Retiring in Thailand, most of the things you need to know

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Please note: The information in this document is provided as a guide only. You should always check the latest information with a Thai Immigration official or professional visa agent.

Thailand remains a popular world location for retirees – the beaches, climate, access to good medical care and great food.

There may be a few more potholes in the roads and some cultural aspects will remain perpetually confusing. But there is always adventure in Thailand and the infrastructure continues to improve every year as the Kingdom takes its place as south east Asia’s second largest economy, after Indonesia.

The cost of living is still relatively low, first-rate healthcare is available in the main population centres and the weather is conducive to a healthy lifestyle.

According to International Living, Thailand ranks ninth in the world as a place to retire with relative ease.

Nestled between Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, Thailand enjoys the warm-water coastlines of both the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. This is a country that has never been colonized by any Western or European countries, so Thai culture is untouched, rich, and ancient. What’s more, it’s ideal for expat living – International Living

Within a few hours you can visit a myriad of exotic countries, cultures and sites. Getting around is increasingly easy with a growing number of airlines flying in and out of the Kingdom. Many western passports will give you access to most of the countries nearby with either visa-on-arrival or minimal visa requirements.

There’s already an international expatriate community in Thailand, moreso than in the past when a handful of Europeans, British, Americans and Australians were the most populous expat populations. Now many Japanese, Chinese, Koreans and eastern Europeans also call Thailand home making expat life richer and more exotic. Many retirees were here for work and decided to stay. Others moved here for retirement.

You can get just about any food you like in Thailand now, but international foods are not cheap, whilst the local Thai fare is ubiquitous and available on every street in the country, fresh and aromatic. Yes, you can still get a Thai meal for less than 50 baht!

On the downsides, you need to be careful when driving but, statistically, if you’re over 30, don’t drink and drive, wear a hemet (if riding a motorbike) or drive a car you’re, statistically, in no greater danger than 70% of the world’s roads. Thailand is currently ranked in sixth position as the most dangerous place to drive (WHO).

There’s also a long list of cultural faux pas and ‘misunderstandings’ awaiting you in the Land of Smiles. The smiles can be very real, but there’s also hidden dangers and scams awaiting the ‘newbies’. A few hours on the internet will save you a lot of pain. Really, it’s no different than most other places in the world in that regard.

• Top 10 scams in Thailand. Read HERE.

• Top 10 things NOT to do in Thailand. Read HERE.

• Top 10 hard truths of living as an expat in Thailand. Read HERE.

On the plus side, there is an established expat community, outdoor activities are almost endless and you’re living in one of the most dynamic and stable economic regions of the world.

Politics

Mmmm, this is a difficult one to explain to foreigners. From the outside it looks like Thailand is run by a quasi-military government with a veneer of democracy and elections. From the inside Thai life stumbles along with a growing economy and, compared to many other countries, a stable economy.

Thailand has a long history of military coups since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. The Thai Royal Family still enjoys strong respect amongst Thais. The new King, HM Maha Vachiralongkorn, has certainly become more ‘hands on’ than his father (King Bhumibol Adulyadej who was on the throne from 1946 – 2016). But The King, with the support of the Royal Family, remains as the Head of State in all Thai constitutions since 1932.

All governments, even Army coups, need the support of the Thai monarch to be enacted.

Bottomline, the daily political life of Thailand provides, despite plenty of criticism, a stable country for its citizens.

There is a focus, certainly by Thai media, on the machinations and drama of Thai politics, but, in truth, Thailand has proven a stable and safe place for expats and retirees over the past five decades.

Visas

The first obstacle to entering any country is getting a visa. Retiring to Thailand is so popular that there is a specific visa classification for that – the Non-Immigrant O visa covers a number of reasons for entering Thailand, as the name suggests, and one of them is retirement.

To qualify for a retirement visa, you need to meet two basic requirements:

• You must be at least 50 years old
• You must have proof that you can financially support yourself
• You can either have a monthly income of 65,000 baht
• Or you must have 800,000 baht in a Thai bank account

For the 800,000 option, you need to be able to prove that the money has been in your account for at least two months before applying for the visa. You must also still have at least 400,000 baht in your account for at least three months after you get the visa.

In other words, you need to actually have the money – you can’t just borrow it for a few days to meet the visa requirements. The visa will need to be renewed annually and you’ll still need to meet these requirements each time.

You need to report to an Immigration Office every 90 days, any immigration office around the country is OK. These days the 90 day reporting can be completed online, once registered.

If you decide to do a 90 day report in person, it doesn’t take long, once you get to the front of the queue. Arrive early if you want to keep your visit short. Dressing with a neat collared shirt will always go down well at the Immigration offices (actually that goes for just about anywhere in Thailand).

You’ll also need…

• Visa application form, completely filled out
• Passport or travel document with at least 18 months of validity remaining
• Recent passport-sized photograph (3.5 x 4.5 centimetre), taken within the past 6 months
• Evidence of adequate finances (as above)
• Proof that you have retired

Applying for the Non-Immigrant O visa isn’t too difficult but requires the paperwork to be properly prepared. There are also many agents in Thailand who will do the legwork for you and advise you as you go, for a fee. Getting a recommendation for a reliable visa agent is always better than trawling through the internet and hoping for the best.

There WILL be a few bumps along the way – all the paperwork and forms are in Thai language to start with – and an agent on your team will make things a lot smoother. Of course you can do all this by yourself but prepared for a few speed bumps. All immigration offices in the main population centres, have volunteer international staff who are an excellent first stop when you visit Immigration. They will check your documentation and advise before you end up sitting in front of a Thai immigration official.

