Retire in Asia or Oceania
While there are some very affordable retirement places in the Western Hemisphere, the tropical areas of Asia and Oceania offer winter-free places to retire in countries large and small, modern and primitive, urban and rural. There are countries offering a standard of living comparable to the U.S.A., Canada, or Europe, and there are friendly countries offering the opportunity to live comfortably on undeveloped islands. Almost all of these places to retire have a cost of living far lower than prices in the U.S.
Looking for the best places to retire in Asia and Oceania? Many beautiful tropical countries in Asia and Oceania appeal to baby boomers. In terms of affordability, safety, and accessibility to foreigners, we will look at places to retire in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, The Philippines, Vietnam, and the island of Tonga.
Retire in Thailand. Of all of the countries in Asia, Thailand has garnered the most interest from retiring baby boomers. Thailand offers the best of what retirees seek, including a low cost of living, a high standard of living, exceptional weather, a beautiful landscape, decent healthcare, and friendly people. Their economy is sound with a thriving technology sector, varied industries, tourism, and unemployment under 4.5%. Although political strife has been in the news lately, the situation is not unusual, and for the average Thai living outside of Bangkok, life goes on as usual.
The climate is mostly tropical, although Thailand is fortunate to have a long coastline and numerous islands where escape from the heat is possible. Thailand has two very rainy periods—in the spring and fall—due to the monsoon rains. Summer is much like Florida (without the hurricanes) and winters are spectacular, with sunny skies almost every day.
Thailand offers so many choices for the retiree. Your options include beachside communities, urban living in Bangkok, delightful offshore islands, rural countryside, and exotic places like Chiang Mai, long a favorite with foreign retirees. Thailand is a modern country by most third-world standards, with most of the conveniences English-speaking retirees are accustomed to. The cost of living, including health care, is very affordable. It is possible to live on a modest Social Security pension alone.
I was fortunate to have lived in Thailand many years ago and I will never forget the friendly Thai people; no wonder it is often called the “land of smiles.”
Retire in the Philippines. The second most popular retirement destination in Asia and Oceania is the Philippines. The area has three primary draws for retirees. First is the very low cost of living. Rental costs (owning land is not permitted for foreigners) run about 20% of a comparable U.S. property. The second attraction is one that appeals to single men: the Filipino women. There is rampant poverty in this country and Filipino women see American, Canadian, and European men as an opportunity for security and a better life. Although this may sound desperate, there are thousands of expats living in the Philippines, and many are happily married to Filipino women. In many cases, marrying a foreigner will lift a woman’s entire family out of poverty, as their families are tight-knit and financial support of her family is expected.
The third and most appealing advantage for retirees is the natural beauty of the Philippine islands. The country has a few main islands and over 7,000 smaller ones, lush rainforests, rugged mountains, and excellent fishing and diving opportunities. No matter where you live in the Philippines, the ocean is not far away.
The climate in the Philippines is excellent; there are essentially three seasons. March to May brings increasing heat and some rain, June to October brings a gradual decrease in heat and abundant rainfall, and winter, from November through March, brings cooler weather and little rain. There is no snow or ice anywhere, and the mountains and beaches offer respite from the heat of summer.
The Philippines have a culture unique in all of Asia and Oceania. Most of the population is Catholic (and socially conservative), and Spanish influence is everywhere from pre-20th century Spanish colonization. The U.S. governed the islands for the first half of the 20th century and still has a token military force there. Tagalog is the primary language and English is the second. Although English is taught in schools, it is rarely used by everyday citizens, and some ability to speak Tagalog is helpful.
How much you would enjoy retiring in the Philippines is very much a matter of location. Urban living rents in popular Cebu City are as much as comparable property in Florida. Subic Bay’s Freeport Zone (SBFZ) is a huge (262 square mile) U.S. Naval base turned into a gated community. Homes are not elegantly deluxe, but the SBFZ is clean, the utilities are dependable (unlike everywhere else), and it is safe. The dwellings, mostly former officers’ quarters, are owned by the government but can be rented. Two-bedroom homes can approach $1000 a month, so it is not cheap. Just outside the SBFZ, in Subic Bay, lies Olongapo City, a favorite with expats. Here homes can rent for as little as $130, and beach bungalows are a little over $300. Perhaps a location like San Pablo City, a 2-1/2 hour ride southeast of Manila, is a great compromise. It is a small city, clean, and relatively safe. Rents are less than half of what you’d find in Cebu or the SBFZ. Located on a mountain slope, San Pablo City benefits from some cooler breezes.
