After spending 3 months on this popular Indonesian island I have a good grasp of costs to live here. All of these numbers are just for a single retired man. No dog. No wife. No kids. Just me. Here we go with Bali cost of living… The cost to rent on this island, in popular areas, can be absolutely amazing low and can go up as high as “are you kidding me”. For example I booked a few hotel rooms, normally referred to as a “home stay”, for as little as 7 USD per night and this included breakfast!! I Read more…
Chiang Mai and my cost of living in Thailand
There are few people that can ignore how much
the cost of living will be in Thailand
, Mexico, Spain or wherever their idea of paradise is. When I left Tucson Arizona, in January 2013, for greener and cheaper pasture I was also a little apprehensive. I was hoping that my choice of Mexico was indeed a good choice.
In an earlier article, I cited that one of my reasons for leaving San Miguel de Allende, Mexico was the huge increase in the cost of living there. Ecuador was going to be my next country to enjoy, however the cost of living there was only about 25% less than my current costs in Mexico.
Thailands cost of living looked considerably cheaper on paper. Like so much research we all do, other people’s research often never matches our own experience and “your mileage may vary” creeps into the overall equation.
Now that I have
lived in Chaing Mai,
Thailand for 4 months I can give you an accurate report on my experiences and a little about general finding here in Thailand. But first here are the numbers from a site that I like that has some good information that I actually based my move on before I arrived here: Cost of living comparison between Tucson, USA and Chaing Mai, Thailand. That report basically states that I would need TWICE as much income to live the same lifestyle here in Thailand than in Arizona. Oh dear, how on earth would I accomplish that? I think my costs would be triple for me in Tucson than compared to here in Chaing Mai! Hence the flood of retirees to places like Thailand and Ecuador!
First my housing. I live in a 46 sq. meter studio condo that is in a very modern building just 1-year-old. In Thailand, this size condo is considered big. To most, especially American, farang (a farang is anyone from outside of Asia) 46 sq. meters, or about 500 sq. feet is tiny. Right? I have a combo mountain and city skyline view, great location to shopping malls, main street, walk to restaurants and walk to my Thai language school. I have a kitchen that by Western standards is paltry, with just a hot plate, induction heater to be exact, to cook with and a microwave oven to warm things.
I have a large modern bathroom with a walk-in shower, a balcony also with views and a place to dry my washing and defined areas for sleeping, sitting, eating and working. I agreed to a 1-year lease period and my rent will be 12,000 baht each month. At the time of writing this article, that is about US$360, which is what my rent was in Santa Monica in 1974. My electricity is expensive at this time of year due to the air conditioning on most of the day and night: 1,600 baht a month, my fast internet is 500 baht, water 200 baht and I have a maid clean my room twice a week (see those shiny floors in the photos?) for 1,200 baht each month. Total housing cost: 15,500 baht, or about $460.
The style of my home would have been never my choice earlier in my life; too modern and too small. As I have stated many times in my articles: the key to living happy and comfortable, in your own paradise, is throwing out your old way of living your life and accepting the changes that will be inevitable. Trying to recreate, in your future paradise, what you left behind in England, USA or wherever will be difficult and expensive to accomplish.
The next biggest expense is food and drink. So far, I have not cooked any real meals in my own kitchen. First of all I do not know how to cook Thai food and what ingredients to buy. I make porridge with fresh fruit, toast and popcorn and that’s about it. My groceries and household items cost me about 2,000 baht each month plus about 800 for beer :). Meals at restaurants and street food cost another 8,000 baht a month and beer outside my home another 2,500 baht. That is a total of 13,300 for all my food and drink. About $400.
At the moment, my only means of transportation is a songthaew, a covered 2-bench truck that I may be sharing with others and for 20 baht each journey I can get around to most major landmarks in this city up to about 4km away. This is now getting old though and because I do not speak Thai then asking the same driver to take me to a certain address (still must be on a songthaew route) is not possible for me. I also walk a lot, which I enjoy if it is not too hot. I probably spend 200 baht each month on songtaew rides. One more option here for me and the rest of Thai cities is a tuk-tuk. These smaller vehicles will take me and 1 or 2 of my friends, to an exact location and often the driver will speak a little English but the cost is much higher at 60 to 100 baht inside Old Chaing Mai.
