Super-Cheap Living (And Housing) Plus Pleasant Weather And A Welcoming Community–Asia’s Top Retirement Havens, Part II
”The Thai city of Chiang Mai has been luring expats from the West for years,” writes Asia Correspondent Wendy Justice, continuing her reporting on the world’s cheapest and most exotic places to retire well right now.
”Foreigners are attracted to Chiang Mai for two reasons primarily: the low cost of living (and of housing) and the weather. The high-quality health care and health-related services are also big pluses for foreign retirees in this part of the world.
”The city boasts modern infrastructure and an abundance of Western amenities. It’s also a place where it can be possible for foreign residents to find work; many Westerners are employed in Chiang Mai in language schools, universities, medical facilities, and tourist-related industries.
”For all these reasons, more than 17,000 foreigners (and counting) have chosen to make Chiang Mai home.
”The heart of Chiang Mai lies within its old city walls. Here, dozens of ancient and modern Buddhist temples coexist with public and international schools, residential and commercial neighborhoods. Street markets and festivals occur almost nightly, and a huge array of restaurants catering to all tastes can be found within walking distance of almost anywhere in the Old City.
”Chiang Mai has grown beyond the ancient walls, though, and extends for several miles in every direction. Large shopping complexes are located along the superhighway, a multi-lane, controlled-access ring road that circles the outskirts of the city. Between the Old City and the superhighway are the condominiums that so many foreigners purchase (though we don’t recommend this…more in a minute), freestanding houses, terrace homes, and hundreds of independently owned neighborhood stores.
”Good roads lead out of the city in all directions, making Chiang Mai the main transportation and manufacturing hub of northern Thailand.
”One thing that Chiang Mai definitely has going for it is its weather. While the weather in Bangkok is hot and steamy year round, Chiang Mai has a cool season. From December until the end of February, mid-day temperatures are generally in the low or mid-80s. Evenings are refreshingly cool, with temperatures sometimes in the mid-50s. Some evenings, you’ll want a light sweater or jacket.
”Unlike in some cities in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia, foreigners in Chiang Mai are able to integrate with the locals and to feel at home even in very local neighborhoods. That said, one of the most popular areas for expats is the neighborhood near the trendy Nimminhemin Road. Upscale condominiums are conveniently located near excellent restaurants and a good foreigner infrastructure, close to English-speaking dentists, internationally accredited hospitals, and within a short walk of the Old City.
”Expats also choose to live near the university and along Huay Kaew Road. There is a sizable expat community along the banks of the lovely Mae Ping River, where homes have excellent views of the river and nearby mountains. Dozens of fine restaurants and nightclubs can be found just a short walk or drive away.
”Some neighborhoods, such as those immediately north or south of the airport or in the Old City center, suffer from noise pollution. When house hunting, be sure to visit the area at night and in the early morning to identify places located within earshot of a noisy karaoke bar or over-enthusiastic roosters.
”Historically, many foreigners relocating to Thailand long-term have chosen to purchase a home. Under Thai law, foreigners are permitted to buy a house but cannot buy the land on which it stands. There are ways to get around this, but the process can be complex. You wouldn’t want to attempt this without the help of a good lawyer.
”The difficulties involved with acquiring land ownership aside, there is an even bigger issue with investing in Thai real estate. Unlike in most countries, where property tends to appreciate in value (or at least to hold its worth), Thai real estate depreciates. I don’t mean right now, as a result of the current global recession. I mean as a rule.
”When it comes to real estate, Thais want new. As a condo ages, therefore, it depreciates in value.
”For this reason primarily, we recommend generally against buying property in Thailand. And, with prices so affordable around Chiang Mai, factoring in monthly rent shouldn’t upset your budget too much.
”Prices start at around 6,000 baht (US$180) per month for a furnished studio apartment in a good area. The Galare Thong Towers, for example, offer fully furnished apartments with kitchen, sleeping area, television, and phone for 8,000 baht (US$240) per month. For an additional 400 baht (US$12) per month, you can arrange for wireless Internet.
”Larger, more luxurious apartments start at around 13,000 baht (US$390). At the high end, you could rent a very attractive, fully furnished (including a computer and a telephone), two-bedroom ‘luxury apartment’ with swimming pool, 24-hour security, and beautiful European-style kitchen, located in the central business district, for 22,000 baht (US$650) per month.
”Across Thailand, the standard of medical care is very high, and costs are extremely reasonable. This has helped to make the country a popular destination for medical tourists, who find it much less expensive to fly to Thailand and receive treatment there than to have the same procedure done in their home country.
”A simple visit to an English-speaking doctor, for example, costs around 600 baht (US$18). Several hospitals in the city offer an international standard of medical care. Major surgical procedures are significantly less expensive than in the United States, and positive outcomes are high. A heart bypass, for example, that would cost over US$100,000 in the United States costs around US$10,000 in Thailand. A total hip replacement in Thailand costs around US$11,000, yet the same procedure in the United States is more than US$70,000. A simple MRI costs less than US$300, a savings of around US$700 compared with the cost of the same procedure in the States.
”Here’s a sample budget for a retired expat living in Chiang Mai:
|Rent:||US$400 (as I’ve explained, this can vary significantly)|
|Electricity:||US$75 (using air conditioning every night and most days)|
|Telephone:||US$15 (for a cell phone; landlines are not commonly used, and service is typically unreliable)|
|Internet:||US$20 to US$30|
|Cable TV:||US$50 (including English-language channels)|
|Household Help:||US$100 to US$150 per month (for help five times a week, three hours per day)|
|Entertainment:||US$250 (including regular meals out)|
That’s total monthly expenses of US$1,135, including rent, weekly help around the house, and regular nights out.