For many approaching retirement age, life in a lush tropical locale is a dream scenario. With proper planning, the dream is achievable even on a moderate fixed income. Consider Southeast Asia.

The region is among the most popular for American retirees, as it offers a high standard of living at a low cost, a good climate, terrific local food, and welcoming people. Within the region, Thailand and Vietnam are both worth evaluating.

Key Takeaways

  • Thailand is a major tourism destination with higher-quality infrastructure and services aimed at foreigners.
  • Vietnam has lower overall living costs than Thailand.
  • Both countries have a wide choice of city, beach, and mountain locales.

Both countries have low costs in comparison with the U.S. but some other factors must be considered when choosing.

Housing and Food Costs

A retiree with an income of at least $1,000 per month should have no trouble living comfortably in either Thailand or Vietnam. Both offer inexpensive housing options and excellent food at low prices.

That income will get you 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, dining out, and entertainment.

If you have a somewhat larger budget, there are plenty of opportunities to upgrade your lifestyle in both countries.

Thailand

According to Numbeo.com, a price comparison website, a single person can live in Bangkok on about $661 a month, plus about $346 for a one-bedroom apartment outside the city center.

Overall, the cost of living is about 28% lower than in Los Angeles.

Housing is, of course, the largest single expense, and the options vary with your budget. A one-bedroom apartment in the center of Bangkok averages just under $700 a month while a centrally-located three-bedroom flat could top $2,000.

Vietnam

Vietnam has considerably lower living costs than Thailand. A single person can get by in Hanoi on about $448 plus rent. A one-bedroom in the center of Hanoi rents for about $369 a month, and a three-bedroom for about $695.

Overall, the cost of living is about half that of Los Angeles.

In fact, both Thailand and Vietnam have startlingly low living costs to American eyes. For example, in Hanoi, the cost of all utilities including heating, cooling, electricity, water, and garbage collection adds up to $78 a month. A three-course meal for two in a mid-range restaurant comes to $17. A pint of beer is less than $1.

Daily Life

For the purposes of price comparisons, we've compared Bangkok to Hanoi but both Thailand and Vietnam are home to diverse natural environments that stretch from white-sand beaches along the coast to cool mountain retreats in the interior.

You can choose a fast-paced urban neighborhood, a high-traffic tourist destination, or a quiet out-of-the-way town. Whatever kind of lifestyle appeals to you, there is a pretty good chance you can achieve it in Thailand or Vietnam.

A Look at Infrastructure

Thailand is farther along than Vietnam in terms of the infrastructure and services that are expected by expatriates and tourists.

Thailand has long been a world-class tourist destination, while Vietnam is relatively new to the international stage. In 2018, Thailand welcomed more than 38.2 million foreign tourists to its shores. Vietnam recorded about 15.5 million.

Thailand's booming tourism industry has made daily life and getting around town much easier for resident expatriates. Service providers of all kinds have sprung up to serve the needs of foreign visitors for transportation, shopping, health services, and entertainment. English is also more widely spoken in Thailand than in Vietnam.

A retiree with an income of at least $1,000 per month can live comfortably in Thailand or Vietnam.

While Vietnam is moving fast to catch up, it remains the more challenging country in which to live as a Western expatriate.

Health Care

Even the healthiest retirees need access to good doctors and facilities for regular checkups, and nobody of any age likes the thought of being far from a decent hospital in case of an emergency.

Thailand

Thailand scores exceptionally well in this area, delivering world-class, low-cost health care. Larger cities have modern hospitals and clinics with state-of-the-art equipment, first-rate doctors, and highly trained staff.

In fact, the care is so good and so inexpensive that Thailand attracts medical tourists from the U.S. and around the world for many procedures and treatments.

Smaller cities, especially those that are tourist destinations, also have quality health services.

Vietnam

High-quality care can reliably be found 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. Regular shortages of medical equipment and medicine in rural areas across the country have been reported.

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 destination in Vietnam.