Buying property anywhere as a foreigner always means jumping through a few hoops. But in Asia, there’s an added complication: Legal restrictions on how (and if) foreigners can buy property are common. It’s a big reason why so many expats in Asia rent instead of buy.
Renting is easy, affordable and sometimes the only way to live in a country. Plus, if you want to move on and try out a new place, you just pack up and hit the road. With renting in mind, here are the top three places I recommend you try…
Thailand is one of Asia’s most popular countries for expats. It’s safe, women can travel alone without problems, the cost of living is low and getting a retirement visa is simple. There are restrictions on foreigners buying property here so renting proves easier for most expats.
Bangkok is Thailand’s top tourist destination and it’s a great city. But if you like the beach, the seaside resort of Hua Hin is only three hours by car from Bangkok. This picturesque town has great shopping, cool restaurants, relaxing cafes and fresh seafood that you can buy right off the boat. There is also hiking, camping, world-class golf courses and beautiful beaches and islands on your doorstep.
A modern, one-bedroom apartment, with a fitness centre, communal pool and spa, close to Hua Hin market and the beach rents for just $560 per month.
One-year leases are the norm, but if you take a longer lease you can usually bargain for a lower rent—plus better furniture and appliances. Three- and six-month leases are rare and are usually holiday or high-season rentals, so you pay a premium. They also often have lower-quality fixtures and fittings.
The northern city of Chiang Mai is also popular with expats and offers great value. A two-bedroom, fully-furnished, 62-square-metre modern apartment with 24-hour security, parking, a pool and garden, rents for $1,200 a month here. Too much? Close to a hospital and university we found a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 41-square-metre fully-furnished apartment for $300 a month.
The best way to rent a property in Thailand is to contact the real-estate agent when you arrive and ask to see the property that interests you. If someone has recommended a property personally, you can agree to rent it via email, therefore securing it—but don’t pay a deposit until you have seen it.
Asia’s best retirement destination, Malaysia is easy to try out. I love to visit Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital. But if you love seaside living, as I do, then the island of Penang, in Malaysia’s northwest, is the place to be. Expats can buy almost any kind of property freehold, in their own name, in Malaysia. And compared to its next-door neighbour, Singapore, Malaysian property is undervalued.
Still, unless you specifically want to buy, renting is trouble-free and affordable. And you can choose from jungle, sea and city views. The areas to look at in Penang, whether renting or buying, are George Town, its upscale suburbs Pulau Tikus and Tanjong Tokong and the beach areas of Tanjung Bunga and Batu Ferringhi. All are highly sought-after and have sizeable expat communities.
A 185-square-metre apartment in Pulau Tikus, for instance, with four bedrooms, four bathrooms, a balcony, car parking and 24-hour security costs just $840 per month.
Keep in mind that real-estate agents will charge you a fee of one month’s rent once you have chosen your property and that the landlord will also want a one-month’s deposit (100% refundable when your lease expires). One-year leases are common, but landlords will always try to push for three years. If going for a longer lease, bargain for a lower rental.
An expat friend of mine agreed to a three-year lease on a 464-square-metre apartment—originally marketed at $4,000 a month—for $2,150. Everything in Asia is negotiable.
3. The Philippines
The Philippines has a wealth of pluses for expats: affordable living, good medical care, beaches to die for and English as a second language. But buying property as an expat is not on that list. As an expat, you can only own land, houses or apartments through a Philippine corporation. Plus, you can only own 40% of the corporation (and thus only 40% of any property it holds).
If you have a Filipino spouse, the property is held in his/her name, not yours. And if the spouse dies, the property must pass to a child or— if there are no children—to a relative of the deceased. Renting, on the other hand, is simple. And inexpensive—you can find rentals starting as low as $450 a month.
Few properties are listed on the internet, though, so finding a rental long-distance is hard. Instead, come in person and book into a hotel for a few days while you scout an area. Most apartments for rent have signs outside with prices and telephone numbers and most offer long-term rental options. Alternatively, check out blogs on moving to and living in the Philippines.
So where to go? The island of Cebu has a large expat population, particularly in the city of Cebu, known as “the Queen City of the South.” With excellent utilities, amenities and infrastructure, it’s very convenient. And the city isn’t all Cebu has to offer…the island boasts beaches and mountains, great for weekend getaways. Base yourself in town and spend your free time exploring nearby Mactan beach, the Camotes islands and more.