Despite political unrest in recent years and ongoing challenges, foreign men continue to travel to Thailand for retirement.
The growing number of baby boomers reaching retirement and the worldwide economic crisis is leading to an explosion in retirees flocking to the Kingdom of Thailand. The low cost of living in Thailand, warm climate and Thai culture are key reasons for the growing trend for baby boomers to see Thailand as a luxury retirement destination.
A financial poll of almost 400,000 UK expats showed that 5% of them have chosen Thailand as their ideal retirement home ahead of countries like the US (4%) and New Zealand (3%). This status has been boosted by an audacious plan by the government of Finland to build retirement home for senior Finns in Phuket, one of Thailand's most beautiful retirement resorts. The Finnish government highlighted the warm climate in Thailand, low cost of living and Thai society's traditional respect for the elderly as key reasons for the announcement of the Finnish retirement resort. The plan is to build luxury retirement homes for Finnish pensioners and cut the financial costs for housing seniors by 70%. They estimate that the resort will pay for itself in eight years.
The Alliance Leicester poll of UK expats showed that those planning retirement planned to fund their retirement from savings, state pensions and private pensions (70%) in addition to income from property rentals and sales at home.
As Thailand fights hard to retain its status as a favored tourism destination despite a series of setbacks caused by political unrest, it is expected to remain a popular tourist destination with well over 10 million visitors annually. While protests and political unrest have certainly posed a challenge to the tourist industry, it has resulted in more competitive prices and Thailand still boasts some of the most luxurious resorts and beautiful islands in the world. While tourist traffic holds its own, the numbers of people retiring in Thailand continues to grow.
Many senior men have always returned to Thailand for retirement but the trend since 2003 is now, in fact increasing. This is, in addition to a growth in more middle aged and younger men relocating to Thailand. The reason for this is clear. It is financial. According to the worldwide Mercer cost of living index, Bangkok, Thailand's capital city is more competitive than many lesser developed cities in Asia while also offering facilities akin if not better than most first world cities. 'It's amazing, in Bangkok and Pattaya, I can have Big Mac and fries delivered within 20 minutes,' says Peter a 57 year old UK automobile worker who now lives in Pattaya with his Thai girlfriend whom he met in 2008 on ThaiLoveLines.com.
The policies put in place by the Thaksin governments up until 2006 encouraged the development of Thailand as a retirement destination for many seniors looking for an alternative to the more expensive retirement hotspots such as the Bahamas, South of France or Greece. Requirements on minimum income and funds on deposits were reduced and simplified while the development of Thailand's infrastructure, weak currency and the relaxed Thai lifestyle made Thailand an irresistible choice for many senior foreigners.
While Thailand has developed the facilities, resorts and conveniences that often excel developed countries, it is still possible to lead a relaxed low cost life style in many areas of the country that are not so developed. Foreigners thinking of living in Thailand can chose between the beautiful unspoilt scenery of the North and the exotic, white sand beaches of the South. Key centres for retires in Thailand are Chiang Mai, Khon Khaen and Udon Thani in the north of the country and Phuket, Koh Samui in the South. An increasing popular and much maligned destination is Pattaya which in recent years is fighting to throw of its 'sex tourism' tag although it is still a favored spot for such activities among young male tourists to Thailand. Within minutes of Pattaya alone, you can find 20 superlative golfing resorts.
One particular area that has flourished has been the growth in private hospitals in Thailand catering for health tourism and the growing expat population. Additionally, it is estimated that over 500,000 people visit Thailand each years from western countries and also developing countries to take advantage of well equipped, staffed and modern health facilities at prices which are about 30% of the cost of those in western economies and provided in modern, cheerful facilities that one expat has compared to '5 star hotels'.
The internet and increased world travel among younger and middle aged foreigners have brought many to travel to Thailand for tourism but a growing proportion are now returning to key tourist centres on a regular basis and many are relocating to Thailand seeking economic opportunities. Many senior and middle aged foreigners are opting to retire in Thailand.
The emergence of Asia as an economic powerhouse and the down turn in western countries has actually accelerated this new wave of reverse immigration. Internet dating and the surge on Thai women marry foreigners has contributed to a key social trend. So much so that in recent years, following the coup which deposed the Thaksin regime, there has been a tightening on immigration regulations and laws governing land and business ownership in Thailand. Many of these foreigners are opting for early retirement. Indeed one of the interesting facets of a Thai retirement visa is that retirees may have an interest and involvement in offshore internet activities without requiring a work permit.
Here are some of the key benefits of retiring to Thailand:
- Great weather: Thailand is warm tropical country all year round with large amounts of sunshine although there are heavy rainfalls from May to November. However the weather varies from North to Central to Southern Thailand. The North is a bit cooler while Southern Thailand tends to experience more rainfall.
- Relaxed lifestyle: Thai culture and family orientated lifestyle make it a happy place to live. Part of Thai culture is a respect for senior people and also for foreigners which sadly, in the 21st century, marks it apart from many western countries.
