Author bio: This is a guest post from Steve who writes about personal finance from his unique perspective as an early retiree living in Thailand at Money Infant. Once you are done here head over there and say hi. Tell him My Retirement Blog sent you!
Retiring to far off destinations is becoming more and more popular. Why not combine your retirement with an exotic locale, cheap living, great weather and a chance to explore a new culture. Plus it allows you to continue growing and keeps you from stagnating. And depending on the location you choose it also opens up many opportunites for travel and adventure right in your backyard. A growing number of entrepreneurs are choosing early semi retirement combined with a home overseas for these very reason. This is my story.
Several years ago when I was just 38 I was becoming disillusioned with my job. I actually think it started much earlier than that, but like most people I felt trapped, like I had to continue working for someone else’s company until I collected my watch and retirement lunch at 65. Little did I know at the time that a search for a better way would lead to semi retirement at 44 and a move half way around the world. Life can be funny that way.
I determined to do something to get me out of that job and in fact out of the whole corporate surroundings. As an IT professional I naturally turned to the web. In 2005 the internet was still pretty wide open and my early websites, though ugly as sin, started making me money almost immediately. I had hit on a winner! But now I began to consider; What if I could replace my income, what would I do then?
I thought about life without a steady job in my hometown and I knew I would soon become bored. What about life in another location? Wait a second, I have always loved travel and this could be the perfect way to not just get away from my job, but also to see the world. Expatriation it would be, but to what country?
Mexico and the Central American countries obviously came to mind. They had the perfect climate for me (nice and hot), interesting cultures to explore, beaches and Spanish would be easy to learn again. I booked a 3 week trip to Mexico with the intention of traveling from there to Belize as a starter to my investigations. Fate of course had other plans and hurricane Wilma came to cancel my travel itinerary. Time for plan B.
Plan B actually came pretty easily. I wanted to explore and I also wanted great beaches. I wanted a culture that would challenge me and lead me to learn new things about the world and myself. And the answer had actually been there all the time. Thailand. It was so obvious. I had actually spent quite a bit of time in Thailand in the past thanks to a job that had me visiting our offices in Singapore and India on a regular basis. And I loved the country, the people, the weather, the food and the culture. So, I rebooked everything and in March 2006 off to Thailand I went.
As fate would also have it I met my future wife on that trip. Now I had a real dilemma. I did want to move to Thailand now, for more reasons than one, but I was definitely not making enough money to live off of, even in a relatively cheap country like Thailand. In addition, I had debt up to my eyeballs. Always the planner I went to work figuring out how to:
- Get my new love to the U.S.
- Increase my income to a level where I could leave my job
- Pay off that debt!
In all honesty the steps to accomplish all this were fairly easy. The compromises needed were a bit difficult though. The visa and naturalization process in the U.S. are not cheap and I was already in severe debt. It took 6 months from filing, but the wait was certainly worth it. Learning about controling my spending and paying off the debt was easy too, but the actual will power required to take action was definitely more challenging. Increasing my income was also fairly easy, it just required massive amounts of effort and time on my part.
All together, in the 6 months from March 2006 to November 2006 I completed all the visa paperwork and immigration requirements for my new bride, learned how to budget and pay down debt, moved to a cheaper place to save money, started walking to work and got rid of my car and actually added to my debt. Did I mention before how expensive immigration was?
From that point we became totally focused on the move to Thailand. Starting from nearly $60k in debt in November 2006 we went to $0 debt in August 2009. We then turned all of that cash flow into savings for the upcoming move. I had promised my wife we would make it to Thailand in 5 years and I always strive to keep my promises. It actually turned out to be 4 1/2 years, mostly because I just couldn’t bear to stay at my job another day. In May 2011 I gave notice and several weeks later in June we were on our way.
I have to say that even though the process to get here was challenging, retiring early and moving to Thailand was the best decision I’ve ever made. I say “retired”, but it isn’t really that. I continue to work, but now it is on my terms and on the things that matter to me. If I succeed or fail the successes and failures are all mine. You might think that would be stressful, but has actually been freeing for me. My stress levels, health and outlook on life have never been better. Thailand has great natural beauty from the mountains to the north down to the beaches in the south, there is something for everyone. Plentiful waterfalls, fresh tropical fruits, birds and butterflies, orchids and other flowers, great diving and snorkeling, fantastic nightlife and a culture that values happiness, fun and smiles.
As an added bonus life in Thailand is much cheaper than a comparable lifestyle in the States. Our life in Bangkok would easily cost $10k a month in New York or San Francisco. Plus it is a great location for exploring the rest of SE Asia. I can’t be sure this is where we will stay forever (we both have a yearning for Mexico), but if we had to I don’t think I would be sad. As a retirement destination Thailand is pretty darn great, even if you are only semi retired.