Retirement journey

When we begin our retirement journey, we do not always know exactly where we are going. Since this is a new beginning, we have little experience to reference. And although we may have some general ideas about what is ahead, there is a certain mystery enshrouding a lifestyle we have not yet experienced firsthand. As a result, our second act is often a work in progress where we learn as we go.

No longer are the day’s activities laid out as was the case while pursuing our respective careers. Back then, each day had clear objectives, and we kept busy getting it done. But as we shift gears and enter retired life, that familiar guiding hand is no more.

We want to get retirement right and avoid any delay in enjoying what we have worked so hard to realize. Here’s how to do a realistic examination and fine tune your retirement plans:

Take a closer look at how you spend your days. Now that you are retired, you get to choose what you want to be doing. One of the great attractions of retirement is realizing the freedom to decide how to spend your time. Rather than dread what you have to do, this is your chance to focus on what you enjoy. To best take advantage of your newfound liberty, set aside some time to understand how you spend your hours and days. See if what you are engaged in is what you really want. If not, what would you rather be doing? Try to remove any clutter or distraction that stands between you and what you enjoy. Prune away whatever is not enhancing your retired life to make room for new growth and experiences.

Revisit your budget once you are actually living in retirement. You probably ran the numbers a variety of times before making the move to retire. Comparing your expected retirement income to your projected retirement expenses can help you establish a level of comfort before retiring. Once you have spent a few years living as a retiree, you may want to revisit those numbers to do a reality check. Perhaps you underestimated the amount you spend on travel or are not eating as much food as you originally planned. A little fine-tuning reflecting how you are actually spending can help keep you within acceptable bounds.

Have fun with it or move on. Coping with the inconveniences of aging is likely to be a big part of your retirement years. As we grow older, simple things that used to require minimal effort can begin to present challenges. But that is no reason to relegate ourselves to the role of observer. We can still play the game, albeit maybe at a slower pace. We can still travel, explore, experiment, engage and try new things. Don’t put off until tomorrow the grand plans you could begin on today. Retirees have the free time and flexibility to make the best of the moment. And since we are in control, there is no need to continue with something we no longer enjoy. If you are not having fun with what you are doing, turn the page and move on.

Stay on course to where you want to be. Not everyone has specificgoals they hope to achieve in retirement. But most of us would like to avoid wasting the next 20 years of our lives. Maybe we would like to make improvements to the person we are, perhaps chiseling away at bad habits that have dogged us over the years. Or we may desire to add to our knowledge or experience in a particular area. Keeping track of progress toward your targets helps maintain a focus that can improve your chances of getting there. If you know where you stand, you can tell how close you are getting to what you want.

Remember you are the boss. Friends and family may have thoughts about how retirement should play out, which is just fine when it comes to their own retirement. But well-intentioned advice about how you shouldlive your retired days should be taken with a grain of salt. Listen politely and incorporate what makes sense to your situation. Don’t get pressured into doing what you do not want to be doing. Getting to retirement has been a long trip. Now that you are here and control your future, it is time to take advantage of your ability to do as you please.

Comparing your expected retirement income to your projected retirement expenses can help you establish a level of comfort before retiring. Once you have spent a few years living as a retiree, you may want to revisit those numbers to do a reality check. Perhaps you underestimated the amount you spend on travel or are not eating as much food as you originally planned. A little fine-tuning reflecting how you are actually spending can help keep you within acceptable bounds.

The Advantage of a Built-In Expat Community

One of the things my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I have come to value over the years that we’ve lived abroad are well-organized expat communities.

We do know some expats who were determined to be pioneers and boldly go where no North Americans had gone before. But for us…and most other expats we know…there are undeniable advantages to having people around you in your chosen expat destination who have already blazed a trail, made the most common mistakes, and learned the ropes.

At the very least it means you won’t have to blaze that same trail, make those same mistakes, and learn those same ropes on your own if you don’t want to.

Let’s face it…almost any destination you choose to live or retire abroad will be different from where you started. There will be plenty of novelty, unfamiliarity, and challenge waiting for you no matter who has gone there before or how big the expat community there happens to be.

Most of us expats are relieved to find someone to help us find the best butcher, hardware store, and handyman rather than having to figure it out from scratch for ourselves. It can save a lot of time, money, and frustration.

Are there some destinations that are overrun with expats?

It depends completely on how you feel about people just like yourself. We know some expats who feel that the fewer expats there are in a place, the better that place is for the expats who do find it. And it is undeniably true that the more North Americans there are in a particular place, the more the businesses and services of that place will try to cater to their needs and wants.

