Retiring overseas: where would you go?

As the world’s most expensive city to live in, Singapore is not an easy place to plan for your retirement. Retiring in a less developed country could easily accelerate your retirement plans as you would require much lower monthly expenses. If you could retire in another country, where would you go?

Having backpacked in many countries, there were many occasions when I felt that I could live there for the rest of my life. Here are some of the countries I have visited and my thoughts.

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Named as one of the world’s most popular countries around the world to retire to by Huffington Post, Thailand is one of the most popular destination for Singaporeans who are planning to retire overseas. It’s even easier with a Retirement Visa that is obtained from the Thai embassy as long as you meet their minimum requirements (which are not that difficult).

Staying in the country’s capital, Bangkok, remains largely affordable in terms of living expenses. Traffic is a little crazy at times during the peak periods just like Singapore but public transport is relatively decent that I don’t see a need to own a car if I were to retire here.

If you are one for the beaches, take your pick at Hua Hin, Krabi or Phuket for a quick getaway on the southern part of Thailand. The beaches and scenery are much better than Sentosa but  I wouldn’t choose to retire by the beach because all of them are hot spots for tourists so the cost of living is a lot higher.

The second largest city in Thailand, Chiang Mai is also worth considering as a retirement destination. At a much slower pace and lower population density compared to Bangkok, Chiang Mai allows one to enjoy a relaxed lifestyle while enjoying the rich culture that the city has to offer.


Most would perceive China to be an underdeveloped and dirty country that’s not typically considered as a place for retirement. I would say that this is largely true in Tier-1 cities like Beijing where it’s more crowded and bustling with life. The sky is in a constant haze due to pollution and the roads are dusty.

China’s Tier-2 cities are the diamond in the rough. They are less dense in population and life is much more slower. The Tier-2 cities that I have visited in particular are Chengdu and Xi’an, both of which I fell in love almost instantly. Cost of living is much more affordable and the locals are much more friendlier and apparently less inclined to rip me off.

As someone who is bilingual, the beauty of China is that there’s no language barrier for me in conversing with the locals and many English speaking job opportunities available in China’s growing tourist industry. Imagine working 3 days a week as an English speaking tour guide for foreign tourists to supplement monthly expenses.


I visited Ho Chi Minh City last year for a short trip and didn’t have the chance to visit Hoi An so my inputs are on my experience in Ho Chi Minh. Famous for its busy traffic on the roads, Ho Chi Minh is not exactly the ideal place to retire in if you are looking somewhere quiet and slow pace. Be prepared to learn basic Vietnamese because only the younger generation is able to converse in basic English. The general population that I’ve interacted with, prefer to use the Vietnamese language.

The local food in particular was a big selling point for me. Many local dishes such as Pho and Banh Mi uses fresh vegetables and meats with very little monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Transportation is probably my biggest problem here because I don’t have a driving licence (and don’t fancy getting one) and Ho Chi Minh’s public transportation infrastructure has not progressed beyond old public buses. Other ways of getting around the city is using taxis and motorcycle taxis. Cars and motorcycles are inexpensive compared to Singapore but I hate to be stuck in traffic.


I spent 10 days in Cambodia and the experience was mind-blowing. Though the country has a grim history, I can see its hardworking citizens moving out of its past and into a great future. Almost everyone has a motorcycle or a car so if you are walking along the streets, you are usually alone. That said, the traffic is still not as crazy as Vietnam.

If you plan to be actively working in a job or maybe start your own business, you need to stay in Phnom Penh. But if you are looking for a small town to relax, Cambodia’s second largest city, Battambang is the place to be. Despite being Cambodia’s second largest city, it really is a nice little town to be honest. I love the slow pace and how everyone is all chilled out. I still don’t understand how everyone makes a living here apart from a small flow of tourists every now and then. That said, Battambang has a nice local vibe that makes me want to stay in and chill out. It’s also easy to rent motorcycles and explore the town’s outskirts.


I have a love-hate relationship with Myanmar. When i first arrived in Yangon, the city was very busy and the infrastructure seem rather inadequate for the kind of pace. Accommodation wasn’t cheap by any standards but the street food was affordable. In the night, street hawkers roll out with their makeshift stalls with a few tables and chairs. For 2 USD, you can have a nice plate of rice with 2 dishes, complimentary hot tea and catch a live football match on television. To retire there, you would need to know Burmese language, the official language in Myanmar as I was basically communicating through finger pointing and gestures most of the time. Like most developing countries, you can always count on the young kids who are learning basic English in schools to help you communicate with the locals.

Getting out of the capital, I visited Bagan which was famous for their large number of pagodas. It’s a booming tourist attraction with the locals struggling to keep up with the demand. As such, cost of living is ridiculously priced for tourists while the standard of living are below par. While there is little value to retire in this town, I do see many business opportunities to set up a small cosy hostel, offer bicycle rentals and run guided tours. But how to get around to do it, remains a question as foreigners are not allowed to own land in Myanmar and the laws to lease a property are not very clear.

The gem in the country that I really love is a small town called Inle on top of Inle Lake. Outdoor lovers would be spoilt for choice from cycling out of town to trekking up the mountains, there are lots to do. The town is also not over-populated and the scenery is lovely. I can’t say for sure that I could live the rest of my life in Inle, but I think 3-6 months each year is definitely do-able.

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