From the golden beaches to the fabulous food and friendly people, it's easy to see why Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles
For years, its warm climate, relatively inexpensive cost of living and laidback lifestyle have attracted tourists and expats from around the world for both short-term and long-term stays.
Some of the world's most beautiful beaches are located in the south of the country. From the bustling seaside resorts of Koh Samui and Pattaya, to the more tranquil islands of Phi Phi and Lanta, there is something for everyone who dreams of retirement in the tropics. Some expats prefer to live in the smaller villages that dot the coastlines on both sides of the country, where accommodation costs are much less expensive and life is slower paced. It is still possible to find furnished townhouse and condo rentals within five minutes of the beach for less than $500 per month.
Bangkok is the center of the country, both geographically and financially. From a small trading post in the 15th century to a metropolitan area with a population of over 14 million, this massive city dwarfs Thailand's other urban centers. Some foreign retirees have chosen to live in this populous capital and enjoy the hubbub atmosphere of the city. The colorful markets, modern shopping malls, numerous entertainment venues and efficient transit system are just a few of its inherent benefits.
Other expats prefer the serenity and inexpensive lifestyle of Chiang Mai in the northern part of the country. The "old city," now the center of a sprawling metropolis, is surrounded by a deep moat and remnants of a wall that once offered protection against the armies of the Mongol Empire. This Lanna cultural center of Thailand boasts over 300 colorful Buddhist temples, and several universities and technical colleges. Chiang Mai appeals to many expats because it has managed to retain its local traditions and culture while providing all the modern amenities that are sought after by its newest residents.
Although lacking in beaches, the northern part of Thailand is dotted with several large national parks. Here you will find Doi Inthanon National Park, where the highest mountain peak in the country is located. Those who enjoy the outdoors flock to this area of the country to partake in mountain biking, hiking, camping and touring the local mountain roads to visit the many interesting hillside tribe villages.
As with most other Southeast Asian countries, Thailand is alive with festivals throughout the year. During the Loi Krathong festival, thousands of people throughout the country assemble floating banana-leaf containers decorated with incense sticks, flowers and a candle, and float them on local waterways. This coincides with the Yi Peng festival in northern Thailand where thousands of glowing rice paper lanterns are released into the sky to produce a spectacular sight. The annual Chiang Mai flower festival showcases the flora and fauna of the region. The highlight of this celebration is the flower festival parade that draws thousands of tourists each year to the city.
Thailand is a great place to live—full- or part-time. After spending time in the country, many expats are told by their friends that they look 10 years younger. With the wonderful weather, great food, inexpensive healthcare and friendly local residents, it is not difficult to understand why many choose to call Thailand their second home.
Get Your Free South East Asia Report Now
Learn more about Thailand and other countries in our daily postcard e-letter.
Simply enter your email address below to sign up for IL’s free daily postcards and we'll also send you a Free Asia Report - The Best Islands, Beaches and Cities - South East Asia's Top 6 Retirement & Vacation Destinations.
Get Your Free Report Here
- Population: 67,091,089
- Capital City: Bangkok
- Climate: Tropical; rainy, warm, cloudy southwest monsoon (mid-May to September); dry, cool northeast monsoon (November to mid-March); southern isthmus always hot and humid
- Time Zone: UTC+07
- Language: Thai
- Country Code: +66
The place they now call home is a Cape Cod-style cottage on the hillside of a popular neighborhood. But this is a relatively recent development. For nearly two decades, they’ve been sailing around the world together. Years ago, they discovered that a sailing retirement was a lot easier (and cheaper) than they ever could have realized. And they didn’t need a vast amount of knowledge to get started.
“The main attraction is the beach. People don’t come here to do stuff, they come here to relax,” says Canadian Robert Stanley, owner of Bobby’s Bar & Restaurant, a popular expat gathering place at the south end of the Thai beach town of Hua Hin. With a population of around 90,000 people, Hua Hin (pronounced “Wha Hin”) is around a three-hours’ drive south of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand’s west coast. The country’s royal beach resort for almost 100 years, Hua Hin is also home to a community of between 3,000 and 5,000 expats.
Along with being a low-cost and tropical retirement haven, Thailand has long been an international destination for medical tourism. Why? Because healthcare is low cost and excellent quality. I should know. I’m a retired Canadian schoolteacher living in the northern city of Chiang Mai, with personal experience of two hospitals here—one public and one private. In both I felt welcomed and unrushed. And in general I’ve found the health professionals in this city maintain a high quality of empathy and caring for all their patients.
The main attraction is the beach. People don’t come here to do stuff, they come here to relax,” says Canadian Robert Stanley, owner of Bobby’s Bar & Restaurant, a popular expat gathering place at the south end of the Thai beach town of Hua Hin.
