If you're planning on retiring in Thailand, there's a bunch of things you need to consider, some of which you probably haven't yet thought of.
And that's the purpose of this post; a checklist of sorts to make sure you have everything covered.
First we will look at where to live and the pros and cons of city vs. island vs. upcountry life. Then we will cover financial considerations, healthcare, driving, learning Thai, and more.
I'm sure you'll have a question or two pertaining to your personal circumstances, so feel free to drop that in the comments section at the end of the post and I'll be happy to answer it for you.
The Ultimate Thailand Retirement Guide
Location: Where to Live
The first consideration is where are you going to live?
Most people who retire in Thailand have some idea of where they want to live, be that a place they've holidayed before, near friends, or living with a Thai partner. However, if you don't have ties to a particular area but have a couple of places in mind, I encourage you to visit and spend some time there before making a final decision.
Think about what you want from life. If you're 50, you might still want to be out three nights a week enjoying bars and late nights. If you're 70, you might really appreciate peace and quiet and early nights.
Location is everything. If you can't tolerate noise then certainly don't live in a tourist hotspot where there is likely to be a lot of loud music, foot traffic and road noise at all hours. And if you're easily bored, forget about sleepy country towns.
Think about whether you want to be by the beach, in a city location or a rural area. Let's explore those three options.
The Rural Life
Some retirees don't have much of a choice in where they live as their better half already has a forever home in Nakhon Nowhere. Of course it makes sense to live near family, but this isn't always ideal for the foreign national in the equation.
In this case, it might make sense for you to live in a location closer to a bigger town, or a couple of hours away by the beach.
The thing is, the quiet life is great for a while, but socializing is an important aspect of health as we grow older.
You don't want to be so isolated that you seldom talk to anyone. And if you don't speak Thai, you will feel like an outsider among the only people you get to interact with on a daily basis.
This is the problem with rural towns and villages: There may not be another foreign national from your home country for a few miles and, with all the locals speaking Thai, you'll only have your thoughts for company.
A lot of people will say, “I like the quiet life and being on my own”.
Yes, so do I, but I'd think carefully about being too isolated, as loneliness can lead to depression and negatively impact health. Having people to interact with, and having the odd conversation each day, contributes a lot to your mental wellbeing.
Moreover, it puts a lot of pressure on your relationship if your partner is the only person you have for company. You will be reliant on her/him for everything, yet she/he will likely be busy with family a lot of the time.
Having a few friends, someone to have a coffee or a beer with, to play golf with, to chew the fat on western politics with, is important.
Of course, if you're still very active and mobile you can always take regular breaks away from a small town/village and visit the beach or a big city. That said, traveling becomes an increasing hassle and inconvenience as you get older: Long drives, train rides, airport lounges, it's an effort. It's far better to have what you need on your doorstep.
Another challenge of rural living is getting around. Even if you live in a village a couple of kilometers outside of the main town, you will still need a car to get your shopping and make necessary trips.
- Are you still comfortable driving?
- Can you afford a car? (They are pricey in Thailand)
- Does your wife/husband drive?
- Do you want to be reliant on others for transport?
There is always the option of a motorbike – a small 100cc bike – but do you want to be riding one of those at 65?
Village life isn't as isolated as it was 20 or even 10 years ago. Most villages have a small convenience store, and many have a 7-Eleven and a Tesco within walking distance; it really depends on how pedestrianized the location is.
The Island Life
Living by the sea is good for your health, and what better way to spend retirement than sitting on a sandy beach and looking out over the ocean.
The challenge, however, is finding reasonably priced accommodation in a beach location, and one that meets your needs in terms of noise pollution and local amenities.
One plus point is that unlike central city living, you can find a house to rent or buy rather than having to rent an apartment. Some people won't mind an apartment, and to be fair if you've lived in Thailand for a while you get used to condo living.
But for me personally, the older I get the less appealing an apartment is. You have to pay a big premium to get something spacious in a good location, you have to put up with the noise of neighbors, and if there are two of you it gets a bit claustrophobic.
A motorbike really is essential for getting around an island, and the further you stay from the main town the more likely you are to need transport. That said, if you have the budget to take a taxi whenever you want (taxis are more expensive on islands) then it's a good option in my opinion.
It's not a huge expense though. Let's say you are living in Bophut, Koh Samui, and you took a taxi to Tesco or Big C (there and back) once a week for your shopping, that would only cost you about 400 Baht (about $12).
Koh Samui is a good option for retirement in my opinion. Some say it is too built up now, and in places, compared to 25 years ago that's true. But it still has lots of beauty and charm. The island isn't that big either, so getting around, even by taxi, is easy, and there are a number of beach locations that are away from the crowds.
There are lots of expats there, too, so it's easy to make friends. There are always lots of markets and events going on. And they have lots of good hospital options.
