Residency Options In Asia

Is It Legal To Retire To Asia?

Southeast Asia can be a great choice for long-term living. Life here can be remarkably affordable, cheaper than anywhere else on earth.

In addition, 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 throughout the region…the culture is exotic…and the people are delightfully welcoming…

All things considered, no question, Southeast Asia can be a great place to live…but can you, as a foreigner, live here…legally?

The good news is that the answer to that question today, depending on your situation and where, exactly, you’re interested in basing yourself, can be: Yes.

Specifically, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand offer retirement visas that can be extended legally and indefinitely.

Thailand’s retirement visa requires that a retiree make a “border run” every 90 days. Most of us think of “border runs” as ways of circumnavigating the local residency laws (that is, as illegal). This is not the case currently in Thailand. In this country right now, a border run is not only not illegal, it is a legally mandated condition of the Non-Immigrant Long-Stay Type O-A retirement visa.

Years ago, thousands of foreigners were living in Thailand long-term without the proper visas and making border runs to avoid being evicted from the country. In 2006, the government changed the law to address the situation. Now, again, foreign residents are required either to obtain the correct visas or leave the country. As a practical matter, it is much easier to obtain a retirement visa in Thailand than it is to get a Malaysia My Second Home visa in Malaysia, and the financial requirements are much less in Thailand, too.

That said, 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 which 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; it is the only Southeast Asian country that allows employment under a retirement visa.

Not every country in this region offers retirement visas. Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia do not have any sort of extended visa specifically for retirees. But there are still ways to live 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 for a long-term visa. Requirements for a business or employment visa in Laos and Cambodia can be quite lax. Working a day or two per month (or less) or finding a local agent specializing in business visas can be all that you need to get a longer-term visa. Alternately, you can join the many foreigners who make visa runs to neighboring countries to renew their visa status.

Vietnam does not have a retirement visa, but you can easily apply through the Vietnamese Embassy for a visa with a validity ranging 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, the immigration department will frequently extend a visa more than three times. We know foreigners in Vietnam who have lived there continuously for many years without having to leave and re-enter the country.

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

Wendy Justice


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