Expats on a budget are giving Thailand a miss

Expats on a budget are giving Thailand a miss

Expats on a budget are giving Thailand a miss

Thailand’s soaring baht and harsh new rules for Westerners are forcing budget-minded expats to choose another destination.

First popular with American servicemen during the Vietnam War, Thailand became a hub for tourists as well as Western retirees several decades ago. Its ‘something for everyone’ allure took in everything from the ancient northern city of Chiang Mai through lively Bangkok to the unrivalled beauty of the country’s selection of tropical islands. Also popular was the beachside town of Pattaya, the first stop for sun, sea and sex.

As its reputation as a tourist hub grew, older visitors came, fell in love with the Thai dream and decided to retire in their favourite spot when the time came. For those on less than generous pensions, the lifestyle was perfect and amazingly affordable, and the Thai smile became yet another irresistible attraction. Sadly, many in the retired expat community are now facing a double whammy of comparative poverty and the dread feeling they’re no longer wanted in the country they call home.

Although living in Thailand on a meagre pension is still possible, prices have risen over the past few years and the inexplicable rise in the Thai baht has cut expats’ spending power by as much as 30 per cent. The financial squeeze hasn’t been helped by new requirements for the so-called ‘OA retirement visa’, including the mandatory, permanent deposit of 800,000 baht (£20,000) in a Thai bank account. New rules state 400,000 baht must be left permanently in the account, whereas previously the full amount could be used in emergencies and topped back up two months prior to visa renewal.

The worst new of all came when the military junta government decided all expats on OA long-stay retirement visas must have private health insurance. Whilst this is generally a good idea for expats living overseas, only policies issued by a select number of Thai insurers are valid and existing international private health insurance policies aren’t accepted. Coverage is minimal, and the costs quoted by all the Thai companies are exceptionally high, with an expat over 75 years of age forced to pay as much as 100,000 baht (£2,500) a month for coverage not exceeding 400,000 baht. In addition, local less expensive public hospitals are now forced to charge expatriates double the usual fees for treatment.

The new rules have forced many expat retirees to leave, either for a more welcoming country or repatriation to the home country, but those who’ve bought homes are now facing a downturn in the property market and are unable to sell as a result. In 2018, some 80,000 retirement visas and annual extensions were processed, with British expats accounting for the bulk. Others are opting to spend 500,000 baht (£12,500) in the so-called five-year Elite Visa, thus bypassing the new rules. All in all, especially for expats who’ve met and married Thai women and now have children, the sudden change from feeling welcome to feeling unwanted is wrecking expat lives all across the former Land of Smiles.

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