Does Thailand Want Retirees?
In this week's column, I read with interest Stick's comment that he has heard that at least in the UK, some applicants have not been approved for the coveted multiple entry non-immigrant B visa, only receiving a single entry. There are also rumors that the eligible age for retirement visas may be increased to 65, but that's just a rumor.
Since I did obtain the multiple entry retiree visa in the US in 2011, and have renewed it the last few years in Thailand without problem, it hasn't impacted me yet, but could in the future. Since the eligibility requirements are fairly straightforward (over 50, monthly pension income of $20,00 or THB 800,000 deposit in bank, health and criminal clearance), without knowing the reasons for rejection it's hard to comment. While you would think decisions would be consistent, there could be differences between embassies.
When I decided to voluntarily retire early from my job in the US, I did a lot of research into countries that welcomed retirees and had retirement visa programs. Because I retired early, though I will be able to collect social security and a corporate pension, that would not be for many years, so the cost of living was a major factor in choosing a retirement destination. I was very fortunate during my work years to have the opportunity to live and work as an expat in a few foreign countries, and also travelled a lot to Asia, Europe and Latin America.
In looking at possible destinations, my criteria were:
– reasonable cost of living
– nice, warm climate (no more snow shoveling)
– large expat population
– quality and affordable medical care
– low crime rate
– easy access to an international airport
– interesting culture
– a retiree / pensioner visa program.
I considered several countries in Asia, Latin America, North America and Europe. Since I spent a lot of time in Asia over the years, I chose Thailand even though it didn't have the best retiree visa program, but did offer a low cost of living, nice beaches, good (though hot!) weather, good medical care – basically a lot of what I was looking for. And the ladies are easy on the
eyes, and will talk to old guys (if you have money).
Do I think Thailand wants retirees? I would say yes, just due to the large number of retirees living here, and the fact that they do offer a retiree visa with relatively low eligibility. Is their retiree visa plan among the most generous compared to some other countries? I would say no.
Based on my prior research and understanding of retiree visa requirements, I would classify countries into 3 categories as far as welcoming retirees. One caveat is that this list is not comprehensive, and visa requirements can change so no guarantee my information is most current.
Rolling out the red carpet: this category would include countries that really try hard to attract retirees. In addition to just giving you a visa, they almost treat you like a native senior citizen, you can take advantage of senior discounts on transport, movies, etc, you can access government medical care, and after a few years you may obtain permanent residency. They often allow you to import autos or household goods duty free. I would place Panama, Belize, Uruguay and maybe Malaysia and Mexico in this bucket. There are limited restrictions on buying property.
We want you (but not too much): this category includes countries that do offer a retirement visa, but the eligibility requirements may be tougher, and you do not receive any special benefits other than the right to live there, and there is no easy path to obtaining permanent residency. I would include Thailand, Phillipines, Ecuador, Brazil, Indonesia in this bucket.
Could Care Less: these are countries that while they may be happy to have retirees, they do not offer a retirement visa nor encourage retirees to locate there. This bucket would include many European countries, the USA, Singapore, China, India.
In my opinion, the gold medal of retiree programs would go to Panama. They really target retirees under their pensionado program. You need to prove $ 1,000 in a pension or social security to qualify, and you receive many of the same benefits local seniors enjoy like discounts on airlines, buses, movies, hotels and medical checkups. You can also import household goods duty free. Panama City is a modern city (think Miami), and also has nice Pacific coast beaches and some nice countryside.
I might give the silver medal to Malaysia, with competition from Belize, Uruguay and Mexico.
The My Malaysia 2nd home (MM2H) program is a good one. If approved, it is good for 10 years, you need to prove an income of $3,000 month, and you can purchase autos and other items free of sales tax. Many expats live in Penang, and the country has some nice beach areas. They promote their retiree program.
These are just my opinions and I may have omitted some nice destinations. To those retirees tired of Thailand, there are a number of attractive countries that welcome retirees.