While the requirement of an income when you’re supposed to be retired is counter-intuitive, this can take the form of a pension or passive income. So you’ll therefore need to set up a means of regularly transferring money into the country.

There are various options available for transferring your pension, or other passive income into the country. Thai banking is very modern and all banks have safe phone apps to do international transfers.

The quickest and simplest approach to transferring money from an international port is to use a remittance service as the fees are lower, the transfer is instant and the exchange rate is better. Using a bank transfer is also possible, but is slower and generally less cost-effective.

If you’re looking at how to retire in Thailand from the UK, it’s worth looking into QROPS (Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme), which may enable you to relocate your pension to Thailand so that it pays out directly into your Thai bank account, according to blog.deemoney.com.

However, retirees from other countries may have to look into private pension schemes and particularly into the regulations regarding how they pay out.

Cost of living in Thailand

The good news is that 65,000 baht per month (or an 800,000 baht lump sum) can go a long way in Thailand, particularly if you pick where to retire with a degree of care. Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Samui, Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Hua Hin are the most popular. There’s also a growing expat community in the north-east of the country, aka. Isaan. Each region has its own benefits and attractions. Cities and tourist areas are going to be more expensive than up-country in central Thailand.

Bangkok is a large Asian city with a cosmopolitan culture and everything you’d expect, and more, than any other major city in the world. Getting around is increasingly easy if you’re willing to go public and take short hops on motorbike taxis. Driving yourself around Bangkok will drive you insane.

Phuket is the largest island in Thailand, on the Andaman Sea. It was once a tropical paradise. Now it’s a growing urban island but still has all the same amazing beaches, just a lot more tourists. Approximately, the west side of the island is expensive and where a lot of the tourists hangout. The east side is a lot cheaper and residential.

Koh Samui is the second largest island in Thailand, but in the Gulf of Thailand. It’s a smaller version of Phuket with more of an ‘island feel’ than its larger cousin. It suffers from an airline monopoly that makes it expensive to get there by air. There’s also ferry services connecting you to the mainland.

Pattaya is, well, Pattaya. It became famous as an R&R location for American soldiers during the Korean War, then the Vietnam War. Then it built on its R&R reputation by becoming a popular destination for western tourists, mostly male, in the 70s and 80s. Since then its thrived as a sex-tourism destination but, over the past decade, has become much more cosmopolitan and cleaned up its act with classy tourism attractions, food scene and hi-rise condos.

Chiang Mai is the northern Thai capital. Very laid back and steeped in the Lanna culture. It’s a flat, easy-to-get-around city, surrounded by beautiful hills and a growing eco-tourism scene.

Hua Hin is a quieter seaside destination. A favourite for Bangkok weekenders, it now attracts a growing expat scene. It’s a coastal strip, facing the Gulf of Thailand, about 3-4 hour easy drive to the capital.

Cost of living

When it comes to figuring out some basic costs of retiring in Thailand, your personal cost of living will vary a LOT depending how and where you choose to live. You can, probably, live as cheaply as 30,000 – 40,000 baht per month if you’re prepared to live as a local and ‘rough it’ a bit, and not in a touristy area.

For Bangkok…

• A comfortable one-bedroom apartment – about 10-15,000 baht per month

• Utilities (including internet, phone, water and electricity) – about 2,500 -4,000 baht per month

• Food (eating local food) – 100 – 300 baht per day

• Food (eating mostly foreign food) – about 300 – 1000 baht per day

• 1 beer – 100 – 150 baht, depending on the brand and where you buy it

• Comprehensive medical insurance – 4,000 – 10,000 baht per month (you would be MAD not to have full medical insurance)

Some other notes on cost of living…

• Foreign goods can be heavily taxed and may cost more in Thailand than where you came from

• Anything involving local labour will likely cost a lot less – massages, maintenance, car services, etc

• If you choose to live in a beach resort, near the beach, eating international food and drinking imported beer all day, it will cost you more than you think

Health insurance

Health insurance is a big consideration for older expats and will eventually become a critical issue. Whilst Thailand has an excellent, and mostly free, public health system for Thais, and employees (including foreigners) of Thai companies, that doesn’t extend to Retirees.

As an expat you can use the Thailand’s public health system, for a cost. The public system gets mixed reviews by foreigners but, generally, the medical care is good, if not as glamorous as the private hospitals.

But ‘public’ will cost you a LOT less than the country’s private hospitals. These are very good indeed but come with a high price tag. But note that most of the Thai doctors working in the Private system in Thailand usually work in the Public sector as well.

Once you’re over a certain age (70… maybe 75) many international private health schemes will drop you off their list. You need to check these details, the age limits, and your options once you are left to fend for yourself.

• Your best health asset as a Retiree is to avoid ending up in a hospital in the first place. Preventative health is your best option and opportunities for a fun and healthy lifestyle abound in the Land of Smiles. Sadly, there are many stories of expat Retirees that get into bad habits, end up with health problems (and no insurance) who then fall between the cracks of Thai life and wither away. Don’t let this be you.

Property

You can rent or buy property depending on what your goals are. The Thaiger would always recommend renting, at least for a while, to see how you settle in – perhaps even renting for a month in a number of locales to give yourself a chance to ‘try before you buy’ and commit to a long-term stay.

Buying property in Thailand is an entire post of its own. Here’s a detailed website for just about everything you need to know about purchasing property in Thailand. Don’t even THINK of buying property in Thailand until you have done your homework on the matter.

To look for Thailand’s largest range property, and rental properties available, go too FazWaz.com

Information originally published on blog.deemoney.com

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