If your retirement dreams include a beautiful climate, new cultural experiences, access to affordable healthcare and a lower cost of living, you may be thinking about retiring abroad. One destination popular with retirees is Thailand, a small country in southern Asia known for its natural beauty, pristine beaches, exotic cuisine, temples, and friendly people.
According to International Living, a publishing group that covers living and retiring overseas, Thailand has one of the lowest costs of living in the world, adding to its appeal as a top retirement destination. In the 2019 Annual Global Retirement Index, it is in a three-way tie for the sixth cheapest place for cost of living, along with Colombia and the Philippines. (Cambodia ranked number one for low cost of living for 2018.) On overall scores for International Living's 10 factors, Thailand came in 14th (Costa Rica was first; Vietnam ranked 23rd of 24).
Retirement Visa Requirements
The requirement for a retirement visa is 65,000 baht per month (about $2,000) or savings of 800,000 baht ($25,000) in a Thai bank account. Steve LePoidevin, InternationalLiving.com Correspondent, says this is a good starting point for a retired couple. “This would provide for a basic but comfortable lifestyle,” he reports.
Like anywhere, it comes down to location; some places in Thailand will be more affordable than others. “[A retired couple] would obviously live a much higher quality lifestyle in Chiang Mai than in Bangkok,” says LePoidevin. “As a retiree, I personally would not want to live here with less than $1,500 to $2,000 per month income. This is assuming you are renting, not living in your own condo or home.”
For the Really Budget Conscious
Though $2,000 a month is a good starting point, it is possible to get by with a much smaller budget. LePoidevin points out that the average Thai resident lives on less than $1,000 per month. “If you want to live in a small apartment, eat only local food, never travel, not have any health insurance and rarely take part in any form of entertainment, I suppose anybody could live on this small amount of monthly income,” says LePoidevin. Most expats, however, would have a difficult time living within a $1,000 per month budget and should count on a bit more – even if they are really budget-conscious.
A very lavish retirement in most of Thailand could be yours for around $5,000 per month, according to LePoidevin. “This would be enough money to rent a two-bedroom condo in the heart of Bangkok or in one of the many beach areas. If you purchased a condo, then you could definitely live a very good lifestyle on this amount,” says LePoidevin.
Aside from living in a choice location, a $5,000 budget would allow other perks. “[$5,000 per month] would provide enough money to eat out on a regular basis, employ a housecleaner a couple of times per week, use AC on a regular basis, have high-speed internet and still have more than enough for entertainment expenses,” says LePoidevin.
Factor in Healthcare
LePoidevin notes that healthcare is one cost that is frequently overlooked, but that expats need to plan for it. For those older than 60, private health insurance can be quite expensive.
“Because of the low cost of health care in Thailand, many expats rely on their savings for unforeseen medical emergencies. Others only buy less expensive accident insurance in the hopes that they are more likely to have an accident than a dire medical emergency.” Sometimes it is possible to rely on travel insurance if you are returning back to your home country or traveling on a regular basis. “This is also a less expensive avenue to pursue if it fits your needs,” says LePoidevin.
One of the best ways to make your retirement dollars last longer is to live like a local. “It is easy to find smaller inexpensive houses and apartments throughout the country,” says LePoidevin. “The quickest way to burn through retirement money is to spend it on alcohol and international foods. Both are very expensive in Thailand. Purchasing fresh local produce, eating out in ‘mom and pop’ local restaurants and cutting back on alcohol consumption will result in a much smaller monthly expense.”
The Bottom Line
If you are thinking about retiring abroad, Thailand is worth considering. A substantial expat community already enjoys the country’s natural beauty, exotic cuisine and beautiful climate, plus access to affordable health care and some of the lowest costs of living in the world.
The U.S. Department of State has issued no specific travel warnings about Thailand, although as of February 2020, they advise travelers that some areas have increased safety risks, especially in far southern Thailand. The U.S. Embassy and Consulate advises 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."
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")