Retiring to Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Recent economic downturn in western countries has forced many looking forward to retirement to reconfigure and reevaluate their plans. For many retirees, warm, tropical locales in the United States and Europe are just not as financially viable as they were in the not terribly distant past. If you’re looking for a sunny spot to retire that won’t break the bank, we encourage you to look to the East and explore Asia! Today we will profile the financial appeal of Chiang Mai, the northern capital of Thailand.

Chiang Mai is Growing in Popularity

Chiang Mai is rapidly growing in popularity among European and American ex-pats. Like Bangkok, its neighbor to the south, Chiang Mai easily blends Eastern culture with the West. Visitors in both cities will find cinemas, sports clubs, an active nightlife, and Western shops, such as Tesco and H&M. You’ll also find that reliable internet service (including Wifi) is easy to find and that English is widely spoken. Unlike Bangkok, however, visitors to Chiang Mai report that the “New City” (its literal translation from Thai) is less chaotic, with a more tranquil aura. Located in the northern part of the country, Chiang Mai is surrounded by mountains, lakes, and lush forests. The city itself boasts many beautiful gardens and exotic blooms. Chiang Mai is also more compact than its southern neighbors and easily navigated by walking, motor scooter, or a shared taxi. Over the years, a healthy community of Western expatriates has developed, creating extensive networks for social activities of all kinds. Expats and tourists are well taken care of; healthcare is easily to attain and there is a special police task force dedicated to protecting visitors. So if you crave a safe, friendly community within a bustling city, at an inexpensive rate, you may want to consider a trip to Chiang Mai.


thai baht retirement

How Much Money Will I Need?

If you are tempted by the prospect of a Thailand retirement, but hesitant to commit to a long stint, fear not. It is relatively easy to test out life in Chiang Mai, and Thailand in general. Most visitors receive a 30 day entry (no visa required) upon arrival at the airport. However, two month tourist visas are recommended. These are easily acquired at Thai consulates in your home country, or in surrounding countries like Malaysia and Laos. Attaining a long-term retirement visa can be done either in your home country or once you arrive in Thailand. This is a simple process, requiring the proof of either income or of funds, a valid passport with 18 months left prior to expiry, and a fee of 1900฿, approximately $54 US/€50 Euro/£43 UK. You may need to present medical certificates, as well, to demonstrate a clean bill of health. Applicants must be at least 50 years of age. A standard retirement visa is good for one year, after which you must apply for an extension. Expats are also required to check in with immigration every three months to verify they are still residing in Thailand, or face a small fine.

A typical day in Chiang Mai is considerably cheaper than in other major cities. Food stalls populate the city and you can purchase delectable Thai curries and noodles for around 35-40฿. Fresh, local produce is also affordable and readily accessible at markets around town. 2 pounds of fresh fruit, for example, will cost about 72฿. Locally brewed alcohol can be as little as 50฿. If you will to eat out, many different kinds of international cuisine are available to you in Chiang Mai, from local Northern Thai to Chinese to Italian, even food from the American south! A good dinner for four people will generally cost about 2000฿. Entertainment is cheap, as well. Movie theatres are all over the city and tickets run around 100-150฿. Nightclubs are a little more expensive; entry will cost you anywhere from 200-300฿, plus the price of drinks. In addition, there are many festivals and holidays celebrated throughout the year in Chiang Mai. These occasions provide a plethora of cultural events and spectacles, many of which are completely free.

In terms of accommodation, real estate and hotels are both extremely affordable. A night at a four star hotel will cost approximately 10,000฿, while a more modest accommodation will be closer to 4000฿. The average cost of a 900 square foot rental in a trendy area of town rolls in at around 22,297฿. You can rent a two story house in a less populated area for a similar cost. Owning property in Thailand is trickier; the government mandates that a non-Thai citizen may own a home, but no more than 48% of the land on which it is situated. Many expats overstep this law, opting to purchase spacious condominiums, instead of houses.

retiree chiang mai thailand

Managing Finances in Retirement Abroad

Current exchange rates in Thailand are extremely favorable for visitors from the United States, Great Britain, and the EU.

At the time of this publication, one Thai Baht was equal to:

  • $0.03 US
  • £0.023 GBP
  • €0.026 Euro

If you are planning a long-term stay in Thailand, opening a Thai bank account will make accessing your finances much easier. If you have been approved for your retirement visa, obtaining an account at a Thai bank tends to be much easier; typically, you need only present your passport and proof of residence. If you are on a tourist visa, matters may be more complicated, depending on the bank you are applying to. Certain banks require recommendation letters - from organizations within Thailand that you are affiliated with (such as an embassy or school), from your bank within your home country, or from a Thai citizen. You may also opt to choose a bank from your home country with branches in Thailand; there are several to choose from! Citibank, HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Scotia Bank, and Bank of America all have locations in Thailand. Remember to consider whether you will be regularly transferring money back and forth, for example, if you plan to repatriate part of your pension, or if you plan to purchase property, you may want to work with a currency provider who can help you automate payments.

Retirement should be one of the most joyful transitions of your life. Now, with our helpful support staff and easy comparison tool, it can also be one of the most painless. Use our comparison tool today to find a money transfer specialist that can help make your transition to retirement in Thailand seamless. We can explore the best options for managing your retirement finances abroad, in Thailand or whatever destination you choose!


Claire Yenson
Content Specialist
Claire Yenson is a writer with a passion for development and audience engagement. Claire graduated magna cum laude from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she studied marketing and management at… Read more

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