Living comfortably in a tropical locale is a dream scenario for many people approaching retirement age. With proper planning, this dream is achievable, even on a moderate fixed income. The Southeast Asian region is one of the most popular for retirees, as it offers a high standard of living, a good climate, terrific local food and welcoming people. Among the countries in the region, Thailand and Vietnam are both excellent low-cost destinations worth evaluating. In addition to cost considerations, there is a whole range of other factors to analyze when choosing between these countries. The following are several of the most important factors to help you compare and contrast Thailand and Vietnam.

Housing and Food Costs

For many retirees thinking about a move overseas, the cost of a comfortable lifestyle is one of the most important concerns. Alongside health care costs, housing and food costs are generally the most important line items in a retirement budget. Both Thailand and Vietnam offer inexpensive housing options and excellent food at low prices. Retirees who have incomes of at least $1,000 per month should have no trouble living comfortably in either country. This kind of money will provide you with a nice apartment in a good neighborhood and cover all of your basic living expenses. With careful spending, you may even have money left over for sightseeing trips or extra dining out and entertainment. Of course, if you have a larger budget, there are plenty of opportunities to upgrade your lifestyle in both Thailand and Vietnam.

Basic living expenses in Thailand are slightly higher overall than in Vietnam. According to Numbeo.com, the international price comparison website, the price level in Thailand is about 6% higher than in Vietnam. This is a general measure and your experience may vary depending on what city you live in and what kinds of things you buy on a regular basis. Ultimately, however, the costs of living in both countries are fairly similar.

The biggest expense for any expatriate is likely to be housing. The Thai national average for a one-bedroom apartment in the central districts of a city is just under $350 per month, while a nearby three-bedroom apartment is more than $1,000. Outside the city center, prices are typically much lower. A nice one-bedroom unit costs less than $190 per month in Thailand, while a three-bedroom is about $500. Rent in Vietnam is slightly lower within the city center, with one- and three-bedroom apartments going for about $330 and $835 per month, respectively. Apartments in outlying neighborhoods are about the same as Thailand or slightly higher depending on the city. Utility costs in both countries are low. Power, water, garbage service and broadband Internet service cost about $85 per month in Thailand and about $65 in Vietnam.

The second-biggest expense for most expatriates is food. Vietnam has a clear advantage on this count. Numbeo.com's grocery index reveals that overall food prices in Thailand are about 15% higher than prices in Vietnam. Not surprisingly, mid-range restaurants in Vietnam are also cheaper. A three-course meal for two people at a nice neighborhood restaurant averages about $13 in Vietnam, while a similar meal in Thailand costs about $17 on average. Alcoholic beverages, such as domestic and imported beer and wine, are more than 50% more expensive in Thailand, both at restaurants and in grocery stores.

On average, $200 worth of groceries in Vietnam costs you something like $230 in Thailand. This difference is probably not substantial enough to sway your decision. However, over months and years, a small difference can add up to a lot of money, so it is definitely something to consider.

Daily Life

Both Vietnam and Thailand are home to diverse natural environments stretching from white-sand beaches on the coastline to cooler mountain retreats in the interior. You can choose to live in a fast-paced urban neighborhood, in a high-traffic tourist destination or in a quiet out-of-the-way town amidst unspoiled nature. Whatever kind of lifestyle appeals to you, there is a pretty good chance you can achieve it in Thailand or Vietnam.

All that said, Thailand is more developed than Vietnam in relation to the infrastructure and services built up for expatriates and tourists. Thailand has long been a worldwide tourist destination, while Vietnam is relatively new to the international tourism stage. In 2016, Thailand welcomed more than 32.5 million international tourists to its shores. Vietnam recorded about 10 million tourist arrivals, up from about 2.1 million in 2000.

The vast tourism industry in Thailand has made daily life and travel much easier for the country's resident expatriates. Service providers of all kinds have sprung up to serve foreign visitors around the country, including in the transportation, shopping, health services and entertainment sectors. English is also more widely spoken in Thailand due largely to the needs of the tourism industry. While Vietnam is making efforts to catch up, it remains the more difficult country in which to live.

According to International Living magazine's 2017 survey of the world's best retirement destinations, Thailand ranks among the top countries in several key scoring categories related to daily living, while Vietnam received the lowest overall rating of the world's top 24 retirement destinations. In the Entertainment and Amenities category, Thailand received a score of 90, while Vietnam received a score of 68; in the Infrastructure category, Thailand received a score of 83, while Vietnam scored 67; in the Fitting In category, Thailand scored 88 and Vietnam scored 72. This category evaluates how easy it is for an expatriate to participate socially in the country. Higher scores are granted to countries with more English speakers among the local population and more socially active expatriate communities.

Health Care

Access to high-quality health care is a crucial consideration for most retirees, wherever they may choose to live. Even the healthiest retirees need access to good doctors and facilities for regular checkups and the like. Thailand scores exceptionally well in this area. International Living magazine gave Thailand a score of 89 in the Health Care component, putting it in the top ten highest-rated countries for health care out of the 24 nations surveyed; Vietnam scored 78, which means it ranked 21st out of the 24 countries.

Thailand delivers world-class, low-cost health care. All large cities in the country have modern hospitals and clinics with state-of-the-art equipment, first-rate doctors and highly trained staff. The care is so good and so inexpensive that Thailand attracts medical tourists from the United States and around the world for many types of procedures and treatments. Smaller cities also have quality clinics with qualified medical professionals, especially those in heavily trafficked tourist areas.

In Vietnam, access to high-quality care is reliable in the country's largest cities, including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Care in mid-sized cities such as Da Nang and Nha Trang is generally considered adequate to good quality. Outside of the cities, however, Vietnam's public health-care system delivers inconsistent quality. Reports highlight regular shortages of medical equipment and medicine in rural areas across the country. Retirees who expect to need regular access to the health care system should carefully research health care options at the city level before settling on a favored destination in Vietnam.

The Bottom Line

The choice between Thailand and Vietnam is ultimately a very personal one. In general, however, Thailand offers the prospect of an easier lifestyle with better health care options at only a slightly higher cost. Vietnam is the less trafficked choice, offering more adventurous retirees the promise of life a little bit off the beaten track.

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