Is Thailand still a bargain basement retirement destination?

Published:  9 Nov at 6 PM
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For several decades, Thailand has been touted as an affordable, enjoyable retirement destination, but how much has the country changed over the past few years?

For retirees from Europe, the USA, the UK and Australia, Thailand has long been a favourite for its low cost of living, natural beauty, warm climate and friendly locals, but recent polls are suggesting it’s in decline as regards these essentials. Admittedly, the beaches are no longer as pristine as before due to overuse and lack of care, the famous street-side cuisine is being outlawed by a military government obsessed with tidiness and the famous Thai smile isn’t seen so often. However, the fascinating, old-time culture is still there in temples and Buddhist festivals held outside the major cities during which the focus is on local people rather than tourists.

Although visa requirements are becoming tougher by the year and are now focusing on those with hefty pension pots, it’s still possible to retire in Thailand on a less-than generous pension or with a reasonable nest-egg. The so-called Retirement Visa is available to those over 50 years old, provided they keep 800,000 baht in a Thai bank or have a proveable pension of 65,000 baht a month, an amount considered enough for a couple’s monthly expenses. Unfortunately, single retirees have to provide the same amounts, and it’s debatable whether two people could live on that amount in present-day Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and other beachside tourist traps. However, it’s perfectly possible in the northern city of Chiang Mai and other provincial hubs.

For budget-conscious retirees, it’s not difficult to live on far less than the amount required by Thai immigration, as the vast majority of Thais live on far less than $1,000 a month. Renting a small apartment, eating locally and resisting the temptation to place online orders for Western foods leaves enough spare cash for entertainment and evenings out with friends. If capital isn’t a problem, buying an apartment is the best idea as it leaves more disposable income than does renting and can always be sold on. Within the expat community, the monthly spend seems to depend on nationality, with those from the USA preferring to see and be seen at hi-so events, whilst the majority of those from the UK prefer evenings at home with friends or visits to local restaurants.

Whatever would-be expats read online, the elephant in the room is healthcare, as Thailand offers no public health insurance for expatriates. Private health insurance is extremely expensive, as are the private hospitals in every popular Thai retirement destination. As a point of comparison, Spain’s private healthcare costs are either on a par or cheaper than those charged at Thailand’s private medical facilities, and have the added advantage of English-speaking medical and nursing staff. Private hospitals are big business in Thailand, as they are in many retirement destinations worldwide, and costs rise every year without fail. Even so, expats living like locals, buying inexpensive accident insurance and cutting back on alcohol consumption can enjoy their retirement far more affordably in Thailand than in their home countries.
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