Some areas of Phuket are worth considering too:
- Rawai is for the quiet life.
- Kamala is similar to Rawai but for those with a little extra budget.
- Laguna is great for those who like golf.
- Patong works for those who still crave the bar scene.
Phuket is a lot bigger than Samui and has less of that island vibe. The towns of Samui are closer together, making it easier to explore. That said, one advantage Phuket has is that some countries fly direct to Phuket airport, whereas Samui always requires a transfer from Bangkok.
This is a big consideration, as long-haul flights can really take it out of you as get older.
Hua Hin is an option too, though the beaches aren't very good and it's quite spread out, making the need for a car much greater. When compared with Phuket and Samui, Hua Hin is much sleepier and feels a tad boring, in my opinion.
And then there's Pattaya, which is somewhat city-like but with a beach to boot, and the red light district, of course.
I'm not really a fan of the area, but it is well located in terms of its proximity to Bangkok and the airports. It has a big retirement community, too. Jomtien, 3 kms down the road, is a more picturesque option.
The City Life
The obvious city to retire to in Thailand is the Big Mango, Bangkok.
Close to the main airports, cheap transportation around the city, restaurants, bars, massage shops and 7-Eleven's on every corner, lots of people to interact with, plenty of expats to meet, Bangkok is super convenient.
The downsides are lots of traffic, heavy pollution, super humid weather, and you will most likely need to live in an apartment because there are fewer options to rent a house in the inner city. Bangkok isn't exactly picturesque, either, and this concrete jungle can wear you down at times.
One thing I love about Bangkok is that there's always something going on. It's hard to feel lonely because life is everywhere, 24/7.
If you're active, you will never get bored exploring the city and its history, and when you're out and about you're interacting with people all the time, who are just as interested in you as you are in them.
It must be said that one thing Bangkok isn't is disability friendly. If you use a wheelchair, part or full time, or walk with a stick and struggle on busy sidewalks and awkward pavements, it probably isn't the city for you.
One might consider Chiang Mai instead of Bangkok; a much smaller city, and one steeped in nature and rich in culture and historical sites.
The main differences between the two are size and how busy Bangkok is. Bangkok is easier to get around, though, unless you are happy to ride a moped, which is essential in Chiang Mai.
I've written about the retirement visa extensively, so I won't go into too much detail here. Basically, you have two options:
- Get a 90-day single entry Non Immigrant O Visa from your local Thai embassy. Enter the country on this visa. Once in Thailand, open a Thai bank account and deposit 800,000 Baht. Once this money has been in the account for 60 days you can apply for a 1-year extension of stay based on retirement at a local immigration office. You will have to report to immigration every 90 days. This is called 90-day reporting. It can be done online, too. You must be 50 years old to apply for the extension of stay based on retirement. More on the Non O Visa retirement route here.
- The other option is to get an O-A visa. This is obtained in your home country at a Thai embassy, and gives you a 1-year stay upon entry to Thailand. It sounds easier than option 1, but it comes with a number of hassles, including having to do a police check (criminal record, etc), and having to buy mandatory health insurance. More on the O-A visa route here.
The easiest way is to follow option 1.
Please note that though we refer to it as such, there is no such thing as a retirement visa, only these two options aimed at retirees: An extension based on retirement, obtained through a Non O Visa, and the O-A Visa, obtained in your home country.
Buying or Building a House
Depending on your financial situation, you might want to buy a property in Thailand.
Before you do, I'd urge you to consider that rent is cheap here and may be the better option. In most cases, renting for 20 years+ will cost you way less than buying a place.
Renting also gives you the freedom to up and move location, or to return back home without the hassle of selling a place or renting it out through agents.
There's an old adage for happiness in Thailand (among expats) that says, “Rent everything and own nothing”.
Bear in mind that a foreigner can't own land in Thailand, unless it's part of a business set-up, which is a little complicated and not available to those who don't have the correct company setup in place.
So if you “buy land” with your partner, he/she will own it; you'll just be fronting the cash, and paying for the house build.
You can lease land, as described here, and you can buy a house on land with a lease. There are also some luxury, so called “branded properties”, that offer a freehold arrangement. These developments circumvent the law using a loophole, as described in my detailed article on ownership, linked below.
Buying a condominium is the easiest way to own property in Thailand. You can own one outright and leave in your Will without the worry of a lease.
Working / Starting a Business
You are not permitted to work on a retirement visa. It's a strict rule and one that you should never break, as doing so will risk deportation.
If you do find a job, or want to start a business, then you will be required to change your visa status.
Starting a business isn't as easy as you would might think, though as detailed in this starting a business article.
Expats and foreigners are not able to access healthcare in Thailand via the country's universal health program, unless they have worked in Thailand previously and have a social security card.
You may already have a health insurance policy in your home country, so you'll need to check if that will cover you internationally when living in Thailand.
