Retire Early Lifestyle
Retirement; like your parents, but way cooler


Retire Early Lifestyle Blog  Free Newsletter Subscribe/Contact Us

Advertise on info here

In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Is Moving to a Tropical Thailand Paradise for You?

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

Currency Conversion Site

We often receive email from our Readers with lots of questions about living or moving to Thailand. How much does it cost? Does one need to learn Thai to have a successful retirement in that country? What is there to do for entertainment? What should one do about medical care?

We asked our friend, Hugh Leong, to give us some of his perspective since he has been living full time in Thailand for over 6 years now, and runs a successful website on the topic: Retire2Thailand. From his answers below, you can tell that he has found a good match. If you have questions about relocating to Thailand, take advantage of Hugh's playful approach to life in an exotic paradise.

For more information about Hugh, see his Bio below.

Retire Early Lifestyle: What brought you to Thailand, and how many years have you lived there?

Hugh: I first came to Thailand - it seems like another lifetime ago - as a Peace Corps volunteer and worked here for a number of years, but for more than 20 years, I never returned. When my consulting job at Boeing was sent to India, I thought that maybe it was time to make a change. So at this time I went into semi-retirement, spending winters in Chiang Mai and summers back in the U.S. where I took a few part-time consulting gigs.  We literally had the best of both worlds then.

We lived a two-world lifestyle for 5 years, until keeping up two homes became too expensive. And anyway, full-time retirement seemed to be beckoning. That is when we decided to move to Thailand permanently. Itís been 6 years now and I have enjoyed every moment of it.

Hugh harvesting rice with a friend

Hugh harvesting rice with a friend

REL: What challenges did you have making the transition into the Asian culture?

Hugh: Looking at a map of the world one can see that Thailand is almost exactly on the other side of the world from my hometown of New York. What I didnít realize was that culturally it is even further away. I remember standing in the doorway of the airplane as it first opened on the Bangkok runway. I thought someone had opened the door of an oven.

And it was 2am!

Not only that, but it was Durian season. The Durian is a very popular fruit in Asia, with its spiny skin and huge size. But it is also the king of stinky fruits and at this time of the year the smell pervaded everything in the country. With the smells, the heat, the incomprehensible language, the hot food, getting the runs almost immediately after arriving, and the noise and traffic of Bangkok, it is a wonder that I didnít just turn around and ride that plane back to New York.

But I am glad I didnít. The Thai people are about the friendliest people in the world (I have only been to 45 countries so far but that statement still holds for me.) With their easy going ways, fun loving personalities, and the calm Buddhist philosophy, the difficulties I first encountered were easily overcome. Moving down the block in Manhattan would have been more difficult.

As with anything it will take a while to adapt. Some Expats here never adapt to the Thai culture, but that is because foreign communities, mostly in the population centers, are quite large and many times self-contained. I know people here who only eat Western food and hang out only with people from their home countries. And they are quite content. I am comfortable in both worlds since I love Thai food and the people. We are all made differently and luckily for all of us here we have a choice of lifestyles that can best make us happy.





REL: What do you average in spending annually? Does this include health insurance?

Hugh: My wife, Pikun, and I average spending about $2,000 per month. But we buy everything we need and entertain often. We have a gardener to help us out and could have a maid but would rather do our own housework and keep our privacy. We eat most of our meals at home but going out we spend only between $2 and $5 per meal, for both of us. Sometimes we splurge and go to a big hotel for a nice buffet meal. The one near us has great Western, Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese selections, all you can eat, for $5 each. That includes the crepe Suzettes that I love. Iíd go more often but then Iíd blow up like a balloon.

Pikun enjoying the harvest from her garden

Pikun enjoying the harvest from her garden

We own a car and two motorcycles and gas is included in this number. So are our annual health and dental checkups as well as our visa fees.

I know people who live on lots more and people who live on lots less. We are probably right in the middle. Luckily, our Social Security is just about equal to our expenditures. Travels back home, or to places like China, Bali, Viet Nam, etc. (Thailand is like a hub between all these great places) and to lots of great destinations in Thailand itself (great national parks, pristine beaches, deep rain forests), come out of our investments and are quite affordable.

As for health insurance, we are doing without. First, it is quite expensive here for anyone over 60 (Medicaid does not pay for services outside the U.S.). So what we do is we keep enough money in an account, that we never touch, that would be enough to pay for almost anything that we might encounter. Health care here is not only quite good but it's affordable and some procedures will be one-tenth the cost it would be back home. (A heart bypass operation costs about $30,000, so that is how much we keep in the account). As for long term care, we just helped to place an 85 year old man into a wonderful assisted living home (Dok Kaew Gardens). It is clean, well maintained, with a well trained staff. Cost: $1,200 per month. His Social Security was more than enough to pay for everything.

REL: What could one expect to pay for housing in Thailand on a monthly basis?

