For many people, retirement means that there's finally time to take advantage of newfound freedom. If that definition of retirement appeals to you, an ideal destination when you leave the workforce may be Thailand.
Known as “Land of Smiles,” the country has undergone significant social and economic development in the past decade. In 2011, the World Bank upgraded the nation's income categorization from a lower-middle income economy to upper-middle income.
"Thailand boasts a very favorable cost of living
structure for retirees," Jonathan Galaviz, Chief Economist at the Galaviz
& Co. consultancy said in an e-mail. "The US dollar, even with its
lower global value, still goes a long way."
The tropical climate and low cost of living make Thailand an enticing destination. However, there are many other things the prospective expatriate will want to know in order to make an informed decision.
CNBC.com consulted the Tourism Authority of Thailand, retirement experts, consulting specialists and others to gain insight into the nation’s economy, health care resources and other issues that retirees should weigh when relocating. Read ahead to find out more about making Thailand your own retirement haven.
There’s no more crucial first step to assessing Thailand than visiting it. According to the Royal Thai Consulate-General in New York, passport holders from the U.S. are not required to carry a visa to visit as tourists.
If you like what you see but aren’t ready to commit to a permanent move, then it will be necessary to obtain a non-immigrant visa-O-A. This type of visa is intended for “applicants ages 50 and above who wish to go to Thailand for a ’Long Stay’ period of 1 year.”
Feeling It Out
Those new to Thailand will want to see the lay of the land for themselves. According to Kedsarin Hasenfus, public relations and marketing manager for the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s New York office, the country has a mass transit system that makes this relatively easy.
“Getting around in Thailand is very convenient,” Hasenfus said in an e-mail. “Thailand operates a good, cheap and safe transport system. From the main hub in Bangkok, all the major tourist destinations are accessible by either, bus, train, boat, or domestic and international air services.”
The retirement age in Thailand is 60, and the U.S. dollar goes far there. “We estimate that 50,000 Thai baht per month is sufficient for retirees to enjoy a decent lifestyle in Bangkok and major cities,” Hasenfus said. “In the provinces, the cost would be relatively less.”
50,000 Thai baht is the equivalent of just over $1,600, a reasonable amount for someone on a fixed income. “In a world where retirement incomes have taken a major hit, Thailand offers an opportunity to live inexpensively while enjoying an overseas adventure,” Rosanne Knorr, author of "The Grown-Up's Guide to Running Away from Home," said in an e-mail.
An individual is considered a Thai resident, and therefore subject to taxation, if they're in the country for at least 180 days during the calendar year. According to HSBC's Global Tax Navigator, those earning up to 150,000 Thai Baht per year, or approximately $4,900, pay no income tax. Those earning 150,001 - 500,000 Baht pay 10 percent, while those earning up to 1,000,001 Baht pay 20 percent, and those earning up to 4,000,000 Baht pay 30 percent.
The income tax rate at its highest is 37 percent, for those earning more than 4,000,001 Baht per year, or approximately $130,000. However, if your stay in Thailand is no more than four years, you can take advantage of a Special Expatriates Regime, which allows taxation at a flat rate of 15%.
The weather is subject to tropical monsoons, which affect
different parts of the country at different times of year. According to tourism
officials, the west coast sees heavy storms between April and October, while
the stormy season on the east coast takes place from September through
The Tourism Authority’s website also warns that during the “hot season” of March through June, inland areas such as Bangkok are subject to “punishing heat and high humidity.”
"Thailand is often hot and humid so that's a personal preference," Knorr said in an e-mail.
Retirees considering moving away from the U.S. must weigh their health care needs, and see if the local system can meet its demands. “There are well-trained physicians and good hospitals in the major cities such as Bangkok,” Knorr said. “Bangkok has good access to English-speaking health care providers and many hospitals have English-speaking staff.”
Galaviz also gives Thailand’s medical system high marks. ”Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok is consistently ranked as one of the best hospitals in Asia,” he said. “I have personally had my annual executive physicals performed at Bunrungrad Hospital for many years and have found it to be better than those performed in the U.S.”
See the full guide: Exit Plan -- How to Retire Abroad: Thailand
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