By Sam Roberts - former expat in Bangkok
Retiring in Bangkok means living in the capital city of Thailand, a vibrant Southeast Asian megacity that encompasses the excitement of the developing world. Bangkok is one of the world's busiest and most chaotic cities...with a population of over 10 million people, there is always something happening.
Bangkok is known for its world-famous cuisine, Buddhist religion, ancient temples, world-class nightlife, crazy traffic and enormous amounts of people. Bangkok is the most visited city in the world.
In 2019, an estimated 22.7 million people visited Bangkok. Therefore, it is a real international hub of the world. It beat London and Paris with 3 million more visitors!
Thailand is also home to hundreds of thousands of retired expats and it's one of the most popular retirement destinations in the world. Everything from the low living costs, carefree lifestyle, zen culture, and openness to foreigners makes Bangkok, Thailand such a popular place to retire.
Pros and Cons of Retiring in Bangkok
1. Low Cost of Living
Despite the Thai Baht (THB) rising against western currencies in recent years, Thailand remains very affordable. However, a lot of expats reminisce about the days when the Thai Baht was weaker and Thailand was cheaper. Thailand is one of the fastest developing nations in Asia and living costs are steadily increasing.
For retirees on a budget, the good news is food remains very affordable and you can eat local food for $2 per meal on the street. A popular dish is Pad Thai, which is never more than $2 per plate. With prices like that, you can eat out every day if you wish.
Western food is more expensive and you can expect to pay twice as much for it. A Big Mac meal is around $4.50 (130 THB). Alcohol remains very affordable in the city and it's possible to buy Chang beer for $2.50 per bottle. Famous nightlife districts, such as Koh San Road, offer alcoholic drinks for around the $3 mark.
Note >>> Transport is very affordable, too, but you have to be cautious and use the correct app. The best way to find a fair taxi price is through the app Grab. If you don't use apps to get a taxi, then you will pay three times extra. Local taxi drivers will overcharge you exponentially if you don't use a taxi app, this is important to note.
Accommodation is generally pretty cheap. You can find good monthly rentals with great amenities in tower blocks for $600 per month. Alternatively, you can find Airbnbs and hotels at long term prices for very reasonable costs, too.
2. Thai Cuisine
To many folks, Thai cuisine is the world’s most splendid. It's hard to argue this if you've tried some of the dishes in Bangkok. The food is fantastic and famous around the world for a good reason.
It's healthy, vast and affordable. If you're considering moving to Bangkok, then it would be a good idea to check your local Thai restaurant to sample the cuisine. Thai cuisine is a massive pro of retiring in Bangkok.
#3 Fantastic Location
Bangkok is a terrific location for travel around Asia. Based in the heart of Southeast Asia, it's effortless to get around the continent. Sukhumvit Airport is the 19th busiest airport in the world and it connects perfectly to the rest of Asia. Better still, you can get bargain flights to almost anywhere in Southeast Asia usually costing $100 or less.
But what if don't fancy heading overseas? That's okay because Thailand is home to some unbelievable destinations. You can take short breaks to Northern Thailand to see the elephants of Chiang Mai.
If tropical islands are more your thing, then you can head to Thailand's massive array of gorgeous tropical islands. Some of the highlights are Koh Tao, Koh Samui, Phuket, Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi, and many more. The incredible things to see and do in Thailand are a considerable benefit of retiring in this country.
#4 Western Convenience
Despite being in Southeast Asia, Bangkok has a lot of western conveniences. 7-Eleven is a famous shop that's on every street corner and has goods from all over the world. If you're retiring in Bangkok, no matter what your favorite goods are, you will likely find them here.
Infrastructure is also good in Bangkok. The public transport system is rapidly developing, and the BTS Skytrain offers expats an easy way to get around. Public transport will take you everywhere in the city, and this is a huge benefit of living in Bangkok.