Hugh: There are lots of answers to this question depending on your needs and where you decide to live. Bangkok is expensive, but you can still live simply. Condos can cost anywhere between $200 per month to $20,000USD. Houses with yard and garden have about the same range. Upcountry can be very cheap. But on average here in Chiang Mai, expensive but not the most expensive, a nice condo with swimming pool, fitness center, close to shopping, would be in the $300 to $500 per month range. A three bedroom house in a gated community a little outside of town runs about $500. But I know people paying lots more and a few down-and-outers living on less.

Hugh and Pikun on a Thai beach vacation

Hugh and Pikun on a Thai beach vacation

REL: Do you need a vehicle to live in Thailand?

Hugh: Traffic in Thailand can be frightening to many people. I just drive slowly with the thought that everyone on the road is insane but me and I am expecting them to do something completely outrageous Ė and they often do. But if you choose to drive, your world will be greatly expanded. Youíll meet more people and go to more places and be freer. The answer to the question though is NO you do not need a vehicle to live in Thailand Ė especially in Bangkok with its mass transit system. But anywhere else in country, without a vehicle you would live a very narrow lifestyle.

Remember, to be safe, drive slowly and soberly, and expect everyone else to be quite insane and very often unsober. 

REL: Thai can be a difficult language to learn, is it necessary to master Thai to live there?

Hugh: My next door neighbors who are from Northern Ireland, canít speak one single word of Thai, and they seem happy as clams. I myself am fluent and am also happy. One difference is that my community of friends is much wider (which include my Thai friends on one side of me and my Irish friends on the other side). But Chiang Mai is a very cosmopolitan place now and just today I talked with a Brit, and Australian, a Japanese, a Korean, an Israeli, a Burmese, and some Thais of course. So learning Thai is really not essential, but knowing English is.

You donít need to know Thai to be happy here, but I believe that it will expand your life if you do. Besides you will know so much more of what is going around you. They say that when one gets older learning a foreign language is very difficult. That is silly on a number of levels. 1. Learning a foreign language is always difficult, and 2. Just because something is difficult does not mean it is impossible, and 3. I work at learning Thai because it IS difficult. If it were easy then it wouldnít be as much fun.

And anyway, learning new stuff when one gets older is a way of exercising your brain and keeping it rejuvenated. I recommend taking the time and effort to learn Thai and it will pay off for you daily.


REL: I understand that Thailand visa regulations change constantly. Could you tell us what the latest requirements are for someone wanting to move there?

Hugh: Most retirees are here on a retirement visa. That requires 800,000 baht in a bank account (approximately $26,000USD) or 65,000 per month income (currently just over $2,000USD), or a combination of both that would add up to the same amount required. Remember, that is per person. This must be renewed each year.

Check with the Thai consulate for the latest on changes and visa requirements.

But the best thing to do is come here on a transit visa (30 days), then if you still like it here come on a tourist visa (60 days), still like it? Then come on a non-immigrant visa (extendable to about 110 days). If after spending all that time you still like it here then go for the retirement visa (1 year).

Pikun and a friend

Pikun and a friend

REL: Whatís there to do for fun?

Hugh: Having fun is a very personal thing. I play golf once a week, write for two blogs, have published 4 books, and two eBooks since retiring. I am also currently reading 4 books. I take daily walks and work in my garden for an hour and a half every day. I use Facebook and Skype to keep in touch back home and download NFL, NBA, and MLB games as well as the latest TV shows and I never miss the latest movies. I make a habit of watching every Oscar winner each year. We barbeque with friends often and I raise 5 ducks, 3 chickens, and 3 rabbits and we have saved well over 100 endangered tortoises from the cooking pot. Occasionally we even do touristy stuff like visit the elephants, the beautiful temples, shop at the handicrafts markets and go snorkeling.  I only wish I had more time for golf.

Now I know others who occupy themselves differently. Of some of the people I know, the Walking Man (German) walks over 15 kilometers every day, The Dog Man (British) takes care of 35 stray dogs, The Card Man (American) plays bridge with his club members 5 days a week, the Bike Man (Australian) takes an annual 10 day bike ride around SE Asia, the Farmer Man (New Zealander) works on his rice farm, and the Beer Man (Scottish) sits at beer bars from 11am until midnight. You are only limited in Thailand by your energy and imagination.

So what do you think? Would Thailand be a good fit for your retirement needs?

Hugh Leong is 65 years old and was raised in New York City. He holds a BA in Psychology, BS in data processing and an MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Hugh has held jobs as various as psychiatric social worker and computer consultant to his favorite job, an outdoor fair vendor. He has lived and worked in Thailand, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States. He has now, like Tolstoy, retired to the idyllic countryside.

We would like to thank Hugh Leong for his time and expertise in answering our many questions. If you would like to know more about living, working or retiring to Thailand, visit his website

Free Newsletter, Subscribe here

About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award winning website, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on

Retire Early Lifestyle appeals to a different kind of person Ė the person who prizes their independence, values their time, and who doesnít want to mindlessly follow the crowd.

HOME   Book Store


Retire Early Lifestyle Blog      About Billy & Akaisha Kaderli      Press     Contact     20 Questions     Preferred Links     Retirement     Country Info    
Retiree Interviews
      Commentary     REL Videos





Subscribe Newsletter