Stickman Readers' Submissions August 29th, 2007

Living And Retiring In Thailand

Having spent a lot of time in Phuket, Pattaya and Bangkok, I’d have to say that if you’re looking for a place to retire, in Thailand, and you still want to have access to all the modern amenities and facilities, that you’re used to in the real world, then Phuket’s the place which probably has the best of everything – good beaches, clean water, good shopping centers and sporting facilities.

He Clinic Bangkok

I’ve lived in Pattaya now for the past five years and would say, without hesitation, that the novelty of mongering every night faded a long time ago. The fact is that, aside from drinking, shagging and playing golf, there’s really not too much else to do in Pattaya. The beaches are poor and the traffic congestion, between 5.00 – 8.00 p.m., is a nightmare. If I was single I would’ve gone back to Phuket a long time ago.

You’ve got to wonder what Thailand’s going to be like in another few years. I’m fifty now and will probably continue to work for another ten years or so. The thought of retiring here, in a few years, raises a few questions, not the least being; what kind of a chaotic, overcrowded place it will be then. The other thing is that eventually, the cost of living is bound to go up as the standard of living gets better. I’m not sure if you could even classify Thailand as “Third World” anymore – more like “Newly Industrialized Country”.

The bottom line is that what you now think would be enough to get by on, in retirement, might barely be enough to survive on in a few years’ time. So how much is enough? If you limit your spending, how’s that going to affect your life style? When I’m on time off work I can get through 100k baht, in a month, without even trying too hard.

I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think that, in a few years time, guys who now survive on a monthly pension will no longer be able to do so. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the xenophobic, nationalistic mentalities, of the Thai government / ruling class, don’t altogether just prohibit pensioners, without large amounts of cash, from retiring in Thailand. It’s already moving that way now. To apply for a retirement visa, the amount that a person has in the bank, plus monthly income, is being increased steadily. Who’s to say that in five years’ time, the amount needed to apply for a marriage or retirement visa, won’t be doubled, or even trebled. It all points to one thing and this has been alluded to by others on this site; farangs without a lot of money aren’t wanted in Thailand. Rich tourists / short time visitors are welcome and long term pensioners, with limited funds, aren’t.

CBD bangkok

Another thing to consider is the type of property that you want to live in. With the proposed changes to the ‘Foreign Business Act’, the idea of having a property, that has a fifty one percent share allocation to Thai shareholders, who must be more than nominees, is looking a lot less attractive. You can see the direct results of this in the area that I live in. Up until a few months ago, there were estate development projects up and down the length of Siam Country Club Road. Drive past now and you can see that the amount of activity has dropped right off. Foreigners aren’t buying houses; that’s the reality. The real estate boys can talk it up as much as they want but the fact is that the uncertainties surrounding the proposed changes to the FBA have had an impact.

Condos are obviously the more attractive proposition. The downside of condos though is ongoing maintenance, security and refuse disposal.

What about healthcare? We know that the costs of dental work and hospitalization are cheaper in Thailand but I don’t think that’s the full picture. If you’ve got some kind of serious ailment that needs treating, are you going to trust a Thai hospital to try and get it right – consider how the business aspect of being in hospital is always pushed and promoted by the hospital staff and the person’s condition always seems to be a secondary concern, or are you going to fly down to Singapore and have it done right the first time?

If you want treatment, or a diagnosis, in a western standard hospital, such as BNH in Bangkok, you’ll pay just as much as you would in the real world. I had a full work medical done at BNH, last year, and it cost virtually the same as having the same thing done in Aberdeen.

wonderland clinic

Another thing to consider is the cost of mongering. The fact is that it’s getting more expensive and, not only that, you’ve got a lot of those poor, uneducated, rice farmers daughters, from Isaan, developing some real attitude. This is being driven by a combination of factors: there are more and more guys coming to Thailand, seeking out what they believe is the ideal submissive Asian woman, because they’ve had enough of the bitches at home. Over time, the numbers will only continue to go up which means that those Isaan girls will have more fools throwing money at them. The other factor is the internet. Dating and chat sites mean that Thai girls have access to guys from all over the world and it’s not just the bar girls either, they’re all bloody well at it. Lining up multiples of guys to send them money and take their turn with the GFE, once every six months. It all points to one thing I’m afraid, in the not too distant future, mongering, in Thailand is going to be an expensive activity. It is now – lately I’ve been hearing of crazy prices; show girls, in go-go bars, being paid 4,000 baht for a few hours.

Also; how you feel about living in a place where you’re accorded no rights – essentially a second class citizen. You’ve got to be careful about everything you do and say so that you don’t upset Thai sensitivities – the loss of face BS (which actually means: inability to handle criticism). Even if you qualify for permanent residence, you’ll still be considered the farang, and looked upon as a walking ATM. We can’t own land and any large sum of cash that you might bring into the country will be subject to a withholding fee (30% held in a government trust for twelve months) if it’s not put directly into the purchase of a condo or a business.