I have decided to buy a scooter. This form of transportation is the most common here in Chaing Mai and I would guess all of Thailand from the little I have seen. A new scooter will cost me about 70,000 baht, but since I do not need a new bike then a 30,000 baht, to purchase a late model Honda Click will be just fine. Besides the initial investment of US$880 there will be the cost of petrol, maintenance, insurance and legal stuff that will cost about 2,000 baht a YEAR if just riding around town and nearby.
My Thai language lessons, I just began at the local YMCA. The cost for 30 hours of instruction is 2,700 baht, about US$80. I buy electronic items from time to time, such as a streaming media player, a computer monitor, mouse, keyboard, electric kettle and a fan. All these items new, are priced the same or less than in the USA and much less than England.
Up until this point my housing, food and a few other items amount to a grand total of US$860 plus the cost of one-time costs which must be figured into a person’s budget over time. Of course you can live here MUCH cheaper than my way of living; smaller and older condos can cost only 7,000 baht and some rooms just 3,000 baht “Thai style”, you can save money on no beer drinking, no internet and using the free internet at many coffee shops. I have also put on weight, about 2 kg, so I could save money on food too! Other expats that live here spend 30,000 baht each month on rent and buy a car. You can also live outside of the city and rent a nice 3 bedroom house starting at 8,000 baht each month. Many choices for all sorts of budgets.
Some of my meals here cost only 40 baht for a simple port curry with rice and a cup of iced water. fancier places can be 200 baht per dish. Street food is perfectly safe, or just as safe as a restaurant option will be. I have never been sick here with any major stomach upset. In Mexico I was sick many times for the first 8 months; maybe I have not been sick here because Mexico helped build up my bug immunity, not really sure.
My life here is comfortable and easy. It is also easier, for me, to make friends here. The
here, both working and retired is much easier to connect to and to meet smart people. My experience in San Miguel was not nearly as good as here. So far so good. My pension is more than enough and so I get to save each month, although the first few months in any move always costs more because of initial expenses settling in.
Do you have a question about an item that is missing from my article. Hit the CONTACT button above or leave a reply to this article below. Wherever you are as you read this: enjoy the Planning and set it in motion!
Which items to sell or pack?
Whether I am packing for a weekend getaway or planning my move to Mexico, “what to pack” is always an issue for me and my guess it is for you also, right?
Because I drove from Tucson Arizona to my chosen town of San Miguel de Allende Mexico, then the space in my mini-van, afforded me the luxury of moving not just my clothes but many items including a 52″ flat screen televison. Although I do know a few female friends who may be the exception and my mini-van would be only just big enough for their clothes, and shoes.
When I began to unpack the items I bought, from the cardboard boxes, I was soon rolling my own eyes and asking myself “what was I thinking” when packing certain items. I had packed a small canister vacuum cleaner. Stupid idea. First off 99% of flooring in Mexico is tile or concrete of sorts. Second, I had a maid that was included with the apartment rent! Third, the maid like all other maids that I had heard of here, did not like using such complicated contraptions. My maid was typical of all the rest: a broom, a mop and a duster, cleaned the floors and walls just fine. I bought too many dishes and glasses and they did not fit the decor of my very Mexican style home I now had. I bought far too many tools with me; it’s a guy thing I suppose. Living in a home without my own full set of sockets and several adjustable wrenches seemed somehow “wrong”. I arrived with one and a half cartons full of tools including an electric drill. However, I left Mexico with a large zip-lock bag full of hand tools. The electric drill was useless anyway. First when you rent, someone else does all the work and second, the walls were very, very solid masonry walls about 20 cm thick.
My van actually ended up being a boat anchor! First of all, parking in my small town was at a premium and knowing where to park legally became a nightmare on holiday weekends. This is Mexico and religious holiday weekends are all the time! After my car was towed 3 times, I decided that a car was more of a liability than an asset. The van did a great job of transporting and storing my stuff, but now Mexico’s great buses and local taxis whisk me around at low cost and in great comfort. I sold the van.
