How to Retire in Thailand Comfortably
Thailand is among the more popular countries in the world to retire to, which comes as a surprise to absolutely nobody. With great weather, beautiful beaches and a very friendly population that speaks very good English (at least, in the major cities), it’s already a fantastic holiday destination. Add a pretty solid infrastructure, a low cost of living and first-rate healthcare and the question of how to retire to Thailand naturally springs to many a mind.
According to International Living, Thailand ranks within the top 10 places to retire, largely thanks to its convenience. The country’s central location in Southeast Asia makes it a great base to explore the region from, the access to modern facilities and technology makes life very easy and the tropical climate is a great relief to sufferers of arthritis. The fact that there’s already quite a large expatriate community scattered across Thailand means that you’re never short of friends and can get hold of those essential little luxuries like Branston Pickle and Vegemite, too.
Of course, it’s not a perfect place, but nowhere in the world is. The roads are notoriously dangerous, the cost of imported foods is high and there some restrictions on foreigners that seem a little unfair. However, these can generally be worked around or avoided, making for a wonderful life of leisure. If you want to know how to attain that life, this guide on how to retire in Thailand is for you.
How to get a retirement visa for Thailand
The first obstacle to entering any country is getting a visa. Fortunately, retiring to Thailand is so popular that there is a specific visa classification for that. The Non-Immigrant O (“Other”) visa covers a number of reasons for entering the Kingdom, as the name suggests, and one of them is retirement.
To qualify for a retirement visa, you need to meet two basic requirements:
- You must be at least 50 years old
- You must have proof that you can financially support yourself
- You can either have a monthly income of 65,000 baht
- Or you must have 800,000 baht in a Thai bank account
For the 800k option, you need to be able to prove that the money has been in your account for at least two months before applying for the visa. You must also still have at least 400,000 baht in your account for at least three months after you get the visa. In other words, you need to actually have the money – you can’t just borrow it for a few days to meet the visa requirements. The visa will need to be renewed annually and you’ll still need to meet these requirements each time.
Sadly, once you’ve got the visa, your interactions with Thai government officials are only just beginning. You need to add in the requirement to report to an Immigration office every 90 days. The so-called “90-day report” is a bit of a chore, during which you need to wait around a government office for however long it takes you to get to the front of the queue just to hand in a couple of forms to keep the Immigration Department updated on your current address. However, given that you can spend the intervening 89 days sipping beers on a beach in Thailand, four days of hassle per year is a small price to pay.
In terms of actual paperwork required, you will need to submit the following:
- Visa application form, completely filled out
- Passport or travel document with at least 18 months of validity remaining
- Recent passport-sized photograph (3.5 x 4.5 cm), taken within the past 6 months
- Evidence of adequate finances (as stated above)
- Proof that you have retired
Applying for the Non-Immigrant O visa isn’t too difficult and you can find companies in Thailand who are very willing and able do the legwork for you. Given that government business in Thailand is naturally handled in Thai, using one of these services is recommended as they can make communication a lot easier, smoothing any bumps in the process far quicker than you could doing it on your own. They know how to retire in Thailand from having handled the process dozens of times before – potentially hundreds of times. As such, none of it will come as a surprise to them.
While the requirement of an income when you’re supposed to be retired does seem a little counter-intuitive, to say the least, this can take the form of a pension or passive income. In fact, since you can’t work on a retirement visa, it can only come in those forms. You’ll therefore need to set up a means of regularly transferring money into the country.
Getting money into Thailand
Fortunately, while transferring money out of Thailand can be a challenge, getting it into the country is relatively easy. There are various options available for transferring your pension into the country, starting with the obvious option of getting it paid into a bank in your home country and then getting it wired into Thailand.
The quickest and simplest approach is to use a remittance service as the fees are lower, the transfer is instant and the exchange rate is excellent. Using a bank transfer is also possible, but is slower and generally less cost-effective. The downside with either of these options is that you will still be paying tax on your income in your country of origin, despite the fact that you’re not living there.
If you’re looking at how to retire in Thailand from the UK, it’s worth looking into QROPS (Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme), which may enable you to relocate your pension to Thailand so that it pays out directly into your Thai bank account. However, retirees from other countries may have to look into private pension schemes and particularly into the regulations regarding how they pay out.
The cost of living in Thailand
The good news is that 65,000 baht per month (or an 800,000 baht lump sum) goes a very long way in Thailand, particularly if you pick where to retire to with a degree of care. Bangkok, Phuket and Koh Samui are among the more expensive places to live while Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Hua Hin are among the cheapest. Each has its own distinct environment, as well as its own benefits and attractions.
When it comes to figuring out the numbers behind how to retire in Thailand, your exact cost of living will depend very much on how and where you choose to live. However, we can use Bangkok as a general guide:
A comfortable one-bedroom apartment = about 10,000 baht per month
Utilities (including internet, phone, water and electricity) = about 2,500 per month
Food (eating mostly local food) = about 100 baht per day
Food (eating mostly foreign food) = about 300 baht per day
1 beer = about 100 baht, depending on the brand and where you buy it
Comprehensive medical insurance = about 6,000 baht per month
One of the things that’s going to come as a surprise to you is the things that cost a lot of money and the things that don’t. As imported goods are heavily taxed, you might find yourself paying two or three times what you would on something as simple as a potato compared to its cost in your country of origin. On the flip side, goods produced in Thailand are significantly cheaper than they would be overseas. So, for example, you might find that the amount you spend on new clothes is minuscule, but the amount you spend on food skyrockets. The easiest way to reduce the impact of this is to stick to the local stuff which, with Thai food having an amazing reputation for flavourful dishes, isn’t that hard.
