Having A Thai Retirement – Who Can Afford It?
A response to: Having A Thai Family – Can You Afford It? – by SAMI
First, I want to thank Sami for his informative article – it’s always interesting to see details of how others fare here. The only reason I am penning a response is because of a slight bias by Sami in what the costs ‘might’ be. Though I have a similar attitude to him, my own experiences are very different – and thus so are my conclusions. That is not to say I think Sami is wrong – just different.
The main differences:
I came here 18 years ago to ‘study’ (long story) and, without ever even seeing a bar, I was soon married, and expected to take care of my wife’s family. I might have been naive but I was not stupid. I (over)paid my wife an allowance which, as I slowly learnt the actual cost of living here, I annually reduced… That was just the start of the problems. Ladies expect the amount to rise, regardless of how high it started.
I was working in Farangland, and wintering here but, by the time the marriage ended (which included buying land, and designing and building our house – neither of which were in her name…), I was retired – so I’ve never had to work here. I have a reasonable pension, and other income.
My own family is widely spread around the world, and contact between all of us is limited. I have always been a ‘wanderer’ – and independent. After the divorce (unchallenged, one year after her desertion) I left the Kingdom, and bought a new home, in a new country in Farangland… but I missed the other joys here, let the house, returned to Thailand, sold the house and land we had owned here, and started yet another new life…
I was raised in a major Western city. I have travelled and worked in over 30 countries, and resided in Paris, London, New York, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, LA, and San Francisco – I’m not boasting – I’ve just been very lucky – just saying: I’m a city boy. I love rural environs but can easily get bored with solitude – I’m not the hermit-type.
I set up home in Hua Hin. Ten years ago it was a quiet resort town, with plenty of action if you wanted it. Now it is over-developed, over-built, too many hospitals, perhaps no decent schools, too many malls and ‘resorts’ – and lots more still being built. I might soon move on.
There are few full-time expats here (which suits me fine) and the demographic of farang visitors has gone downhill – there seems to be more drunkenness, violence and half-naked exhibitionism – and that’s just the farang. Before, most visitors and property owners were Thai, perhaps mostly from Bangkok, who came for bank / Buddhist weekends but hardly ever for family holidays. The town is full of empty properties, often for sale / rent, which nobody wants to buy – everybody seems to prefer ‘new’, so the new buildings keep going up. But the prices of the unsold ones don’t go down.
My Thai friends in the cafes, markets, and taxi stands have long bemoaned the lack of tourist money. When a tourist asks the price of a trinket in the market (say, 100 ฿) they try to buy five for, say 300… The trader will perhaps come down to 470 and I am regularly appalled when I hear these Cheap Charlies wasting half an hour trying to get it down to 450… I saw two backpackers trying to get moto-taxis to the bus station, nearly 1 kilometre away. They were quoted 50 ฿ – and decided to walk.
My apologies for being long-winded but I think it helps to know from whom you might be taking advice – not that I’m giving any… just saying what my life is like.
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I quite agree with Sami that too many people the world over blame others for their problems – it’s not only in Thailand, nor limited only to single farang with greedy bar-girls.
“It has been long acknowledged that Thailand has become much pricier and more expensive than a decade ago”
I don’t think so – some things are dearer, yes of course (they are, everywhere), but not ‘much’, and some of my expenses are lower than a decade ago.
Take food – definitely up… overall (I think), maybe 25%… Is this ‘much’…? Seems like ‘normal’ inflation to me. Local fruit and veg. is about 20% up on a decade ago (in Hua Hin) but beef, for example, is about 65% up – but I don’t eat beef. Fish I find to be about 25% up. My pension has increased by about 25% in ten years so… it’s all relative.
My electricity & water bills are actually lower than even 4 years ago, because I now pay directly to the providers – previously I paid an ‘internal’ charge to my condo management. Petrol, if my memory is any good, has about doubled in ten years – as it has in many parts of the world. But petrol is now cheaper in Thailand than it was 2 – 3 years ago, and has been for some time. I find many people record and remember the rises but few wish to acknowledge the falls. Another quirk of human nature.
Back to food costs.
I enjoy cooking – I cook farang-style food at home, all bought from local markets. It costs me about a third of what farang-oriented restaurants charge and is much the same quality – I meet the chefs buying at the same stalls. If you prefer to patronise ‘foreign’ eateries then of course your bills will be higher than mine. When I eat out (about 50:50) I only eat Thai, naturally, for which I tend to pay about 100-150 ฿, not including drink, although I am also partial to pavement kao man kai for 30 ฿, once or twice a month. The restaurants where I eat are aimed at tourists but their Thai dishes are sensibly priced. I am not talking about eating in down-market, Thai-people-only, cafes.
