In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age
of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this
financially independent lifestyle, they invite you
to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.
Is Moving to a
Tropical Thailand Paradise for You?
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli
We often receive email from
our Readers with lots of questions about living or moving to Thailand. How much
does it cost? Does one need to learn Thai to have a successful retirement in
that country? What is there to do for entertainment? What should one do about
We asked our friend, Hugh
Leong, to give us some of his perspective since he has been living full time in
Thailand for over 6 years now, and runs a successful website on the topic:
Retire2Thailand. From his answers
below, you can tell that he has found a good match. If you have questions about
relocating to Thailand, take advantage of Hugh's playful approach to life in an
For more information about
Hugh, see his Bio below.
Retire Early Lifestyle: What brought you to
Thailand, and how many years have you lived there?
I first came to Thailand
seems like another lifetime ago - as a Peace Corps volunteer and worked here for
a number of years, but for more than 20 years, I never returned. When my consulting
job at Boeing was sent to India, I thought that maybe it was time to make a
change. So at this time I went into semi-retirement, spending winters in Chiang Mai and
summers back in the U.S. where I took a few part-time consulting gigs. We
literally had the best of both worlds then.
We lived a two-world lifestyle
for 5 years, until keeping up two homes became too expensive. And anyway,
full-time retirement seemed to be beckoning. That is when we decided to move to
Thailand permanently. Itís been 6 years now and I have enjoyed every moment of
Hugh harvesting rice with a friend
REL: What challenges did
you have making the transition into the Asian culture?
Hugh: Looking at a map of the world
one can see that Thailand is almost exactly on the other side of the world from
my hometown of New York. What I didnít realize was that culturally it is even
further away. I remember standing in the doorway of the airplane as it first
opened on the Bangkok runway. I thought someone had opened the door of an oven.
And it was 2am!
that, but it was Durian season. The Durian is a very popular fruit in Asia, with
its spiny skin and huge size. But it is also the king of stinky fruits and at
this time of the year the smell pervaded everything in the country. With the
smells, the heat, the incomprehensible language, the hot food, getting the runs almost immediately after arriving, and
the noise and traffic of Bangkok, it is a wonder that I didnít just turn around
and ride that plane back to New York.
But I am glad I didnít. The
Thai people are about the friendliest people in the world (I have only been to
45 countries so far but that statement still holds for me.) With their easy
going ways, fun loving personalities, and the calm Buddhist philosophy, the
difficulties I first encountered were easily overcome. Moving down the block in
Manhattan would have been more difficult.
As with anything it will take a
while to adapt. Some Expats here never adapt to the Thai culture, but that is
because foreign communities, mostly in the population centers, are quite large
and many times self-contained. I know people here who only eat Western food and
hang out only with people from their home countries. And they are quite content.
I am comfortable in both worlds since I love Thai food and the people. We are all made differently and luckily for all of us here we have a
choice of lifestyles that can best make us happy.
REL: What do you average
in spending annually? Does this include health insurance?
Hugh: My wife, Pikun, and I average spending
about $2,000 per month. But we buy everything we need and entertain often. We
have a gardener to help us out and could have a maid but would rather do our own
housework and keep our privacy. We eat most of our meals at home but going out
we spend only between $2 and $5 per meal, for both of us. Sometimes we splurge
and go to a big hotel for a nice buffet meal. The one near us has great Western,
Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese selections, all you can eat, for $5 each. That includes
the crepe Suzettes that I love. Iíd go more often but then Iíd blow up like a
Pikun enjoying the harvest from her garden
We own a car and two motorcycles and gas is included in this
number. So are our annual health and dental checkups as well as our visa fees.
I know people who live on lots
more and people who live on lots less. We are probably right in the middle.
Luckily, our Social Security is just about equal to our expenditures. Travels
back home, or to places like China, Bali, Viet Nam, etc. (Thailand is like a hub
between all these great places) and to lots of great destinations in Thailand
itself (great national parks, pristine beaches, deep rain forests), come out of
our investments and are quite affordable.
As for health insurance, we are
doing without. First, it is quite expensive here for anyone over 60 (Medicaid
does not pay for services outside the U.S.). So what we do is we keep enough
money in an account, that we never touch, that would be enough to pay for almost
anything that we might encounter. Health care here is not only quite good but
it's affordable and some procedures will be one-tenth the cost it would be back home. (A heart bypass
operation costs about $30,000, so that is how much we keep in the account). As
for long term care, we just helped to place an 85 year old man into a wonderful
assisted living home (Dok
Kaew Gardens). It is clean, well maintained, with a
well trained staff. Cost: $1,200 per month. His Social Security was more than
enough to pay for everything.
