Retire In A Cheaper City?

A cup of fragrant and very affordable coffee was placed in front of me while I was drafting this article on my iPad. As I took a sip, I gazed out of the windows of the cafe and observed the hustle and bustle happening around Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City.

You see, Mrs 15HWW was on a work trip earlier this week and since I was free and had never been to Vietnam before, I tagged along. Obviously, it also helped that I didn’t have to foot the bill for my own accommodation  😛

And during my short stay there, I realised that the cost of living in Ho Chi Minh City is pretty low when you compare it to Singapore. A piping bowl of pho at most eateries will set one back by less than $2 and a tasty Bánh Mì at one of the many roadside stores costs probably around $1. Not to mention ridiculously cheap teas, coffees and coconut drinks.

This then reminded me of a Straits Times article about the plight of some retirees in Chiang Mai which I had read almost two weeks back. Even though I was always quite interested in the concept of retiring in a cheaper country, I had never done any serious research on it. Naive me also had this perception that most countries wouldn’t welcome retirees who are anything but ultra-rich.

So imagine my shock/surprise when the article mentioned that “Thailand grants retirement visas if you are over 50 and can show that you have 800,000 baht (S$31,320) in the bank”. 

Seriously, that’s pretty do-able for most Singaporeans. And since I have strong reasons to believe that I should be able to qualify 20 years down the road, let’s look at the pros and cons of retiring in a cheaper South East Asia city.



  • Geographical Arbitrage – There was a Jacob Loh, a Singaporean who was featured in that Straits Times article. He rents out his HDB flat for $1,600 a month and coupled with his CPF payouts, it appears that he’s able to live in a terrace house in Chiang Mai with a lifestyle that includes dining out at restaurants. Sounds like a nice trade.  🙂 And since there’s no revoking of citizenship and selling of assets, the whole thing is reversible and can move back to Singapore if he changes his mind.
  • Less worries over retirement finances – If you’re depending on a 5-6% withdrawal rate to fund your retirement years and losing sleep over the sustainability of this strategy, this seems like an attractive option. The cost of comfortable living in a place like Chiang Mai is easily half that of Singapore and you would probably just need to withdraw 2-3% every year. The dividends of the investments alone should already be able to cover that.


  • A need to establish a new social network – Interesting to note that Mr Jacob Loh is single without kids. Even with emails and Facebook, relocating largely means saying goodbye to many of your friends and relatives. That’s pretty sad. And it doesn’t help that I am not the most naturally sociable person you will ever see on the streets. 🙁
  • Adapting to a new culture – One will probably need to pick up the local language to better fit in. Even so, that still might not be enough. Not being born and bred up there could mean that there are just certain nuances or “jokes” that you will never get.
  • You are old and rich in a poor community – This is a very scary thought especially if you’re relocating alone. You are bound to meet some difficulties during the transition period and who do you turn to for help? Who can you trust? It could be hard to discern if people are genuinely helpful or just out to con your money.


From what I have written, it’s actually pretty obvious that I ain’t really that keen on such a proposition. To be fair, some of the cons could actually be opportunities to others. Things might not be going too well in Singapore and relocating offers a fresh slate to meet and date new people. And adapting to a new culture or learning a language can also be regarded as exciting.

Nonetheless, I wouldn’t rule out staying in places like Chiang Mai or Ho Chi Minh city for half a year to a year. That could be both interesting and fun. Anyway, it’s just a retirement visa and if things don’t work out, just return back to Singapore, no?

Meanwhile, I just hope that our finances pan out well and that retiring in a cheaper city would be an additional option instead of the only choice for us in a few decades’ time.  😉

14 thoughts on “Retire In A Cheaper City?

  1. B

    Hi 15hww

    I heard that ho chi minh has one of the most expensive household and land compared across south east asia even more so than singapore and hongkong..not sure if I was hearint it properly.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi B,

      I am really a noob on this and I just did a quick check on google. It definitely seems that Ho Chi Minh’s property prices aren’t as cheap as Chiang Mai’s. But more expensive than Singapore and Hong Kong? That would be pretty unbelievable.

  2. bb

    hey, go live in other cities for a while if you so wish… but do come back to Singapore! haha, scary thought that nobody wants to live/retire here >.<

    1. My 15 HWW Post author


      Actually I think most Singaporeans prefer to retire in Singapore. Most people don’t like uprooting. Just that the cost part is an issue and even a minister has suggested retirement villages in Malaysia as an alternative. Oh well…

  3. naro

    Hi 15HWW,

    If you’re a coffee lover, check out Vietnamese coffee too!

    I’ve actually considered retiring in a cheaper country. Thailand and Vietnam crossed my mind but worried about the same cultural issues you mentioned.

    But why not Malaysia? Culturally quite similar and nearer. Can come back to Singapore anytime too!

    Anyway, my financial plan is to retire in Singapore.


    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi naro,

      If I am not wrong, Malaysia isn’t as cheap as Vietnam or Thailand. Seems that the further north you go in S.E.A, the cheaper it is.

      And does Malaysia grant anything that’s similar to a retirement visa? I heard it’s really hard to get a PR there.

      1. naro

        Hi 15HWW,

        Malaysia does not. Can always go cheaper places, but the standard of living must be acceptable for one to retire in.

        Anyway, I like HCMC. Have fun there!!!


  4. Richard

    Some risks in choosing “cheaper” country for retiring to consider are :

    1. The standard of their medical services (which we will need most when we are senior)
    2. The “senior-citizen” friendliness of its surrounding/environment.
    3. Is it the lifestyle that you envisage to live when you are getting old? (not just from money perspective)


    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi Richard,

      I think the medical facilities in retirement villages should be of a certain quality? And if it’s a retirement village, you will be surrounded with people of the same age group and the environment should be elderly-friendly.

      Lifestyle’s the key deal-breaker. Many grandparents want to be around and see their grandchildren grow up and that’s not possible when you move to another country.

  5. victor

    But there is also a problem with their security. Their crime rate is vy high. Even their local are scare to go out after 9 pm, in most part of Johore. I think Thailand is even worse. But I am too looking to migrate. This place is suck, govt only interested in themselves.

    1. gagmewithaspoon

      I do like HCMC but the cons for me outweigh the pros. Life to me is not about enjoying the riches, but of enjoying the relationships we hold dear. That is not very possible unless your whole family migrates with you, or if your relationships don’t really depend on geographical proximity to thrive. On victor’s comments – i think it is hard pressed to find a government of the sg old guards’ dedication anywhere else? i don’t think that should be a push for migration unless you are confident the other countries’ government is way better? Just thinking about the US elections as i type.

      1. My 15 HWW Post author

        Agree with you.

        I was just presenting a possible option. There are some who are great at forming new relationships and money could really be an issue if they chose to retire in Singapore. I am definitely planning to retire in SG.

        Regarding our government, if Deng says Mao is 80% good and 20% bad, ours have to be at least 95% good! =p

  6. MS

    May be a gud option for PR from neighboring countries as they will not have culture issues and other problems.
    for example Sum of $500K would give you around 1400$ as interest in Indian saving ac@3.5% which is good enough to stay peacefully in any small city/town.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi MS,

      Yeah, you’re right. Retiring in a cheaper city is an option although sometimes, nothing beats retiring in your own home country/state.