The bottom line for me is it’s a great place to hang out and have some fun, while I’m still working but, I’ve got no feelings of commitment to the place because the reality is that it’s got no interest in me. Without stating the obvious, the first and foremost reason that most of us end up here is because of the pussy. However, we’ve still got to make a life for ourselves which means that, unless you’re a multi-millionaire, we need to work and have a retirement plan. I choose to live in Thailand for two reasons: Work and tax avoidance.

Work: I spend up to eight months a year working offshore. In any one year I could be working in the Far East, the Middle East, or Russia. Bangkok is centrally located to all of these places; it’s a convenient place to fly out of to most destinations that have oil field operations going on. When I finish a contract, I normally get about four weeks off before flying of to another job. This means that I don’t worry about getting a visa, I just get a thirty day stamp on entry. I’ve just received an APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Conference – of which Thailand is a member) card which is good for three years.

APEC card holders get a ninety day stamp on arrival at the airport of all APEC member countries. There’s also an APEC lane at immigration at all APEC member airports – usually there’s no more than one or two people waiting in line. Any of you guys from Australia or New Zealand should check this out.

Tax avoidance: If I was living back in Australia, or New Zealand, there’s no way that I would have the type of disposable income I have now. Reason being: TAX. I’m not interested in paying up to fifty cents in the dollar to support a welfare system that provides for single mothers and druggy bludgers. My money goes into an offshore account and stays there until I need it.

I live / stay in Thailand when I’m on my time off. As I’ve already stated, Thailand’s a great place to relax and have some fun however, I never lose sight of these facts:

Don’t invest any money in any business in Thailand, regardless of how good it might look on paper. I remember reading somewhere, in the past, that the average life of a foreign owned business is about fifteen months. This of course will have a lot to do with what area of business you’re involved in. I think it’s quite obvious from what’s been written, reported and seen first hand, that any business involved with tourism, in this country, is a rocky road.

Don’t buy a house or property through a company name. If you want to have a free standing house just put it 100% in your Thai wife /girlfriend’s name (as I did) and then write the money off – you’ll never see it again. There will be some that read this and say that’s a foolish thing to do. The point is though that I went into it with my eyes open – knowing that it was money that I would, in all likelihood, never see again. It’s money that I was prepared to kiss goodbye. The bottom line is that it’s the only property in Thailand that I’ll ever put money into that I can’t own.

If you’re single and want to buy a property that you own outright, buy a condo – a new one that’s built. Don’t put money into one that you only have the plans for.

Keep your money overseas and just withdraw it through an ATM as you need it.

Don’t attract attention to yourself unnecessarily.

Understand that you’ll always be looked at as a second class citizen but at the same time realize that eighty percent of Thais are poorly educated peasants – I reckon that there would be quite a high percentage of the Thai population that doesn’t even know in which direction (compass bearing) the sun rises.

Know that 99% of Thais aren’t interested in who you are or what you do. The only thing that matters to them is what you bring to the table in terms of money or expertise.

Learn enough of the language to be able to defend yourself.

If you own a vehicle – insurance is absolutely essential.

Always have the name and cell phone number of a good Thai lawyer (one that speaks English) on you at all times.

Never lose sight of the fact that bar girls are only doing a job and that eighty per cent of them have a Thai boyfriend / husband lurking around somewhere in the background. If you’re foolish enough to get into a relationship with one, understand that you’re going to get an instant extended family who’ll want a never ending supply of cash and commodities to improve their lot back in Isaan.

The bottom line for me is that, when I’m in Thailand, I can live the kind life that’s just not possible back in the real world. After all, aren’t we just in fantasy land anyway? The weather is great, the food is good and the women are beautiful. That’s the upside. The downside is that, as a foreigner, I’m never going to be fully integrated into or accepted in this country. Regardless of how long I’m here or what I might be foolish enough to believe, the fact is that even if I stayed here long enough to qualify for Thai citizenship, I’d still be looked upon as the farang – in other words; not of this country but of somewhere else.

Over the years I’ve found that successful living in Thailand involves:

Complying with all the rules, regulations and laws of this country, without exception; why is that? Because, regardless of what you may think, there isn’t any rule of law in this country. It might be written down on a piece of paper somewhere and have a royal stamp on it but the only time that the rule of law applies, is when you can’t afford to bribe or pay your way out of a situation. If you’re foolish enough to get yourself into a situation where the law is applied to you and you can’t pay your way out of it, then you’re up the creek without a paddle. Stick Mark II’s recent weekly newsletter ‘When it all goes horribly wrong’ is a testament to that fact. It’s an incredibly sorry story but, as harsh as it may seem, this guy put himself in a position where he could be taken advantage of by Thais in positions of authority. The village headman showed all the worst traits of a peasant Thai in a position of power; greed and jealousy. The local police then stepped in and got their cut; 600K baht.

