Easiest Residency In Southeast Asia?

July 23, 2013
Hanoi, Vietnam, Among its Southeast Asia neighbors, the Philippines stands out as the easiest option for residency. Here are four ways you can qualify

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

Although the Philippines isn't the only country in Southeast Asia that offers retirement visas, it may offer the best. Let's look at what countries in the region have to offer...

If you'd like to live permanently in Malaysia, you can apply for the "Malaysia My Second Home" (MM2H) program, which grants visas that are valid for up to 10 years, once the financial criteria are met. MM2H visas can be easily renewed. Applicants of any age are invited to apply for the MM2H visa. Unfortunately, many people can't meet the financial requirements, which include making a fixed deposit into a Malaysian bank of at least 150,000 Malaysian ringgits (about US$47,500) or being able to prove a pension of 10,000 ringgits (US$3,160) per month.

For Thailand, the financial requirements are less. Applicants need to deposit 800,000 Thai baht (about US$25,700) in a Thai bank, show an income of 800,000 baht, or a combination of the two. However, it is extremely difficult to be granted permanent residency in Thailand. The retirement visa must be renewed every year. And, those who have the visa are required to check in with immigration authorities every 90 days. If that's not enough, you also need to be at least 50 years old to qualify for a retirement visa in Thailand.

Singapore offers permanent residency to those who can meet the income requirements, but this is not practical if you're on a fixed income or have limited assets. To retire in Singapore, you need to own property that is valued at US$400,000 or more, in addition to having a pension of at least US$5,500 a month or a combination of income and savings of US$317,000 or more. No surprises that the cost of living is also the highest in the region.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, financial requirements are low, benefits are generous, and a stay of many years is practically guaranteed. More than 27,000 foreigners have retired to the Philippines under the Special Resident Retiree Visa, or SRRV.

Retirees in the Philippines are permitted to hold employment, own a business, attend school, buy a condominium or house (but not the land), receive mortgage financing, and enjoy most of the same benefits offered to any citizen of the country. The duty-free importation of household belongings valued up to US$7,000 is another benefit of retiring to this country. The SRRV visa never expires: once you have it, it's a simple matter of reporting to immigration once a year and paying US$10 to get your ID card renewed.

There are four types of SRRV visas. The most basic is the "SRRV Smile," which allows you to remain in the Philippines as long as you wish provided you deposit US$20,000 in a Philippine bank and keep it there for the duration of your stay. This visa is available to anyone who is 35 or older. The deposit is fixed and may not be converted into an investment for a long-term lease or condominium purchase.

With the "SRRV Classic," you can use your funds to purchase a condo or a long-term property lease. Applicants age 35 to 49 must deposit US$50,000 in a Philippine bank or buy a ready-to-occupy condo costing US$50,000 or more. Applicants age 50 or above need to invest only US$10,000 if they have an individual pension of at least US$800 per month. (A couple would need a combined pension income of at least US$1,000 per month.) Applicants who are at least 50 years old who can not meet the pension requirements can still qualify for the "SRRV Classic" visa by maintaining a deposit of at least US$20,000 in a local bank.

The "SRRV Human Touch" offers the benefits of permanent Philippine residency to any retiree with a pre-existing, non-contagious medical condition who is in need of ongoing medical care or services. The minimum investment amount is just US$10,000 for any applicant age 35 or older, and the conditions are the same as for those in the "SRRV Smile" program. "SRRV Human Touch" applicants must be able to show a pension of at least US$1,500 per month and give proof of health insurance. This makes residency in the Philippines a great option for people with disabilities or chronic medical conditions.

The "SRRV Courtesy" visa is for individuals aged 50 or older who are either former citizens of the Philippines or ambassadors or diplomats who have served in the Philippines. The terms and conditions for the courtesy visa are the same as for the "SRRV Classic" program.

Retirees who have any of the four SRRV visas are allowed to remain in the Philippines for as long as they want without needing to re-qualify or leave the country for any reason. If you do want to leave the country, though, you can come and go as you wish.

Your overseas pension or social security is exempt from Philippine taxes, and any interest earned on bank deposits may be withdrawn at any time. If you ever decide to relinquish your Philippine residency status, your entire qualifying deposit is returned to you.

SRRV applicants must pay a one-time administration fee of US$1,400. The application process is relatively simple and can be completed online. There is no need to hire an agent for assistance.

For more details about the specific criteria that must be met to obtain a SRRV visa, the Philippines Retirement Authority website has a great deal of information. Retirement Authority representatives will even pick you up at the airport and provide you with free assistance in getting a driver's license, employment permits, bank accounts, and whatever else you may need to get settled.

Residency doesn't come much easier than this.

Wendy Justice

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