"We know a single man, an American, who lives on US$200 a month, with half that going for rent. He gets around on a bicycle and eats at noodle stalls...or free when a temple offers lunch. He makes a sport of spending as little as possible. "We know a Thai-American woman who bought an apartment in a small town 15 kilometers from Chiang Mai. She manages on US$600 a month from Social Security and, as she is Thai and older than 60, enjoys free government health care. "Those are special cases, though. Exceptions. You should start with a bigger budget... "House and apartment rents can vary a great deal. We know a couple that rents a place in the countryside 12 kilometers from old town Chiang Mai. They pay US$135 a month for a small home and garden. You will pay more, of course, for a bigger, newer place in town. "Foreigners can own an apartment or a condo in Thailand, though, unless you go through hoops, not real property. Still, owning is an option. "Note that costs skyrocket if you want to live in Bangkok. Figure that, in the capital, you'll pay double for rent, transportation, eating out, and entertainment." How, exactly, would a budget for a couple retired in Chiang Mai break down? Here you go... If you rent: Rent: US$400 (though, again, this can vary greatly) HOA Fees: US$0 Property Taxes: US$0 Transportation: US$100 (it costs 60 cents to ride the local bus; an average taxi ride is US$2.50) Gas: US$0 Electricity: US$50 (depending on air-conditioning use) Telephone: US$15 (for a cellphone, depending on use) Internet: US$40 Cable TV: US$50 (including English-language movies) Household Help: US$50 (once or twice a week) Food: US$100 Entertainment: US$250 (including meals out) Homeowner's Insurance: US$0 Total: US$1,055 per month If you own: Rent: US$0 HOA Fees: US$75 Property Taxes: US$0 Transportation: US$100 Gas: US$0 Electricity: US$50 Telephone: US$15 Internet: US$40 Cable TV: US$50 Household Help: US$50 Food: US$100 Entertainment: US$250 Homeowner's Insurance: US$35 Total: US$765 per month Thailand is one place where it can be affordable to keep a car. Here's how the monthly costs for car ownership would break down: Car Registration: US$20 Insurance: US$20 Maintenance: US$40 Fuel: US$100 Total: US$180 per month...only US$80 more a month than the budget for using local transportation Kathleen Peddicord P.S. These Chiang Mai, Thailand, budgets are excerpted from our hot-off-the-virtual-presses Discover Asia Kit. This collection of up-to-the-minute resources has been months in the making, researched, written, and produced by key Asia correspondents, including Paul and Vicki Terhorst and Wendy and David Justice, with, among them, many decades of experience living and traveling in the region. Our new Discover Asia Kit is 12 components in total, including audio recordings and illustrated country guides, as well as a 100+-page full-color guide to the region in general. For a very limited time, in celebration of the launch of this new title, our comprehensive "all-Asia" bundle is available for more than 75% off the regular price. Order your copy here now.
Prices in the better areas of Manila range from less than US$1,000 to more than US$2,000 per square meter. You need to do some ground work, as anywhere, to identify the particular neighborhoods that'd make most sense for you, depending on whether you're shopping for a place to live or for a rental investment. My favorite spots in the Philippines for pure investment are the resort towns of Cebu and Boracay. You can invest in a condo hotel in either of these beach locations for well under US$100,000 and expect good rental yields into the low double digits (question heavily anything projecting more than 12%). Thailand places similar restrictions to those in the Philippines on foreign ownership of property, except in this country foreigners can own up to 49% of a condo building. In this country, the resort areas can offer opportunity for rental yield; Pattaya is Thailand's biggest and best known beach destination. As in the Philippines, you can find one-bedroom apartments for less than US$60,000. Expect yields to be in the range of 6% for long-term rentals and a bit higher for short-term. Pattaya might be a place to consider a rental investment, but other parts of Thailand make more sense as places to live. A top lifestyle choice in this country is Chiang Mai, where you can find one-bedroom apartments on offer for less than US$45,000 in some new developments. That would be for a unit in a building with amenities like a swimming pool. On the other hand, that apartment wouldn't be much bigger than a large hotel room. Still, if you're a retiree with limited resources who wants to own your own place, you're not likely to find a property you'd actually want to live in anywhere else in the world for less than US$45,000. Malaysia's foreign ownership restriction is based on the price of the property. Foreigners have to spend at least 1 million ringgit (about US$300,000 right now) to own a piece of property