Retirement in the Philippines or Thailand?

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We are guessing that most foreigners living in the Philippines have at some point wondered if some other Southeast Asian country might be a better retirement location.  Thailand, although in political turmoil now, has a large expat community.  Thai infrastructure and medical care is significantly better than the Philippines, yet, with rising prices in the Philippines, Thailand may offer a lower cost of living for the expat.  Vietnam and Cambodia are also popular with expats.  Carol and I love our life here and have no interest is living anywhere else, but considering your options is always a good idea, especially when it come to such a major decision as where to retire.

Dr. Robert Howard is doing a major academic study of Westerners now living in the Philippines. The study, combined with his earlier study of expats in Thailand may help those considering a Southeast Asian retirement, or those considering a change.  Howard’s study looks at reasons for moving to the Philippines, characteristics and well-being of the local Westerner population, and their experiences in-country. If you are a Westerner, not of Filipino descent, who has lived in the Philippines for at least a year, you are invited to complete an anonymous online survey form. It takes only about 10 minutes to fill out.

A summary and analysis of the findings will be posted here and various expats forums and websites when the study is complete. The survey will yield a valuable picture of the local Westerner population and perhaps some tips on how to successfully live in the Philippines.

If you would like to fill out an online survey form, please follow the following link.

Dr Howard provided a summary copy of the results of his study of expats in Thailand.  It is shown below.  It’s very interesting reading.  It will be even more interesting to to compare the results from expats in the two countries  Please consider participating in Dr. Howard’s study.

A Survey To Find Out Why People Migrate To Thailand, What Experiences They Have And how It All Works Out – Preliminary Report

By Dr. Robert Howard

Copyright NoticeAll material relating to the survey and the preliminary report in the box is copyright 2005 – 2011 by Robert Howard and may not be reproduced in any form without permission.The Aim Of The Survey

The aim of the survey was to find out some reasons why people migrate to Thailand, what experiences they have, why some leave, and how it all works out in the end. The analysis below only covers some of the data and is just preliminary.

This is a preliminary summary of some of the data so far, from about 900 respondents.

Property agent’s ad on the door of a bar in Sala Daeng:-

One day left until you have to leave Bangkok and already you suffer from “Thailanditis”. The prescription: “Live here”.

Many Westerners have heeded that advice and have settled in Thailand. It is hard to estimate how many in total at the present, but the figure of 100,000 of Western residents is commonly cited. From various embassy estimates, I suggest perhaps 80,000. But many live there only for part of the year.

Living in one’s favourite holiday destination usually turns out to be a quite different experience from visiting it for a few weeks each year.

One often must work instead of play and the world behind the tourist facade eventually becomes apparent and may not be at all what it seemed.

Furthermore, living in Thailand is difficult in some ways for Westerners because it is a developing nation, the culture is so different and the Thai government mainly wants to keep Thailand for the Thais.

It (The Thai Government) really prefers short stay, high spending tourists. Permanent residence is hard to come by, citizenship virtually impossible, and foreigners cannot even own land.

However, the main migration concern for the Thai government at present is the estimated one million or so “undocumented” migrants from neighbouring Burma, Laos and Cambodia.

The Western residents fall into many categories, and their stay in Thailand is likely to be quite different accordingly.

Some are expats on generous expat contracts, often sent to Thailand by their company.

Some are retirees living on pensions and/or investments, perhaps after having visited many times as a tourist. Retirees have been shifting to various developing nations for low living costs and better treatment of the elderly than is typical in the West. Mexico and Costa Rica have many American retirees, for instance.

Some respondents visited as tourists and decided to stay on and to try to live on a local salary. It’s a rare case of large numbers of Westerners voluntarily moving to a developing nation and living under quite difficult circumstances, such as relative poverty and sometimes having to do a visa run every 30 days.

The Sample Demographics.

The survey sample to date consists of 895 respondents, almost entirely male and many well-educated, with nearly half having a bachelor’s degree. It is far from being a random sample.

The age range was 18 to 79 years old, with a median of 43 years old. There were 28 females, some there as spouses of diplomats and expats but a few living independently.

Many nationalities were represented. Largest numbers were as follows; 32% from the U.K., 28% from the USA, 14% from Australia, 6% from Canada and 3% from Germany.

