More Thailand Q and A

June 16, 2011

I get lots of inquiries from this blog site and from the Retire 2 Thailand website about life in Thailand. Occasionally I will compile a few of the more interesting questions and try to answer them here.

How much does one need to retire comfortably at age 50?

This is a frequent and often difficult question to answer – mostly because of one’s definition of the word “comfortable”. This concept is different for each of us. So the best way to answer this question is to look at what things cost in Thailand, and then decide how much you will need to spend to be “comfortable”. From people I know, this number can range from about 10,000 baht per month, to hundreds of thousands of baht per month.

A few of our former blog posts might help in figuring this out for yourself.

What is the best way to get my monthly Social Security checks forwarded to Thailand?

I have my SS check automatically deposited into my U.S. account (with a large international bank) and then twice a year I write checks on that account and deposit them into my bank here. It takes 6 weeks to clear so I have to time the deposits so that I have enough to live on and I don’t run out before the check clears. It costs about $20 per check and I have never had a problem.

A reader has added a different method below. I have not tried this but you might want to look into it.

In answer to the issue of the best way to automatically transfer funds from US to Thailand:

  • Open a Direct Deposit savings account with any branch of Bangkok Bank in Thailand that will open one for you.  Hugh’s Note: As of the last I checked, all one normally needs is 500 baht and your passport to open an account. But direct deposit accounts may have some fees associated with them. Be sure to check this out for yourself.
  • Have your payor in the US make a direct deposit into the New York City branch of Bangkok Bank, ABA routing Number: 026008691, referencing your Bangkok  Bank, Thailand, account number. New York will then get the deposit credited to your Thailand account within 1 business day. You will receive an SMS message on your mobile phone when the funds are available in your account. Go to any branch of Bangkok Bank with your savings passbook and passport to access the funds.
  • I believe there is about a $5.00 charge on the New York end.
  • The only downside is you must personally show up at a branch to get or transfer the money; no internet or ATM or sending someone else.

It seems Thailand does not want Americans as permanent residents. Constantly having to renew visas or leaving the country for a visa run is not a good thing.

A retiree (50 years old and over) must have 800,000 baht deposited into a Thai bank account for a period of 3 months prior to applying for a retirement via, or proof of 65,000 baht per month income (they are much more strict checking this now as before all you needed was a letter from your embassy – now you need a letter and to show some proof too), or a combination of both. Retirement visas must be renewed once a year (Fee: 1,900 baht) and you must show up every 90 days to report your current address (No fee). If you leave the country you must get a reentry permit (Fee: 1,900 baht) or you will lose the retirement visa once you leave the country and then you will have to reapply. If you are less than 50 and/or don’t have the amount needed for deposit, then it’s visa runs for you.

The Thai visa rules are fairly strict and probably should be with so many people trying to circumvent the rules (lots of deadbeat foreigners here). I personally have never thought that these procedures where too much to ask, especially if you compare them with what a foreigner would need in order to get an extendable one year visa in the U.S. Oh, I forgot. That’s almost impossible without lots of cash (millionaire type cash).

So taking these into consideration, I must conclude that Thailand loves American permanent residents much more than America loves foreign permanent residents. I simply live with it. For the whole of last year, adding the time it took to renew my visa and all the 90 day reporting, I probably spent a total of 4 hours at immigration. Just bring a good book. It’s well worth the wait.

I have read that Chiang Mai being a basin surrounded by mountains, the fog and other pollutants do not get easily blown away, and it hangs around forever. Also that such an environment is very bad for people with Asthma and other lung diseases – records show that incidence of these diseases are increasing every year by leaps and bounds !!  So the question is…Is there any place within the outskirts of Chiang Mai, may be 10 to 20 miles away, that can be called pollution free.

Chiang Mai is surrounded by mountains but is itself in a flat plane. So it is in a bowl as is said. When the dry season comes around, and the rains don’t come, and the fields are being burned, and the forest fire season is here, there can be severe smog and unhealthy air conditions. This usually occurs between March and June. At other months I don’t think that there is a problem.

A few years ago we had to leave town for 10 days until the air got breathable again. Older people and those with lung diseases had a very difficult time. Someone I knew wound up in the hospital ICU for 21 days when his lungs decided that they didn’t want to work anymore. He is better now and now that he has stopped smoking he hasn’t had a recurrence. For the last 3 years things have been better and this year we didn’t really have a dry/hot season and the rains came early and there were no really bad smog days.