By having the least amount of interaction with Thais as possible, you reduce, or eliminate, the risk of the above happening to you. Even so, no matter how careful you might be, there’s always the chance that a Thai will, without even trying, create a problem for you. A few years ago, a friend of mine was riding his moped through Phuket Town, not speeding, and a Thai stepped out from between two parked vehicles, into the path of my friend’s moped. The collision was unavoidable; the end result was a slightly damaged moped and a Thai male with a broken leg.

The usual shit then occurred; lots of Thais standing around demanding monetary compensation for the broken leg. Eventually the police turned up and my friend was taken to the Chalong Police Station. While there, a figure of 250K baht was mentioned as compensation. My friend’s immediate thoughts were; how much would be going to the Chalong Police retirement fund. Luckily for him, he had an ace up his sleeve. The father of his Thai wife was a fairly high ranking police officer over in Koh Samui. His wife arranged for her father to fly over to Phuket for a conference with the police at Chalong. After lots of Black label, paid for by my friend, a negotiated settlement was reached; the broken leg would only cost 50K baht plus hospital expenses.

This just reinforces what I’ve been telling guys for years: whenever a farang has a problem which involves a Thai, regardless of how small it might be and, regardless of who’s at fault, it’s never the Thai that’s inconvenienced, it’s always the farang.

Some may agree with what’s above and many may disagree. In fairness to the many decent, educated Thais I’ve met over the years, I’ll requalify ‘by having the least amount of interaction as with Thais’ as possible.’ By having the least amount of interaction with Thais, at the peasant level, as possible. Unfortunately for most farang, we seem to end up interacting with the peasant level quite often. Granted, that it’s not all their fault that they’re uneducated and scrambling to eke out a living, on a daily basis, but the harsh reality is that most of them that we meet, in the tourist related industry, are of the peasant level. Those that are employed in, and associated with, the bar industry; the bargirls, katoeys, gays and all the other associated hangers’ on – unemployed Thai boyfriends, pimps and drug dealers, are no different to what you’d find in something of a similar nature in Angeles or Rio. You’ve also got the motorbike and jet-ski rental mob; the beachside hawkers and even unscrupulous business vendors in places like open markets, etc. The rip-offs, the scams, the cheating and the dishonesty that we encounter, often emanate from these sources. Even at places at MBK, you’ve got to be on your guard. Always check everything after you’ve purchased it and before you walk away from the point of sale. Even then, you can still get caught out. I did the other day at MBK. Bought some DVDs from a stall; paid the normal price of one hundred baht per DVD. I opened the bag and counted the number of DVD’s before leaving the point of sale – the number inside was correct. It was only on closer inspection, after going back to the hotel, that I found on the DVD covers, in small print, ‘Thai version’. Granted I’d only wasted six hundred baht, and my wife and kids could watch them, and there’s no excusing the vendor because they would’ve been fully aware that the DVDs were only Thai version, but, in hindsight, I should’ve just gone to a vendor in a more established shop.

That said though, I still think that retiring in Thailand is a better option than going back to my country of origin. The truth is, for many of us that have been in the LOS for many years, going back is not really an option anymore. For me, there’s really nothing to go back to. The type of life I live here in Thailand, even though there’s things here which frustrate and infuriate me on a daily basis, is far more stimulating and exciting than what I could ever experience back in the so-called real world. I think that’s it really, once you’ve had a taste of life in Asia, there’s no going back; it’s just too mundane.

An interesting comparison; in the industry I work in there are the guys who live in Asia (predominantly Thailand) and the guys who live in places like North America. The guys from North America talk predominantly about politics, mortgages, tax and problems with their wives. They are, to put it bluntly, about as interesting as drying paint.

The trick is of course, in Asia, is to keep your wits about you. I think a lot of guys living in Thailand become burnt out, or have ‘gone troppo’. Personally, I think that’s got a lot to do with the amount of booze they consume. If you sit at a bar and get through half a dozen beers every day, you’re an alcoholic; you just haven’t admitted it yet. The problem with this of course is that it’s a depressant and a de-motivator, simply because, you spend most of your waking moments in an inebriated state. For those that choose to be like that, fair enough. For me though, there’s more to life than looking and feeling like a bag of shit each day.

The thing I like the most about Thailand is the weather. Agreed that sometimes it’s swelteringly hot (Songkran) but, for the most part, the weather is excellent for an active lifestyle. From what I’ve seen, the guys who seem to be enjoying their retirements’ the most, in Thailand, are the ones that spend a fair amount of time either playing golf, going to the gym, the beach or getting involved in some other kind of recreational activity.

Stickman's thoughts:

I really enjoyed this submission and thought there was a lot of truth in it. I am sure some will get a bit upset at the negative tone, but really, there’s not much to argue about. Thailand does have a lot of issues for Westerners living here, but as you conclude, overall, it still offers a real alternative to the West.

nana plaza