Enjoy a Movable Retirement in Asia

Traditional Thai dancerIt’s affordable, safe, exciting, exotic, and has terrific health care.

Last week I shared with you the top 20 picks for overseas retirement on a budget, according to Live and Invest Overseas.

Six of the countries are located in southeast Asia, which is the cheapest region of the world right now. These countries are:

  • China
  • India
  • Laos
  • Malaysia
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

What About Residency?

Malaysia is the only country on this list to offer a retirement visa, called Malaysia, My Second Home.

Known as “MM2H,” the visa is good for 10 years and allows you to enter and leave the country as often as you want. It also lets you work part-time while you’re there. At this time, the visa does not lead to permanent residency, so if that’s your goal you should look elsewhere.

You don’t have to buy property to qualify for the MM2H. If you choose to, though, you’re required to spend a minimum amount which varies depending on location. For more details, visit the official website.

While it’s theoretically possible to get a residence visa in Thailand, it’s not practical for most people. (For one thing, they only give 100 of them each year.)

US citizens can stay in Thailand for 30 days without a visa if they arrive by air, but only 15 if they enter by land. That visa can be renewed by leaving the country and returning, but you can’t stay longer than 90 days out of any six-month period. If you’re over 50, you can apply for a one-year visa.

Expats in Thailand can purchase property, but not land. Buying a condo is straightforward, but if you want a house, you lease the land it’s on instead of owning it outright.

Other Asian countries are not so easy, however. In fact, gaining permanent residency is quite difficult. Additionally, restrictions on property ownership make it inadvisable to purchase property in India, China, Laos and Vietnam.

Why Asia?

So why live in Asia if you can’t gain residency or buy property?

Because you won’t find a lower cost, more interesting or exotic retirement anywhere else in the world! The region is quite safe, and you’ll find excellent — and affordable — health care in the major cities.

If you’re the kind of person who needs to put down roots, this won’t work for you. (But then again, if you were that kind of person you probably wouldn’t be reading about retirement in Asia anyway.)

The solution is to move around. Travel within the region is very inexpensive, so spend the time your visa allows in Thailand, then head to Laos for some relaxation. Enjoy the hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s vibrant economy, then head up into China.

In the past two weeks, I’ve met several people who are doing just that.

One couple has been retired for 30 years. They own a home in Argentina, but they spend very little time there. Instead, most of their year is spent in Asia. They believe Chiang Mai, Thailand, where they’ve been living part-time since 1988, is one of the best places in the world to retire.

Another couple started out a few years ago to travel around the world, but got to Asia and decided to stay. They’re back in the US now for a few months, but plan to head to Asia again after that.

A single young woman has been traveling extensively all over the world. I spoke with her last week, and she’s now planning a six-month trip to Asia with her 11-year old niece! They’ll start in Chiang Mai, which is one of her favorite places in the world and a place she feels very safe bringing her young relative.

These seasoned travelers shared some advice about where to go and what to see.

In China, Kunming and Chendu are welcoming and inexpensive.

If you want beaches, go to Vietnam or Thailand, particularly Hua Hin.

Want completely laid back? Then Laos is for you.

If you love big city life, pick Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia or Bangkok, Thailand.

If health care is your concern, the medical facilities in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Chiang Mai are excellent. One of the Asia travelers I met was an RN in the US for 20 years, and he finds their medical care better than what’s in the US. If you’re in a more rural area, though, you probably want an evacuation plan in case you become ill.

photo by docnic on flickr


  1. This is great stuff, Susanna(sp?)! It’s good to know what my options are before I look at moving abroad after I graduate college in another year. However, I’d like to open up the area of relationships with locals (particularly marriage) and what options for residency or land/property ownership there are. As I’m not too far from 30, I’m highly certain that during my travels around the world I’ll meet someone (who I’m pretty sure won’t be from the USA, but I can’t be absolutely certain) and want to get married. IF my significant other/spouse is from any of the countries listed above, would a foreign spouse of a local-national have certain entitlements that a regular expat would not have?

    To further clarify: If I, say…marry a woman from China who wishes to stay in China (it’s ripe for the teaching ESL market), would this mean that I would have to renew a visa every 90 days/once a year or would I be exempt? Although I’m sure a lawyer specializing in that particular area of civil and international law would be a better adviser, I just wanted to bring this issue to the forefront because I’m sure there will be a sizable majority of singles (widowers and divorcees) retiring abroad that will look for companionship (i.e. marriage (Common-Law or traditional) and want to know what they will need to do in order to stay with their spouse.

