Even the name ‘Thailand’ evokes exotic, and whether you’re enjoying the world-class beaches in the tropical south or exploring the remote mountain villages in the cooler north, the country will never disappoint. Often coined the ‘Jewel of Southeast Asia,’ this lush country is bordered in the north by Myanmar and Laos, with Vietnam sliding down its east coast, to Cambodia in the south where it links to Malaysia along the Gulf of Thailand. With all these mystical venues little more than an hour’s flight from the illustrious capital, Bangkok, who wouldn’t want to retire there!
Thailand is fondly referred to as the ‘Land of Smiles’ because of the charm of its people, and you see evidence of this wherever you go, regardless of economic means the people manage to smile through everything, arguably making this proud nation the most welcoming on earth. It’s no wonder that Thailand appeared seventh in the UK Daily Telegraph’s recent top ten of “best places to retire abroad,” even though countries nearer the UK, such as Portugal, Greece and Spain, and giants like the USA and Australia were featured. So, what is it that makes this relatively small country such an attraction for the current 275,000+ expat community, blissfully settled here.
Much of the year sees the country basking in a tropical, humid climate, with three distinct seasons in Bangkok and further north. December to February is cooler, benefiting from the breezes flowing off the northeast monsoon which is no longer present between March and May, making it relatively hotter. From May to November the Southwest monsoon brings the rainy season, and although there is a vast amount of rainfall at that time, often causing severe flooding, the sunshine still dominates with threatening dark thunder clouds disappearing as quickly as they arrived.
November to May is mainly dry with just the odd surprise of a sudden downpour as if to remind us that water is king here! The south has only two seasons, wet and dry, but curiously, these seasons don’t match up on the east and west side of the peninsula, the southwest monsoon bringing a deluge to the west coast between April and October, with the east coast receiving most of its rain from September to December.
Rainfall in the south is usually double that of the north with far more significant exposure to the monsoon season but mainly out of reach of larger weather systems, such as typhoons. In general, nationwide, average daily temperatures will run from a high in April of 33°C to a low of 26°C around December with night times only rarely dropping below 20°C. So, the message here is don’t bring any big coats, wooly jumpers or socks; you’ll never need them!
Bring t-shirts, short sleeved shirts, open shoes, shorts or light trousers, a few sun hats and an umbrella; then again why bring anything, it’s all cheaper than home when you’re out shopping in Thailand!
Areas to consider:
The capital city is well geared up for tourists and a top destination that almost everyone will want to visit in their lifetime; such is the international glitz and reputationof this buzzing city. You can feel as if you’re a hundred years back in time when lost in the ancient backstreets of Chinatown then suddenly find yourself propelled to the space age shopping malls that are still sprouting everywhere.
An excellent public transport system ensures a quick and easy ride to most places with taxis, tuk-tuks, and motorbike taxis filling the gaps when needed. Restaurants, catering for every nationality and possible taste, serve an endless stream of foreigners, affectionately referred to by the Thais as ‘farang’ or you can eat from the thousands of street food stalls which have become as iconic as the Wats (temples) to the Bangkok landscape.
This much smaller city in the cooler north is very popular with expat retirees who have become well organised with many welcoming clubs and organisations. You can walk the endless jungle trails, try mountain biking, kayaking or whitewater rafting and may still muster the energy to visit the three hundred plus temples scattered throughout the region. Unlike Bangkok, Chiang Mai is small enough to bump into people you know, and if you join one of the many social groups here, you’ll make friends fast.
If you want your retirement by the sea, with world class beaches, glamorous nightclubs, bars and seafood restaurants as far as the eye can see, then this is the place for you. Rainforests top this tropical island in the Andaman Sea, where the west coast hosts the location of many high-end resorts, spas and restaurants. Choose the capital, Phuket City, with its old shophouses and busy markets, or Patong, the bustling little resort town with an array of bars, discos and nightclubs, either way, you’ll find a great welcome awaits.
Once a quiet fishing village, though far livelier today, this town may suit the quieter retiree and is undoubtedly a holiday favourite with the Thai elite, the royal family having completed the building of a palace here in 1921. Five star hotels and seafood restaurants line the coast along a beautiful sandy beach, popular with kite surfers and family bathers.
