Our search for where in Asia to retire had been resolved! So why did we choose Thailand and Hua Hin specifically as our starting point for this ‘New Life’ as retired Aussies in Asia?
After reading the Sell Up, Pack Up and Take Off book and other online resources we created a spreadsheet of the countries to consider as starting destinations. It was a reference tool in our decisions making and listed the obvious Asian countries plus Panama and Ecuador.
Criteria across the top of the spreadsheet included things like – Visa requirements including availability of ‘retirement visas’; stability of government; quality of health care; cost of living (compared to Australia); ease of assimilation (e.g. use/familiarity of English); personal safety; consistent legal system and the protections it provides to foreigners (e.g. in the situation of home ownership or other assets); ability to own and operate a small or micro business.
As already explained in a previous page Panama and Ecuador dropped off the list, unfortunately, despite their attractiveness, due to currency issues (AUD versus USD).
Malaysia and Thailand ‘scored’ the most points and were, therefore, top of the list. When investigating the “Malaysia My Second Home” retirement visa further there were negatives like you could own a business but could not work in it. Also, each State of Malaysia set the minimum amount of money you needed to invest in property so there was no consistency and this restricted our freedom of choice.
In our planning, we thought that if we needed to generate some additional funds over time then being able to operate a simple business like a B&B was important, so Malaysia slipped in our rating for those reasons.
Cambodia did not meet several of the criteria including health care, the stability of government, protection for foreigners and a specific retirement visa. For us, this was disappointing as we felt we had a special connection with Cambodia from our travel there in late 2011. We had spent 6 months upon our return trying to find a way to get work and move there but could not make it happen.
Indonesia and Vietnam in our view also had drawbacks for political, visa and/or property ownership reasons.
For us that left Thailand. Stability of government was still an issue but the administration (Army) seemed to be focused on creating stability and keeping a strong economic focus including keeping foreign investment and tourism happening– meaning foreigners were still welcome.
So if Thailand was to be our starting point – but where in Thailand?
All the well-known places like Phuket, Koh Samui, and Pattaya where many Australian tourists have holidayed did not fare well on the cost of living stakes as they were used to having foreign money coming through their cash registers and things were priced accordingly.
The far north of Thailand with locations like Chiang Mai and to a lesser extent Chiang Rai fared well on the cost of living. Chiang Mai had a strong expat community and given its strategic location close to the Myanmar (Burma) and Laos borders was targeted by the Thai government for investment and held ongoing political importance. It certainly topped the scale for best cost of living and ease of assimilation for expats (like us). But Chiang Mai was some 7 hours north-west of the capital and close to still relatively unstable neighbours (Myanmar and Laos).
Hua Hin came in second on cost of living, was only 3 hours from Bangkok and was a coastal town which was appealing. The tourist hotspots of Koh Samui, Phuket or even Pattaya were 5 to 8 hours’ drive away if we wanted to visit with Malaysia just a little further south if you continue driving. This offered much more versatility – especially as one of the key goals for our new life was to travel and explore!
We do not consider ourselves as big risk takers so choosing Hua Hin, sight unseen was a big gamble!
Our decision was made on all available information but we had no personal experience with the location. We had never been there and did not know people who had visited, or actually lived there!
As part of our research, Vivien did make connections with a few (very welcoming) expat ladies via a networking group called ‘Chicky Net’ which was based in and focused on Hua Hin. And of course, we had read all we could on Hua Hin and trawled through expat online forums focused on Hua Hin.
In our mind, Hua Hin was to be our starting point, and if it did not ‘fit the bill’ after having spent time there then Chiang Mai would be our next port of call!
Our initial Thai ‘retirement visa’ was for 12 months and had to be renewed after that time – so if the situation in Thailand did not prove to be as we liked or expected we had the opportunity of looking elsewhere! It also could be that situations in other Asian countries improved to a point where they became more attractive.
That is the great thing about this ‘new life’ – we have the flexibility!
We hope you enjoy our story and do contact us if you have any questions, comments, or wish to share your story if you too are living as an expat in Asia.