in Malaysia. Note that it must be 1 million ringgit invested in a single property; can't be an aggregated amount among multiple properties. That limitation makes buying for rental yield difficult. The sweet spot in the Kuala Lumpur market is apartments in the 120-square-meter range, which go for US$150,000 to US$250,000. Push the purchase price over US$300,000 to meet the minimum ringgit criteria and your yield will drop. Still, Kuala Lumpur is a good, steady market. Also note that the U.S. dollar has seen a surge in value against the ringgit in the last few months. It's close to its high of 3.30 ringgits to US$1 reached back in February. Whatever the exchange rate in Malaysia, you could sell your parking space in Hong Kong and buy yourself a great apartment in the best neighborhood in KL. Lief Simon
Getting into the city from the airport takes just a few minutes on the new hassle-free BTS Skytrain, which interfaces with the Metropolitan Rapid Transit (MRT), which, in turn, makes most of Bangkok easily accessible. Some taxi drivers still overcharge and the buses are still confusing, but now you have other options. Although Bangkok has been an important population center since the 1600s, the modern city didn't begin to take on its present shape until the 1960s and 1970s, when it became a destination for U.S. military troops who came to Bangkok for rest and relaxation during America's war with Vietnam and Laos. It also, starting about the same time, developed into an infamous destination for sex tourism. Racy bars and clubs were opened to cater to servicemen in search of a good time. Those bars still exist, and, if you're looking for that sort of good time, you'll have no problem finding it. Patpong, Nana Plaza, and Soi Cowboy are adult-only venues that attract both men and women from all over the world. If go-go bars and ladyboy shows aren't your preference, there are many family oriented activities, too, including water parks, aquariums, indoor playgrounds, butterfly gardens, and zoos. The huge Lumphini Park offers a comfortable break from the noise of the city, with shady, tree-lined paths and activities for all ages. The main tourism sites in Bangkok are fantastic and worth a trip to Thailand even if you have no interest in living or retiring to this country. The Grand Palace and Wat Prakeaw (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) were built in 1782 and have served as the residence for Thai kings and the Royal Court since. This is the administrative seat of the government and the spiritual heart of the Kingdom of Thailand. When most people conjure up a picture of Thailand, this is what they imagine. It's dazzling, opulent, and quintessentially Thai. No other site in Bangkok or, I'd say, the world, compares with the Grand Palace and Wat Prakeaw in terms of jaw-dropping grandeur. In addition, the city offers other palaces, floating markets, golden Buddhas, luxury dinner cruises along the Chao Phraya River, and the Chatuchak weekend market, one of the largest wholesalers' markets in the world. If you are considering the idea of settling in Bangkok longer term, note that foreigners are allowed to own condominiums in Thailand. In Bangkok, we'd recommend looking for a place with a good view near an MRT or Skytrain station. As everywhere, location is key, and, in Bangkok, ease of access is a big part of what makes for a good location. Politics is the wild card when buying property in Bangkok. Thailand has the dubious distinction of having more coup d'états than any other country in the world, and the most recent one was just a few months ago. For now, Thailand is ruled by an unelected military junta, though democratic elections are expected to return. Large protests have resulted in the closing of airports, traffic disruption, and martial law in the recent past. However, it's important to note that this civil unrest has not affected every part of Bangkok or the country as a whole. And protests are directed toward other Thais, never toward foreigners. During these times, day-by-day life around the country continues much as it always has, regardless of what may be happening elsewhere. Avoiding large gatherings of protestors is the easiest way to stay out of trouble. We'll be back in Bangkok in a couple of weeks and will report more from the scene. Wendy Justice
