Why I Retired to Thailand

March 1, 2012

I just heard from a U.S. Consulate official here in Chiang Mai, Thailand that there are more than 8,000 registered Americans in just this town alone. Since I myself am not registered at the consulate and neither, it seems, is anyone else I know, it would appear that there are lots more than 8,000 Americans here. And we are one of the smaller contingents of peoples from around the world who have chosen to make Thailand their retirement homes.

Besides the wonderful people, the great food, the exotic atmosphere, the winterless weather, the constant requirement to learn new stuff, what makes Thailand so inviting for those looking to retire?  First let’s look at what generally makes for a good retirement. Here’s what I was looking for (Note: I would be looking for these things anywhere, whether in the U.S. or abroad).

  • Affordability
  • Housing
  • Health Care
  • Access (to family, books, news, sports, popular culture, etc.)

Note: I write about lots of these topics on my blog so to keep this post short I have provided links to my blog post where you can get some more information about retirement to Thailand.

Affordability:  I live off of Social Security along with some other savings that I have. That’s not a lot and if we had to remain living back in Seattle, a lovely place which we miss greatly, we would be quite hard pressed to make ends meet and would probably have to take on some kind of part-time work to survive. Thailand, although not the cheapest place to live in the world, offers a very affordable lifestyle for the amount of income that we now have. I have written on my blog about that in Cost of Living in Thailand Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Housing:  We live in a very nice 4 bedroom house with about an acre of land with gardens and trees where we raise chickens, ducks, rabbits, and started a conservation project taking in endangered mountain tortoises.  Foreigners cannot own land in Thailand but there are lots of loopholes that people use to get around that. (If you do want to buy, try reading my blog post on Owning a House in Thailand – A Caveat). My advice is to rent instead. To rent a house like mine would cost about $600 a month.  A very nice one bedroom place, with a garden, and all the amenities would cost between $250 and $400 a month.

Health Care:  The best thing to do about health care is to not get sick in the first place.  Here in Thailand we eat fresh vegetables and fruits daily, get lots of exercise in the garden, and take walks in the surrounding mountains. We don’t have a swimming pool but there is a beautiful pool and fitness center 5 minutes from here that costs $3 to use.  The second best thing is preventive care. We get a great annual check up from one of the really good hospitals here.  The cost is what you might pay for a meal in a nice restaurant back home. Find out more from my blog post Annual Checkup.

If you do need medical attention it turns out we are in luck. Thailand is a center for “medical tourism” and there are great hospitals here that are very affordable. I have been sick a few times here. Nothing serious but I did need a doctor.  As always, when something interesting happens, I blogged about it (Getting Sick and Getting Better in Thailand).

Access: We have 2 children and 2 grandchildren back in the U.S. We don’t like traveling long distances too often but we do miss them. Luckily we now live in the 21st Century and there is a wonderful invention called “Skype”. We talk often and can see our grandchildren grow (Skyping and Facebooking  – An Expat’s Lifeline). Nothing beats touch though and we’ll be visiting them this year.

Another thing I miss is TV shows, sports, and movies (I’m a popular culture junkie, what can I say?) Of course that would be something I have blogged about too (Keeping Up with Popular Culture While Living in Thailand).

Why I really live here

The real truth is, when I return to the U.S. I get bored. It is a pretty homogeneous place. Here I live in an exotic tropical land with lots of stuff going on that is new and strange to me. I am learning new stuff, learning a new language, meeting interesting people from around the world, having fresh and fascinating experiences every day. Going shopping in an outdoor market (there are lots of modern supermarkets too) is an event. Fast food here (although there are McDonalds and KFCs everywhere which I go to about once a year usually just as a reminder of why I don’t go more often) is getting stir fried veggies over rice at a roadside restaurant for a dollar.

At our last picnic lunch in our garden there were people from Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, France, South Africa and Northern Ireland.  Hard to get bored when there are that many strange accents floating around you.

When one does something new every day your brain has to revert back to a younger time. You’re back in learning mode. That forces you to think like a kid again.

Why did I retire to Thailand? Because here I have found the Fountain of Youth.


7 Responses to “Why I Retired to Thailand”

  1. lenny Aquilino said

    Yers I agree with you,Thailand is a great place to live..I do have one question for you?? How do you get around the american /bank conversion fees when using the local ATM machines.??

    I usually make two withdraws per month,(maybe 3).and of course,depending on the Baht aginist the USD,the conversion fees will differ on almost every day..On 3/1 I withdrew 20,000 Bahts..($600 dollars USD.the conversion fee was $65 dollars ,pluis $11.00 bank fees.(Bank Of America) Some banks (Suntrust) are even higher.You take a real beating from the American banks…

    Maybe you opened an account in Thailand,and have auto deposit sent to bank in Thailand..Thats the only way you are going to beat the American Banks..But then when you travel,the Baht is not worth that much on the wqrld market..

    Do you have any suggestions for getting lower conversion fees..??

    Thanks Len

    • Lenny,

      As I have said in earlier posts I don’t give financial advice. If I knew enough to give any then I would be rich – which I am not. That said I do have some thoughts on the subject. ATMs are not the best way to go when it comes to bringing money into Thailand. If you are going to be spending a goodly amount of time here then it would be best to get a Thai bank account. You could then wire transfer money here (there are fees there too, I’m thinking $40) and transfer enough money for your whole time here and then you would pay only one fee. If you aren’t too concerned about getting robbed then why not bring in enough cash in the first place?

      A $600 ATM transaction, and paying a $65 fee plus and $11 bank fee is way too much. Sorry, but there is no way around the exchange rate. That is just the way bankers have made money for thousands of years (Remember Jesus at the temple? People were upset at bankers’ fees back then too.) BTW, auto deposits also have fees, as do cashing checks. The banks win in the end.

      I’ve written a piece on banking in Thailand that might help. Take a look at it here https://retire2thailand.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/banking-and-money-in-thailand/.

      Lots of luck.

      • lenny Aquilino said

        Thanks for your time,I kind of thought that,but I thought I would ask…Thanks for your time

    • Louis Powers said

      Have you thought about getting a visa debit card through either Fidelity Investments or Charles Schwab who will reimburse your ATM fees. That way you will only have to pay the visa conversion fee which should be just 1%. I have the Fidelity Investment visa debit card and it works great every time I go to Thailand. You can even apply for it by opening an account at Fidelity.com. I hope this helps.


      • lenny Aquilino said

        Louis,thanks for the advise..I never thought of that..Yes,since I will be in Thailand for sometime ,I will contact the companies you have mentioned..

        Thanks Again

  2. Chuck Durlin said

    Hugh, If you are not registard with the government don’t you have trouble with imigration when you travel? I and my wife (who is Thai) plan to live there when I retire, but I don’t really care for the 90 day check in policy of the government there, is there a legal way around this?

    • The check in I mentioned was with the US Consulate (suggested, not required). There is absolutely no way around the 90 check in that is required by Thai Immigration. I did my 90 day check last week. It took 20 minutes. 20 minutes every three months. Not really much of an inconvenience.

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