Vietnam versus Thailand as an expat retirement destination
Southeast Asia is now one of the most popular destinations for retirees looking to expand their horizons whilst benefiting from a relatively low cost of living.
The two favourites, Thailand and Vietnam, both offer the year-round warm to hot weather Britons can only dream of, and American snowbirds find the solution to long, dark winter days in their home country as well as an established expat community to enjoy. Both countries provide a comfortable lifestyle as well as a good choice of food and activities to suit older expats. It has to be said that Thailand is more expensive as regards day-to-day living, the cost of accommodation and the cost of visas than is Vietnam, with inflation now a problem for expats on less than generous fixed pensions as well as locals. A mass influx of Chinese in the popular areas is one reason, as vendors, shop owners and real estate agents are upping their prices in order to take advantage of the new market.
Both destinations offer inexpensive utilities, although electricity in Thailand can be a budget killer if you’re addicted to 24/7 aircon, and Internet services in both are affordable but often very slow outside the major conurbations. Vietnam wins hands down as regards the cost and healthiness of its cuisine, with the average shopping basket costing 15 per cent more in Thailand. Western foods in particular fetch ridiculously high prices due to Thailand’s excessive import duties. If imported beers and wines are part of life’s rich pleasures, Vietnam’s offerings are cheaper by over 50 per cent.
Good quality healthcare is available in Thailand, but at very high prices which seem to increase further every few months. Yes, they’re less than in fully developed countries, but so are standards as well as the use of English. Vietnam’s cities come with high quality healthcare at less than extortionate prices, but outside the cities there are shortages of equipment and medications. For first-class healthcare on the cheap, a flight to India is recommended.
The sensitive subject of scams, rip-offs and shameless overcharging of expats is fully explored in online forums but, basically, it’s more likely in Thailand than in Vietnam due to the fact that Thailand’s been a major tourist destination for several decades. Some websites state English is spoken widely in Thailand but, sadly, this is a rumour rather than a fact, as English language tuition in Thai schools is poor at best and useless at worst.
As regards visas, Thailand’s retirement visa demands 800,000 baht per person is kept in a Thai bank account for three months before a visa is given or renewed and holders must report to immigration every 90 days. It should also be noted that immigration laws have become tougher since the military junta took over four years ago. Vietnam doesn’t have a retirement or long-stay visa as such, but the rules are less strict and can be tailored to requirements.