The fishing harbour is a fascinating visit, still hosting a well-attended market, supplied by the small, well worn fleet. You can watch the cheeky specialist monkeys here as they steal crabs from the boats and markets before diving into the sea to escape!
Close to the Laos and Myanmar border and also with a significant expat community, this small city was the caretaker of the jade Emerald Buddha, now at Wat Phra Kaew in the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok. You’ll trek through rural areas of rice paddies, waterfalls and ancient monuments in temperatures far cooler than the capital, with an altogether much slower pace of life. Chiang Rai is an ‘out of the way’ location, with all the peaceful benefits you’d expect, but it does have a hospital, shopping mall and bustling local markets.
To retire in Thailand there are four steps:
1. Obtain a non-immigrant visa from your Thai embassy or consulate. You’ll need to take your passport and proof that you have:
• A bank account with a balance of at least 800,000B or
• A monthly income of at least 65,000B or
• A combination – A bank account and income per year that exceeds 800,000B Note – A criminal record may prevent you from obtaining a Thai retirement visa.
2. Obtain a one year retirement visa. You’ll have to be over 50, have a Thai bank book along with a letter from your Thai bank confirming your account. This along with your passport, departure card and photos.
3. You must then obtain an ‘extension of stay’ notice and a ‘re-entry permit,’ this will allow you back into Thailand if you ever leave.
4. You must report to the ‘Immigration Police’ every 90 days to sign in and verify your address. There are penalties for non-compliance, ranging from fines to deportation, so do take this request very seriously.
Buying or renting a house
House prices are astonishingly cheap and you can pick up a very nice, small condo in Phuket for around 1,000,000B. If you’re willing to head up north to Chaing Mai and out of town a little, you’ll be looking at less than 300,000B, but head into central Bangkok and this same property will fetch over 1,500,000B. Of course, prices vary considerably depending on location, size, transport and even school links.
However, in general, you are going to pay peanuts for property in comparison to the USA or Europe. But then you come up against a very complex system of purchase rules because a foreigner, cannot by law, own land. There are ways around this, leaseholds, setting up a Thai limited company or marrying a Thai person, either way, you can only buy property if 51% of it is owned by a Thai national.
Renting is very reasonably priced but, if you decide to buy, it is highly recommended that you get expert advice. A one-bedroom apartment rental in the city centre could cost you as little as 15,000B a month but that’s a very basic dwelling so expect to start at around 25,000B for a decent place. The further from the city you live, the more you get for your Baht, and you can afford a 3-bedroom house in the suburbs for what you’d pay for a tiny condo in the city.
Fuel costs are very reasonable, and at home, your electricity bill will cover the air-con, cooking (unless you use cylinder gas) and washing machine. Typically, your utility bill will average around 2,500B per month, including water and trash collection. Fuel for the car is still very reasonable and a full tank for a small car will typically cost around 800B.
For just over 450B you’ll get high-speed cable internet +60mbps with unlimited data usage and a further 400B will cover your mobile phone bill, again with unlimited data and calls. You have to remember though, the average take home pay is just a little above 17,000B a month, which does put prices into perspective.
You can have lunch at an inexpensive restaurant for 100B, but if you want a recognisable comparison, a Big Mac will cost between 165B and 190B depending on the area. 500B will get you a 3 course meal for two in a mid-range restaurant, and as in any large city, you can pay almost anything at the top end. Domestic beer comes in around 125B a litre but double that if you want imported ale, and if you want something stronger, spirits are a far cheaper option than wine, which can be extremely costly even in supermarkets. Just about all foods will seem very inexpensive to you, apart from beef and cheese which you’ll treat yourself to very occasionally.
Many western brands are available in the more central outlets but over time you’ll start to recognise your favourites on the shelves and there’s much fun to be had in learning a whole new diet. In your home country you always longed for Thai food, but over time the opposite will happen as European and USA brands wave at you from the shelves and you pick them up and hug them as if old friends. They won’t be cheap though, and along with cheese will become a luxury item in a shopping trolley that will in general cost you less than half the price you paid at home.