Retire in Indonesia. Indonesia is now the world’s third most populous democracy, the world’s largest archipelagic state, and home to the world’s largest Muslim population. Nonetheless, it has attracted the attention of U.S., Canadian, European, and especially Australian retirees.
By far, the most desired of its many islands is Bali. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, its 3 million plus residents adhere mostly to the Balinese Hindu religion. Also unique is its history of Dutch Indonesian colonization. After Japanese occupation during World War II, the Dutch reclaimed Bali, but not long after, in 1949, they recognized Indonesian independence, including Bali.
The residents of Bali are peace-loving, family-oriented, and happy people. Bali offers an affordable cost of living, rich cultural diversity, favorable climate, natural beauty, welcoming people, beautiful flora and fauna, and decent infrastructure, thanks to a growing tourism sector.
Residency for retirees is relatively easy, and many expats are enjoying life there. The only real downside is the threat of volcanic activity, as Indonesia lies on the infamous Pacific “ring of fire.” For more information about Bali and Indonesia from Wikipedia, start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bali
Retire in Malaysia. A former British colony, Malaysia is a melting pot of Malays, Chinese, Indians, and expats from all over. Although Islam predominates, other religions are well represented, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Chinese religions, and religious freedom is law. Half of the country lies south of Thailand’s western peninsula and the other half is part of the island of Borneo, shared with Indonesia. Long a British colony, in 1963 it became an independent federation and remains so today, except for the secession of Singapore in 1965.
Malaysia is in many respects a modern, business-oriented country. Water and sanitation facilities are good, and the capitol, Kuala Lumpur, is a modern city with world-renowned skyscrapers. Most expats seem to favor the urban decadence of first-world accommodations and healthcare found in Kuala Lumpur or exotic Penang Island. The latter, referred to as the “Pearl of the Orient,” has a predominantly Chinese population and beckons with beautiful beaches, marvelous food, and a good standard of living. The Thai resort area of Phuket is just a few hours north.
Foreigners can own property in Malaysia, but there are high minimums to meet. Visas are available to qualified foreign retirees under the MM2H program (which stands for “Malaysia My Second Home”), and once settled, the benefits of low or no taxes are substantial.
English is widely spoken and acts as a second unofficial language. It is the language used in public school courses for math and the sciences. Rental prices run about half of comparable properties in the U.S. The climate is warm without being oppressive, especially in the mountainous areas.
Retire in Vietnam. There is a natural prejudice against Vietnam in the U.S., and for more than a decade after its unification, Americans did not want to even visit, let alone retire there. Much has changed over the last two decades, and Vietnam is emerging as an energetic country with captivating natural beauty and tranquil village life. Cost of living there is extremely cheap, yet the infrastructure and services are constantly improving.
One Vietnamese place to retire mentioned in Kiplinger’s June 2011 “8 Great Places to Retire Abroad” feature is Nha Trang, Vietnam. Nha Trang looks like any seaside resort town, with miles of sandy beaches, and scenic mountains are nearby. A retiree can live comfortably here for $750 a month or luxuriously for $1000 a month. Good healthcare is available, and the cost of living is very affordable. One drawback mentioned in the article is the remoteness of the place; the nearest airport is 25 miles away and has no direct flights to the U.S.
Retire in Tonga. Ever want to live on a truly remote tropical island with no crowds, no massive resorts, no traffic lights, and no stress? This only remaining monarchy in the Pacific might be just the place. Let’s get the negatives covered first. It is a small island, or more correctly, a group of many very small islands. Therefore, not much land is available for foreigners. It is remote, lying in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Fiji lies some 650 miles to the northwest, the Cook Islands and Tahiti are distant to the east, and the Samoan islands are off to the north.
The climate of Tonga is tropical, characterized by the contrast between a wet season (November-April) and a dry season (May-October). The annual mean temperature is around 25° C (77° F). The dry season is cooler and free of cyclones.
Tonga is at the beginning of time, literally, as it sits on the International Date Line. It is also a place where time doesn’t matter. Life there may seem haphazard, even chaotic. This is not the place for those who expect punctuality or speedy service. To call this place laid-back is an understatement.
That said, the people there are friendly, gracious, helpful, and willing to share what they have. For such a remote place, the infrastructure, healthcare, literacy, and sanitation are excellent. Food is plentiful, as it grows everywhere. Living healthy is easy, but acquiring imported Western goods is expensive and tedious. For more about Tonga, read the country profile on the BBC News website at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/country_profiles/1300742.stm
Retire in New Zealand or Australia. Although there is much interest in retiring in down under in expansive, diverse Australia or naturally beautiful New Zealand, retirement in either country is difficult and expensive for non-citizens. That said, either is an excellent travel choice and you’ll find no friendlier people anywhere.