If what you’re after is a completely unspoiled local culture, a destination with a large expat community won’t provide it. You will inevitably find local restaurants that serve meatloaf and pizza, local bars that play North American music, local food stores that try to carry North American brands, and local builders who include North American-style floor plans in their offerings.

In communities like this, you have choices. If you have strong convictions one way or another, you can either patronize the businesses that try to offer you products and services that remind you of home, or you can patronize those that don’t.

In our experience, the vast majority of expats do both. They happily shop at the local mercados for local produce and patronize the local restaurants for local dishes…and they just as happily patronize a place where they can order the occasional cheeseburger and pizza while watching some U.S. football or baseball.

It’s kind of like Cuban or Indonesian expats in the U.S. hanging out at Cuban or Indonesian restaurants if they’re available. Everybody likes an occasional taste of home no matter why they move abroad.

Of course, there is a long history in the U.S. of foreign expats settling together in the Little Italys and Chinatowns of so many American cities, and the same thing happens in some destinations popular with U.S. expats. Many of them have their Gringo Gulches and Little Americas where expats have settled together.

Everyone has their own views on whether this is a good or bad thing. But one thing is certain: These expat enclaves can help make a transition abroad much smoother and easier because there is a body of on-the-ground experience and first-hand knowledge there that, simply because you’re a newcomer, you won’t possess.

Taking advantage of that experience and knowledge if it’s available just makes sense.

Editor’s note: As Dan points out life is easier with a network of like-minded folks at your disposal. And, on the International Living Community Site—a completely free and simple-to-use online forum—you can chat to that network of expats and experts, as well as other readers just like you, whenever you have a question about moving or retiring overseas.

By Dan Prescher

Cost of living

  1. One of the big attractions of Chiang Mai, Thailand is its incredibly reasonable cost of living. Although you’ll hear the idea of “Living like a King for US$500 a month” floating around, it can be done but that only applies to the most minimalist of penny-pinching lifestyles. For a single individual, US$1000/month is more realistic but US$1500/month is more than ample to finance a quality of life fit for a King or a Queen (regional travel extra).
  2. The Nomad List website, which compares the cost of living and quality of life of cities around the world, ranks Chiang Mai as one of the cheapest places offering the highest quality of life. While this website is more skewed to the younger traveler, its economic breakdown of hundreds of locations makes for interesting reading. This feature of affordability and cheap cost of living is supported by International Living, a subscription-based retirement community both online and in magazine form. When one researches articles and retirement companies assessing cost of living vs. quality of life locations, Chiang Mai is consistently in the top 5.
  3. You can live here on an extreme budget, choosing accommodation like Siriruk Apartment for less than US$100 a month. Or for US$500 stay in a fully serviced Hotel like the Victoria. If you decide to stay here longer, month-to-month rent for a budget 30-45 square meter condo apartment starts at around 4,000-7,000 THB.
  4. If you are willing to sign a lease (usually 6 months minimum but sometimes you can find one for 3) you can save even more. Buying your own condo starts at around US$25,000 for a basic unit (35-45 sq.m) and more realistically for 80-100 sq.m and two bedrooms, you’re looking at around US$50k +. Houses can be purchased for US$50k and beyond. Of course, depending on your age, you could rent accommodations here for 30 years before you would spend what it would cost to purchase.
  5. When purchasing property, the primary thing to consider is that non-Thai’s cannot own more than 49% of the land a property sites on. However, foreigners are permitted to own condominiums 100%. To get an idea of the type and quality of condo rental or home purchase you can expect for the price, we recommend you look at this local, CMB-approved real estate agency.
  6. Motorbike rentals can start as low as $60 a month for an older, 100 cc manual motorcycle, but always beware of the quality of a cheap bike rental. You are much better off spending $90-100 and get a newer 125cc bike large enough and with enough power for larger, Western body frames.
  7. Food in typical no-frills, family-run Thai restaurants can start as low as 25 BHT and seldom goes past 40 (US 75 cents to $1.20). Most people tend to go to the local places in more urban areas where you are looking at US$2-4 for a meal. Western food usually costs more, but it’s still far cheaper than typical prices in your home country. Any way you slice it or dice it, you will inevitably come to the conclusion that eating out is cheaper and better than cooking at home.

Renting cost for Retirement / Nursing Homes

Cost comparison between various countries. JHVS is a resort environment but the cost comparison is based on normal environment.

