We’re back from our Thailand retirement research trip and I’m going through a serious case Thai food withdrawal. Good food is so affordable and there are many eating options there at anytime of the day. Now that we are back in the United States, we’re going back to cooking for ourselves, and I am not looking forward it at all. Anyway, we had a great trip and found out a lot more information about retiring and living in Thailand. I primarily focused on Chiangmai because I have some families there. The cost of living in Chiangmai is much cheaper than Bangkok, but higher than the countryside. I think it’s a good middle ground. Today we will look at a few retirement options for foreigners in Thailand.
- Self Directed Early Retirement – You are relatively healthy and you don’t need a lot of medical attention. We’ll just look at what it cost to live in Thailand.
- Resort Retirement – This option is for older people who may need more medical assistance.
- Government retirement facility and Wats.
Thailand cost of living
The cost of living in Thailand is more affordable than in the US. In general, people there make much less money than we do. The minimum wage in Thailand is about $8.50 per day. That’s less than the hourly minimum wage here in Oregon. In Bangkok, I saw a wanted sign at a Dairy Queen in an upscale mall. The salary for a full-time regular employee starts at $300 per month and $400 for managers. That’s not much, but what about educated workers?
One of my cousins just graduated from college and she is looking for a job now. She told me the starting salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree is 15,000 baht or $420 per month. Wow, that seems very low. Can Thai people really afford to live on such a low salary?
Luckily, young people usually live at home in Thailand and they have minimal cost of living expenses. In Thai culture, the kids only move out after they get married. They can build up their savings and salaries for a while before having to fund their own family.
Option 1 – Self Directed Early Retirement in Thailand
Of course, foreigners have higher standard of living than Thais and we’d probably need to use more money. I want to take a year off and travel around the world when RB40Jr finished 4th grade. We will probably spend at least 4 months in Thailand and use it as a home base to travel around SE Asia. Chiangmai is also a good retirement location for us once RB40Jr goes off to college. The cost of living is much more affordable there than in Portland and we can live a more comfortable lifestyle with our budget.
We won’t be able to move to Chiangmai for long time, but it’s still good to have an idea how much it would cost to live there. Here is what I found out on this trip.
Cost of living
Housing – The cost of housing hugely depends on the location and size of where you’d like to live. You can rent a condotel room in town for about $300 per month. This is just like a hotel room located in a condo complex. A larger place like a one bedroom condo with a separate living area would cost at least $400 per month. These small condotel units only have kitchenettes and you don’t do much cooking inside them. My dad has a propane stove setup on the balcony for minor cooking, like for frying eggs. A 2 bedroom condotel unit starts at around $500 per month.
I didn’t look at houses because condos are so much easier. You don’t have to do much maintenance and they usually have amenities like a pool, a fitness room, and security guard. A house is also generally further out and you’d probably need a vehicle to get around.
Food – Food is cheap and plentiful in Thailand. If you eat like a local, you should be able to spend less than 300 baht each per day on food, $8.50. That’s eating out every meal. We’d probably spend less because we’d eat breakfast at home and cook occasionally. Buying premade food at the local market also is an affordable option. If you eat like a foreigner, then expect to pay around 1,000 baht per day or $28. This would be eating in nicer restaurants in malls where a meal costs 200-400 baht. For the 2 of us, we’d probably spend $500 per month on food.
Groceries – I’m not sure here, but it shouldn’t cost that much. You can get pretty much everything you’d ever want from the supermarket. Soap, laundry detergent, shaving stuff, etc… I think $50 per month should cover this.
Transportation – A short taxi ride usually costs around $2. There are cheaper options if you know how to catch the buses and songtaews. You could get a moped, but I think that’s quite dangerous. I’d prefer to live close in and walk or pay for transportation as needed. The public transportation in Bangkok is a lot better than in Chiangmai and it’s very easy to live without a vehicle in Bangkok. I think $50 per month should cover transportation.
Utilities and other bills – This really depends on how much electricity you use. If you crank up the AC all day and use a lot of hot water, then you’d pay more. Internet is also pretty affordable. We paid $14 for a month of wifi access when we were there. A load of laundry that we sent out to be washed and folded cost $2. A thorough cleaning service would cost about $15 per visit. I think you only need this once or twice per month. In a 1 bedroom condo, everything should cost less than $100 per month.
Entertainment – This one really depends on you. I’d probably buy books and go catch a movie once in a while to get out of the heat. I’ll give us a generous entertainment budget of $400/month.
Medical – I have no idea. If you’re healthy, you can self insure and go to the hospital as needed. A consultation with a doctor in a private hospital costs about $20 and much less in a public hospital. The public hospital is very crowded, though. Thailand has public healthcare and the queue can be very long at a public hospital. I think we’d be okay at our age if we put $400/month into a medical fund. An a comparison, an emergency appendicitis and 2 nights stay at a private hospital cost about $1,000. After a couple of years, we’d have enough for emergency care. Health insurance costs for our age cost about $2,000-$3,000 per year, but the premium can increase quickly.
How much it would cost us?
So for 2 of us, this is what early retirement in Thailand would cost.
|Total||$1,900 per month|
For under $2,000 per month, we could have a relatively luxurious retirement in Chiangmai, Thailand. We could eat out every day and cook just once in a while. Major cleaning and laundry services can be outsourced to the locals. For entertainment, we could go see movies, try a fancy restaurant once in a while, buy books, take classes, visit some local sites, and the internet is available. Going swimming and relaxing by the pool is a great option because it is so hot and humid there. That’s a pretty luxurious lifestyle compared to how we live now. In the US, we do most things ourselves because the labor cost is so high.
This budget is pretty extravagant and we probably could cut the cost down quite a bit if we need to. We already own a modest 1 bedroom condo so we only have to pay the property tax and HOA fee. I think we could live a comfortable lifestyle for about $1,000 per month as long as we’re relatively healthy. The medical expense is the big variable here, but we are pretty healthy now. Actually, I could use Thailand public healthcare. That would help cut down our healthcare expenses when we’re older. Once we need more medical assistance, we’ll need to look at option 2.
*Note – You can get a retirement visa if you are over 50 and have about $22,500 deposited in a bank in Thailand. The visa needs to be renew once per year and can be done by an agent. Foreigners can purchase a condo, but not a house with land.
Option 2 – Retirement Resort
My dad and I toured a retirement resort near Chiangmai when I was in town. The Care Resort Chiangmai is a retirement home geared toward foreigners that’s about 20 km (30 minute drive) from central Chiangmai. They were actually a regular resort at one time and they have been in the process of converting to a retirement resort over the last few years. Currently, they have about 15 retirement clients and will stop taking regular guests once they have 30 full-time clients.
This is an interesting option because retirement homes are quite rare in Thailand. The culture there is different in that the kids are expected to take care of their parents when they’re old. The oldest son stays at home and gradually takes over the household as the parents get older. Nowadays, people move around more so every arrangement is a little different. Usually the older generations move in with the kids if they live far away from their home.
I think the Care Resort is a great option for older retirees. There are many retirement homes in the US, but they are quite expensive. For a lower price, you can live in a much nicer setting and enjoy a more luxurious lifestyle. The facility seems very good with competent help.
There are 2 full time nurses at the retirement resort and 26 helpers. Wow, that seems like a lot of helpers. This is just the medical staff and not including other resort personnel like gardeners, cooks, and maintenance staff. The medical staff is trained in CPR and the full array of senior healthcare skills. The nurses visit each client at least once per day for a health checkup.
There are 24/7 care support and guests can call for assistance from their rooms. They also have access to a medical alert that will bring the staff running. The nurses can take care of minor issues and healthcare maintenance, but guests would need to go to the hospital for major problems. Transportation to the hospital costs about $18 for a roundtrip with an accompanying staff member. The medical staff seems competent and they are very nice. The health staff also speaks some English.
Retirees would need to pay the hospital fee out of their own pocket. This is not included in the price of the retirement home.
The facility was quite impressive and it would be quite an extravagance here in the US. There are 2 nice pools, saunas, a fitness room, a small lake/pond, and a restaurant in a calm oasis.
The restaurant is particularly nice because the guest can have a meal whenever they want. The meal options are quite good with a mix of western and Asian choices. The restaurant is fully staffed and meals are cooked to order. Retirees could set a time to meet up with friends and socialize during meal time. The restaurant is in a nice outdoorsy setting.