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The utilities figure for each of our 21 budgets is straightforward; groceries and entertainment, much less so. If you shop at local markets and stick to a basic, local diet, your monthly groceries bill could be US$150. If you shop at U.S.-like grocery stores (which exist in every place on my list below) and want to eat like you ate back home (prime rib, Entenmann's, and French wine), your monthly food bill could be two, three, or four times US$150. Likewise, entertainment. Our Index budgets include amounts for eating out once a week and going to the movies a couple of times a month, say, or perhaps taking one in-country trip per month to explore your new home. You could, if you wanted and your budget allowed, eat out four nights a week and take international vacations twice a year. On top of the overall cost of living wherever you decide to retire you'll have the cost of housing. I recommend renting first, to give yourself a chance to get to know your new home and determine if it is, in fact, the right place for you. For each of the 21 top retirement havens on our Index list, therefore, we indicate an average cost for renting a one-bedroom, one-bath residence in a neighborhood that would be appealing and appropriate for a retiree. After you've been in residence for a while, you may decide you like the place well enough to commit long term with an investment in a home of your own. Buying a piece of real estate in another country can also offer the potential for return, from capital appreciation over time and from cash flow if you decide to rent the place out when you're not using it yourself. Therefore, for each of the 21 destinations on our Retire Overseas Index list, we also figured an average cost per square meter for the purchase of property. This is the best way to consider this. In fact, breaking down a location's property market to an average cost per square meter for a particular kind of property is the only reliable way to compare that location's property market with the property market anywhere else, the only apples-to-apples strategy. In Nashville this week for our annual Retire Overseas Conference, we'll be sharing the results of this year's Retire Overseas Index, including the monthly budgets, the rental costs, and the average per-square-meter cost to purchase real estate for all 21 destinations featured...and a few others, to boot. Here's a sneak preview for some of the destinations being featured... In the Americas: Ambergris Caye, Belize Monthly budget: US$2,055 Rent per month: US$1,000 Purchase per square meter to purchase: US$2,000 City Beaches, Panama Monthly budget: US$2,440 Rent per month: US$1,200 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,900 Cuenca, Ecuador Monthly budget: US$1,010 Rent per month: US$300 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,100 Granada, Nicaragua Monthly budget: US$1,040 Rent per month: US$500 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,500 Medellin, Colombia Monthly budget: US$1,530 Rent per month: US$650 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,050 Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Monthly budget: US$1,910 Rent per month: US$850 Price per square meter to purchase: US$2,490 In Europe: Algarve, Portugal Monthly budget: US$1,500 Rent per month: US$615 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,960 Barcelona, Spain Monthly budget: US$1,725 Rent per month: US$1,085 Price per square meter to purchase: US$5,500 Pau, France Monthly budget: US$1,930 Rent per month: US$1,285 Price per square meter to purchase: US$2,300 In Asia: Chiang Mai, Thailand Monthly budget: US$920 Rent per month: US$400 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,100 (note that foreign ownership of real estate is restricted in Thailand) Dumaguete, Philippines Monthly budget: US$910 Rent per month: US$350 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,200 Nha Trang, Vietnam Monthly budget: US$660 Rent per month: US$300 Price per square meter to purchase: Foreigners can't own property Kathleen Peddicord P.S. What brings us to Nashville this week? Our annual Retire Overseas Conference! For years, friends have encouraged me to visit Music City. Finally, I was able to engineer a good reason. We arrived yesterday, and I can tell you that my friends' reports did not embellish or overstate. This is a fun town. Live music everywhere. It's not too late to make plans to join us here for what is going to be the biggest retire-overseas event of the year, this Friday through Sunday at the Lowes Vanderbilt Hotel. In addition to the three-day Retire Overseas Conference Aug. 29–31, we're also hosting a first-ever Retire Overseas Expo the day before (Thursday, Aug. 28), from noon until 7 p.m. This half-day special event is open to the public, an ideal way to dip a toe in the retire-overseas waters, and, best of all, absolutely free for Live and Invest Overseas readers. Regular admission is US$25. However, simply confirm at the door on the day that you're a Live and Invest Overseas reader, and you'll be granted full access at no cost. One way or another, therefore, I say: Get thee to Nashville. Dozens of correspondents and expats from around the world will be convening here today through Thursday so they can be on stage with us throughout the weekend to help showcase the world's top retirement havens for the nearly 300 registered attendees. Come on down and join the fun. Details of the Retire Overseas Expo taking place Thursday, Aug. 28, are here. Details of the Retire Overseas Conference taking place Friday, Aug. 29, through Sunday, Aug. 31, are here. See you soon.
