Retiree Don Tetley grew tired of trying to keep up with the Joneses when he was working. “Now,” he chuckles, “I get to be Jones.” No, he didn’t win the lottery.. He lives comfortably on his Social Security check—after moving to Cha Am, Thailand in 2002.
A three course meal at one of Don’s favorite restaurants costs $5. And that includes beer. In his seaside town, you can rent a 3 bedroom home for $300 per month. You can pay much less than that if you wander further from the tourist’s hub.
On a tighter budget? No problem. You can rent simple two bedroom homes in the popular inland city of Chiang Mai, for just $230 per month. Or if you’d rather be the local lifestyle leader, you could frolic in the swimming pool of your large rented house for $1,600 per month. Maid service, pool service and property maintenance are part of the package. You’d never have to cook or clean again.
What’s the catch, you might ask? I’ll share a colorful one.
I visit Thailand half a dozen times each year. Beyond the obvious distance from home, the most unfortunate sob tales I’ve heard are those of retired single males who move to Thailand and discover that they’re suddenly Brad Pitt. Many lovely Thai women (even the men can be gorgeous) strive to win the hearts of westerners. They marry, put the newly purchased home, car and bank accounts in their names, then divorce their Prince Charmings to become the richest single women on the block. By Thai law, the assets belong entirely to the Thai citizen. Young expatriate workers have also been duped.
That said, con artists seeking sugar daddies are the exception, not the rule. Most Thais are incredibly honest, friendly, and the country is safe.
The capital city of Bangkok has had its share of recent political unrest, but violent crimes are as infrequent in Thailand as they are in the United States. You can forget what you watch on CSI; America (and Thailand) report some of the lowest per capita murder rates in the world.
If safety is your primary consideration, Thailand could be a good match. In contrast, the homicide rate in Ecuador (voted International Living’s number one retirement destination) is three times as high as it is in Thailand. My Ecuadorean friend, Patricio Frias, skypes me monthly with his personal reports of kidnappings and shootings in the capital city of Quito. Last week, his ex-wife was taken at gunpoint while driving (she’s now safe) and three of his friends have been shot (one killed) within the past 18 months. No, he’s not a mafia lord: just a friendly businessman with a couple of nice kids. The odds of finding anyone with similar Thai derived stories are next to none.
While you’re not likely to get shot in Thailand, you could still get sick. A variety of companies offer medical insurance to wealthy locals and expatriates. Although it’s a fraction of the U.S. medical insurance cost, Don Tetley claims there’s a cheaper option. Many, instead, choose to pay for expenses out of their own pockets. The country’s top medical facilities are beyond the price range of the average Thai citizen, but they’re cheap by American standards. First class Thai hospitals can charge less than $10,000 for a heart bypass, and just $5,000 for a hip replacement. You can get a MRI for $350.
Medical tourism is rapidly growing. Foreigners from Europe and North America are flying to Thailand for everything ranging from cancer treatment to sex changes. More than 350,000 international patients visit Bumrungrad International hospital each year. It’s not uncommon to find uber-wealthy middle- eastern oil moguls choosing Thailand for their medical treatment.
Newsweek correspondent Joe Cochrane visited the hospital and stated that Bumrungrad’s patients “get treatment redolent of a five-star hotel.” Attracted by “world-class medicine at developing world prices,” it’s “a magnet for medical tourists,” treating more foreign patients than any other hospital in the world.
But don’t take my word, or any magazine’s verdict, if you’re thinking of leaping to a foreign retirement destination. Take a three month vacation first. Rent a home in the country you’re curious about. Speak to the locals. Speak to expats. Then make your decision. Try the shoe on yourself. See if it fits.