For most of us, Singapore is the only home we know. Retiring in Singapore, however, does not seem easy, judging by the number of elderly people working into their twilight years and the fact that the cost of living has increased 36.7% in the past 20 years.
Retirement can be a daunting subject for those who haven’t put much thought into what to expect, wish, or need when they retire. The good news is that Southeast Asia is well known globally as a region with a wealth of exciting, comfortable, and affordable countries to retire in. Whichever is your retirement destination, our neighbours have much to offer with exotic adventures, beautiful cultures, and unforgettable food.
To help you with this exciting decision of choosing where to retire, here are some of the region’s best retirement choices, broken down into the costs of living and requirements for a retirement visa.
|Cost in Singapore Dollars (SGD)||Indonesia||Vietnam||Malaysia||Thailand|
|Average Monthly Cost of Living (Comfortable)||1,250||1,300||1,750||1,900|
|Meals at Inexpensive Restaurants||3 to 5 per meal||1 to 3 per meal||3 to 6 per meal||2 to 4 per meal|
|Monthly Pass Public Transport||20||12||35||50|
|Monthly Fitness Subscription||40||30||50||70|
|1 Bedroom Apartment in City Centre||400 – 600||550 – 750||450 – 1200||500 – 1000|
#1 Indonesia: Most Affordable In Southeast Asia
Indonesia is a beacon for warm hospitality. The gorgeous natural landscape and low cost of living have contributed to its popularity as a retirement destination. In particular, the province of Bali has welcomed an influx of numerous expatriates.
Those aged 55 and older may stay in Indonesia for one year on the ITAS Lansia or the Retirement Temporary Stay Permit, which may be renewed up to five times. This, however, is a single entry visa obliging you to stay in Indonesia for 12 months. If you wish to travel in and out of the country, you should also apply for a multiple exit/ re-entry permit (MERP).
You have to demonstrate a pension or income that amounts to at least 1,500 USD per person each month. That said, if you are applying as a married couple, both of you must be able to prove you satisfy the income requirements separately, else one of you will need to sponsor the other. This is crucial because Indonesia’s retirement visa does not allow any work.
Unfortunately, if you’re hoping to live on a tight shoestring budget, you ought to know that retirees are expected to spend and boost the Indonesian economy. You must also prove that the accommodation you live in if you purchased it, costs at least 35,000 USD (46,000 SGD). Additionally, your rent must exceed at least 500 Dollars (685 SGD) a month in Jakarta, Bandung, and Bali, 300 USD (411 SGD) in Java, Batam, and Medan, or 200 USD (274 SGD) anywhere else in the country.
It is also mandatory for you to hire an Indonesian maid for the duration of your stay.
Fret not, the cost of living in Indonesia is quite low, so it’s possible to live comfortably on a surprisingly small amount of cash. A recent survey found that a single person can live comfortably on Rp 13,415,843 (1,250 SGD) a month. The figure, however, can vary significantly depending on where you reside in Indonesia.
In context, Indonesia ranks 9th on the cost-of-living index, making it the most affordable country in Southeast Asia.
#2 Vietnam: Second Most Affordable In Southeast Asia
With over 2,000 miles of coastline, quaint fishing villages, affordable living, and world-renowned cuisine, Vietnam is a popular destination for those seeking peace and tranquillity on a budget.
The appeal of Vietnam has expanded beyond the emerald water in the famous Halong Bay and the grandeur beauty of the well-preserved Hoi An, making it an attractive choice for expats.
However, Vietnam’s English proficiency may not be the most ideal, with the country placed in the “low proficiency” category by an international education company, Education First (EF). Vietnam ranks 65th in the world according to English proficiency. In comparison, Singapore ranks first in Asia.
If you intend to live your retirement days in Vietnam, you have two options: make “visa runs” every three months or get an extension on your visas. Visa extensions are expensive, so most people just take a visa run. Essentially, this means that they leave the country for periods of a few hours to a few days. Then, you re-enter Vietnam and the “three-month visit” can begin again.
How much will retirement in Vietnam set you back for? 16,000,000 VND (950 SGD) on the low end of the scale, up to 32,000,000 VND (1900 SGD) for mid-range expats. This is based on multiple months of living costs—you may spend more getting settled in, but most expats average 23,000,000 VND (1,350 SGD) a month.
On this budget, you can live in a lovely place, pay all utilities, receive housekeeping services, eat out every day and occasionally treat yourself to massages. For a fraction of what you would pay in Singapore, you can live a life of luxury if you have a larger budget.
With a cost-of-living index score of 37.54, Vietnam ranks 8th in the index and features as the second most affordable country in Southeast Asia. In comparison, Singapore scores 85.59 on the index, making it the most expensive country in Southeast Asia.
#3 Malaysia: Closest To Home With Higher English Proficiency
Because of its proximity to Singapore, comparable cultural and linguistic makeup, and substantially lower cost of living, Malaysia is a preferred destination for Singaporean retirees.
What’s more, expats can own freehold properties and there is no inheritance tax and no tax on income earned overseas. Whether you are looking for a resort on its golden beaches or a lush rainforest getaway, Malaysia has much to offer you.
Under Malaysia’s My Second Home programme, those aged 50 and above can get a 10-year retirement visa by opening a fixed deposit account in Malaysia containing at least 350,000 MYR (or roughly 112,300 SGD) or showing proof of a pension fund of at least 10,000 MYR per month (3,200 SGD). For purposes of the visa, CPF payments count as pension payments.
For those aged below 50 wishing to enjoy early retirement, a 10-year visa (except in Sarawak) requires liquid assets of at least 500,000 MYR (160,400 SGD), a monthly income (not derived from Malaysia) of at least 10,000 MYR (3,200 SGD), and a fixed deposit of at least 300,000 MYR (96,300 SGD).
On average, the cost of living and rent in Malaysia is about half or a third that in Singapore, depending on which part of Malaysia you intend to retire in. Compared to Thailand (Bangkok), Malaysia is also 30% cheaper in suburban areas like Johor Bahru.
An hourly massage starts at 100 MYR (32 SGD), a pedicure at 55 MYR (18 SGD), and a cleaning lady is 20 RMB (7 SGD) an hour. One can rent a modern 2,300-square-foot, three-bedroom apartment overlooking the Straits of Malacca, with a pool and a gym, for only 3700 MYR (1,200 SGD) every month.
In Malaysia, a 5,400 MYR (1,750 SGD) baseline income allows for easy living. Food, accommodation, and household help are quite affordable. For 10,350 MYR (3,300 SGD) per month, retirees can live “extremely well” and stay in a three-bedroom condo with a balcony overlooking the ocean. If you can get by without such a view or will not need to live right by the beach, 8,300 MYR (2,700 SGD) per month will be more than sufficient.
With a cost-of-living index of 39.51, Malaysia ranks 9th in the list, making it the 4th most inexpensive country in Southeast Asia.
#4 Thailand: Famous For Its Food, Beaches And Sabai Sabai Lifestyle
Thailand is a popular retirement destination for good reasons – rich culture, delicious cuisine, friendly people, sunny weather, expat friendliness, and unique cultural sights.
In the north of Thailand, you can experience thrilling adventures at Chiang Mai’s mountains and winding roads. At the heart of Thailand, you can experience true urban living in Bangkok’s arts, fashion, and entertainment hubs. At a fraction of the cost of living back home, you can enjoy all the amenities of a modern city. For those who dream of the beach life, Phuket and Krabi may be perfect for you.
The Thai retirement visa is only available for individuals aged 50 and above who has a Thai bank account containing at least 800,000 THB (36,000 SGD), or a monthly income of at least 65,000 THB (3000 SGD), or a combination of the two, so long as the sum of your bank account balance and annual income is at least 800,000 THB. An important thing to note, you are not allowed to have employment and you must report to Immigration every 90 days to verify your current address.
The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Bangkok’s central business district (Thong Lor, Sukhumvit) runs about 20,500 THB (875 SGD) per month. Add in the utility bills, it reaches more than 22,000 THB (950 SGD) a month. Additional monthly costs run between 20,000 THB (850 SGD) and 22,000 (950 SGD) THB. The cost of housing outside the city centre could reduce your monthly rent by almost half, to approximately 11,000 THB (475 SGD).
In terms of ballpark figures, 45,000 THB (1,900 SGD) a month should be adequate to live comfortably in Bangkok, Pattaya, and Hua Hin. For this amount, you can rent a place, dine on local food and special meals at a restaurant, and travel on a budget.
In context, Thailand ranks 3rd on the cost-of-living index, making it the 7h most affordable country in Southeast Asia.
Having the opportunity to relocate beyond our current geographical location is a luxury.
With these countries’ more affordable costs of living, slower pace of life, picturesque landscape, unique historical heritage and warm hospitality, the above-mentioned Southeast Asian countries can be a retiree’s dream countries to settle in.
The low cost of living in these countries may also with trade-offs: underdeveloped healthcare system, political instability, bad traffic, language barriers, and lax law enforcement. Additionally, there are often social reasons why people tend to stay put in their home countries. It is not easy to uproot yourself and cultivate new social networks in your older years.
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