Starting in the 1980s, when Costa Rica launched its now famous pensionado visa program, Central and South American countries have made an agenda of attracting foreign, especially North American, retirees, who had something these countries were in the market for—disposable currency. Today, Panama, Nicaragua, Belize, and Ecuador offer competitive pensionado programs that make it easy to establish full-time residency as a retiree and to enjoy, when you do, tax and other discounts and perks.
Key countries in Southeast Asia have taken notice and are now also competing for the attention of North American retirees. In several countries in this part of the world, the visa run is a thing of the past, replaced by user-friendly, turn-key, and affordable retirement residency programs.
Bottom line, Southeast Asia’s big appeal for the foreign retiree is its cost of living. Countries in the region top any list of the world’s cheapest places to retire. Your money goes much further than in the United States or any other Western country, but that does not mean that the standard of living is necessarily lower. It is possible to buy whatever lifestyle you’re looking for and to stretch whatever retirement nest egg you’ve got to be able to enjoy a better lifestyle than you could afford anywhere else on earth.
In the United States, you’re probably paying at least US$50 per month for reasonably fast Internet. In the Philippines, Internet costs US$12 per month, likely for faster speeds than you have now. In Thailand and Malaysia, fast internet is US$18 per month.
Similar savings can be seen in the prices of everything from rent and phone service to cooking gas, electricity, and your monthly spend on groceries. A visit to the doctor costs less than US$20 throughout most of the region, and the care you’ll receive likely will exceed your expectations. English-speaking doctors educated in Europe, Australia, and North America are the norm. They work in hygienic offices with modern equipment and can be affiliated with state-of-the-art internationally accredited hospitals. Thailand and Malaysia are among the top five countries in the world for medical tourism.
English is widely understood throughout the region, and it is an official language of the Philippines and parts of Malaysia. The majority of people you come into contact with in these two countries are English fluent. Additionally, English is a required subject at schools in every country in Southeast Asia. Urban areas and many small towns have enough English speakers so that communication rarely presents a significant barrier.
Now, new programs offered by some countries in this part of the world directly appeal to foreigners looking for legal, long-term residency in retirement. Several waive minimum monthly income requirements for long-term or permanent residency if you invest in a fixed-deposit account at a local bank. In countries where a monthly pension is required, the qualifying amount can be surprisingly low.
Thailand and the Philippines are two Southeast Asian countries in particular recruiting foreign retirees with benefit-rich, low-cost-of-entry visa programs.
Retire To Thailand
Thailand has some of the best beaches in the world, lush mountains and jungles, a laid-back, welcoming culture, and a foreigner-friendly infrastructure. Thailand also has one of the world’s lowest costs of living. For these reasons, tens of thousands of foreigners have settled in this country, in world-renowned resorts such as Koh Samui, Koh Lanta, and Phuket; in cities including Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai; and in the smaller towns of Hua Hin, Cha-am, and Pai. It’s rare to find a town in Thailand that doesn’t have at least a few foreign residents.
It used to be possible to stay indefinitely in the country with a tourist visa, making visa runs to a neighboring country every month or so. However, the relevant laws were changed a few years ago. Now a foreigner who wants to live in Thailand long-term needs a visa. No problem, as Thailand now offers several attractive residency visa options.
Retire To The Philippines
The cost of living in Thailand is low, but it’s lower still in the Philippines. Retire to Asia and you could enjoy a quality lifestyle on a budget of US$1,000 per month or less in this country, including dining out and in-country travel. An elegant dinner for two, including drinks, can cost less than US$15. Plus, English is spoken by practically everyone, the scenery is stunning, and the people are exceptionally friendly.
In addition, the Philippines offers the easiest path to permanent residency of any country in the region right now, and its retiree residency program comes with more benefits than any other country in this part of the world, as well. Unlike Thailand’s retirement program, the Philippines’ program allows foreign residents to work or start a business. Once you have been granted permanent residency, you can stay in the country for as long as you want; your visa never expires.
In addition to the ability to take a job or own a business, the retirement program the Philippines offers foreigners also allows for the duty-free importation of up to US$7,000 worth of household belongings, an exemption from airport travel taxes, and other similar tax discounts and incentives. Further, you can leave the country and return any time you like without having to re-apply for residency.
I’ve much more to share with you about your retirement, lifestyle, and real estate investment options and opportunities in this beautiful, welcoming, safe, and absurdly affordable part of the world. That’s why I’m delighted today to launch Discover Asia..
This kit includes essays, dispatches, and alerts that feature real-life tales from retirees and expats living in the region, emerging market reports from our scouts on the ground, and accounts of adventure and discovery from our wandering Asia correspondents.
We are at the outset of the Asian Century. This week we intend to show you the potential upside for you.
Kathleen Peddicord is the publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, offering retirement and overseas living advice in her free daily Overseas Opportunity Letter and the monthly Overseas Retirement Letter.