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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.

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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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Here in Thailand, I've yet to hear of expats leaving because of the
coup: we've had a lot of coups here, too. But curiously, tourism dropped off dramatically. I speak from personal observation here. I figure hotels in Chiang Mai, where Vicki and I stay, should be more than half full in early June (shoulder season). Yet, in my survey, occupancy rates came out closer to 10% or 20%.

In June, Vicki and I played tourist here in Thailand. We took a week-long road trip with friends to Doi Ang Khang (a national park), went to Mae Sai (a border town snuggled up to the Myanmar border) and to Phayao (a popular lakeside town). We mostly shared the scenic sites with a handful of Thai tourists. We noted the almost complete absence of foreign tourists.

I can think of a few reasons for the decline in tourism. The western world remains mired in no-or-slow growth with young tourists having less money to spend. Until recently, Bangkok and other nightlife venues were under curfew, discouraging those who come to party. The Chinese came in large numbers after a Chinese movie called Lost in Thailand became a hit a few years ago. The movie was filmed in Chiang Mai, giving Chinese a special reason to come to town. I figure the movie tourism may have run its course.

Perhaps the major blow to tourism was the coup and street violence that preceded it. Beginning late last year, those thinking of coming to Thailand saw riots on TV. Middle-aged tourists crossed Thailand off their list as they planned ahead for their summer holidays. And I suspect Chinese, in particular, stayed away because of the coup. Young Chinese have only ever known a stable home government. They may never have heard of coups, much less understand them. Ditto the Japanese.

In spite of apparent misgivings abroad, the coup here has had little impact on the tourist experience, in my opinion, for Chinese or Japanese or anyone else. Street life has pretty much returned to normal, and more tourists are showing up. Meanwhile, those of us who spend time here enjoy less crowded restaurants, better prices, lower airfares, a slower pace, and special deals.

Paul Terhorst

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One of the biggest appeals is the cost of living. Rent, especially, is a global bargain. You can find a comfortable rental for as little as US$350 to US$400 per month, and most rentals come fully furnished. All costs considered, including groceries, utilities, entertainment, and your own motorbike for transportation, a retired couple could live here on a monthly budget of as little as US$1,000.

For the very low cost, you'd be buying a big and interesting lifestyle. If you're a night owl, you need look no further than Patong, where the party lasts until the wee hours of the night. Maybe you prefer to spend your days on the links; if so, you'll have your choice of six superb golf courses on the island. Restaurants, ranging from friendly one-star shacks to acclaimed, five-star international establishments, are abundant.

Phuket Island's large foreign population is scattered throughout several towns and villages. Patong is the largest town on the west coast; it's the one famous for its nightlife. To the north and south of Patong are the peaceful coastal towns of Surin, Kamala, Kata, Karon and many smaller villages.

Another reason Phuket is so appealing as a retirement destination is that everything you need is available on the island, including top-tier medical care and Thailand's second busiest international airport. Locals like to point out that they never have to go to Bangkok--ever. (And that's generally considered a very good thing.)

Medical care is not only international standard (Bangkok Phuket Hospital has Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation) but a great value, as well. Thailand is one of the top spots in the world for medical tourism. Care in Phuket can average 20% to 80% less than "back home," and the quality of care, according to expats living here, can be far superior.

Phuket has something for nearly every budget. Again, if your retirement budget is limited, you could live inland, in Phuket Town or in one of the smaller villages on the north or south ends of the island, and enjoy a very comfortable and full life on as little as US$1,000 per month. If, though, your nest egg is more generous, you could live an elegant and affordable lifestyle in Patong or another upscale coastal village such as Surin and Karon.

Luc Montens, an expat who has been retired in Patong for 12 years, sums it up well:

"Phuket is not too big, and it's not too crowded. We love the greenery and the weather and being close to an international airport. There is no need to go to Bangkok for any reason.

"At one time, older single men would come here for a good time, maybe marry a Thai woman, settle down, and start a new family," Luc continues. "The area used to be tremendously popular with the young backpacking crowd, as well. Now, more families are coming to the area. They are bringing their children, enrolling them in one of the international schools, and staying for life."

Other long-time foreigners in the area agree. The mix of people moving to Phuket has definitely changed for the better, making Phuket more appealing now for the would-be retiree than ever.

Wendy Justice

Editor's Note: Wendy's complete report on the Pearl of the Andaman Sea is featured in the newest issue of our Overseas Retirement Letter.Subscribe here now in time to receive this fully illustrated guide.

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Kathleen Peddicord

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.

Read more here.

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