OK, now for silly things I brought to Thailand. Socks. Ten pairs of them to be exact. Really nice good quality cotton, dress socks. Just one teenie problem. I wear flip flops or sandals 99.99% of the time here! My white, no-show, sports socks I have worn a few times because they can be more comfortable with slip on shoes. I have worn them 3 times in 4 months. I bought two 30 inch suitcases with me and each one was full to the allowed, USA, limit of 32 kg each one. Even now, I think I overpacked coming to Chaing Mai and I think if I had really been more brutally honest with myself then one 32 inch suitcase would have been just fine with a small backpack.
Be very careful about what you take with you. If you just “think” you will use the item, then chances are you won’t. Plus there is very little that can not be replaced new or used in either Thailand or Mexico, and also Ecuador I would imagine.
I did bring some very useful items! San Miguel is about 2,000 meters above sea level and winter nights are chilly often less than 7 Celcius. Remember that in Mexico very few homes have central heating or cooling. My apartment had a nice gas fire, but the bed would have been very chilly to get into and to sleep without my heated mattress pad. I can highly recommend THIS mattress pad to do the job; no heavy blankets, easy to pack and very low cost to keep you warm.
A cool idea, says me: paper is very heavy! So, instead of packing photographs, medical records, paper memorabilia and other paper items I photographed each item. If I get the urge to print out any of those images I can do that here in Chaing Mai for very little cost. I also scanned hundreds of slides and photographs before moving to Mexico and hundreds more before leaving Mexico for Thailand. Everything is now digital and stored safely on a local hard drive and 2 online backup services.
A good take way from this story I think: One of my greatest personal achievements in recent memory was arriving in Chaing Mai with just 2 suitcases. Trust me, it is NOT easy to do. The “what to keep what to take” task is not easy at all. I have no storage locker full of stuff somewhere in the USA and my family in England have nothing stored for me there in over 30 years! The freedom I feel in my life at the moment is wonderful. I rent my condo and have my “stuff” in such a small amount that I can leave here whenever I want and head someplace else. That sounds like a segue to a story that I have NO idea where that will be staged. Stay tuned.
Is an “early retirement” what you really want?
I think most people would be all ears if I sat down with them and told them that they could absolutely retire early and have an early retirement in a beautiful paradise for less money than they think possible. Even if they loved the jobs they were doing, the thought of retirement is enticing to most. However, it may be not for you. I happen to be really, really good at doing nothing. In fact I think I am an expert in this field. Seriously, so many people I know are NOT good at doing nothing. They get agitated and feel lost; if this sounds like you then an early retirement age or for that matter any full-time retirement may not be for you.
Besides being bored there is another more obvious factor. I remember my own dad telling me in his 70’s that “if he knew he was going to live this long he would have saved more money”. His words are spot on for many of us. Having enough money until “the end” is an important factor and sadly far too many people actually choose suicide over being poor in their old age.
You may well indeed have a government or private pension in place but with a small savings account things can get difficult fast. If you have to pay $5,000 USD for a medical issue then that may be a good portion of your savings. Gone, and very difficult to replace. Welcome to the world of “fixed income”. It is not possible to call your government office and request overtime or a pay increase for good job performance. If I could have, I would be earning top dollar for my performance of doing very little at all!
The irony of us Baby Boomers is that we all (most) want(ed) to retire at 55. However, we will live longer than our parents (hopefully) and thus the decades of being retired is much more than our parents ever had. So more money is needed and I think a more open mind to staying busy when retired. Early retirement means no “water cooler chat” no more office social events, no more office friends and for many it means not being part of something bigger than themselves.
Early retirement means having money for yourself and may still mean supporting children in some ways in college years or early family life of the kids. An early retirement may just mean “early” in the government pension sense. A “full retirement” means a higher pension pay (maybe 67 years old) each month as opposed to an early retirement (perhaps 62 years old) which means you have a penalty for each year before your full retirement. Each country has different rules and a very important step before pulling the trigger, on starting a government pension payout, is to check the rules where you live.
For me an early retirement at 60 was a no-brainer, I was all done with my great mechanical engineering career in medical devices of 35 years, I had few financial obligations and was quite content with a cool drink under a palm tree or a coffee on some sleepy town plaza. Your lifestyle and needs may be different so take it easy in thinking about this huge decision. Best of luck to you all.
I would love to hear from you on this topic, so please consider commenting in the box below. Cheers, John.