REL: What could one
expect to pay for housing in Thailand on a monthly
Hugh: There are lots of answers to
this question depending on your needs and where you decide to live. Bangkok is expensive,
but you can still live simply. Condos can cost anywhere between $200 per month
to $20,000USD. Houses with yard and garden have about the same range. Upcountry can
be very cheap. But on average here in Chiang Mai, expensive but not the most
expensive, a nice condo with swimming pool, fitness center, close to shopping,
would be in the $300 to $500 per month range. A three bedroom house in a gated
community a little outside of town runs about $500. But I know people paying
lots more and a few down-and-outers living on less.
Hugh and Pikun on a Thai beach vacation
REL: Do you need a
vehicle to live in Thailand?
Hugh: Traffic in Thailand can be
frightening to many people. I just drive slowly with the thought that everyone
on the road is insane but me and I am expecting them to do something completely
outrageous Ė and they often do. But if you choose to drive, your world will be
greatly expanded. Youíll meet more people and go to more places and be freer.
The answer to the question though is NO you do not need a vehicle to live in
Thailand Ė especially in Bangkok with its mass transit system. But anywhere else
in country, without a vehicle you would live a very narrow lifestyle.
Remember, to be safe, drive
slowly and soberly, and expect everyone else to be quite insane and very often unsober.
REL: Thai can be a
difficult language to learn, is it necessary to master Thai to live there?
Hugh: My next door neighbors
who are from
Northern Ireland, canít speak one single word of Thai, and they seem happy as
clams. I myself am fluent and am also happy. One difference is that my community
of friends is much wider (which include my Thai friends on one side of me and my
Irish friends on the other side). But Chiang Mai is a very cosmopolitan place
now and just today I talked with a Brit, and Australian, a Japanese, a Korean,
an Israeli, a Burmese, and some Thais of course. So learning Thai is really not
essential, but knowing English is.
You donít need to know Thai to
be happy here, but I believe that it will expand your life if you do. Besides you
will know so much more of what is going around you. They say that when one gets
older learning a foreign language is very difficult. That is silly on a number
of levels. 1. Learning a foreign language is always difficult, and 2. Just
because something is difficult does not mean it is impossible, and 3. I work at
learning Thai because it IS difficult. If it were easy then it wouldnít be as
And anyway, learning new stuff
when one gets older is a way of exercising your brain and keeping it
rejuvenated. I recommend taking the time and effort to learn Thai and it will
pay off for you daily.
REL: I understand that
Thailand visa regulations change constantly. Could you tell us what the latest
requirements are for someone wanting to move there?
Hugh: Most retirees are here on a
retirement visa. That requires 800,000 baht in a bank account (approximately
$26,000USD) or 65,000 per
month income (currently just over $2,000USD), or a combination of both that would add up to the same amount
required. Remember, that is per person. This must be renewed each year.
Check with the Thai consulate
for the latest on changes and visa requirements.
But the best thing to do is
come here on a transit visa (30 days), then if you still like it here come on a
tourist visa (60 days), still like it? Then come on a non-immigrant visa
(extendable to about 110 days). If after spending all that time you still like
it here then go for the retirement visa (1 year).
Pikun and a friend
REL: Whatís there to do
fun is a very personal thing. I play golf once a week,
write for two blogs, have published 4 books, and
two eBooks since retiring. I am also currently reading 4 books. I take daily walks and
work in my garden for an hour and a half every day. I use Facebook and Skype to
keep in touch back home and download NFL, NBA, and MLB games as well as the latest TV
shows and I never miss the latest movies. I make a habit of watching every Oscar
winner each year. We barbeque with friends often and I raise 5 ducks, 3 chickens,
and 3 rabbits and we have saved well over 100 endangered tortoises from the
cooking pot. Occasionally we even do touristy stuff like visit the elephants,
the beautiful temples, shop at the handicrafts markets and go snorkeling. I
only wish I had more time for golf.
Now I know others who occupy
themselves differently. Of some of the people I know, the Walking Man (German)
walks over 15 kilometers every day, The Dog Man (British) takes care of 35 stray
dogs, The Card Man (American) plays bridge with his club members 5 days a week,
the Bike Man (Australian) takes an annual 10 day bike ride around SE Asia, the
Farmer Man (New Zealander) works on his rice farm, and the Beer Man (Scottish)
sits at beer bars from 11am until midnight. You are only limited in Thailand by
your energy and imagination.
do you think? Would Thailand be a good fit for your retirement needs?
is 65 years old and was raised in New York City. He holds a BA in Psychology, BS
in data processing and an MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Hugh has held jobs as various as psychiatric social worker and computer
consultant to his favorite job, an outdoor fair vendor. He has lived and worked
in Thailand, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States. He has now, like Tolstoy,
retired to the idyllic countryside.
like to thank Hugh Leong for his time and expertise in answering our many
questions. If you would like to know more about living, working or retiring to
Thailand, visit his website
About the Authors
Early Lifestyle appeals to a different
kind of person Ė the person who prizes their
independence, values their time, and who doesnít
want to mindlessly follow the crowd.