Nearly 60% lived in Bangkok, with some in Isaan, Phuket, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai and a few other places.

  • About a third had no job in Thailand.
  • Quite a few worked via the Internet in another nation.
  • About 26% had a local job on a local salary (English teacher, dive instructor, etc).
  • 23% had an expat contract job and 13% were on a retirement pension.

Length of stay

The median length of stay was only 2.5 years, with a range from 1 to 38 years. Most still in Thailand intended to stay for life.

Of those who had left Thailand (about a third of the sample), the median stay length was 1.75 years, with a range of 1 to 20 years.

Reasons for living in Thailand

A wide variety of reasons were given.

The most common ones cited were the lifestyle, climate, Thai women/men, and lower living costs.

  • Lifestyle 52%
  • Low living costs 42%
  • Thai women/men 36%
  • Climate 35%
  • Thai culture 36%
  • Dislike home country 26%
  • To take up job 25%
  • Thai partner wanted to return 6%

Other cited reasons were the food, for business opportunities, a military or diplomatic posting, for study, and because a Thai partner could not get a visa to their own Western nation.

Some specific comments were as follows:

  • “Lifestyle initially, though it paled quite rapidly.”
  • “Arrived as backpacker, fell in love with the country and stayed”.
  • “Until I left Australia, I had no idea how miserable life was.”

On what was most liked and what were the main advantages of living in Thailand, again most often cited were the women, the weather, the people, the pace of life, the low cost of living and the freedom.


Two questions were asked; a rating of their own well-being in Thailand and their views on the well-being of other Westerners. Both were actually quite high.

Own well-being

  • Excellent 40%
  • Good 46%
  • Neutral 10%
  • Poor 2%
  • Very poor 1%

Of others

  • Excellent 21%
  • Good 54%
  • Neutral 18%
  • Poor 4%
  • Very poor 1%

On the main disadvantages of living in Thailand, the mostly commonly cited were the traffic, xenophobia/racism, heat, scams, pollution, sex tourists, corruption, and the immigration laws. On their main problems of living in Thailand, the most commonly cited were visas, pollution, learning the Thai language, corruption, and being seen as a walking ATM by locals. As one put it, a major problem was:

“Removing the FREE ATM logo from my forehead.”

“Thais regard Westerners with a strange mixture of disdain, amusement, and opportunity.”

Integration into Thai society

Many in the sample were well-integrated into Thai society by one usual migration criterion. Nearly half had either married a Thai or had a live-in Thai partner. Of the 28 women, four had either married a Thai or had a live-in Thai partner. Most (55%) personally felt accepted and most felt that farangs in general were accepted in Thai society.

Acceptance of farangs in Thai society

  • Excellent 11%
  • Good 48%
  • Neutral 25%
  • Poor 12%
  • Very poor 3%

However, the reality might be a bit different than the perception for many. If we look at the main people respondents socialised with, nearly half (46%) socialised primarily with other farangs and another 5% mainly did with Thais in the bar scene.

And what was most missed about life in the West? Many explicitly and emphatically cited “Nothing!”, but most commonly cited were Western food, TV, seasons, the rule of law, family and friends, intellectual conversation, cleanliness, logic, and even snow.

Reasons for leaving Thailand

A total of 286 had lived in Thailand but had left. Their median stay length was quite short, however, at about 1.75 years, with a range from 1 to 20 years. Many had not wanted to leave and would return if they could.

“Right decision for my kids, but personally I would rather be there.”

“Forced to leave- Thai family nearly killed me.”

Main cited reasons for leaving were as follows:

  • Financial reasons 39%
  • Left expat job 25%
  • Disillusioned with life in Thailand 20%
  • Visa reasons 11%
  • Missed life in West 9%
  • Family (often children’s education) 4%

Some specific comments,

“Always a tourist.”

“Could not accept being a farang all my life and not being given a chance to assimilate.”

“Not good for young children.”

“Thais look down on whites. They don’t like us and I got tired of it.” “Unfairness, corruption and racism.”

“Crime/bad girls.”

“The girl told me lies from the first time I saw her. I was supporting her family and two Thai husbands.”

Most (54%) still were happy with their decision to leave but 54% would still move back to Thailand if they won $10 million in a lottery.