Asia Correspondents Wendy and David Justice: Hanoi, Vietnam Of all the places we could pick from in our travels, Hanoi, Vietnam, is the city we have chosen to call home. The city is an energetic and chaotic jumble of ancient neighborhoods, tranquil parks and lakes, modern high-rises, and centuries-old pagodas. It is also home to one of the most healthy and varied cuisines in the world. In more than two years of living in Hanoi, we are still discovering delicious and exotic new foods. Even more important to us are the people. They are curious, polite, friendly, and generous to a fault. They really want to get to know you and to make friends. Friendships we've formed here have lasted many years. There are always other foreigners to socialize with if we want, and there is always something to do. And the cost of living is so affordable. Here in Hanoi—anywhere in Vietnam, for that matter—we don't have to worry about money. We know that Hanoi isn't the right place for everyone, but we can easily imagine living here for many more years. If we ever had to leave Vietnam, we would probably head over to Pai, Thailand. Its funky, mountain-town ambiance reminds us of the small towns we knew in the Colorado Rockies. If we developed ongoing health problems or became too elderly and frail to tolerate the stimulation of Hanoi, we would strongly consider moving to Hua Hin, Thailand. Asia Correspondents Vicki and Paul Terhorst: Lviv, Ukraine Vicki and I are perpetual travelers, which means we wander around the world without a fixed home base. By default, therefore, wherever we are at the moment becomes our favorite place. Otherwise, why would we be here? I'm writing this in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which makes Chiang Mai a favorite place. Recently, we chose to spend time in Lviv, Ukraine, because of its combination of European culture (historic buildings and churches, art museums, opera and ballet, convenient public transportation, cafe society, hearty food, robust wine) and low prices. Lviv also makes a useful base for exploration to the rest of Eastern Europe, with six international borders within 200 kilometers or so. Just jump on a train or bus and you can get to Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, or Belarus. The rest of Europe lies just a bit farther along. Ukraine's pro-Russia rebel insurgency remains far to the east of Lviv, more than 800 miles away. Your biggest day-to-day problem in Lviv will be the language. Ukraine uses a different alphabet, making it hard even to guess at street names or menu offerings. Along with Lviv and Chiang Mai, I'd choose Paris as our third favorite place. Having three favorite places makes it easy to avoid running into trouble with 90-day visa rules in any one of them. Asia Correspondent Robert Carry: Cambodia Cambodia might seem an unusual number-one pick, but it has some serious strikes in its favor. First up is cost of living. Put simply, this is the cheapest place I've ever been to. You can get a great apartment in a city center location for less than US$400 a month. A Cambodian-style meal in a local eatery will run you less than a dollar and some of my favorite watering holes charge 75 cents a beer (and as little as 25 cents during happy hour). Everything here is just unfathomably inexpensive. Then there's convenience. You can turn up at the airport unannounced and get a one-year visa, renewable at the end of the 12 months, on arrival. It's almost too easy. Plus, the U.S. dollar is the main currency here, English is widely spoken, and there's a sizable expat community in place. However, Cambodia's real draw is its people. After decades of war and continuing poverty, the Khmers have somehow managed to keep their smiles. They're warm, welcoming, and infectiously optimistic. Cambodia's enchanting culture and Buddhist ethos underpins its peoples' relaxed, live-and-let-live way of life. When I retire, Cambodia is where you'll find me. Tomorrow, top picks from key correspondents in Europe and the Americas... Kathleen Peddicord Editor's Note: Want to learn more about what Live and Invest Overseas correspondents really think about living and retiring overseas? Join us for three days of live discussions next month when we'll be convening with dozens of our normally far-flung experts and expat friends for this year's Retire Overseas Conference taking place in Nashville Aug. 29–31. You have four days remaining to register for what will be the biggest retire-overseas event of the year taking advantage of the Early Bird Discount. This discount, which can save you up to US$300 off the cost of registration, expires this Thursday, July 31, at midnight. Complete details of the event are here, and you can register online here.
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Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.
Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.
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