Do you have your sights set on retiring in Asia? Not long ago, Investopedia profiled the 10 Best Countries to Retire to in 2016. Now we’ve narrowed our focus to Asia and have asked the expert editors, writers and on-the-ground reporters at Live and Invest Overseas to tell us what they consider the four best destinations for retirement in Asia. Two of their choices, Malaysia and Thailand, made their list of the top 12 places to retire in 2016, and the other two, Vietnam and the Philippines, are countries they consider “up and comers” that may hit the charts next year.
The city of George Town is a top pick for retirees and rates a No.6 on the Live and Invest Overseas 2016 hit parade. The city has a colonial past that dates back to the 18th century when the British set it up as an outpost for controlling trade in the Straits of Malacca and exploiting a thriving opium market.
By the 19th century, commerce was king, and George Town’s financial district and active seaport thrived. “Wandering around the historic downtown, it’s easy to imagine yourself living in another era – and another place. Here, you’re in old China. Around the corner, you could be in India. Another neighborhood is reminiscent of an old Malay village,” says Kathleen Peddicord, founder of Live and Invest Overseas. “Impressive British-colonial buildings serve the same functions as they did more than a century ago….Many of the dilapidated Chinese shophouses have been scrubbed, painted and renovated into attractive hotels, community centers, cafés, galleries and private homes.”
George Town’s attractions include a dozen museums, jungle parks with secluded beaches and amusement parks. Expats get together regularly for club activities, healthcare is first rate and public transportation is modern and efficient.
Plus, the cost of living is low. No need to feel like a “walking wallet” in George Town or the rest of Malaysia; foreigners pay the same prices as locals for goods and services. A 900-square-foot apartment in an “expensive” part of George Town will cost about $480 per month; to hire someone to help keep the apartment clean, under $4 an hour.
Other Malaysian possibilities for retirees: Kuala Lumpur, the bustling capital, and Johor Bahru, a city that, according to Lonely Planet, has been replanted and repaved and is being “rebranded.”
Just a few notches below Malaysia on the Live & Invest Overseas list is Thailand, at No.9. In addition to a low cost of living, Thailand boasts “some of the best beaches in the world, lush mountains and jungles, a laid-back, welcoming culture and a foreigner-friendly infrastructure,” according to Peddicord.
Chiang Mai in the north is the favorite destination in Thailand, she says. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center, according to cost-of-living comparison website Numbeo.com, is about $320; residential buyers will pay around $145 per square foot. And a bottle of domestic beer is yours for $1.47. The city offers retirees great weather, which is not always true in other parts of the country. High-quality healthcare, a modern infrastructure and an abundance of Western-style amenities add to its appeal.
Udon Thani, in the northeast, which is easily accessible from Chiang Mai and Bangkok, also gets high marks from expats, says Peddicord, and ranks as an “up and comer.”
Thailand requires a visa for long-term residents (see Getting a Retirement Visa in Thailand), but that’s no problem since the government recently rewrote the rules to provide several attractive residency options.
This country, according to Peddicord, is “one of the most affordable places in the world to retire for an interesting and comfortable life.” A one-bedroom apartment in the center of Hanoi, according to Numbeo.com, will cost about $444; outside the center, that will cost you at least $100 less. Monthly Internet charges are about $12.
Danang, Vung Tau and Hanoi are Peddicord’s top picks, but she has a word of caution for anyone who considers access to healthcare important. She says that healthcare is excellent in Hanoi, but in Vung Tau good care requires a two-hour drive to Ho Chi Minh City. And in Danang, getting good healthcare would require a flight to Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, or out of the country to Bangkok.
Although residency isn’t possible for U.S. citizens yet, it is expected that starting some time in 2016 one-year tourist visas will be available.
The cost of living in the Philippines is one of the lowest in the world – even lower than in Vietnam, according to Peddicord. In the “hip” university town of Dumaguete where 4,000 expats live (and some scuba dive), renting a one bedroom apartment costs just over $200 per month, according to Numbeo.com, or you can buy one for under $40 per square foot.
The tropical island of Cebu is another choice for retirees, and Makati, a safe part of Manila, has access to everything a retiree would want – good shopping, excellent healthcare, proximity to beaches and outdoor activities plus the expected big-city cultural features. Makati is also considered an excellent market for real estate investment.
Another Philippines destination to watch is Tagaytay, with its year-round cool climate, a location just 34 miles from Manila and spectacular scenery, including a volcano that rises up from the middle of Taal Lake.
The Bottom Line
If you’re considering Asia as a retirement destination, you will find cities with substantial expat communities where English is widely spoken and other locales that are just beginning to catch on with retirees looking to live an interesting life inexpensively. If you choose the latter, you will need a certain pioneer spirit and to be willing to immerse yourself in a culture and language that may be quite different from your own.
And, since an Asian address will mean that you are far from your U.S. home, remember that your “emergency fund,” a requirement for all retirees abroad, needs to be big enough to allow for trips back to visit family or to cover – well – emergencies.