Respondents’ general comments

Some comments reflect an ambivalence about Thailand and others suggest that one needs a few years to see if living in Thailand really does suit.

‘Heaven and hell in the same place.’

“We are all treading on eggshells.”

‘Some [farangs] really happy, but many have miserable lives.’

‘Thais consider farangs third class persons.’

“Alcoholism is a problem among many.”

‘There are a lot of bitter and cynical farangs here.”

“Good if you can adapt to the culture and way of life.”

[I] “see an increasing number of people struggling to survive on a grossly inadequate income; 25% are very happy, 75% depressed and not living in theright place.”

“Most farang fail here because they involve themselves with a Thai woman’s family.”

“If you want cheap sex and booze, its great.”

“Basically to live in Thailand you need money… cash is king.”

“Paradise for farang if have money.”

“Always felt like a walking ATM.”

“Should attempt to live in Thailand only if willing to learn the language.”


The stay seems to work out well for many but a crucial factor is length of stay. Many would-be residents perhaps need a few years to work out if Thailand is for them in the long-term. Some cited a four year trial period as necessary.

“Initially great, eventually worse than home. Real honest friendships and relationships sadly lacking.”

“Most farangs I know become worn down after ten years or so and return home. Honeymoon period lasts for about four years.”

“In the beginning it was great and after four years I had enough.”

“Living here is not for everyone. I see many farangs who I don’t think should be here because of their attitude. A lot of adaptation is required which is probably why many take their Thai wives home. But I am treated like a king by my wife.”

So to sum up, some suggestions for a successful transition are the usual ones for immigrants; be adaptable, take the good with the bad, learn the language, and have lots of money.

But in addition, perhaps the trial needs a few years and one should be sure that the bridges back to the West are not burned if it all goes wrong.


Comments (6) Write a comment

  1. Interesting article, though I look forward to the research being done on the Philippines. My wife and I are happy here in the States (she grew up in the PI and has now lived in the States for 30+ years) but long to move to the Philippines as soon as I can retire (about 4 years). On our many trips to visit we have thoroughly enjoyed what we call “the pace of life” there and mutually agree that should we remain here in the states I would need to extend my working life probably an additional 14 years to accommodate a comparable lifestyle. The true cost being the consumption of our healthiest active years of retirement. We don’t see that as the best plan so we continue to plan for a move in four years to the Philippines. Always welcome new information to help educate myself on our likely potential future.


    • “The true cost being the consumption of our healthiest active years of retirement. ” That’s so true. I retired from a high stress job in 2005 and moved here. Now, almost ten year later, I feel my retirement saved my life.

      Best wishes

      Bob and Carol


  2. Honestly If, I have to relocate again. I will move to Central America, not anywhere close to Asia. I would prefer in this sequence, Panama will be my first choice, Costa Rica my second or Acapulco Mexico my last. The only reason, I’m still hanging to the Philippines, is because of my kids, not my dearest wife or any of their crazy relatives, I care less for them, neither allowed them to influence me or interfere with my personal affairs.

    It was a hard lesson for them to understand and learn the definition “PRIVATE LIFE”. I respect them, but it does not means I have to accept their ways. By having that kind of attitude has brought “clash of titans” between my spouse and their parents. At the end of the day, I always “won” by showing lovely ignorance to their issues and problems.

    I’m here for my kids and not them. I


  3. “Racism” ? The Thailand survey/research by Dr. Howard disclosed/reported.
    Will it be safe to say, “economic insecurities” created that hostility against expats interpreted as racism ?

    I still wonder about racism. Ethnocentrism maybe ?
    Studying human behavior for more than 30 years, I am still puzzled by human nature. Very difficult to validate and quantify. Theory of probability does not apply to the human mind because the human mind is unpredictable.
    Statistically speaking, “many people are unable to articulate their “feelings” towards “foreigners”. Too many variables.
    Just wondering.
    Write me.
    I am completing my independent research at Harvard University on poverty and human behavior (impact to poverty etc.)



  4. Informative research.
    Looking forward to hear result of Philippine survey.

    Thank You.



  5. Very interesting I must say, You have done a lot of work getting all this information.
    I’m moving to Mindanao, not far from Dipolog this year if things work out for me.
    My Filipino wife and I now live in Miami, both of us are unhappy with life here.
    Again, Thanks


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