There are two common ways to retire a full decade before Mr. and Mrs. Jones. The first isn’t rocket science. Avoid consumer debt and invest early. If you invested $375 per month from age 20 to 55, you would have more than a million dollars if you averaged 9 percent.
But few have the foresight (or the resources) to invest from such a young age. Most people start later. Life can also jam a pump in their spokes. A job loss, divorce, or higher than expected educational costs can send them to the pavement.
It is possible, however, to retire with a lot less than you might think. Kathleen Peddicord has been writing about retiring abroad for the past 28 years. In 2014, she wrote The World’s 9 Most Affordable Places To Retire for U.S. News. The cheapest place she listed was the beautiful beachside city of Nha Trang, Vietnam. She says it costs just $650 a month to live there. That figure is close to the mark.
International Living’s Michael Evans profiled retirees Jo Thomson and her husband Marc Brand. For the past two years, they’ve used Nha Trang as a base to explore South East Asia. Marc says you can rent a house in Nha Trang for as little as $200 a month. They stayed in a fully furnished studio apartment. It was a five minute walk from the beach and cost just $300 a month. The studio’s price included cable, Wi-Fi, a small kitchen, maid service, laundry six days a week, a security guard, a weight room, and utilities.
But is it really that cheap? I flew to Vietnam last week to find out for myself.
I had dinner with Owen Bell. He has been living in Nha Trang for the past six years. He met his Vietnamese wife in Canada. Soon after getting married, the couple moved to Vietnam. “This allowed me to retire at 52,” he says. To keep busy, he helps his wife run a guesthouse. He also writes a blog about living in Vietnam and he runs personal (often one on one) tours through the Vietnamese countryside.
He says retirees can live on $700 a month---with this caveat. “…if you want a high level of western comfort, you’ll have to pay more.” After eating a delicious roadside seafood meal, Owen took my wife and me to his rooftop patio. “Many of the retired expats stay over there,” he says, pointing to a modern high-rise building just off the beach. They pay about $600 a month for rent.”
For many Americans, Vietnam still conjures painful images of war. The Vietnamese call it the American War. U.S. involvement was from 1965 until 1975. But the country has been safe and peaceful ever since.
Mark Brown first came to Vietnam as an 18 year-old soldier in 1966. “The beaches were beautiful,” he says, “Even at the time, I could imagine that one day they would be lined with hotels. I knew that I would have to come back.” He left Portland, Oregon five years ago to retire in Nha Trang. “About $1,500 to $2000 a month gets you a really nice standard of western living,” he says. Brown rents an ultra modern 2 bedroom, 2-bathroom home for $550 a month.
“By far, it’s the safest place I’ve ever lived in my life,” he says. According to the World Bank’s data on global homicide rates, Vietnam is almost twice as safe as the United States.
Home to 93 million people, Vietnam borders the warm waters of the South China Sea. The water in Nha Trang is perfect for swimming. Surface temperatures average 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The city has a tropical climate, with high temperatures ranging from 82 F to 91 F and lows in the high 60s.
Of course, Vietnam isn’t for everyone. In the 2 weeks I’ve been here, I haven’t seen an ambulance. And the road systems are crazy.
“Serious medical procedures are best done in Bangkok” says Mark Brown. Thailand has world class facilities, such as the internationally renowned Bumrungrad hospital. But it would take two short flights to get there from Nha Trang.
That said, with the increasing numbers of expats retiring in Vietnam, medical facilities are improving. The quarterly publication, What’s On Nha Trang, gives expats and tourists suggestions of where to eat, what to do, and where they can find quality services. The magazine says the recently opened Tam Tri General Hospital has raised the bar on medical care. “International standards of care are followed as a matter of course.”
And the country’s medical costs are cheap. Owen Bell’s wife had a battery of recent tests done at Saigon’s top new hospital. “It included full blood work, vision tests and hearing tests,” he says. “They also did MRIs, ultrasounds and x-rays. The doctors were all trained in either North America or Europe. And it cost just $220.”
In Nha Trang, you could retire 10 years ahead of schedule. But test the waters first, to see if it’s right for you. Rent a comfortable apartment for a month. It would cost about $500. Thirty days in the city will tell you more than any guide book or article ever could.
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad currently living in Chapala, Mexico. He’s the author of the bestseller, Millionaire Teacher and The Global Expatriate's Guide to Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat.