I have lived in Chiang Mai for the past eight years and will probably live here the rest of my life. My reason for residing here is quite simply: finance, cultural enrichment, physical beauty, and the need to communicate in English.
The requirements for obtaining a retirement visa are: one must be at least 50 years of age, have Bht 800,000 ($27,210) deposited in a Thai bank or 65,000 baht monthly income or a combination of both. One can use this deposit during the year, but one must replenish the deposit three months in advance of your annual visa renewal. You will need a local police report saying that you have no felony criminal record, and a doctor’s certificate stating that you are in reasonable health. Please check with your local Thai consulate before you make a commitment because the rules always change. Of course, you can use a 30 day tourist visa (free) to check out the country for yourself before making a commitment.
Throughout this article I will be mentioning Thai baht so the conversion is: 29.4 baht to the American dollar. My Social Security from America and Canada comes to about $1,000 per month. If I lived in San Francisco (my last residence in America) that $1,000 would barely cover the rent and nothing left over for food, clothing, and other essentials. Here in Thailand that $1,000 allows my wife and me to live very well. I bought my condominium when I moved here in 2005 so I pay no rent. That was when the Thai baht was worth 41 Thai baht to the dollar. I paid 1,400,000 baht ($34,146 USD). The condominium is 45 sq. meters and was fully furnished. It has a covered 4 sq. meter balcony that has a spectacular view of the mountains and we use this as our kitchen and dining room. This is one of the first-class condominiums in Chiang Mai. In this condo there are two swimming pools, a huge gym, a small mom and pop essentials store, 24 hour security, 24 hour help desk, a laundry, massage parlor, two restaurants, and many services such as travel agents, lawyers, clothing stores, and free underground parking. As a side note, I should mention that foreigners cannot buy land in Thailand hence most retirees buy condominiums. My UOB bank is right across the street, and there are at least 20 good restaurants within a four square block area. The Central Shopping Center is also four blocks from my abode.
Eating is my biggest expense. Since I had throat cancer I cannot eat most Thai food. One hot pepper in a dish would set my throat on fire. If one can eat Thai food, your food bill will be cut by more than 60%. Let me give you an example. Yesterday for breakfast, (we ate at home) my wife and I had fruit and cereal, coffee, tea, and toast. The cost came to about 100 baht. For lunch we went to Pern’s restaurant and had spaghetti with salmon in a light cream sauce, mushrooms done in a garlic-brown sauce, a large shrimp salad, and bottled water. This came to about 300 baht (about $10 for the both of us). For supper we cooked at home and had: mashed potatoes and gravy, grilled chicken wings and legs, a salad, pineapple, and two glasses of wine. We figured this came to about 250 baht. All in all, we spend about Bht 600 per day. 600 times 31 equal 18,600 baht ($600.00) per month for food. I’m not sure, but I heard that Time magazine did a survey and found that Chiang Mai had the largest amount of foreign restaurants per capita in the world.
Some of the other monthly expenses are: Bht 800 maintenance fee for the condo, Bht 1,000 for electricity (mostly for A/C), Bht 200 for cable TV (four English movie channels, five news channels in English), water Bht 250, high speed internet Bht 550, and about Bht 2,000 for gasoline for the car. One does not need a car in Chiang Mai. The total comes to about Bht 26,000 per month for everything. I get 32,000 baht every month. I love it. Some extras that I would like to include here are: two hour oil massage Bht 300, haircut Bht 60, and manicure and pedicure together Bht 200.
One can rent a modest, clean, and fully furnished room for Bht 3,000 per month plus utilities. The upper-end rentals can tax your imagination.
Getting away from money, now let’s take on cultural enrichment. Thailand wasn’t called the land of smiles for nothing. Most of the people you meet on the street will greet you with a big smile if you at least acknowledge them. There are dozens of art galleries throughout the city. We have a Philharmonic, ballet, four major universities, an American library, numerous Thai cultural events throughout the city, and many coffee shops where one can engage the Thai or foreign people in conversation. Many of the coffee shops have free Wi-Fi. There has to be at least a hundred temples within Chiang Mai. From my balcony on the ninth floor, I can view the Doi Suthep Temple atop the lush green mountain.
Many of the small towns outside of the large cities there will present a huge communication problem. Phetchabun, where my wife comes from, is a medium-sized city but has very few foreigners living there. Consequently, if you don’t speak Thai, you can’t communicate. Most of the foreigners living here in Thailand have a Thai partner to help them in these situations. In Chiang Mai this is not much of a problem. First of all, if I’m going to travel by public transportation, I go to the front desk and ask the clerk to write down the place where I want to go in Thai. I then give the information to the driver of the public transport. Most shop owners, in Chiang Mai, speak enough English for you to be understood.
Since I wrote this article 3 years ago, many people asked me about medical insurance. First, you cannot use Medicare here so let me share my medical story.
Thailand has wonderful medical facilities. I had throat cancer while I was here and for 4 months I had chemotherapy and radiation. Even though I could have gone back to the States and used my Medicare, the co-payment and the hotel expense was much more than the cost of having the procedure done here in Thailand. My doctor was trained in the US and charged me about $4,000. I have been cancer free for 4 years now.
Written By Joseph Skinkis