According to the latest figures from the U.S. Social Security Administration, U.S. retirees overseas received more than $3 billion in social security payments in 2013. That number shows an increase of $160 million since 2012—and has nearly doubled since 2013. In total, 373,224 U.S. retirees received their social security payments as residents of a foreign country in 2013. Europe is home to the most U.S. retirees drawing their social security payments abroad (154,238), followed by Canada and Mexico (95,767), and Asia (70,586).
The concept of having food delivered to your home is something many of us take for granted. But when you move overseas, you may find it’s not part of the culture. And it’s a convenience expats miss. Mike Sharma certainly missed it when he went to live in northern Thailand.
For millions of folks, golf satisfies something in the soul: hitting that one pure shot…breathing fresh air…and walking an immaculate course…the fast friendships forged on the fairway (and in the clubhouse bar). The game we know today has its origins in Scotland in the 15th century. popularized by British royalty, it soon spread throughout Europe and beyond.
Sipping my locally grown coffee on the sun-drenched balcony of my house in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I sometimes have to pinch myself. It’s a far cry from the numbing cold myself and my wife Nancy endured during our many winters in the interior of British Columbia. Chopping firewood, shoveling snow, and piling on four layers of clothing…I don’t miss any of it.
Something that we have grown to love after more than eight years of living in Asia is wide variety of street food that is always readily available in this part of the world. Whether strolling the chaotic back alleys of Chinese cities or browsing the numerous markets of Chiang Mai, we have always been able to find an infinite number of inexpensive dishes prepared and served within minutes by friendly street vendors. Each country and city has its own specialties that cater to the locals as well as more adventuresome tourists that are looking for new taste sensations.
The narrow lane spills onto a magnificent square. A group of young musicians fills the twilight with melodies. All around you are stunning buildings dating back centuries. And yet the people relaxing here and walking through these ancient streets are very much 21st century: students with books and laptops in hand. Folks from all over are enjoying evening drinks or dining on café terraces. Talk is of the art expo the town is putting on…an upcoming concert…or the latest news or trends…
The picturesque seaside town of Hua Hin, Thailand is known for its stunning beaches, burgeoning restaurant scene, and small-town feel. It’s famous as a royal resort, yet the sea breeze and stunning views come cheap in Hua Hin. You’ll find a low cost of living and good-value real estate.
Thailand is one of the world’s most popular locales for good living abroad. And there are lots of reasons why. For pennies on the dollar you get a year-round tropical climate and access to modern comforts and conveniences, including affordable, high quality medical care.
Silver gets no love. Most investors despise the stuff. But while everyone is happy to grind silver into dust, a funny thing is happening. Silver bottomed back in December. It’s been building a base for its next move. And this next move could be explosive. The last time silver had a big correction—back in 2008—the next three years saw a rally of 400%. This time, the sky’s the limit.
I ’d never seen a festival like it in my life, and I’d been living in Southeast Asia for 16 years: the massive procession of people winding its way through the streets, bearing aloft colorful offerings of fruit, flowers, and food, following a glowing chariot to the temple where they unburden themselves. Many of them adorn their bodies with ornate but painful-looking piercings and shave their heads as a sign of devotion.
Ever wonder what it would be like to work with elephants for a day in the jungles of northern Thailand? At the Patara Elephant Camp, you can. Not all elephant camps are created equal but this is one of the highest on the list when it comes to ethics and dedicated mahouts (elephant handlers).
Most expats who have settled either part-time or full-time in this country will attest to the large number of readily available doctors, dentists, and opticians, combined with accessible, well-equipped, modern public and private hospitals. These institutions employ highly trained doctors and use cutting-edge technology and modern medical equipment that rival anything available in Western countries.
I get a couple of emails a month like this from International Living readers: “I’ve been doing my research as you suggest. I know I want to make my move abroad, but no matter how many likely destinations I cross off my list, I still have too many to choose from. Where should I go?”
A long with being a low-cost and tropical retirement haven, Thailand has long been an international destination for medical tourism. Why? Because healthcare is low cost and excellent quality. I should know. I’m a retired Canadian schoolteacher living in the northern city of Chiang Mai, with personal experience of two hospitals here—one public and one private. In both I felt welcomed and unrushed. And in general I’ve found the health professionals in this city maintain a high quality of empathy and caring for all their patients.
Imagine a place of rich, earthy smells, dappled light, soaring tropical hardwoods, and thick underbrush…the dawn calls of birds and the nighttime chirps and whistles of insects. From your terrace it’s as though you have Eden on the doorstep—a thousand shades of green and nature’s bounty. These days, living in a jungle home, you can have the best of both worlds: the feeling of being set apart, while enjoying conveniences like high-speed internet and air conditioning in your own paradise.