The pools and saunas look good, too. Those would be useful when the sun is lower. The spa is at the club house near the pool, but spa services cost extra. The lake is neat, too. You could borrow fishing gear if you like fishing. The ground is good for walking around in and getting some exercise. However, it is not flat there. A little slope is fine when you’re stable on your feet, but it might be harder if you’re in a wheelchair or need a walker. You could get a staff to push the wheel chair as needed.
The rooms are quite nice and it feels like an all inclusive resort. Each unit is in a garden setting with a furnished outdoor terrace. Guests could add plants and other personal touches to make the space more homey. The basic units are like a good size hotel room with a bed, seating area, a small kitchenette, and a restroom. Bigger units are available at a higher price.
This is the basic room. It feels pretty roomy.
This is a bigger unit with a separate living area.
Older retirees need to have fun activities to fill their days, too. Life would be very boring if you sit around all day without anything to do. I think a major part of a healthy retirement should involve socializing with other people. The Care Resort provide various activities like arts and crafts, game nights, fishing, cultural events (like Loy Krathong), fishing, and supervised fitness activities.
There is also a computer room and staff to help retirees get online. Skype is available on the computer. The resort is equipped with WiFi for those retirees who are more savvy with connected gadgets.
The resort provides optional shopping trips and retirees can go into town at least once per week. They also go on longer trips to visit local attractions once per month. There are orchid farms, elephant camps, snake farms, butterfly farms, historical sites, and other sightseeing spots in the area.
The price structure is a bit complicated due to the variety of rooms and level of care needed. Currently, a basic single occupancy room starts at about $1,300 per month for long term occupancy (12 month contract). The price increases to $1,800 for double occupancy.
Bigger and lakeside units cost more. You’d probably need to visit and see if those nicer units would be worth extra. They cost $350 to $850 more depending on the unit. The unit with a separated living area pictured above would cost about $1,900 per month for single occupancy.
A great idea
All in all, I think this is a great idea for certain situations. This type of retirement could be a great fit for quite a few people here in the US. For example, if you don’t have family in the US, why not get more bang for your buck by retiring in Thailand. The cheap retirement homes here in the US seem somewhat dreadful. It would be much nicer to retire in a small all inclusive resort overseas. An average social security check would cover the cost of a basic unit and it seems like a nice retirement.
Option 3A – Government run retirement facility
The third option isn’t available to foreigners, but we stumbled into a Thai government sponsored retirement facility while we were on our way back to Chiangmai. This is a pretty interesting idea and my dad had never heard of it.
The way it works is somewhat strange. The government opened this facility and anyone can come in and build a small house in one of the 32 lots. This modest home would cost about $10,000 and that’s the major expense a retiree would have. The service is provided on a first come basis and once you’re in, you’re set. The government provides transportation to the market and to minor health checkups. You have to be functional, though. If you need more medical assistance, then you’d need to find another facility because they are not equipped to provide that level of care.
There is a waiting list and once someone is ready to move out, the next person on the list will need to negotiate a move out fee. The newcomer should pay the current occupier something to help them move to a new facility. This is how the retiree recoups the cost of building a home.
This is a government run facility so the option is only Thai citizens. I thought I’d include it here because it is an interesting option that I’ve never heard of. My dad put his name on the waiting list. This is not a resort and there are no amenities like a pool or a fitness room.
Option 3B – Wats
My dad said his plan for retirement is to become a monk at a Wat (temple). The Wat and the Thai government will take care of the monks. That sounds like a good plan, but I don’t know if my dad can really be a monk. He is an extreme type A personality and that doesn’t fit with my image of a monk.
A foreigner can become a monk in Thailand, but I’m not sure about how healthcare would work when you’re old. Also, it’d probably be difficult if you don’t speak the language.
Retiring in Thailand
So those are a few retirement options in Thailand. Early retirees like me could go with option 1 for many years and live a nice lifestyle with a modest cost. Once they need more medical assistance, they can transition to option 2. I’m sure the number of retirement homes will increase in the future because people are having less kids these days and family ties are loosening.
Would you consider relocating to a different country to upgrade your lifestyle after retirement?
I’m in a unique position because I have a Thai citizenship and I speak the language. This last trip to Thailand was really great and we’re toying with the idea of living there on a more permanent basis. We still want our kid to grow up and go to school in the US so we’ll have to wait until that’s done. Life flies by, though. RB40Jr will be grownup and out of the house before we know it. After that, it would be much easier to move abroad.