Have you ever stood on a windswept beach in Thailand or on a temple-studded plain in Cambodia and thought, “I could absolutely retire here”? Thousands of other senior travelers have made the same journey to Southeast Asia. And governments around the area will bend over backwards to help you realize your dreams, giving special visas to retirees and investors looking to park their money in-country.
There can be no doubt about the appeal of retirement in Southeast Asia; a few countries in the region absolutely provide.
“I believe seniors are searching for a variety of factors when deciding where to retire,” comments Nancy Parode, About.com’s resident Senior Travel Expert. “Certainly, cost is a consideration, as many retirees live on a fixed income. Seniors also seek access to high-quality health care that is either free or covered by their insurance policy. Apart from those critical considerations, seniors desire to retire in an area where the weather is pleasant, the residents are kind, and transportation alternatives are plentiful.”
Nancy cites a growing boomer-age consensus in favor of Southeast Asian countries as retirement havens – “In 2013, International Living magazine featured Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia in an article emphasizing each country’s low cost of living, relaxed lifestyle, and accessibility to high-quality medical care.”
The following list (which includes the three aforementioned countries plus the Philippines) will examine the features that retirees will like in each… and the hoops you must jump through before beginning a new life in these countries.
Retiring in Thailand
Thailand’s tempting combination of low pricing, affordable health care, and foreigner-friendly places makes it an irresistible retirement option. The beaches, excellent food, and pleasant inhabitants are only the tip of the iceberg.
International-standard, JCI-accredited hospitals in Bangkok and Phuket enable retirees to access world-class medical care at a fraction of the cost in the West, while the low cost of living in Thailand’s most agreeable cities enables pensioners to keep up with the Kardashians on an Archie Bunker income. (For example, prices for essential commodities in Chiang Mai are over 60% lower than comparable prices in Boston; in addition to Chiang Mai, the country is home to a number of senior-friendly hotels.)
Prior to retiring in Thailand, you must get a “O-A” long-stay, non-immigrant visa. Applicants must be 50 years or older, pass a medical examination and a police background check, and deposit THB 800,000 in a Thai bank prior to applying; in lieu of the bank requirement, applicants must demonstrate that they earn a monthly pension worth at least THB 65,000.
The “O-A” visa is valid for a period of one year and is renewable annually. Every 90 days, visa holders must check in with immigration authorities. For additional information, please visit the official website of the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Retiring in Malaysia
Malaysia is proud of its multi-cultural heritage, with Malays, Chinese, and Indians coexisting in relative harmony. Their distinct cultures are most visibly displayed in towns like Kuala Lumpur and Penang, both of which are havens for temples, excellent shopping, and much better street cuisine.
The majority of residents speak adequate English, and you’ll never have to worry about a language barrier here. And, as is the case with neighboring Thailand, the country’s varied geography results in beaches, mountains, rainforests, and caverns – ideal playgrounds for the active retiree.
Malaysia actively court seniors with a program dubbed “Malaysia, my Second Home”: a long-term residency program that grants foreigners who meet specific financial conditions a renewable ten-year, multiple-entry visa.
To begin, MM2H members over the age of 50 must create a fixed deposit account in any local bank with a minimum balance of MYR300,000, which they can take half of after one year. Alternatively, they can demonstrate that they are receiving a pension of at least MYR 10,000 per month.
Members of the MM2H program may bring their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21; they may also take advantage of additional MM2H-related perks. For additional information, please visit the Malaysia My Second Home official website.
Retiring in the Philippines
Not only is the Philippines more affordable than Malaysia and Thailand, but also benefits from a cultural affinity with the West that few other nations in the area possess. As a former American colony, the Philippines proudly wears its American sympathies on its sleeve, whether through its people’s overall proficiency with the English language or by right-side driving, which makes the native-born American driver feel at ease.
You do get what you pay for; local infrastructure is not near as developed as that in Malaysia or Thailand, but this is irrelevant if you opt to retire in one of the Philippines’ more remote cities, where your dollar or Euro will go a long way.
The Philippine retirement age is one of the lowest in the region. There are four different types of Special Resident Retiree’s Visa (SRRV), each of which offers some of the finest returns on investment in Southeast Asia when compared to its counterparts overseas. SRRV holders are authorized numerous entries and exits from the Philippines; duty-free importation of personal household goods worth up to USD7,000; exemption from travel taxes; and the freedom to own a business or work in-country.
For additional information on the SRRV, see this page on the four forms of SRRV and this page on the benefits of retiring in the Philippines with an SRRV.
Retiring in Cambodia
Cambodia is the Golden Land for retirees who value an easy lifestyle, pleasant people, low cost, and minimal overall regulation; and who can bear the country’s relative lack of infrastructure outside of its big towns.
Rents in Phnom Penh range from USD 150 and USD 500 for a one-bedroom apartment; on average, rents are roughly 70% less than equivalent rates in Boston, Massachusetts. Pensions undoubtedly help, and many retirees in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville have leveraged their modest salaries to build flourishing companies. And, while infrastructure is patchy in some places (certain medical treatments require travel to Thailand), other services in Cambodia are quite good. For starters, internet speeds in cities are lightning fast!
In comparison to the other nations on this list, Cambodia does not have a visa program specifically for retirees. Any visitor, however, may apply for a one-year business visa, renewed annually, without providing proof of income or work.