But the questions about places to go to escape the smog can be answered by telling you where I tried to escape to. We drove from here to Sukhotai, still smog, then to Pitsanuloke, still smog, then over the mountains to Khon Khaen, more smog, and finally to Korat where the air began to clear up. The smog problem that year was not isolated to Chiang Mai but went from Myanmar, to Laos, to the Northeast of Thailand and parts of Central Thailand. Chiang Mai, being the tourist destination that it is, just got all the press about it.

Hugh’s note: Although there is some smog each year, we encountered that kind of heavy pollution once in the last 10 years. Our plan this year was to fly to Kunming, China when the smog came. The smog didn’t come, so we banked the money, maybe to be used next year.

Check the Regional Air Quality Graphs from the Pollution Control Department to check the current, and past, air quality around Thailand.

We are in our 50s and plan to retire to Thailand. But our youngest child will still need to go to school. What options do we have? 

When I first came to Chiang Mai there was “The International School”.  That was its name – there was only one. Now there are many “international Schools”. Some are affordable and some can be quite expensive. Some have great reputations where their graduates all seem to get into international universities. Others are rather new and haven’t been tested yet.

The best thing is to visit the schools on an exploratory trip here, interview parents and students, and see what you think. As a start, take a look at this page from my website. International Schools in Thailand

How difficult will it be to get my prescription medication in Thailand.

Many medications that you would need a doctor’s prescription for back home can be gotten over-the-counter here. It would be best to bring your medication and/or prescription with you and go to a good pharmacy. There are two kinds of “drug stores” here in Thailand. One that sells cold remedies and cosmetics and is run by somebody’s nephew who needed a job, and the other kind where there is a legitimate pharmacist in residence and will carry most of the widely used medications.

You can also get your medication from a hospital’s pharmacy. But they are quite a bit more expensive. Also be aware that the medication here may not be of the same brand name as what you are used to. So be sure you have the generic name of the medication you need.

Also, you will often have the option of getting medication that is locally made and medication that has been imported. You should check with your doctor and/or the pharmacist, and ask them if the imported brands (much more expensive) are superior to the locally made ones. Some local brands are fine and equal to imported brands while some can be quite inferior.

Is there a site I can go to that shows the insides of standard rental houses?  I’m most curious about what the Kitchens and bathrooms look like. Do they have water heaters, washer dryers, etc?

Thai real estate companies and their websites can be quite sophisticated. Just do a Google search and see what you come up with. Here is a page from the first link I came up with (I do not endorse any company). But to help you get started here are a couple of wevsites carrying places in Chiang Mai.

As to the second part of your question, most condos do not have kitchens but rental houses will. Some will be Thai style kitchens (often outdoors) while others will have “western style” kitchens, with stove, sink, refrigerator, cabinets, etc. No dishwashers or hot water in most kitchens in Thailand though. Almost all bathrooms will have electric coil, on-demand hot waters heaters. But you might want to check to see if they have western style toilets and not Asian “squat toilets”, unless of course this is something you might want; from what I hear they are much better for you and lots cleaner, if your knees can hold out of course.

Condos, apartments and many houses will have washing machines (some coin operated) but I have never seen a clothes dryer here (except a clothesline in the sun). If you are near a tourist area or in a larger city, or near a university, then there are always people who will do your laundry for you for a small, per kilo, fee.

If you have a question about retiring to Thailand leave it in a comment. I try to answer every question (weather I have any idea what the answer is or not). I’ll get back with another Thailand Q & A post later.

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The Age of Gold

June 3, 2011

I just looked at my passport and it says that today is my 65th birthday. That can’t be right. Seems like just yesterday I was 22 years old and stepping off that Pam Am 707, Round-The-World Flight #001, at Don Muang Airport in Bangkok for my first time. It was Durian season and the aroma was deadly, and I swear the temperature was 150 degrees. I almost got right back on the plane and kept going to the next stop (Katmandu I believe).

But they must have been some pretty good years, as I find myself healthy and happy (As a child of the 60s you can’t expect me to remember them all.)

The Thai language has a number of interesting ways to describe someone who is older than dirt like myself. One is ผู้สูงอายุ /pôo-​sǒong-​aa-​yu/ – “a person with a high age”. Another is คนที่เกษียณแล้ว /kon-​têe-​gà~​sǐan-​láew/ – “a person who has already retired”. But my favorite is วัยทอง /wai tong/ “the age of gold”.

I feel rather lucky to be living in Thailand during this milestone age of gold. I am one of those first of the Baby Boomers to reach 65 and I often think about what my life would be like if I were still back in the U.S.