A new report from the editors of InternationalLiving.com ranks and profiles the five best tropical-island paradises for retirees today. Spread throughout the world, these islands are unique—but they share certain characteristics: They’re warm, offer good infrastructure, provide acceptable healthcare facilities either on-island or nearby, and they represent good value—a couple can live comfortably from $1,500 a month, housing included. “Something about the word ‘island’ makes the mind race to ‘escape,’” says InternationalLiving.com’s executive editor, Jennifer Stevens. “On an island, the pace slows, you live in the present, you shed concerns right along with your closed-toed shoes.
In this article, we outline the best five tropical island paradises for retirees. These places meet all the criteria needed to make them perfect retirement havens. As well as looking the part, all five of these islands—spread throughout the world—are becoming easier to get to as more and more flights open up to and from North America. Many tropical getaways have been consumed by commercialism, leaving them beyond every reasonable budget. But the islands on our list remain affordable, as attested by our expat experts on the ground. On some, it’s possible to live for as little as $1,500 a month including rent.
In International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index 2015, we ranked and rated the 25 best retirement havens in the world. You can stretch your dollars in any of them and live better than you can back home—for less. But the ﬁve below offer the lowest cost of living and come out on top in the Cost of Living category in the Index.
Residents of the country pay into La Caja. The fee is 7% to 11% of the person’s monthly income, which provides coverage for a spouse as well as a dependent. “After you pay your monthly fee, you receive free care,” says InternationalLiving.com Costa Rica editor Jason Holland. “Anything you need is available through a nationwide network of clinics and hospitals: doctor’s visits, medical testing, prescriptions, major surgeries, and hospitalization,” Holland says.
“I love the greens and blues,” says Washington native Deb Crofutt of her new life on a tropical island. “I love the smiles on the faces of everyone I make eye contact with. I like being away from the hustle and bustle of home and the pressure to own ‘things.’ I spent so many years working in the corporate world just to have stuff. This is a simpler, better life.” Imagine the feel of the warm sun on your shoulders as you walk along a pristine white sand beach stretching to the horizon, fringed by palm fronds and the sumptuous blue ocean.
It was a day in mid-2012. I woke up to the annoying alarm clock, hastily got ready for my stressful sales job and sat from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the same back-breaking chair, in a dull office. High pay, San Diego sun, the American Dream, right? Wrong! Three years of this monotonous rat race was enough to push me over the edge. I craved a meaningful existence packed with travel and adventure.
Living in a sunny, low-cost, laidback destination overseas doesn’t mean that you have to forego good healthcare. In fact, in many countries abroad, the healthcare you’ll enjoy is second to none…and more affordable than you’ve ever dreamed possible. Below are the five countries which received the top scores in the healthcare category of International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index 2015.
Paul Blanford has created a lifestyle income for his retirement. It’s already making money…and occasionally he gets to enjoy it himself. But when he’s ready to retire—which may be sooner rather than later—his new life is ready for him. Paul, a native of New Zealand, works as a pilot in Hong Kong but has always loved boats and sailing. So he decided to buy a junk—a type of traditional Chinese sailboat— and turn it into a business. Second-hand junks are cheap and plentiful in Hong Kong, and Paul had his eye on the tourist charter business along the west coast of peninsular Malaysia in the Straits of Malacca.
In 2012, Dani Leis, quit her job in the non-profit health sector and left Portland, Oregon for Thailand with nothing but a single duffel bag and a dream to start a new life. Her intention was to hit the beach and support herself by teaching. But she obtained her TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) certification miles from the coast in the northern city of Chiang Mai and fell in love with the area. “The people here are friendly, kind, and open-hearted,” says Dani, 55. “They enjoy a culture centered on sanuk, meaning to take pleasure in what you are doing.
When you come from San Diego, California, most people think, “You are already in paradise, why would you ever leave?” But after traveling throughout Thailand and Malaysia, Ron Bond fell in love with Koh Samui, Thailand. So he went home, tied up loose ends, and moved there three months later. Back in the States, Ron had it all: a booming hypnotherapy business, a beautiful home near the beach, and great friends and family. But he also had a severe back problem that left him constantly needing prescription drugs to manage the pain.
There are many things I love about Thailand. First off I love the people. Thailand is known as “the Land of Smiles,” and in my experience the people are some of the gentlest and friendliest people I have met anywhere in the world. I also love the food. While I enjoy Thai food at home in the States, the food here is amazing and took my taste buds up a notch or two on the heat scale. But these are not the reasons I come to Thailand…I don’t come on vacation.