Driving in Third World Countries
One of the great things about living in the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe is a certain level of expectations with infrastructure. Driving in these Third World Countries opens up a whole other dimension to the possibilities of insanity on the roads.
Road signs, traffic lanes and traffic signals are all “guidelines” in these countries. A red light hardly ever stops a man on a motorcycle, a painted traffic lane showing 3 lanes of traffic is a nice idea in theory, but when that third lane suddenly ends into a concrete divider, with ZERO warning,you know you are no longer at “Home”. Often road signs to proceed are so confusing that just sitting still seems like the best option.
Check all the legalities of driving your own car, a rental car or a car you bought in your new home country. Correct drivers license? Correct insurance, title to the car and so forth. Keep COPIES with you of all documents to show to the police in case of a checkpoint or you are unlucky to be in an accident.
No article on Third World Countries can possibly be complete without mentioning corruption. As you are merrily driving along the road suddenly you are stopped by local police. Their aim is simple, to improve their paycheck! They will cite that you do not have the required document (they will invent one), no seat belt worn, bad driving and so on. The fine is bartered from a silly high figure down to something you can afford to give them. If you do not want to pay the fake fine then just ask them to escort you to the nearest police station, sometimes the traffic infraction then goes away. magic! Try to only have a small amount of money in your pocket/wallet and keep the rest hidden in your car.
Driving at night is always a bad idea. Heavy rain can often turn roads into lakes, drunk drivers with no license are out there at night and things just multiple very badly when driving at night.
Search for articles on cities and countries for more detail on driving issues and Do’s and Don’ts in that locale.
The voices in my head
It’s always a good idea in Life to keep an open mind and be aware that your Plan A may need a Plan B and possibly a C and D sooner than you think. Finding the best place to retire is no different than any project in life. We all do our research and we forge ahead only to find out that we need to switch tracks. Job change, divorce, bad neighbours or a major mechanical issue with a new car all force us to re-evaluate our choices.
This article is about going with my intuition and accepting a huge change.
My choice of Mexico as my “best place to retire”, has recently forced me to take a step back and look at a few things. In an earlier article from about 2 years ago, I mentioned that there was no point in moving to a cheap place to retire if you do not feel safe in that same town. Well, in my mind, this is what is happening in San Miguel de Allende. Crime is up and so are the costs to live here. Double whammy!
This town, in just 2 years has seen a big change. In the summer of 2013 San Miguel was named, by the readers of the prestigious Condé Nast Traveler Magazine’; A fancy highbrow magazine for the wealthier traveller, as the “top city in the world”. Say whaaaat? TOP CITY? First off, San Miguel de Allende is hardly a “city” topping out at about 120,000 inhabitants and comparing this pueblito with the likes of Venice, Rome, NYC and so on, is in my humble opinion, a load of rubbish. Yes, SMA is a beautiful town, maybe world class even, but “the best”.. nope. Anyway, this accolade has caused one major negative: demand is UP and so are the prices. We are not sipping an espresso on the Champs Elysee here folks, but nevertheless, the cost of a coffee and all other meal prices, sitting on a cobblestone street in Centro, has risen 30% in just 2 years. Circle back to my “fixed income” article and 30% cost of living increase becomes a BIG deal to most people reading this. Rents, hotel prices have all risen dramatically and frankly, owner and operators have just gotten greedy.
Second of all: crime. I have never been the recipient of any violent crime in SMA, but several of my friends have been, one was even murdered this past year. Home invasions, muggings, rape and robbery are all on the rise and dramatically so. There is much debate on the topic at this moment with the argument that San Miguel is still much safer than the average town in the USA. For me, this doesn’t say much! Personally I feel less safe here now and so I take more precautions now, than I ever have done while living in Mexico.
Which brings me to the voice in my head. Honestly, just a few weeks ago I had planned on moving to Cuenca Ecuador. I visited Ecuador for 3 weeks June 2013 and liked the place; it was less expensive, perhaps safer and the natural beauty was far superior than the area I was living in Mexico. One sunny calm morning in Mexico I was strolling alone on a quiet beach just north of Puerto Vallarta and a voice in my head whispered to me: “Go to Thailand. Move to Thailand”. Thailand??? Where exactly is that? Moreover, who said that? :). I knew absolutely nothing about Asia let alone Thailand. Thailand is in Asia right, I pondered. I was waaaay too tall for Thailand at 6’3″ (191cm) I would be a giant pink man strolling the streets.
