thailand is by and large a peaceful country and culture.  There is some petty crime and some less pleasant aspects, but they are a fact of most modern life.  In over twenty years of visiting many parts of Thailand, I have never seen any serious crime; the crime I have seen has almost all been night time drink and tourist related.  A more recent phenomenon in Bangkok is foreign scam artists; never invest in these “get rich quick” promises and quietly (and quickly) move on.  When out and about at night generally stay ground floor and avoid “upstairs” and basement joints.

There is much to do in Thailand.  The climate and varied landscape allow this.  Water sports (some of the longest coastal areas in the world), cycling, walking, golf, cookery classes, Buddhist retreats, temple retreats, many martial arts, meditation, many nocturnal activities; the list goes on.  You should not be bored.  I once had ballroom “dance lessons” with a professional dance instructor in Bangkok, who turned out to be a “ladyboy” and a great dancer (and nice with it); for those interested, I still tried to take the lead.  “She” charged Bhat 1000 per hour (just dance lessons).

Some life lessons

My first impressions of Thailand over some twenty years ago were not all good.  However, I came to see Thailand for what it is.  In short, a respectful culture and way of life but with modern amenities and facilities (including healthcare).   Do not underestimate the benefit of a good climate.   If you are single, there is abundant opportunity to meet a partner; just be careful and take your time.  Two rules normally hold true: (i) do not buy into property without first living in the locality and looking around for about a year and (ii) the same goes for finding a partner (business, personal or otherwise).

While you can place trust generally, do your due diligence (and avoid the foreign scam artists).  You will generally win Thailand over by showing respect.

Good luck.     PM


6 Responses

  1. I’d like to visit Chiang Mai this Summer. I’m single , 56, probably have enough $ to retire there now if I wanted. Property taxes in Austin, TX are becoming extremely high. Done a bit of homework on Thailand and Malaysia. The culture interests me, but also the value. I’ve seen lots of online vids(JC and the likes). If I plan a visit, can you hook me up with some US, Brit or Aussie ex-pats? Do you offer phone consults for a fee? I haven’t traveled much and I know the clock is ticking. Thanks, Robert Mancuso.

  2. I have very little experience of Thailand, having stayed there for two months earlier this year with a second visit planned for three months next year. I’m retired on a small pension, but as I work as a travel writer and magazine designer I still have a modest regular income. I don’t buy into the idea that you can live in Thailand for $500 a month without being pretty close to the breadline, but I think your phrase ‘under US$500,000 and I think you are cutting it fine but possible’ when you refer to how much money you need to retire there is pushing it a bit. I’m English, and I’ve lived in Spain for fifteen years, where I can live quite comfortably on around $1200 a month, taking into account the rental on my apartment is about three times what I’d pay in Chiang Mai, my food bills are around 50% more than they would be in Thailand, household bills equally as high. This next trip will help me decide if I move to Thailand on a permanent basis, but it will be with vastly less than half a million dollars in my pocket.

    1. I agree. strangely enough. The man in the video does live too close to the borderline for my tastes. But he’s happy and, move important, he’s proven that it can be done!

  3. Do you see many couples retire to Thailand or is it mostly single men? My husband and I are considering a move in the next 5 years but we have yet to meet a couple that has successfully navigated this move. Thoughts?

    1. We resettle about 100 people every year in Chiang Mai and about half of them are couples. That my be because Chiang Mai is not a nightlife town or beach resort – which attract a different demographic, but over 50% of our local expat club are married Western couples, too.

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