From the quaint town of Cotacachi to the vibrant capital, Quito, from Salinas by the sea to the peaks of the Andes, Ecuador’s diversity is a key part of the massive appeal that sees it regain the coveted top spot on this year’s retirement index. Although prices have risen slightly in recent years, Ecuador’s real estate is still the best value you’ll find anywhere. This is bolstered by the generous array of benefits the government has afforded to retirees. Over-65s get discounts on flights originating in Ecuador, as well as up to 50% off entry to movies and sporting events. Discounts are also available on public transport (50%) and utilities, with the option of a free landline if you purchase a property.
With its tropical climate, low cost of living, and beautiful surrounding countryside, Chiang Mai is Thailand’s best-value retirement destination. In fact, it’s among the best “bang-for-your-buck” destinations in the entire region, attracting thousands of North American, Australian, and European retirees. Among them are Nancy and Roger Lindley, who never looked back after moving to this northern city, home to nearly a million people, six years ago. “We came over for a month in 2006 on a reconnaissance mission and threw ourselves into all the expat activities,” says Nancy. “We decided it could work, went back to the U.S., and proceeded to unwind our lives there. We returned in 2008 and have been here ever since.”
With spiraling costs compelling more and more North Americans to retire overseas, retiring abroad has never been more attractive. But finding the right location among the myriad options available can be daunting. That’s what our Annual Global Retirement Index does. Using input from our team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, we combine real-world insights about climate, health care, cost of living, and much more to draw up a comprehensive list of the best bang-for-your buck retirement destinations on the planet. Keep in mind that, even though only 25 countries feature on our list, all of them are worth your attention. We selected them from among all the countries in the world for their qualities as retirement hot-spots, so even the lowest-ranked nation on our index is still very much an option worth considering.
Each morning I wake to a symphony of songbirds and roosters. Somehow, my wife, Nancy, usually sleeps through this, but for me it’s the start of another relaxed day in retirement. We live in a 968-square-foot condominium in the center of Chiang Mai, the principal city in northern Thailand. We have two balconies overlooking a large wooded farm—an uncommon rural oasis in this growing city. Despite this, we’re close to everything—trendy cafés, glitzy malls, and craft beer pubs.
When it comes to the ideal beach lifestyle abroad, many expats look to Koh Samui in Thailand where the palm-lined beaches, azure ocean, year-round tropical weather, and affordable costs make for ultra-easy living. Just an hour-and-a-half flight from the Thai capital of Bangkok, this popular spot offers something for everyone, whether you dream of a tranquil seaside retreat or prefer frequent nights out on the town. You can access quality health care, where a basic doctor’s visit costs as little as $20, and there’s plenty to keep you busy—from yoga and Pilates to salsa dancing and bridge club—when you’re not soaking up the sun on one of the island’s many beaches.
Located in Northern Thailand, just 85 minutes by air from Bangkok, the city of Chiang Mai has become a major draw for thousands of expats who, today, call this community on the banks of the Ping River, home. Affectionately nicknamed the “Rose of the North,” Chiang Mai is a vibrant university city famous for its many Buddhist temples, rich cultural offerings, and good food. The warm climate, low costs and excellent, modern infrastructure have attracted expats in big numbers, and that includes thousands of retirees from all over the world.
Thai handicrafts, jewelry, handmade paper, ceramics, a plethora of textiles and handbags galore…you can find it all and more at Bangkok’s Weekend Market, known as Chatuchak or “JJ” for short. No trip to the Thai capital is complete without a visit to this massive 35-acre market located north of the city, where you can get your shopping fix as well as a big dose of Thai culture. Just don’t forget to bargain!
The last decade has seen the rise of the low-cost carrier in Southeast Asia. Cheap, short-hop flights now criss-cross the region—much of it spread across the ocean in archipelagos like the Philippines and Indonesia. This boom in no-frills flights means cheap travel and it’s one of the reasons that my wife Lisa and I can travel so much. We live in Penang, Malaysia, but whatever Asian destination you chose for your home you’ll find it easy to explore the region.
When it comes to the ideal beach lifestyle abroad, many expats look to Koh Samui, in southern Thailand, where the palm-lined beaches, azure ocean, year-round tropical weather, and affordable costs make for ultra-easy living. Just an hour-and-a-half flight from the Thai capital of Bangkok, Koh Samui offers something for everyone, whether you dream of a tranquil seaside retreat or prefer frequent nights out on the town.
Imagine sleeping to the gentle bob of the tide or of a river current, then waking up to cast off the moor lines and set out for adventure. Or, more often, to stay at anchor, enjoying the lull of the water while having a fixed address and access to onshore services. That’s the life that houseboat living offers.