Imagine this. You climb out of bed and wander into the kitchen. Your maid is cooking breakfast. Coffee is brewing and there’s a glass of freshly squeezed juice on the table.
After breakfast, you book a 5 star holiday. You take three of them in Southeast Asia each year. This one is to Bali.
After your food settles, you drive to the country club to play tennis with a friend. You enjoy a light lunch. Then you spend a few hours at the spa where you pamper yourself each week. Such a retirement isn’t fantasy. In fact, the average American could afford it—in Thailand.
In Thailand, you could call a pedicurist or masseuse to come to your living room. Within 15 minutes (or less) one would arrive. Even Donald Trump might have a tough time pulling that one off. But you would also need to be flexible. You couldn’t make a one-stop trip for groceries, a computer and a bicycle tire at Wal-Mart. It’s also hot all year, and not everyone speaks English.
In 2013 Kathleen Peddicord wrote a U.S. News article, Retire In Thailand For Less Than $800 A Month. But what if you spent, in Thailand, what the average American retiree spends at home? According to JP Morgan, that would be $44,897 per year. They determined their estimates based on the 2013 Consumer Expenditure Survey. Spend that much in Thailand, and you could live like the rich, even if you aren’t.
I recommend a city like Chiang Mai. It’s popular among expat retirees. And at 1000 feet above sea level, temperatures are bearable. They average between 69 and 89 degrees Fahrenheit (20-32 degrees Celsius). Humidity averages 70 percent. Home to 160,000 people, it has plenty of Thai and western-style restaurants. Starbucks coffee shops are common.
You can rent a luxurious four-bedroom, 4,300 square foot home for $2000 a month, including garden care. If you prefer condo living, you could get a 3 bedroom, 1,900 square foot condo for $1,500 a month.
The website at Numbeo.com compares costs of living in different cities. It assumes that people rent. According to Numbeo’s surveys, a standard of living that costs $52,800 in Austin, Texas would cost $62,400 in Seattle Washington; $43,200 in Tampa, Florida; $51,600 in Pittsburgh, PA; and $48,960 in Toronto, Canada.
But in Chiang Mai, Thailand, it would cost $22,644. Spend $40,000 a year and you could afford a full-time maid, at least three 5-star holiday weeks in Southeast Asia and plenty of pampering. Thai massages cost as little as $5 an hour; oil massages cost $6.50. If you want a top quality spa, you’ll have to pay more. But it’s still a fraction of what you would pay in the United States. A 2-½ hour Oasis Pampering package at Chiang Mai’s Oasis Spa costs $84. It includes a Body Scrub, an Aromatherapy Hot Oil Massage, followed by a Thai Facial.
Thailand is also popular for its quality medical and dental facilities. Among the top 25 countries ranked by International Living magazine, only Malaysia’s facilities earn a better rating than Thailand.
Private health care insurance is also cheaper in Thailand than it is in the United States. But many retired expatriates prefer to go naked. At least, that’s what Billy and Akaisha Kaderli call paying out of pocket for medical costs. The couple retired abroad when they were just 38 years old. Now in their early 60s, they spend plenty of time in Chiang Mai. They don’t pay medical insurance. She says that the money they save on policy payments opens the door to paying out-of-pocket.
I spoke to a retiree in Chiang Mai who said much the same thing. He isn’t rich. He lives on Social Security. But he says, “If I get something like Alzheimer’s while living in Thailand, I can afford to hire a qualified nurse to move into my home and care for me.”
Bangkok’s Bumrungrad International is Thailand’s most famous hospital. It attracts patients from all over the world, including many of the wealthiest from the Middle East. But it’s also cheap, by U.S. standards. The average cost for a hip replacement is $17,545. A knee replacement costs $14,816. Heart bypass surgery costs $37,210.
But kick a foreign country’s tires if you’re considering a move. Find out the worst time of year to be there. Plan a long-term visit then. For Thailand, that would be March to June. Temperatures are at their peak. If you enjoy it then, you’ll love it during the rest of the year.
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller, Millionaire Teacher and The Global Expatriate's Guide to Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat.