After the financial debacle of 2008 and the aftermath that created different lifestyles for many people in the US, I was forced to seek a place to retire outside of the US that would allow me the opportunity to live a dignified, adventure-filled life.
I read a few online articles about “The 10 best places to retire in the world” and most of the same places kept showing up, namely Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama and Thailand. I checked out their economies to see how much bang for the buck I could get living in each country. I also placed a good deal of value on social amenities and surrounding areas that I could easily trek to when I got settled in my new home country. The adventurer in me won out and I chose Chiang Mai, Thailand in the North due to its cooler climate. It’s situated at 1036 feet above sea level and surrounded on all sides by mountains. This provides for a drier and cooler climate than the South, avoiding the warmer tropical temperatures. Coming from the hot and humid climate of South Florida this would be a pleasant change.
Once my search was complete I purchased a one-way ticket to Bangkok and headed out with two suitcases and a backpack to start my new life as a “Farang” as the Thais call the white-skinned Westerner. I hadn’t applied for a tourist visa and upon arriving I was issued a 30-day Temp Visa (which is typical if you don’t apply for one in advance).
There are various types of visas that you can apply for. If you choose to stay in Thailand for an extended period, you could keep extending your Tourist Visa. The Immigration Office usually gives you 90 additional days but, you must leave the country for a day and re-enter to achieve this. This is what’s called a “Visa Run”. In the North, most people travel to Vientiane, Laos (pronounced Lao), visit the Thai consulate there, get their visas renewed in a day and then make the long trek back to Chiang Mai, usually by bus. The “Educational Visa” is good for a year at a time and you must be renewed every 90 days as well by visiting the local Immigration Office and paying 1900 baht (about $63.00). It’s a good way to learn the language and not have to make the dreaded and tiring “visa runs”. There are a few Thai language schools located here and they offer 30 weeks of classes for about $600. You are not allowed to work in Thailand without a valid work visa but, if you have the skill-set that would allow you to be hired by a local company, they’ll apply for the visa for you. You can also work “under the table” as they say, but be careful, if you are found out, you will be deported. If you are older than 55 and have sufficient income, you can apply for a “Retirement Visa” which is good forever but you still have to report to the Immigration Office every 90 days.
Getting around Thailand is fairly easy and rather inexpensive. Ground transportation in Thailand is much cheaper than it is in the States. The train system is probably the cheapest and most social way to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Buses cost a little more but are faster than the trains. An overnight train ride will run about 470 baht (about $15.00) for a sleeper berth but without A/C. If purchasing or renting a car include an A/C because the dry months can be extremely hot. Airfare is more expensive but much quicker. Tickets are about 1800 baht (about $60 one way). Chiang Mai has a very modern airport with daily flights to Bangkok, Malaysia, Cambodia as well as other cities in Thailand. Many people use Chiang Mai as a travel hub to other locations.
Just about everything is cheaper in Thailand, except beer! I’ve acquired a taste for Thai beer because the imports are three times the cost in the States. It wasn’t difficult to lose my desire for American food once I tasted how good the Thai cuisine was. Again, the cost factor was to be considered and especially the health benefits of eating good Thai food versus the usual junk food offerings from the typical fast-food shops that are located all around the city. I’m glad I made the decision to eat mostly Thai food; I’ve lost 32 lbs. and 5 inches in my waistline since I arrived 8 months ago!