A further point that’s worth noting here is that, as the baht strengthens, the cost of living relative to your native currency will increase. This can become a problem if you’re planning to live off a pension which is regularly transferred into the country from overseas. Currency fluctuations could result in significant changes to your budget from one month to the next.
Healthcare in Thailand
A natural concern, when it comes to questions of how to retire in Thailand, is the quality of the healthcare. After all, to put it bluntly, you’ll be needing their services more and more as you get older. Fortunately, Thailand’s medical services are exceptional – if you can afford them.
Much like any country in the world, the private hospitals in Thailand are significantly better than the government ones. The difference is just a little more marked here, in that the private hospitals are so good that they have given Thailand a reputation as a first-class medical tourism destination, but the government hospitals are way down at the other end of the spectrum and are best avoided if it’s at all possible. They do the best with what they’ve got, but the difference in funding and resources makes the two incomparable.
One of the reasons why people come to Thailand for medical treatment in private hospitals is that procedures are practised with the same degree of expertise and professionalism you would expect of a western hospital, but at a fraction of the cost. It’s still expensive, so medical insurance is still effectively essential, but it’s still a lot cheaper than you’d pay in a US hospital, for example. The prices for regular check-ups are also extremely cheap, so remember to plan for quite a few years when thinking about how to retire in Thailand.
Where to retire in Thailand
While it is possible to live out a comfortable retirement in the Thai countryside, it is a lot more challenging. Outside of the main cities, English is less widely spoken, western comforts are harder to find and even basic facilities like flushing toilets become harder and harder to come by as you get further into the sticks. As a result, most people choose to retire in or near to the cities.
Among the top choices are Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Hua Hin, though there are a few other more cities slowly being added to the shortlist. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages:
The country’s capital, choosing to live in Bangkok makes figuring out how to retire in Thailand very simple since you have the best choice of facilities and benefits. The city is roughly equivalent to living in a western city, with the option for wonderful conveniences like having your groceries delivered to your door. It has the best public transport system of any Thai city, so getting around is easier. And there’s plenty to do that’s worth getting around for!
- Great public transport
- Lots to see and do
- Excellent services and facilities
- Excellent hospitals
- Quite a high cost of living
- Noisy and busy
- Air pollution can get bad
Thailand’s largest island is best known for its beaches, which it has more than 40 of. If you’ve got a bit of money to spend, it’s a place that can offer a lot, with luxury marinas, great restaurants and swanky properties. It’s also a great hub for some of Thailand’s most remarkable natural sights and beautiful beach destinations, such as the Phi Phi Islands, Krabi and Phang Nga. If you’re picturing your retirement in Thailand as being one long holiday, this is the place to aim for.
- Plenty of beautiful beaches to choose from
- Plenty more natural attractions nearby
- A few good hospitals
- Clean sea air
- Almost no public transport
- High cost of living
- Few big and interesting happenings
Only a couple of hours’ drive down the road from Bangkok, Pattaya is one of the most popular places for Bangkokians looking to escape the city for the weekend. That means that there’s a huge supply of condos and houses to rent and buy, so the cost of living is pretty low. With a very large and well-established expat community, getting hold of home comforts is very easy. The city itself is a party destination, but you don’t have to drive far into the suburbs to find peace, quiet and a choice of dozens of golf courses.
- Huge choice of golf courses
- Some good beaches nearby
- A few good hospitals
- Lower cost of living
- Has a reputation for seediness
- Bad traffic in the city, especially at weekends
- Outer areas relatively undeveloped
The capital of the north is a very different city to those in the south of Thailand. The Lanna culture there is fairly distinct and the food is noticeably different. However, the people are some of the friendliest of any in Thailand, which is saying something for a country known as the Land of Smiles! Chiang Mai is the destination of choice for digital nomads because of the excellent internet connection and extremely low cost of living. As a result of a growing expat community, the choice of western restaurants, nightlife, shopping malls and other facilities is starting to grow.
- Low cost of living
- Very relaxed atmosphere
- Lots of low-cost property available
- Unique culture and cuisine
- Air pollution can get very bad
- Few big and interesting happenings
- Gets very hot in summer and very cold in winter
Hua Hin has been a destination of choice since people started looking into how to retire to Thailand, so the small coastal town near Bangkok already has a good community of retired expats. It’s got some very pleasant beaches and lovely national parks nearby, so this is definitely the top choice if you like fresh air and countryside. Even the town has a very countryside feel to it, with the biggest tourist attraction (other than the beach) being the train station. Having nothing like the fame of Phuket, it’s also got nothing like the same pricing, making it one of the cheaper places to retire to.
- Low cost of living
- Nice beaches and national parks nearby
- Very relaxed atmosphere
- Lots of low-cost property available
- Extremely small, quiet place
- Limited choice of good hospitals
- Limited choice of pretty much everything
Buying property in Thailand
If you’re looking into how to retire in Thailand, you’re naturally looking to stay for the long term. It therefore raises the question of whether to buy or rent a place to stay. Renting is naturally easier, but more more expensive in the long term. Buying costs you a lot in the short term, but will become more cost effective in a relatively short time.
The added issue is that there are relatively few circumstances in which a foreigner can own property in Thailand. You need to invest a significant amount of money in Thailand before you’ll be able to legally own land and you can’t even buy a condo if less than 51 per cent of the properties in the building are owned by Thais.
One option is to get a Thai to put their name on the property deeds, but that requires putting a huge amount of faith in that Thai. If they decide to betray you, you will have absolutely no legal recourse to reclaim your property. There are a few other options available, but that’s a topic for another page. For now, suffice it to say that it’s possible but not particularly easy to buy property in Thailand.