After spending a few hours three months ago with thousands of other expats, immigrants and foreigners at everyone’s favorite place in Thailand known as The Immigration Office, we decided to buck the Thai trend and give the online reporting system a shot for our second “90 day report”. As laughable as everything involving immigration in Thailand, they do actually have an electronic means of checking in with the teacher (Kingdom) every 90 days but catching it working is about as likely as Donald Trump tweeting something truthful. But like the expression “once in a blue moon”, which just happened to occur a few days ago, sometimes pigs fly and believe it or not, our online application switched from “pending” to “approved” in only two business days. Saving the hassle of a wasted morning, we printed out our shiny new “internet version” of the TM47 form that gets stapled and takes up valuable space in your passport. Along with our original visa, a departure card, an “extension to stay based on retirement “ and an optional “return entry permit” that gives you the privilege of returning to the country without reapplying all over again, (for a 1,000 THB fee), our passports are now up to date with five pages of Thai paperwork. At least for another 90 days anyway.
“Approved” online. Yay
Having checked my stats page lately, I’m glad to see folks are finally beginning to understand we don’t live in Malaysia anymore. Questioning if I’d be able to keep the blog worth reading in the “digital nomad capital of Southeast Asia“, enough people convinced me that our niche is writing about two North American early retirees that chose to live in Chiang Mai. Lacking middle class 50 somethings that have enough cash to live in other expat friendly nations that prefer retired people with decent means and white-collar working families, Chiang Mai is a good place for anyone on earth that wants to escape their homeland, live a work free lifestyle or otherwise drop out of life.
And although my stats still show the posts about Malaysia’s MM2H Visa Program leading the way as my most viewed, I’m finally starting to get some inquiries about how to become an expat in Thailand. Once again expressing that my Google ranking as the one the internet’s top five sites for Malaysian visa information is not by choice, I realize I haven’t shared much about Thailand’s redundant revolving door system of visas. First and most importantly, if you’re considering a move as a retiree, you should know there is an “elite visa” program that offers long-term status (five years) but the redundant 90 day reporting rules still apply and the financial requirements are wholeheartedly unreasonable like tying up 1 million Thai Baht in their banking system a year at a time. Excluding some millionaires living in the most expensive luxury condos in Bangkok, I don’t know anyone with that much money who wouldn’t choose somewhere much nicer like the South of France so I’ll focus on the type of visa most average retired people choose which is known as “The Non-O Visa”.
Feeling like we’re perfecting the Experimental Overseas Early Retirement a little more each day, Diane and I are now holders of valid retirement visas in two Southeast Asian nations at the ripe old ages of 52 and 46. Despite the guy in Penang that literally followed every word I wrote to secure his MM2H Visa in Malaysia, I’m certainly no genius as shown by this blog which doesn’t even include hashtags, revenue generating advertising or commercialization of any kind. But I did read an article on Marketwatch.com this morning that discusses a new IRA rule allowing Americans with 401k plansto make penalty free early withdrawals at age 55 in cases of “job separation”. (No, you can’t quit at age 54 and then withdraw money the next year and if you roll your plan into an IRA as we did, the rule doesn’t apply). Intentionally designed to catch your eye with a headline, first they discourage this rather foolish act and then explain how most Americans can’t afford to retire at age 55 proving why you should probably get your financial ideas from those with no vested interest in watching others make mistakes.
Our first visitors came from China
Rarely talking about our personal finances because the boss in the relationship insists we keep the specifics private, I’ll share a few tidbits that illustrate how we’re doing after almost two and half years with no employment income. Planning a budget of 40-45K USD annually including rent and travel, Malaysia was an easy place to meet the goal because there’s nothing to do in Penang and we mostly cooked our own meals since we didn’t like the food other than duck rice and inexpensive noodle soups. Spending most of our cash travelling to places like Cambodia, Myanmar, Bali and Australia, we skimped on the non travel months and ate in almost every night. Relying heavily on our “no foreign transaction fee” U.S. dollar credit card, we also took advantage of a plummeting Malaysian Ringgit and saved thousands since almost every business other than food courts takes credit cards in Malaysia with no merchant fees.
Recalling days gone by, I once visited Vancouver in mid November with an old roommate. Thinking we’d visit some indoor attractions since it was off-season, we brought umbrellas and I remember it rained almost the entire four days. Years later, Diane and I discussed possible places we might want to live besides the Bay Area and I learned she hates the dreary long rainy winters of the Pacific Northwest even more than me. Immediately ruling out places with gray skies, cool fog and continuous precipitation, we eventually wound up spending six years in Alberta. Aside from the obvious advantage of having family nearby, it turns out Alberta is the sunniest province in Canada and Calgary enjoys over 300 days of sunshine per year despite the little inconveniences like snowstorms interrupting the beginning of gardening season in May.
Having never lived in the tropics before, we’d visited places like Ecuador and Costa Rica at the end of rainy season and spent many expeditions drenched to the core. Realizing the trade-off between lots of rain but no snow, weather was one factor playing into our initial decision to live in Penang. Blessed with a strange meteorological phenomenon, Malaysia somehow defies conventional wisdom that states everywhere with tropical climate experiences wet and dry seasons. So for two years we had some rainstorms here and there but in Penang, skies almost always cleared within an hour and if it rains overnight it rarely sticks around. We also can’t recall more than about two days of continuous rain which makes a retired North American overseas expat quite spoiled. And bored since it’s dry but there’s not much to do without transportation when you live far from the main tourist drag and air-conditioned malls. Understanding Thailand has three distinctive seasons and we chose to arrive at the start of what’s normally the wettest time of year, it’s no surprise that it’s raining. But unlike the past few years, this summer is producing deluges and floods all over the nation not seen in many years (according to people we’ve asked, anyway).