If you haven't got a policy, then you have the option of taking out a local policy, which will cover you in Thailand, or an international policy, which will cover you when traveling abroad or visiting back home.
A domestic policy is obviously cheaper, as it only covers local healthcare.
If you are over 75, and/or you have a serious health condition, you may not be able to get health insurance. Either that or the policy premium will be way too expensive. In this case you should consider putting money away each month to cover any potential illness.
Healthcare is much cheaper in Thailand than in the west, and if you've got a pretty pension and a stack of savings you might be if the advantageous position of not having to worry about hospital care fees, should something unfortunate happen to your health.
Something else you might need to sort out is life insurance. If you have an existing policy you will need to check with your policy provider that it can be transferred to Thailand.
If you're getting married or cohabiting with a partner in Thailand, then you may want to consider paying a monthly life insurance premium to ensure your partner is financially secure when you pass.
Quite often it is the case that the foreign national in the relationship is 10 or even 20+ years older than his partner, and therefore likely to die first. It is therefore prudent to make plans for her/his life without you.
Because you are moving country, there may be other financial investments and considerations that you need advice on, too. For life insurance and financial planning, you can speak with my Thailand-based IFA.
Opening a Bank Account
There are plenty of options for expats when it comes to banking. You will be able to get a basic checking account with a debit card and online banking.
Open a bank account as soon as you can, as it makes life a lot easier. You will also need to deposit the 800,000 Baht in a Thai bank for a minimum of 60 days before you can do your 1-year extension of stay (based on retirement) at an immigration office.
Sending Money to Thailand
You will no doubt have to transfer money into Thailand on a regular basis, be it for spending, rent, or big purchases like a car or property.
The cheapest way to do this is through Wise. Basically, you send money to Wise from your home bank account and Wise then sends the money to your Thai bank account.
The advantage is that you avoid sending and receiving fees, and you get the mid-market exchange rate, as opposed to the rip-off rate given by banks. All you pay is a small handling fee to Wise.
Don't forget to bring your driving license with you. You won't be able to hire or buy a car or motorbike without one.
If you are retiring in Thailand, then you will need to apply for a license. This involves taking a number of tests.
If you already have a driving license from back home, then you will need to do the following when applying for your Thai license:
- A short eyesight test (color perception, peripheral vision, depth perception)
- A reflex examination
- A computer based test (available in Thai & English language only) on the rules of driving
If you don't have an existing license from your home country, then you will need to take the Thai driving test too.
Socially speaking, it pays to learn Thai, so you can converse with taxi drivers, shop keepers, and those in a position of authority.
Speaking Thai can also save you money, as your bartering skills will be that much better.
It makes sense though, right? If you live in a country you should be able to speak the language. It's a no-brainer.
I know, at 50+ it's not easy to learn a new language, let alone one with a different alphabet. The good news, however, is that Thai isn't hard to learn. In fact, you will be surprised just how quickly you pick words up and how soon you are able to form basic sentences.
A great place to start is Thaipod101 – online learning software designed to help you learn Thai fast. It's free to get started.
Retirement / Care Homes
It's a bit gloomy to think about our final years of life, but being in the last couple of laps, so to speak, means your health can take a sudden turn for the worse.
What will your plan be if you suddenly become immobile, develop dementia, or need round-the-clock care for a serious illness?
Some maybe lucky enough to have a partner who is willing to become a carer, but even that might not be viable after a period of time. The good news is that there are care homes in Thailand that cater for expats. All the most popular areas of the country have options.
I have written about these retirement homes here.
Making a Will
Most expats gloss over the need for a Will because their investments are mostly back home. However, having just a few assets in Thailand makes a Thai Will necessary.
For example, if you're on a retirement extension, you have 800k Baht wrapped up in a Thai bank account. You will no doubt have another account for withdrawals. You may end up buying a car or a motorbike, too, and you will have possessions in your home.
Dying without a Will makes it problematic for your family to access your estate, and the Thai legal system isn't easy to navigate.
A Will that clearly outlines your intentions for the property you leave in Thailand will make the process smooth, and negate the need for family members to spend money on lawyer and court fees to prove their right to your estate.
You can read more on making a Will in Thailand here.
As you can see, there's a lot to think about when considering retirement in Thailand, so I hope this guide helps make your planning easier.
Hopefully you can use this as a checklist to make sure you have all the bases covered.
This guide could easily have been 15,000 words+, but rather than provide every detail here I have tried to make the sections concise and provide enough of an overview for you to get a good understanding. And then, where further information might be useful, I have linked to a dedicated article elsewhere on the site that provides comprehensive information and all the finer details.
I will update this guide periodically if I think of anything else you might need to add to your retirement checklist, but in the meantime please feel free to ask questions below. And if you know someone else who is considering retiring here, please forward them this guide so they can benefit from the information too.