For about 3 days, I researched the very idea that my subconscious, angel?, had presented to me that morning. Thailand…hhhmmmm. Tigers there, BIG snakes, Buddhism, short people and a culture and language that I knew absolutely nothing about. Zero, zilch. However, a funny thing happened in those few days. That voice, that thought quickly consumed me and within a few days, the idea was now a passion that I felt in my heart. I am moving to Thailand! Whoah. I would have never had guessed this twist in my Lifes Journey.
Has this happened to you? Are you also researching your plan B because your initial retirement spot is not so rosy anymore? Please let us know in the comments section below. Thanks
Ecuador jungle, mountains and bus rides.
Perhaps you have already read my other 2 articles on the big cities of Quito and Cuenca; now details and my experiences with the smaller lesser known places.
Having my map of Ecuador in hand, the first area I explored off the beaten track was a 2-hour journey by bus from Quito: The Mindo Rainforest. It gave me a taste of what the Amazon Jungle itself might look and feel like. The town of Mindo is the entrance to a huge swath of land and is a nature reserve full of rivers, waterfalls, wildlife, stunning views. I stayed at a beautiful place called Hosteria Arasari .. click the link to check out the gorgeous grounds.. location and cabins. It was not expensive.. I think I paid about $30 a night. They have a bird viewing platform above the basic restaurant onsite.. great views! The town of Mindo itself was a tad hippie.. a nice cozy feel and friendly faces everywhere. On arrival I was confused as to why I could not get a coffee except for a Nescafe (no thanks), I trekked about 1.5 km to the Hosteria and they gave me the same line. Then, entering my cabin and finding no light switch working it dawned on me..no electricity! Mindo had had no power for 3 days! I never did find out why; welcome to crazy life in Third World Countries. I hiked several kilometers outside of the hotel area.. some amazing views, lots of wildlife and especially birds -the toucan! I have never been one for heights and so I passed on the zip-line experience (yet again). This day was June 23 and the temperature in this cloud forest was just a little above comfort for temperature and humidity, especially hiking.
I decided to take the road back to Quito from Cuenca. I wanted to head to the edge of the Amazon Jungle and so settled on the towns of Banos and Puyo. Each of these towns deserve an article all of their own! From Cuenca I took a bus to Ambato, then a bus to Banos. A few nights in Banos and then on to Puyo for a few nights. The buses were not as nearly as good as the first class buses that go from city to city in Mexico.. but sufficient for a few hours at a time. Also, Ecuador buses are VERY inexpensive. Expect to pay just $1 for a 1-hour journey. The Ecuadorians getting on and off the bus en-route were all very pleasant and at no time did I feel unsafe or uncomfortable in any way. I do have a rule in my life though: “I never worry, but I do manage the risk”. So traveling by bus at night does not seem like a sensible idea. Many travelers like to travel on overnight buses because it is cooler temperature wise and they can sleep and save on a hotel bed. My thoughts on overnight bus travel: bandits attack at night, many more traffic accidents happen at night and I would miss all the scenery along the way! Trust me, the bus on the narrow, winding road which is laid on the ridge of the Andes Mountains is something you do not want to miss. Breathtaking scenery and lots of interesting people and places to see along the way.
Map of Ecuador
A short story: A bus I took from Mexico City airport departed at 11 pm and in 3.5 hours I would be home in San Miguel de Allende. Along the way, in the pitch black night the bus stopped and outside were several large black trucks and many men with machine guns. A Federal officer asked us to get off the bus and present our passports, at the same time ALL of the luggage was removed from the bus and inspected thru an x-ray machine. We were on our way in less than an hour, but let me tell you, this was a very unnerving experience to say the least. In the dark it is hard to figure out the where, who and what of the situation. Enough said.
OK, so for more details about the spa town of Banos and the edge-of-the-jungle town of Puyo then please click on the links to those articles. All in all traveling around Ecuador was very pleasant, fresh air, cheap buses and a cleaner roadside experience than Mexican roads. Less trash here, more of a tidy place, even the junk is often piled neatly here!