This continues our series on how ordinary people on middle class incomes can retire more luxuriously than the millionaires in their hometowns–just by making a paradigm shift and getting on a plane.

Amazing Thailand

Bring up the subject of retiring in South East Asia, and the first arguments brought up by your well-meaning friends will be something like this:  “What if you get sick?  Do you really want to be getting sick in Thailand?”

What your pals might not realize, is that massive numbers of people, each year, actually flock to Thailand for medical treatment–from seemingly first world medical nirvanas, like the United States.  But why would they do that?

Thailand’s growing reputation for first class medical facilities might be fuelling its draw as the most popular South East Asian retirement destination.  Many of the doctors hold U.S, UK or Canadian medical board certification.   And Bangkok, its capital city, showcases six medical facilities with U.S. hospital accreditation.

Don Tetley, from Toronto, has lived in Thailand since 2002, and he’s very comfortable with the medical facilities in Thailand.  Retired from military contract work, the 65 year old former U.S. and Saudi Arabian resident now calls Cha Am home. A quaint seaside favourite for expatriate retirees, it’s about a two hour drive south of Bangkok, on the eastern coast, and roughly 25km from Hua Him, where the Thai King lives.  With quiet streets and a lengthy pristine beach for walking or water sports, Cha Am’s an attractive place for European and North American retirees to live luxuriously on a fraction of what it would cost at home.

Don suggests that a variety of companies offer medical insurance to wealthy locals and expatriates but they’re relatively expensive.  Many retirees choose to pay for medical expenses out of their own pockets instead.  And when you see the prices of the procedures, you can understand why.  First class Thai hospitals can charge less than $10,000 for a heart bypass, and just $5,000 for a hip replacement.  You can get an MRI for $350—and you don’t have to wait for it.  Medical tourism is rapidly growing in Thailand, where foreigners from Europe and North America are flying to Thailand for everything ranging from cancer treatment to sex changes.  More than 350,000 international patients visit Bumrungrad International hospital each year.  As Thailand’s flagship hospital, it’s been described as a 5 star hotel coupling as a state of the art medical facility.

Don Tetley, whose hobbies include running weekly with Hua Hin’s Hash House Harriers, is comfortable with his access to top medical treatment.  And he’s not alone.  Don’s lively Hash running club boasts about 100 members—mostly retirees from Britain, Scandinavia and Germany–who left their own socialized medical plans behind.

And when asked why he lives in Thailand, Don speaks of the friendliness of the Thai people and the perfect weather.  Then he adds with a laugh, “I also got tired of trying to keep up with the Jones’ back home.  And here, I get to be Jones.”  With 2-3 bedroom townhouses with air conditioning renting for just $300 a month in Don’s seaside town, it’s gentle on a retiree’s pocketbook.

Despite being a destination for upper class living on a shoestring, there’s also a hedonistic upper end.  In the popular retirement location of Hua Hin $3,800 a month gets you a 3 bedroom beachside condo with an imported Kitchen from Switzerland, a private beachside swimming pool, a rooftop swimming pool, a Jacuzzi, and a beach that you’d share with guests of the 5 star Sheraton hotel.

If you’d prefer to join a slew of other expatriate retirees away from the coast, you can get a lot more for your money while experiencing some of the greatest things Thailand has to offer.  The country’s second largest city, Chiang Mai is a coveted location for travellers, boasting a lively night market, nearby elephant safaris, jewelry making and fabulous guided, multi-day eco-treks into the mountains.

Dave Norcott, a former high school principal from Courtenay B.C., leaves his current home of Singapore for Chiang Mai whenever he needs dental work done.  “The clinic I go to is the most modern dental facility I’ve ever been in,” he explains.  “They’re exceptional dentists, many of which were trained in England, the U.S. or Australia.  And the service is unbelievable.”

Prices range from $25 to $58 for a filling, and you can get root canals done for as little as $150.  They also cater to tourists wanting teeth whitening, implants, and a wide array of other dental services.

House rental prices are also enviably cheap in Chiang Mai, with modern 4 bedrooms, 3 bathroom houses with covered garages and fenced yards for less than $320 a month. 

Those on a tighter budget can get away with paying less than $160 a month for a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom home, and the most expensive rental house we could find in Chiang Mai is a 3000 square foot, 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom teak home with a palatial driveway entrance for $1,770 a month.
It’s not hard to see why Don Tetley suggests that he can afford a lifestyle in Thailand that he never could in Canada.  “Massages and maid services are also cheap, and so is eating out,” he says.

One of Don’s favourite Thai restaurants costs less than $5 each for a three course meal, including beer.

And for those who can’t pull themselves away from North American fast food, he says that his town has a KFC, a McDonald’s, a Subway and a Burger King.

To get around, Don drives a 2009 Toyota pickup; fuel costs are 25% less than at Canada’s fuel pumps, while the cost of servicing a car in Thailand is about 75% less.  He enjoys paying as little as $5 to have his truck fully washed and “detailed”.

But he admits that a few things are changing in paradise.  The political climate in Bangkok has been unstable this year—even causing a brief closure of Thailand’s largest international airport.  And the world economic downturn has affected Thailand as well.  Many expatriate retirees are being forced to leave because the reductions in their retirement portfolios have reduced their income.  If you can’t prove that you have an income of at least 80,000 Thai Baht a year ($2,500 U.S.) then your annual visa can’t be renewed.  Don has a few friends who may have to leave at the end of the year.
Local employment layoffs have also increased tensions for some people, and local muggings are being reported.  “It’s still a lot safer than Toronto or Vancouver,” insists Don, “But we had never even heard of muggings occurring here before the economic crisis.”

It might be music to the ears of the Malaysian government.  They’ve been making concerted efforts to draw more retirees to their own country in recent years.

Thailand–Further Details and Links

Thailand’s Bumrungrad International Hospital, located in Bangkok, has a growing worldwide reputation as one of the world’s best hospitals.

Thanks to the rapidly growing medical tourism industry, there’s plenty of information found online about Thailand’s top rated medical facilities.

Because of the very inexpensive medical costs, most expatriates in Thailand seem to prefer paying out of pocket for medical procedures.  But if you’re more comfortable with establishing a set, predictable budget, you might be more interested in taking out medical insurance in Thailand

If you’re hanging around Chiang Mai, one of Thailand’s favourite expat rental communities nestled near the mountains, you’ll run across loads of tourists who have flown in from around the world for inexpensive dental work.  Living there will give you full access to it.

House rentals in Chiang Mai start at $160 a month.  And remember, there’s always room to negotiate.

If you’d rather live like a hedonist on the beach, in another large expatriate retirement community, there’s always Hua Hin, where you can live in 5 star luxury for $3,800 a month.  Or you can easily finding a more modest 3 bedroom townhouse for just $350 a month

Photos of the lovely seaside town of Cha Am, where Don Tetley lives within a large expatriate retirement community.
Photos can be found here…
You can also find a large retired community of Europeans and North Americans in Phuket.  For luxurious accommodations at $3,700 per month, you can have twice-weekly maid services, a swimming pool, a weight room facility and complimentary shuttle services within Laguna, Phuket.

For multiple entry and exit visas to Thailand.
More Info…

Next Week — Part 3 — Malaysia