Slightly larger than California, Thailand sits on Southeast Asia’s Indochina peninsula between neighboring Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia. With 2,000 miles of shoreline, this tropical country is known for sandy-white beaches and crystalline blue-green waters – not to mention ancient ruins, beautiful Buddhist temples and a world-renowned cuisine.
Appearing on many of the “best places to retire” lists, the land formerly known as Siam is home to hundreds of thousands of expats from around the world who have relocated in search of adventure, a change of scenery and new cultural experiences during retirement. But, as with any country, there are pros and cons to settling down in the Kingdom of Thailand.
The Pros of Living in Thailand
There’s no doubt that Thailand is a country brimming with natural beauty, from postcard-worthy beaches, limestone cliffs and bizarre rock formations, to lush jungles, verdant mountains and secluded waterfalls. Beauty can be found in the cities, as well, with modern and ancient Thai architecture, colorful markets and decorative gardens. For specifics, see Top 7 Cities For Retiring In Thailand.
Thailand is home to one of the most popular cuisines in the world, based on the notion that opposites attract (at least in food): chili paste with coconut milk, palm sugar with lime juice, sweet noodles with salty crunch. Since many Thai dishes use natural ingredients – with lots of fresh herbs, spices and vegetables – the cuisine is generally considered healthful (just watch out for the MSG).
By U.S.standards, things are cheap in Thailand. But you’ll need an income of at least 65,000 baht per month (about $2,000 as of September 2018), savings of 800,000 baht ($25,000) in a Thai bank account, or a combination thereof that equals 800,000 baht per year to qualify for a retirement visa, as Getting a Retirement Visa in Thailand makes clear.The monthly income requirement serves as a touchstone for what a retired couple needs to live comfortably in Thailand. Of course, you could get by on much less (the typical Thai lives on less than $1,000 monthly), or you could spend much more, depending on your lifestyle and preferences. According to Steven LePoidevin, an InternationalLiving.com Thailand correspondent, you could live very well on $5,000, which would cover a luxury condo in Bangkok, and employ a housekeeper a few days a week.
The Cons of Living in Thailand
Images typically depict Thailand as a paradise of of white-sand beaches beneath endless, sunny skies. While it certainly has its share of picture-perfect days, at least half the year is dominated by hot, humid and rainy conditions. Although many retirees are keen to escape cold, driveway-shoveling winters, Thailand can prove to be uncomfortably sticky, with 100°-plus temps for weeks at a time.
Thailand is considered a fairly safe country. Physical attacks and theft is less common than in many developed countries, but "common sense precautions" should be taken here as everywhere else. Thailand also has a number of health problems that expats should be aware of before traveling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all travelers be up to date on routine vaccinations (measles-mumps-rubella, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella, polio and flu), plus the hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines. Depending on how long you are staying and what you will be doing, the CDC recommends that some travelers also get vaccinated against hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, and, in limited instances, rabies.
Thailand has a long history of unrest. On August 11 and 12, 2016, multiple bombing incidents occurred in a number of Thai locations, including Hua Hin, Phang Nga, Trang, Surat Thani, and Phuket. Thai authorities reported at least four deaths and 37 injuries.
The country has seen numerous military coups – more than any other Asian country in modern history – and spent decades under military rule. Most recently, in May 2014, following more than seven months of protests against the democratically elected government, the head of Thailand’s army, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, led a coup d’état and declared himself prime minister. Today, two years later, the country is still awaiting promised elections to return it to a civilian-run government. After King Bhumibol Adulyadei died in 2016, it was reported that elections would be postponed until 2019 due to public grief of loss of their King (King Bhumibol Adulyadei reigned for over 70 years and was highly valued among the Thai people).
Since October 7, 2014, there have been no Travel Alerts or Warnings issued for Thailand. Click here for the U.S. Embassy and Consulate's warning about the bombings. Its advice for residents and travelers: "Regularly monitor the State Department’s website, where you can find current Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and the Worldwide Caution. Read the Country Specific Information for Thailand."
The Bottom Line
Like any country, Thailand offers advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, the country’s low cost of living, natural beauty and exotic cuisine entice many an expat from around the world. Negatives include months of hot, sticky weather, numerous health concerns and a long history of political upheaval. Of course you'll visit first, but when making the decision to retire abroad (regardless of the destination), it’s important to carefully consider life as a long-term resident, and not just as a tourist.
Note: U.S. citizens traveling or residing abroad are encouraged to enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which provides security updates and makes it easier for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you and/or your family in case of an emergency. (For related reading, see "Live in Thailand on $1,000 a Month")