Thai people are among the friendliest you will find anywhere and even more so if you make some effort to learn a little of their language. Many speak some English, especially in the expat populated areas and it’s now taught as standard in most state schools, so don’t hold back, have a go and they’ll laugh with you! You can take private lessons in Thai for under 400B an hour or as part of a class even cheaper; a great way to meet new friends!
Respect for elders
The best thing about retiring to Thailand is something that you only really notice once you get there, but for many, it’s such a big thing, it’ll make you want to stay forever. It’s the respect shown to older people! As an elder in this beautiful country, you matter! Older Thais are the head of their families; they are consulted before important decisions are made and always considered first at any social gathering. Now isn’t that alone enough to make you want to get there fast?
If you’re going to live in central Bangkok, ask yourself if you need a car at all because public transport and taxis are very reliable and inexpensive. 70B will take you on the longest journeys via the BTS (Skytrain) and if you flag down a taxi you can go right across town for under 150B; unless of course you jump on a motorbike taxi, then you’re looking at a fraction of that price. Living in the suburbs or anywhere else in the country, you will find that a car is essential as public transport, although very cheap, tends to be unreliable, mainly without air-con and not overly clean.
Buying new will work out slightly more expensive than you’re used to at home, but there are bargains galore on the secondhand market; shop around and use reputable dealers.
94% Buddhist, 5% Muslim and 1% Christian, but tolerance for other’s faiths is high in this country, with many westerners discovering that the peace of mind embedded in Buddhist philosophy is just what they’ve been searching for all their lives. Religion plays a crucial role in the lives of the Thai people and you will witness this all around you in every day life.
Medical insurance and hospitals
Medical insurance is a MUST, or you could find yourself, not only with health problems but also in serious financial difficulties. Many people take the gamble and get away with it, but others come unstuck! You are allowed to attend a Thai state hospital for treatment and many are very good, but they will soon want you to move on to a private hospital, especially if you’re experiencing complications.
Expats who have started out with minor symptoms have ended up contracting pneumonia, been put on life support for many weeks, then been faced with bills of 2-3MB plus, wiping out any capital they had and leaving them destitute.
Private hospitals in Thailand are among the best in the world and medical tourism into Thailand is snowballing, with low costs and usually far superior treatment. However, access to all this technology for the average expat is only feasible via medical insurance.
If you’re polite, courteous and respectful of others, you’ll have no problems in this peaceloving country. People usually feel very safe walking the streets, even at night, and there’s a general feeling of tranquility amidst the chaos as you go about your day. Policing is mainly low profile with much of their time spent on traffic control and shopping malls,hospitals and all other large buildings have their own security.
Yes, you can go to bars and coffee shops, even a walk in the park and you’ll meet people, but this may take a very long time, especially if you’re looking for those who share common interests and maybe of a similar age group. That’s why you should look up www.meetup.com where you can choose from thousands of groups, and if you’ve got an interest, you can bet that someone has started a group to cover it, and if not, you can start one yourself.
Far better to be proactive in retirement as nothing will come to you, you have to get out there and meet it!
• Visit Thailand first – go on holiday! If you’re thinking of retiring there and you can fulfil the visa requirements, what better than to immerse yourself in the culture and take a holiday, covering perhaps 2 or 3 of your shortlisted dream locations.
• Research everything very carefully, it’s a big step, you want to find out now, not when it’s too late.
• Take advice on your pensions and on any other financial implications of moving abroad.
• Know your tax obligations, both in Thailand and your home country.
• Decide what to do about your property in your home country, let, sell, etc. Consider storage, charges and insurance.
• Do you have pets to relocate? Check any special requirements. Select some reputable international removal companies and obtain several quotes.
• Make the appropriate authorities aware of your plans, both in Thailand and your home country.
• You can secure a Thai driving license when you arrive, it’s also a useful form of identity, saving you carrying your passport. Make sure you bring an international driving license with you as this will make the whole process easier.
• Inform your bank and credit card companies of the date you will be moving to Thailand. Otherwise, they may block your transactions!
• Contact local expat groups in Thailand before you travel, a good source of advice and many have online forums where you can meet othersundertaking the same adventure.