The pollution in Bangkok is massive; there is no way around this. The air quality is often some of the worst in the world. The pollution is due to a combination of heavy traffic and a lack of regulation on pollution. You could say pollution is a classic aspect of a Southeast Asian capital.
You will often see locals wearing face masks to protect themselves from what they see as dangerous air quality. If you want to live in a city that has pure and healthy air, then you might want to avoid Bangkok because you're not going to get this.
#2 Overwhelming and Dangerous Traffic
The traffic in Bangkok is wild. Thailand has the second-worst death toll from roads in the world, and traffic in Bangkok represents why. It's not uncommon to see accidents in the capital. There are vast amounts of cars and motorbikes, and the local police do not enforce road laws.
Therefore, you are likely to see cars making insane maneuvers, frightening turns and crazy overtaking stunts. Most expats will refuse to drive in Bangkok because of how absurd and dangerous the traffic is. It's hard to argue against their choice.
#3 Bureaucracy and Corruption
Thailand used to be incredibly easy to obtain a visa. Most expats would live on a tourist visa and renew at their local immigration office every three months. However, recent changes from the government have meant that visas are a more complicated process.
If you are living in Bangkok, visas can be a bureaucratic process and may involve a lot of hassle. Similar to the days when the Thai Baht was weaker, many expats also reminisce about the days where being a foreigner meant straight forward visa runs and little red tape.
In terms of corruption, law enforcement in Thailand has a very bad reputation. Corruption in the police is notorious and widespread. And they don’t discriminate on who they choose to be corrupt with.
It’s generally said, that unless you definitely need to deal with the police, don’t bother. That’s unless you can pay a hefty bribe, then they might be of assistance.
Corruption towards expats and tourists routinely happens. Although it's not something that should take Bangkok off your list, it’s something to consider before moving there.
Bangkok has the longest city name in the world.
The full ceremonial name of the city is:
Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.
Is Bangkok a Safe Place to Retire?
Bangkok is generally very safe. There are very few incidents of crime towards foreigners other than the occasional petty theft. You should always be careful with your mobile phone if you're on a busy street in Bangkok, some motorcyclists will be looking to steal it.
One aspect of Thai culture that should be acknowledged is the saving face culture. Eastern culture, in general, has an emphasis on saving face. But in Thailand, this is especially important. When foreigners tend to get into dangerous altercations with locals, it's because they lost face and it caused an argument.
However, Bangkok is very safe as long as you take the same precautions that you would normally.
Is the Local Economy Strong in Bangkok?
Thailand is one of the fastest developing countries in the world. It is massively outperforming many of its neighbors such as Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos. The Thai economy has a GDP of around 505 billion USD. Bangkok is developing rapidly and you can see the growth all over the city. Poverty is still widespread across Bangkok, especially in areas less frequented by tourists.
However, despite the positive development of the last 15 years, Thailand is still heavily reliant on the travel industry. Around twenty percent of the GDP is from tourism, making it by far the most tourism reliant economy in the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its destruction of the global travel industry is going to hit Thailand hard. How this affects Thailand in the future is open for debate. But the drop of 40 million visitors in 2020 is likely to have significant consequences on the local economy.
What Languages are Spoken in Bangkok and Can I get by with Just English?
The local language is Thai and many locals can speak English. But the truth is, the general level of English in Thailand is pretty low. A considerable portion of people over 60 don't speak any English.
In comparison to neighboring countries Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, The Philippines or Hong Kong, the level of English proficiency is less. That is due to many historical factors such as colonization.
The level of English outside of popular tourist areas is pretty low. But if you're retiring in Bangkok, you will generally be okay. You will be able to live with no issues. But you might get the odd taxi driver pretending that he doesn't speak English so he can charge you more.
What is the Local Culture Like in Bangkok?
Thailand remains a very spiritual and religious culture. The locals are more collectivist than westerners, which is typical of Asia. But there is a real emphasis on relaxing, enjoying life, and not being too serious.