- Financial: The cost of living remains very low particularly for essentials and food. It is estimated that it varies from 15% to 30% of normal western standards. It is also varies from key urban centres such as Bangkok to more remote regions and the North of Thailand where the cost if living is relatively lower again.
- Beautiful women and dating: There are many foreigners, predominantly foreign men who find Thai partners, Thai wives or Thai girlfriends in Thailand. It is not uncommon for senior men to marry younger Thai women often with more than 20 years age difference and lead very happy lives together in Thailand. Despite some horror stories and they do exist, there are far more successful relationships than failures and it is a leading reason why many foreign retirees relocate to Thailand. Such is the scale of the influx of foreign men, a large proportion of them retirees to Thailand, that it now accounts for significant inward investment into the Kingdom of Thailand and it is now not unusual for Thai families in North Eastern Thailand to have foreign son in laws.
- Excellent banking system: Another key feature of life in Thailand is the modern and convenient banking system. This is a key advantage to foreign retirees. In most Thai banks, there are English speaking staff and the range of banking facilities including ATM cards and internet banking is ahead of most developed countries.
- Top class healthcare facilities: Thai hospitals are modern and cheerful but you will require a health programme. The cost is low by international standards. The facilities and level of care is very impressive drawing thousands of health tourists every year to Thailand.
- Excellent infrastructure: Although the level of infrastructural investment has been curtailed somewhat in these years of political instability, Thailand's developed areas have all the facilities that can be found in modern developed countries from internet availability, transport, electricity and banking and to entertainment and shopping. Remote parts of Thailand are more limited but there is trade off between the beauty and tranquility of these places and convenience.
- Visa schemes: There are primarily two visa schemes which allow retirement in Thailand and extended stay. You should be over 50 years. One is a one year visa which can be issued within 24 hours with the help of a legal representative in Thailand to take care of the paperwork. You will have to show access to funds in Thailand of not less than 800,000 baht and a monthly income. The other is a more extended visa. Thai authorities provide special consideration to those between 50 and 57 with health concerns. If you are not yet 50, you can retire to Thailand by obtaining an investment visa if you show that more than 10 million baht on deposit in a Thai bank or appropriately invested in Thailand.
Here are some of the key concerns about retiring to Thailand:
- Political instability: Recent turmoil on the streets in Bangkok and throughout Thailand is evidence of a split in Thai society that is deeply complex but very real. The problem is an ongoing one which the Thai government says it us tackling but it may be quite sometime before it can be finally settled. This is a concern for those living in retirement. It should be pointed out that the impact of the unrest was minimal for most foreigners living in Thailand.
- Relationship breakdown: Many foreigners retire to Thailand for romantic reasons and many enjoy very successful relationships with charming Thai women. However some relationships do breakdown over financial or cultural differences. In such situations foreign retirees may be at a disadvantage as the Thai legal system and cultural differences in society can be quite different to western countries.
- Foreign language: Most Thais speak Thai as their native tongue and this is a language that is flourishing despite the growing importance of English in Thai society as is the case in every Asian country. Some foreigners learn Thai over time but it can be difficult to pick up. There are many schools and courses available in Thailand to cater for foreigners retiring to Thailand. It is, of course, quite possible to live in Thailand without speaking Thai as many offices and businesses speak English but it can be a disadvantage for a non Thai if you do not have a Thai speaking companion or assistance.
- Financial and Legal requirements: It is very important in Thailand to get your legal and health requirements in perfect order. This means making sure that you do everything correctly so it is best to retain a legal expert before you retire to Thailand and also set up a health care package or programme with a local hospital.
- Foreign customs and tradition: Thailand has its own unique tradition and culture and this is reflected in all facets of life in Thailand. It can cause problems for foreign retirees not to be aware and sensitive to this. Problems may range from personal embarrassment for failing to observe personal etiquette to imprisonment for disrespecting Thai laws.
- Financial ability: Get your finances right before you start. If you can afford it buy your own living accommodation and transport if necessary. To live well and fully enjoy the Thai lifestyle you should have about 7 million baht and have a minimum income of 65,000 baht each month. This would provide for an excellent lifestyle in Thailand. It may even be possible to purchase a property for les and retain a lump sum on deposit for emergency. If you do not have a lump sum, you will require a minimum of 65,000 per month and you should find a place to live which is a little less expensive. You should also organise your affairs quite well. It is still possible to enjoy the laid back lifestyle and live in luxury on this level of income. The cost of living in Thailand is about 30% on average to levels in developed countries. However it can be a dangerous mistake to adjust your thinking on this basis and pursue a less expensive lifestyle with no provision for emergencies or health care costs.
While foreigners are increasingly retiring to Thailand and the benefits by far outweigh any concerns, this adventurous retirement option is one that should be approached with a certain degree of discilpline in oder to maximise the benefit of the 'Land of Smiles' for many years to come.