  • If I were back in America I would probably be attempting to live off my Social Security, and that failing, would be looking for a job to support myself. If I were lucky then maybe a position as a Wal-Mart greeter would open up. In Chiang Mai, Thailand my SS check goes a lot further, and although I am not rich I am quite comfortable here. As the Thai saying goes พอเพียง /​por-piang/ – “I have enough.”
  • Here is a quote from a web article I just read today “Working well past retirement age – or simply not retiring – is becoming the only strategy available to some people.” Hey, there is another strategy – and I am doing it right here.
  • In the U.S. I would have access to the Medicare system, at least until the Tea Baggers try to take it away from me. Because Medicare does not pay when one is outside the United States, I have put some money in a savings account and consider it my own personal emergency medical insurance. Although hospital prices are beginning to climb in Thailand, they are still very reasonable and the medical care here is quite good. How did I know how much to save? I have saved enough for one bypass surgery. I am figuring that I won’t need two.
  • The nicest thing about being the age of gold in Thailand is the respect that the people here show to someone who has lived as long as we have. Instead of being old and forgotten as I probably would be back home (not counting all the people I would be saying “Welcome to Wal-Mart” to of course), here I am sought out for my opinion and wisdom and am treated with deference and respect wherever I go. In america, if some young stranger said to me “Uncle, let me carry those bags for you.” I would either give a Robert De Niro impression from Taxi Driver and say “You talkin’ to Me?” or I’d run away. Here it would be the norm.
  • There is no winter here.
  • Since I am not one of those Expats who sit around all day with alcohol and beer traveling through my bloodstream I am able to keep myself physically fit with good outdoor exercise and lots of fresh vegetables and fruit and good and inexpensive medical and dental care.
  • I can ride my 125cc Honda Dream motorcycle past rice fields and through tropical forest roads and pretend to be in a California motorcycle club riding a Harley.
  • Since I don’t have to spend my days greeting shoppers at Wal-Mart I have time to take up new activities to keep my brain from atrophying. So I am learning to play the piano and sing like “The Piano Man”. My latest song is “Love is a Many Splendored Thing”. Shmultzy, I know. But so romantic I downloaded the move from which it is named. And even though I may be a “person with high age” Jennifer Jones can still make my heart quake.
  • I just recently shot an 88 on a beautiful, scenic, tropical golf course in the shadows of the Doi Suthep Mountain. The course is something out of a Golf Channel’s show titled “Beautiful Topical Resort Golf Courses You Can Only Dream About Playing”. Here it was $12 for 18 holes.
  • I read this morning that 1 in 3 Americans is obese. In Thailand I am surrounded by thin, in-shape people. That gave me the incentive to lose 20 lbs. I’m still fatter than anyone here but look totally anorexic when I go back home.
  • Climbed Doi Kham mountain this morning. It’s a short mountain but said to have had a religious shrine on it for a thousand years, or about 5 times as old as my own country. There I gave thanks in front of the statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kuan Yin, my family guardian. Buddhists don’t really have any One to thank (Kuan Yin is a representative of the expression of compassion and no one really thinks she is still hanging around.)  but it doesn’t stop us from being thankful for what we have.
  • I have been married to the same Thai woman for the last 40 years. One way to remain happy is not to get divorced. One way not to get divorced is to work at being happy. It ain’t easy but it is worth it and a happy life seems just a little bit easier to accomplish here when you have “enough” and don’t have to wake up early to get to your job at Wal-Mart.

So I look forward to starting every new day here in Chiang Mai. Something interesting and unusual always seems to happen. Maybe it will be that bull frog that I’ll find in my shoe, or swerving out of the way of a 2 meter long snake as I ride my imaginary Harley down a country road, or getting stung by a half dozen killer wasps after sitting on a chair where they were building a nest (that happened today), or meeting up with some beautiful young people who call me “uncle” (better than “grandfather”), or a Skype call from my son in Afghanistan telling me he is safe and well, or my daughter-in-law in Seattle showing me my granddaughter’s latest accomplishment, or showing us how her belly is growing with our second grandchild, or my older son up in the San Juan Islands near Canada telling me about the ocean wildlife he encounters on his sea kayaking tours, or a Facebook message from an old college friend, or birthday greetings from loved ones, or a rainstorm, or a new flower in bloom in our garden, or seeing the 20,000th hit on my blog, or my wife making my favorite Thai dish, or just that naughty bowl of ice cream to close out my day.

It’s not all great being “golden” of course. Some stuff doesn’t work the way it used to, and I fall asleep watching even interesting shows on TV, and every time I get up from a chair I make loud grunting noises. Bette Davis once said that “growing old isn’t for sissies”. Yea, but I wouldn’t trade it in for the alternative. And I wouldn’t trade my life here for anywhere else right now.

If my passport is correct then I am quite thankful for making it to 65. I’d like to take this opportunity to send my birthday blessings to all who are reading this and my wish that all god’s children find happiness.

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