As for schools, I no longer have first-hand experience but have never heard anybody, Thai or farang, speak well of Hua Hin schools, regardless of what you pay… and, as for ‘exciting hobbies’ I don’t know to what this refers – but I don’t think I have any… I also rarely drink, which obviously saves a lot.
Medical costs… last year I had an accident at home – not life-threatening but there was a lot of blood, and it needed 8 stitches. Living alone I had to drive myself to hospital – I’m not a doctor but it seemed pretty clear an Elastoplast wouldn’t be much good. I went first to a large private hospital, asked the porters, who were anxious to wheel me inside, to have someone come out to inspect my leg. A receptionist arrived and, when I pressed her to estimate the possible cost, because I didn’t have an ATM card, she said that if I had 5,000 ฿ they could make a start.
I drove on to the government hospital where I allowed the porters to whisk me inside (I was still losing blood…!) while another porter parked my car and, I later discovered, also removed the blood-stained cloths from the footwell, and washed the rubber mat. The whole thing cost 760 ฿ and I cannot criticize anything they did – and I was home again within the hour.
The stitches were removed in a different section which was not as impressive. For subsequent dressings I tried the Red+ clinic, which was far superior to the local hospital, and much more Western in attitudes (to hygiene in public areas, etc.). I enquired, for future reference (as I get older I might have more silly accidents) if they could have dealt with such a problem. They said yes, and it would have cost about 300 ฿.
By all means go to the big private hospitals if you wish but don’t presume all the smaller places are rubbish – this simply isn’t true. Six years ago I suffered tendonitis and needed a ‘support’ boot, and had to trawl around Bangkok to find one in stock. The ever-popular Bumrungrad had one – the packet was open, the contents were incomplete (including the essential pump to adjust it to one’s anatomy), the instruction booklet had got wet and the pages were stuck together. They wanted 11,000 ฿. I said it looked second-hand and they replied: “OK, for you… 10,000…!” I left.
A Thai friend in Hua Hin had recommended I try the Thai Military Hospital, near Victory Monument. The staff were immediately more friendly and helpful (perhaps because I always try to speak Thai, and always first apologize if I have to slip into English…). Here they had three, all new and unopened, all complete, even to a pair of cotton socks, and charged me 4,600 ฿ (which was close to what I had seen quoted online by the foreign manufacturer), and, because I was a bit late getting there, and the ‘shop’ had closed at four o’clock, the manager had to be summoned (I hope not from her tea), and didn’t make a fuss.
You might think that the more you pay the better service you’re getting, and I expect sometimes that is true but… not automatically…! And that pertains anywhere in the world. Hospitals, restaurants, schools… Everything. The dearest is rarely the best value for money.
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At this point my attitude diverges from Sami who starts to polarize his thoughts and seems to believe that anybody who doesn’t have ‘air-con’ must automatically “live in a shack.” This is mildly amusing but also a silly remark. Unlike Sami I am unable to sleep with ‘air-con’ – I like ventilation, lots of it, and fans, and bug-screens. I’m not saying this is better – it’s just different, though it is better for me… but I do not live in a shack…! Too extreme by half, Sami, my dear.
But we are in agreement about transport. I live in one of those gated-enclaves, where the gates are invariably open, because the lone security guy is answering a call of nature. It’s about 8 kilometres from the town, and I’ve never liked two wheels, so I also have a car. I tried buying secondhand but, after three bad experiences, I bit the bullet, and bought new.
With dependents, Sami and I have nothing in common, because I don’t have any, which is why I changed the title of this piece, but from what I have learned here Sami’s comments seem pretty close to the ball. Apart from his actual figures for medical procedures – he might be correct but, as I outlined above, there is never a single price that is the same everywhere… and although I can also find plenty of reason not to automatically trust government hospitals I have also had plenty of good experiences, with Thai friends. Anywhere in the world it is necessary to shop around.
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So… who can afford to live / retire in Thailand. First, the big, major factor. If you are working outside Thailand your earnings will probably exceed Thai inflation but, if you only have a pension, especially one that isn’t, or is poorly, index-linked, then you might well have a problem and, if you have an early-retirement deal, I suspect your problems will be greater, if not sooner.
My surmise is that if you do not have a particularly worthwhile pension you should be very cautious about selling up back home and attempting to retire anywhere that will not be sympathetic if anything goes wrong… and why should Thailand be sympathetic to problems that a Westerner brings with him…?
Better by far to let your foreign property and add the rent to your pension, which should match Thai inflation.
Your income this year might well be sufficient to retire here for the next five years, and perhaps… just maybe… it might last longer, but if things are a bit tight now they are only likely to get worse. Don’t go into something like this with your eyes only half open.
