Visa Options In Southeast Asia

Legal Options For Retiring In The World’s Cheapest Retirement Havens

“One important point to be made about retiring in Southeast Asia,” writes Asia Correspondent Wendy Justice, “is that not every country in this region offers a retirement visa.

“Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, for example, do not have any sort of extended visa specifically for retirees.

“It is possible, nevertheless, to live or retire in these countries. For example, in Laos or Cambodia, you could volunteer with one of the many NGOs. Volunteering or working even a few days per month is often enough to qualify you for a long-term visa.

“Requirements for a business or an employment visa in Laos and Cambodia can be quite lax. Again, working as little as a day or two per month (or less) or finding a local agent specializing in business visas can be all you need to obtain a longer-stay visa.

“And you always have the option, of course, of joining the many foreigners who make regular visa runs to neighboring countries. They leave and then return within a few days, thereby restarting their tourist visa status. We don’t encourage this as a long-term strategy, but many expats and retirees live years in this part of the world never legalizing their extended-stay situation.

“Vietnam does not offer a retirement visa, per se, but you can easily apply through the Vietnamese Embassy for one that allows you to remain in the country from one month up to one year. This visa can be extended at least twice without having to leave the country, which could give you up to three continuous years in Vietnam.

“In practice, Vietnam’s immigration department will frequently extend a visa more than three times. We know foreigners in Vietnam who have lived in the country continuously for many years without ever having left and re-entered.

“Note that Vietnam does not issue visas on arrival. You must have made arrangements prior to landing in the country, either by obtaining a visa from the embassy in another country or by obtaining a visa approval letter from an agent. Immigration laws change frequently in Vietnam, so you need to check the current visa requirements when you’re ready to make your application.

“Other countries in Southeast Asia do have provisions in place for retirees. Generally, you are required to show that you are of good character, healthy, and would not pose a financial burden to the host country. Typically, you’ll be asked to provide a recent criminal background check, proof of medical insurance, and proof of financial means of support (this is the case when applying for a visa almost anywhere in the world).

“Indonesia requires proof that you have an income of at least US$1,500 per month, while Thailand requires that you have either a monthly income of at least 65,000 baht (US$2,100) or a Thai bank account with a minimum balance of 800,000 baht (about US$26,000).

wants you to show proof of income over 10,000 RM (US$3,300) per month or to keep a sizable deposit in a Malaysian bank for the duration of your visa, and Singapore requires proof that you’re earning at least S$7,500 (US$6,000) per month. (Singapore is not a top choice for the retiree on a budget.)

“Other particulars may apply, as well. Indonesia requires that you rent a dwelling costing a minimum of US$300 per month (US$500 if renting in Jakarta), and that you employ at least one Indonesian maid or driver. In return, you’ll qualify for a one-year retirement visa that you’ll be able to extend up to five times without leaving the country.

“Singapore requires that, in addition to satisfying the income requirements, you purchase a residence costing at least S$500,000 (about US$400,000). If you qualify, you’ll be eligible for a visa allowing you to remain in the country for five years.

“Thailand imposes no additional requirements, other than age (see below).

Malaysia is currently the only country in Southeast Asia that offers a retirement visa with incentives designed specifically for retirees. The Malaysia My Second Home Program (MM2H) offers a multiple-entry visa that is good for up to 10 years. It permits you to import your personal belongings, including an automobile, duty-free and allows you to work up to 20 hours per week. This is the only Southeast Asian country that allows employment under a retirement visa. You can purchase property as a foreigner, but it is not mandatory.

“To qualify for the MM2H program, you’ll need to make a substantial deposit at a Malaysian bank or show proof of meeting the minimum required fixed income. The amount of the deposit required depends on your age. If you are younger than 50, you will need to deposit 300,000 RM (about US$100,000). If you are 50 or older, you will need to make a deposit of 150,000 RM (US$50,000) if your fixed income does not meet the minimum requirements.

“Age requirements vary country to country. Singapore expects you to be at least 45 years old to qualify for its retirement visa. Thailand considers you to be of retirement age if you are age 50 or older, Indonesia wants you to be at least 55, and Malaysia allows participation in the MM2H Program at any age as long as the appropriate financial requirements are satisfied.

“Southeast Asia is a very appealing region for long-term living, especially if your budget is small, for it is perhaps the world’s least expensive outpost today. The tropical climate and thousands of miles of coastline present unlimited opportunity for beach bums. Cool mountain retreats, caves, waterfalls, and hot springs reward intrepid explorers. English is widely understood and spoken, depending where you focus your search. The culture is exotic, and the people are delightfully welcoming.

“The good news, therefore, is that, if you are thinking Southeast Asia could be the place for you, it is possible to arrange things so that you can live here legally for years.”

Kathleen Peddicord

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