More than 90% of the elderly population do not live in retirement homes let alone nursing homes in every country in this world. In developed Western nations, retirement homes and nursing homes are very popular for people who can afford it. Today there are many expatriates working in Asia and some will retire here.

Comparison between
for retirement

Healthcare in Chiang Mai

  1. If you are going to retire in Chiang Mai it’s good to know there are several hospitals in the city. Best known will be Chiang Mai Ram, Ratchavej and Bangkok Chiang Mai Hospital.
  2. All of the hospitals are well equipped and have doctors and nurses who can speak a range of different languages. Each of the hospitals vary in price and of course, there are some government hospitals available. Neurological and cancer specializing hospitals are also available.
  3. For minor ailments, you will find several clinics around the city along with pharmacies. Skill set and knowledge of the individuals varies so it is wise to seek advice rather than picking a clinic at random. Your regular medication can usually be sourced without any problem.
  4. Thailand is a well-known medical tourism destination. Medical treatment here is first-rate and typically a fraction of the cost of where you live now. Medical and dental treatment is both top-rate and affordable as is cosmetic surgery. In fact, even health insurance is affordable for expats living here full time.
  5. An expert dental cleaning is about 600 THB (US$17), x-rays only 800 THB, (US$22), a quality medical check-up from a doctor around 500 THB (US$14), and medical certificates for the various support documentation requirements you’ll need are 300 THB (US$8). For insurance, Chiang Mai Buddy (an authorized AIS insurance broker) will set you up with a premium health insurance policy for much less than you’d pay in your home country.
  6. The cost of hospitalization on a private ward is a fraction of the cost back home. Many expensive medicines are available locally in generic form yet provided at considerably cheaper cost. You can, of course, still get brand name prescription medicines if you wish.

Eat out in Chiang Mai

Thailand has long been known as a home for incredible cuisine, with its huge number of local eateries, as well
as a host of international restaurants featuring well-known dishes from around the world. In Chiang Mai, there are enough restaurants and street vendors to keep you busy for a lifetime. Whether you are in the mood for local Thai cuisine, or looking for something closer to home, you will never be stuck for somewhere to go in
Chiang Mai.

Shopping & Lifestyle in Chiang Mai

Central Festival Chiang Mai

The “tourist destination” in Chiangmai and the “lifestyle hub” of the North. Satisfy the different lifestyle and fulfill your life perfectly with the modernized goods and services from over 250 fashion brand-named store, over 60 lifestyle restaurant both indoor and outdoor, over 10 Major Cineplex movie theaters with 1 IMAX 3D, Ice Skating Rink, Fun Planet and Fitness Club.


Maya Mall is an ultra-modern shopping mall located north-west of the old city of Chiang Mai, right near the popular Nimman area. Maya Mall is a convenient shopping destination that houses a supermarket, pharmacies, banks, retail stores, massage parlor, cosmetics stores, a cinema and large co-working space known as CAMP.

Pantip Plaza

The IT center in Chiang Mai, it is good for basic shopping – there’s a small Big C supermarket where you can find most things you might need. There’s several small coffee stands, and places selling clothes. Make sure you go to the food court on the top floor – good selection of Thai food at a cheap price. Coffee Cantina is good for teas and coffees. There’s plenty Thai language learning center

Rimping Supermarket

It is an upmarket supermarket geared toward Westernized customers and with classical music playing in the background. Rimping is a full grocery store with many import products . You can find just about anything you can find in a grocery at home, maybe more.

Kad Suan Keaw

Kad Suan Kaew Department store is the oldest of the shopping malls in Chiang Mai, but has a variety of shops, restaurants, discount stores and electronics stalls. While there are not many brand name shops in Kad Suan Kaew, it does offer many export shops (popular brand clothing with the labels cut out) and a western style supermarket, Tops, which stocks bread, cheese, alcohol and many other imported items. The basement floor has a small, simple food court and a few mobile phone shops, while the first, second and third floors have clothing, health, beauty and restaurants. On the fourth floor there is a popular bowling alley and an old cinema which only plays Thai films. Kad Suan Kaew Department store is centrally located on Huey Kaew Road in an old, red brick building. It has a large parking lot for cars as well as a covered parking garage, and secure motorbike parking for 5 Baht.
The Lotus Pang Suan Kaew Hotel is situated directly behind the Department store and the two are connected by a door. The Chiang Mai Orchid Hotel is next door and it’s easy to walk directly to the department store.