So… nitty-gritty time…
House / home:
I would never buy property (again) in Thailand because it seems to be so difficult to sell (apartments are not as bad as houses), should you want to move on – or if the neighbours become insupportable. So, I rent a 2-bed, 2-bath, very large lounge / diner / office, & kitchen, detached bungalow (they like to call it a villa…). It has a couple of metres space at the back and sides (retained by high concrete walls, for privacy), and about 8 metres at the front, and filled with shrubs and palms. It is very smart, as are most of the identical houses on the estate, and about 15 years old, when rooms were large enough to be lived in. It is adequately furnished, but I brought my own mattress, sofa and TV.
For this I pay 13,000 ฿/month, with a 12-month contract. The same estate had others down to 9,000 ฿/month, but were less well furnished and decorated. The same properties rent to tourists, by the month, for at least 25,000. You can easily find smaller (but clean and new-ish) terrace houses for 6,000, but they don’t suit my lifestyle.
Incidentally, 12 years ago I designed and built, with Thai labour, an all-timber house – a ‘petite trianon’ for us to live in while the ‘main chateau’ was built. The materials cost: 285,000 ฿, and the labour cost: 94,000 ฿. At a modest 53 square metre (floor area) it cost 7,150 ฿/square metre. I was told at the time that if I had opted for a normal concrete structure it would have cost about 4,000 ฿/square metre.
I still say you have to shop around, and not, as so many guys write on this site, accept that the wife’s brother / cousin / father will do it for the best price… It will only be the best price for them.
[NB: I do realise this can be difficult, even impossible, to negotiate.]
Every guy I’ve spoken to in Hua Hin over the past 10 years has said their girlfriend / wife has arranged the build, and the cost was always 2,000,000 ฿ – size was irrelevant because none of the properties that I saw photos of looked likely to have actually cost more than 500,000…!
I bought my car 8 years ago for 800,000 ฿ – it costs about 4,000 ฿/year for service (main dealer), tax and insurance and, this year I had to have a new set of tyres – 15,500 ฿. I’ve also had to have three new batteries: 2,150 each.
OK, so I live alone, and my weekend visitations are sparse, and I don’t use ‘air-con’… but I have an electric oven and other cooking stuff. My monthly electricity bill is usually around 900 ฿, and the water bill is rarely over 50 ฿/month – and, in case you’re wondering, I shower 3-5 times a day… and water the garden during dry spells. Maybe Hua Hin water is just cheap.
I originally used the estate gardener but he really didn’t have a clue, and I refused to pay him 500 ฿ for fifty minutes ‘work’ – some teachers and, I believe, even some doctors, don’t make this much. I bought a strimmer for 850 ฿, and a pruner for 350 ฿, and spend about two hours a month keeping it tidy. Or one of my visitors helps out, instead of singing for her supper.
In the 15 years I’ve lived in Thailand I have had one defective fridge, which the landlord replaced, and a kettle, which I had repaired under warranty, and a liquidiser, which I believe my wife deliberately broke, which I didn’t replace. There was also a cheap DVD player which was replaced with something better. The washing machine is used twice a week (I’m sure Sami’s is much busier) and does seem to be making a few more ‘scraunchy’ sounds than 4 years ago but, overall, I do not seem to have as big a problem in this area. And my repairs are covered by the rent.
I pay 600 ฿/month for ‘3BB’ internet, but I don’t have extra TV channels… and I only buy an occasional ‘lady-drink’, to save me from all the, “I go with yoouuuu…!” hassle.
Incidentally, I quite agree with Sami about saving for a rainy-day, and also (especially…!) for the means to return to the West if you need to. And to having a ‘Plan-B’ – even if you’re not sure what the future might bring I think one should always be prepared to deal with a future that is very different to what one has today.
I pay 156,000 ฿/year for rent, and about 110-130,000 ฿/year for ALL regular monthly living expenses, as above, plus petrol, phone and the annual 1,900 ฿ visa extension. The car of course was a capital outlay, and my occasional trips around the country, and around South-East Asia and, occasionally, to Farangland, are all ‘extras’.
Incidentally similar houses to mine are for sale here for about 4,000,000 ฿. My rent, even if it rises slightly, will keep me here for maybe 25 years, for the same cost – the rent might rise slightly in that time but I won’t have the inevitably increasing maintenance costs. And, in 25 years, the house is liable to be collapsing, and worth next to nothing. Also, if I want to move before then I can easily do so.
No doubt some of you will regard me as a Cheap Charlie, or be dumbfounded that I can do this, but I do swear the authenticity of the figures (and I’d be happy for Stick to investigate when he’s next in Hua Hin…), so I guess I have simple tastes, but I should not be presumed to be cheap.
I live now no worse than I previously did in London, New York, and San Francisco… and I didn’t live in a shack in any of those cities either.
So, thanks Sami, for sharing your experiences. I don’t dispute your costs, but I do dispute your presumption that, those of us who pay less than you, are bums. Despite that some of them possibly are…
Your numbers show that one can have a very pleasant retirement lifestyle in Thailand for not a lot of money.