The Buddhist religion has a significant impact on the pace of life in Thailand, with many Thais living at a very relaxed pace. If you are impatient, then the slow pace might frustrate you.
The locals tend to love Muay Thai (aka Thai boxing) and will watch fights all the time. And the locals enjoy shopping, eating out, and nightlife. Thai culture is vastly different from western culture in some ways, but they enjoy the same things overall.
The Thais smile a lot, which has led to the nickname of 'the land of smiles'. And in general, Thai culture is very open to foreigners.
What is the Weather Like Year Round?
What can I say about the weather here? Um...it's hot. If you're thinking of retiring in Bangkok, you really have to consider whether the constant heat and humidity are for you.
There are different seasons in Thailand with the rainy season from June to October, the sunny season from March to June, and the cool season from November to February. The cool season in Bangkok still means average temperatures of 90 Fahrenheit (30 Celcius).
The weather during the sunny season has highs of up to 105 Fahrenheit (40 Celcius). Bangkok is generally scorching hot during this time. The rainy season isn't quite as hot but offers a more humid climate. It can be unbearably humid from June to September. Your clothes will be sweat-drenched within a couple of minutes of being outside.
Bangkok was named The World's Hottest City by the World Meteorological Association not because it has the hottest temperatures but because of it being hot all year round.
Can I Buy Property in Bangkok?
If you're retiring in Bangkok, you may consider investing in some real estate while you're there. The thought of owning your piece of property in the country might sound alluring, but it comes with challenges. The biggest issue is that you are only allowed to buy condominiums; you are not allowed to purchase land as a foreigner.
The reason is the Thai government wants to protect Thailand from overdevelopment, destruction of natural beauty, and a boom that pushes locals out of the market. The reality is...you are not going to be able to own your own house by the beach in Thailand. The law prohibits it and it probably isn't changing anytime soon.
Does Thailand Offer a Retirement Visa?
If you're seriously thinking about retiring in Bangkok, you can get a retirement visa. You must be 50 or older, you are not permitted to work in Thailand on this visa and it is good for a period of 1 year.
There are financial requirements as well:
- You have a choice of proving a monthly income of at least 65,000 Baht per month (approximately $2167 & €1780, may change due to fluctuating exchange rates) or...
- You can open a Thai bank account and deposit as well as maintain at least 800,000 Bhat (approximately $26,669 & €21,905, may change due to fluctuating exchange rates). Each year you choose to renew your visa, you'll need to have this amount in savings.
There may be additional requirements based on your specific nationality. You may be able to get more information from the local Thai Embassy in your country.
Bangkok Cost of Living Chart
Cost of Living Rank
330th out of 598
1 Bdr Apartment in City
$692 per month
1 Bdr Apartment Outside City
$354 per month
Average Utilities: 1 Bdr Apt
$100 per month
Inexpensive Meal for One
3-Course Meal for Two, Mid-Range
Retiring in Bangkok Bottom Line
Thailand is a beautiful country. The fact that so many westerners choose Bangkok to be their home speaks enormous volumes about the city. The excellent cuisine, great lifestyle, respectful culture, relaxed nature, and exquisite tropical beauty makes Thailand ever more popular for expats.
But retiring in Bangkok doesn't come without challenges. You have to deal with the constant noise, heavy pollution, heavy traffic, and mind-numbing bureaucracy. But still, it's one of the greatest countries in the world to retire in and it's a city that will continue to attract millions from all around the world.
If Bangkok is still too expensive of a city, check out Yogyakarta. It's an ultra affordable city in Indonesia and it's the second most visited Indonesian city behind Bali.
Quick Facts about Bangkok
Oppressive wet season with a dry season that is still muggy and overcast. Hot year round. Average temps are from 71°F and 95°F (21.6°C to 35°C)
Flight time to U.S.
21-24 hours by plane to New York and Los Angeles;