    • Well, Ed, as with everything else visa related, it varies from country to country. Most countries have some concessions for alien spouses. Theoretically if you marry a national of the country you shouldn’t have to jump through as many hoops.

      Your point, that there are probably a lot of single people moving/living abroad who’d be interested in this information is well taken.

      And yes, you did spell my name correctly. Thanks! 🙂

  2. Caroline WIlson says:

    Hi Susanna, I enjoyed reading your very informative blog. I am glad i run into your blog. I am also in the planning stages of living outside the US. I have been here for 30+ years and also was a victim to the financial meltdown that stared in 2007. I lost almost everything that I have worked so hard for. However, I am the type of person that does not dwell in unfortunate things that happens in one’s life. I moved on and now employed. I had the chance to travel to Southeast Asia last year for work and spent one month overseas. This experienced changed my future plan and decided on a 3 year plan to live in the Philippines. I am planning on living outside the city,an island in the Philippines called “Palawan”. It is very inexpensive, eco concious, less crime, gorgeous beaches. The people are so hospitable and kind. You can rent a decent house close to the water for $200/month, food probably will cost max of $50. They also have good medical facilities and in case of real specialized medical issue, the city of Manila is an hour plane ride.

    I have things to sell too, house stuff, cars etc before we move. I am not planning on taking a lot of stuff with us, maybe just things that is going to be hard to find there. My husband has never been in Southeast asia, so to plan ahead and educate him, we are going to spend the holidays in the Philippines. Mind you, this is as white american as you can get and was raised in Iowa. I have told him that he simply cannot compare a 3rd world country to the US, however if quality of life is what you are looking for, then living in southeast asia is the right move if you are open minded about learning different culture, ways and immersing yourself with your new surroundings.

    I am so excited and cannot wait, I am so ready to retire and begin a new chapter of my life. I will surely keep you posted and let me know if you have any questions about the Philippines and I will try to answer it the best I could.

    Goodluck to your plans of retirement also and would love to hear updates. Thank you very much and take care.

    • Caroline, thanks for commenting. Your plan to move to the Philippines sounds very doable on a three-year timeframe, if your husband is on board with the idea. I’m not familiar with Palawan, but I know when I spent a week in Manila a few years ago the people were wonderful. And even though Manila’s an extremely crowded city with nightmare traffic, people were generally cheerful and laid back.

      Let me know how your plans progress.

  3. Selfless Gene says:

    Would it be considered impolite of me to point out that the People’s Republic of China (your number one pick for some kind of indigent “retirement”) is a communist dictatorship/police state? As part of anyone’s preperation for living there they might want to visit the Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International web sites to get some idea of what that means.

    • Well of course you’re welcome to point that out. This site attempts to stay away from politics, but I would trust that readers with political and social concerns would weigh them in any consideration of where to live. As to human rights violations, we need look no farther than what occurred at UC Davis just a few days ago to see them alive and well.

  4. Selfless Gene says:

    Thank you for not deleting my post. If you wish that this site remain apolitical then I respect that. As I’m sure you’re aware, there are plenty of other expat sites where people’s desire to regain the degree of freedom we once enjoyed in this country is discussed openly as one of the primary reasons for leaving the U.S. For them – and me – to trade one police state for another is not a viable option. But that’s all I’ll say on the subject. Meanwhile I’ll avail myself of all the other excellent content on your site. Keep up the good work.

    BTW: On my previous post substitute the word “itinerant” for “indigent”. Obviously, if someone can afford to keep moving from country to country as their short-term visas run out they are the former and not the latter. I’m still searching for that one place in the whole wide world where I want to spend the rest of my life (and they’ll let me stay).

  5. Selfless Gene says:

    I’ve just spent about an hour writing an extensive response to your question. When I tried to post, the damn CAPTCHA code blew it all away. These things drive me crazy. It’s very difficult to tell the case of the letters. I think ommiting a space got me this time. What a wasted effort! From now on I will save the entire post in another app because this happens almost every time.

    • Sorry you had problems. I didn’t install Captcha for a long while, but when it got to the point where I was getting close to 1000 spam comments per day, I finally gave in. One trick I use — just before I attempt the Captcha I copy the text of what I’ve just written (CTRL C on a Windows computer) so that if the Captcha doesn’t work I can just paste it back it (CTRL V) and try again.

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