Cebu City, Philippines

Retiring in Southeast Asia has become a viable option for Westerners hitting the 50 plus age bracket. In 2010, the New York Times estimated approximately 100,000 people retired to Asia from other countries. While nations in the region differ, most have specific locations that are attracting those seeking a more unconventional path to old age.

Southeast Asia hosts a blend of old-world tradition and modernity that many find desirable; not to mention a tropical climate and perhaps most importantly a low cost of living. For many years, Thailand and Malaysia have been at the top of the list for retirees. They both offer attractive visa schemes, established retirement communities and Western-standard medical care. However, nowadays neighbouring nations are starting to take advantage of the lucrative retirement industry. Consider these three emerging locations — Bali, Cebu City and Nha Trang — where retirees are beginning to flock.

Bali, Indonesia

While Bali has been a tourist haven for years, the number of visitors has increased greatly in recent years. Moreover, today it is home to a huge expatriate community, including retirees. Boasting stunning landscapes, a constant temperature around 30 degrees Celsius and a relaxed lifestyle on a Hindu/Buddhist island within a Muslim nation — it makes sense that so many would choose Bali to retire.

Like other popular Southeast Asian retirement spots, it is far less expensive than retiring in the US or Europe. The Wall Street Journalestimated that a reasonable monthly budget including home maintenance, meals, transportation and entertainment would be about $1,000.  Hiring help in Bali is inexpensive, too. For instance, it would cost about $75 a month for a full-time cook. The island also has pretty many English speakers, but one can also experience the local villages.

Of course there are downsides. In Bali most of the medical care is substandard when compared to the West. Frequently, retired expats have evacuation insurance to a country chosen by their insurer, typically Singapore or Australia.

Leasing land can also be complicated. And unlike Thailand or Malaysia, the visa process is a bit more complex. There is a “retiree visa,” which would allow one to stay indefinitely — but it can be a painful application process. Not to mention costly. Many opt for a “social visa” that allows an individual to remain in Indonesia for up to six months, at which point one can reapply.

Cebu City, Philippines

Cebu City is the main city on the 150 mile long Cebu Island in the Philippines. Cebu City is probably considered by many to be the most appealing retirement destination in the Philippines. It is certainly far more livable than Manila with much lower crime rates and less rampant poverty.

The pros: Many Filipinos have a strong handle on English, especially in Cebu City.  The island also has an international airport, making it a fabulous base for travel throughout region. The cost of living is actually less than Bali. In Cebu City, a single doctor visit costs about $8. Domestic help and in-home health care are extremelycheap; a live-in maid or caregiver costs between $50-$75 a month. Medical facilities as such are supposed to be good — and there are certainly more options than Bali.

While Cebu Island and the city have serene parts, it is also quite built up. There are massive malls and Western chain stores. It also has a pretty large American population; in 2011, it was estimated that more than 40,000 Americans lived on the island.

Possible drawbacks include owning land. Aside from condos, foreigners cannot own property.  Therefore, most expats rent or lease. The island also has fairly high levels of pollution from traffic. Similar to Indonesia, the Philippines retirement visa process can be difficult to understand. It also comes with lots of paperwork, down payments and other nuances.

Nha Trang, Vietnam

Vietnam is an emerging choice for those planning retirement. While Ho Chi Minh City is an option for some, other retirees are starting to relocate to beach town Nha Trang.

Nha Trang is for the more adventure-minded. While Bali and Cebu City are classified as emerging choices, they are certainly more established than Nha Trang. Nha Trang has much less of a Western influence. You will not find chains or massive malls in this Vietnamese town. There are also comparably fewer foreigners than Bali or Cebu City.

But Nha Trang is perfect for a budget-minded retiree, costing less than Bali and Cebu City. For example, an apartment in Cebu City goes for around $250 a month; in Nha Trang, it is averaged at $200.

Moreover, both Indonesia and the Philippines require certain financial statements in order to retire there. For some it may be difficult to accumulate such savings. Vietnam does not have this condition, however. This is because Vietnam currently offers no retirement visa scheme. Retirees living in Vietnam must make use of either long-term tourist visas, which are available for a maximum of three months at a time, or five-year long-term visas. These need to be ‘checked up’ and renewed at immigration offices every three months.

The lack of a long term visa option is certainly a downside to some. Even more of a shortcoming is Vietnam’s poor healthcare system, whereby hospitals are not even close to Western standards. One bright side is that medication is extremely cheap, costing nickels typically.


Image Credit – Cebu City, Philippines. Wikimedia Commons.

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