There’s a world out there where people like you and me (middle class earners) are living the life of Riley without millions of dollars. 

Many of them are reluctant to talk about it–preferring to keep their little Edens to themselves and a tight group of friends.  But when I find someone living like a Rajah on a paltry retirement income, I listen.  And then I dig to find more.  I’ll share my findings here in a fascinating three part series.
Indonesian Paradise

Fraser Rea likes getting value for his money, but he isn’t the kind of guy who’s going to scrimp on luxuries.

 He and his wife Shary, both in their mid 60s, created an idyllic retirement solution allowing for a winter get-a-way in tropical luxury, without breaking their pocketbook.   With many people’s retirement portfolios still reeling from the stock market’s battering, and with layoffs sending many North Americans into an economic sand trap, Fraser and Shary’s retirement paradigm is one that a growing number of people are warming up to.

The Reas own a small villa in the quiet seaside town of Sanur, where they spend six months a year on the idyllic island of Bali, Indonesia.  A 20 minute drive to an international airport, Sanur’s shoreline boasts an endless sandy beach and year-round 30 degree (87F) water.  Honeymooners frequent the romantic evening stroll along the tastefully lit, brick, beachside path, while the six kilometre route attracts morning walkers and joggers as they pass lushly surrounded restaurants, quaint seaside chalets and luxurious resorts.  Bali might be one of the few places on earth where you can stand 10 meters from the border of a 5 star hotel and not even know it’s there; the Balinese built many of their resorts into the dense tropical vegetation.

Fraser, who worked in the marketing and sales department of a British Columbia based electronics firm, first came to SE Asia on a business trip in 1988.  Frequent, progressively lengthier holiday visits convinced him and Shary to buy a Balinese villa near the beach last year for a fraction of what a comparable place in North America would cost.  Foreigners can’t own land in Bali, but they can buy a home and lease the property. 

Fraser has a 17 year renewable lease on the property which was included with his purchase price.  He and Shary enjoy escaping the cold, wet winters of Sidney, British Columbia. “Our Villa complex is managed by a Balinese based company, owned by a professional Indonesian and her European husband who live, work and are raising a family in the local community. This combination of East & West brings a lot of value and expertise to the Management of our complex,” explains Fraser.   And while they’re back in Canada for the summer months, their management company rents out their villa for them.

Fraser admits that you can find accommodation for a lot less than he paid (such as cheap, long term rentals) but he likes dealing with an efficient management company, suggesting that it makes the lease, purchase, maintenance and rentals a lot easier to deal with.  And it’s the affordable, luxurious living that really attracts the couple.

Retirees on a tighter budget can enjoy the neighbouring island of Lombok for more of an undiscovered feel.  Getting there from a major North American city, you’d fly to either Jakarta, Indonesia or to Singapore, before transferring to a Lombok-bound flight. 

A man we’ll call Denis Leroux, a doctor and former resident of Quebec, Canada, has lived on the lush, volcanic island for seven years.   An enthusiastic bike racer in his 50s, he joins a pack of local racing cyclists for regular 140 km cycling rides around the beautiful island and enthusiastically supports Lombok as a retirement destination.  “The lifestyle’s fabulous,” he says, “And you can rent a house in Lombok for just $250 a year.”  He just laughed and gave me a funny look when I asked if that price included a hot shower and flush toilets.  Of course, it does.

Despite the cheaper prices in Lombok, Fraser Rea prefers Bali’s added conveniences, where he lives luxuriously on less than $2000 a month—including massages twice a week, eating out at least once a day, having a maid service six days a week, and enjoying evening wine by their private plunge pool at night. 

Other Bali bargains include prescription eye glasses.  Fraser found that they cost a third of what they cost in Canada.  And there’s a top quality dentist they see who charges between $25 and $30 to check and clean their teeth.
Despite the benefits of living luxuriously on a small retirement portfolio in SE Asia, there’s something besides friends and family that many Canadians and Europeans are reluctant to leave behind.  Popularly demonized as a socialized symbol of inefficiency by our American Republican friends, many of us recognize that Canadian, European, Australian and Kiwi medical plans aren’t always easy to pull ourselves away from.

That said, Fraser insists that the sun also shines beyond the socialized medical nets.   “There are reasonably priced, international medical clinics servicing tourists and expatriates in Bali,” he says, “And they can adequately stabilize serious injuries.”  Insurance policies are also available to cover medical evacuation to Singapore or Thailand if higher levels of care and facilities are required.

 The average retiree might shudder at the thought of hanging their hopes on Thailand as a medical salvation, but Fraser Rea views it differently.  After receiving medical treatment at Bangkok’s top international hospital he vows that “The Medical care facilities at the Bumrungrad private hospital in Bangkok are as good as or even better than what is available in Canada”.

It’s best to visit Bali first, contact an established real estate company, and they can help you find the sort of home you’re looking for.  Don’t forget to always negotiate.  Expatriate retirees can also be a great source of information.  It’s easy to pay long term rental costs that are far less, per month, than many tourists would be paying for a handful of days.  Don’t be fooled by high posted rates online.  As a long term renter, you have great bargaining power. 

Parts 2 & 3 — Thailand and Malaysia.