‘Retire to Asia – our search’ is the ‘Back Story’ of how we came to be searching for an affordable and safe (early) retirement. It’s mid-August 2014 and we’ve just boarded our international flight from Sydney to Europe. I’ve packed some reading into my carry-on luggage to help while away the long hours in the air.
Early on in the flight, I read an article from The Australian Weekend Colour Magazine. Written by a couple of Australian Journalists and providing snippets of stories about Aussies who have moved to Asia and further afield for a more affordable retirement. Elements of each personal story struck a chord with me.
The article was, in essence, promoting a newly published book Sell Up, Pack Up and Take Off and was something I wanted desperately to read – it was timely, relevant and seemed to speak to me on a very personal level. I passed the article to Vivien and suggested that she might find it interesting. Her comment to me once she had read it was simply “Let’s Do It!”
I was equally surprised and enthused by her comment and we spent the next little while chatting about when or how we could do it. In our mind, there were many ‘roadblocks’ that prevented us seriously considering any immediate change but the seed was sown about Selling Up, Packing Up and Taking Off.
On the ground in Europe, I downloaded the book and spent the next few weeks working through it chapter by chapter. Reading the pros and cons for each country, the stories of Aussies in each of these countries, the cost of living comparisons, and the detailed chapters on what to contemplate before making such a move – like taxation, superannuation, government pensions, and health insurance. This book proved to be a practical guide on what to think through before considering such a step and which countries may be suitable.
Vivien and I agreed that when the time came where we felt we could seriously consider this ‘New Life’ as we chose to call it, this book would be our starting point.
Life changing event
Fast forward just three weeks and we were in the Cinque Terre region of Italy when the news came that Vivien’s Mum had suddenly passed away. The mad panic to cancel the remaining week or so of our holiday and get on a plane back to Australia followed.
Once back on the ground in Australia Vivien and her sister were responsible for finalising her Mum’s estate, which meant many months of toing and froing with lawyers, banks, the retirement village and the rest.
My Dad had already passed away and gone to meet his maker as had Vivien’s Dad. Now with her mother gone, the picture was changing. My mother, now in her early 80’s had spent the last few years battling throat cancer but was on the mend and definitely still with us.
So with only one parent remaining between us (and no children), it seemed like the ‘Universe’ or some higher source was slowly removing the barriers to our desire to Sell Up, Pack Up and Take Off.
Other Significant Factors
Around the same time as our trip to Europe, real estate interest in our suburb rose significantly – due mainly to rezoning by the local Government from low to medium density housing. This meant developers were looking for blocks of land along each street they could develop apartment buildings on – so most days a letter from a developer or real estate company appeared in our letterbox with an expression of interest for our (corner block) property. Neighbours were selling up around us, thanks to very attractive offers and we also received several worthy of consideration.
We had nearly paid off the mortgage and did not like the idea of entering into a new mortgage if we moved elsewhere in Australia. I was 7-8 years away from the technical retirement age and Vivien was more like 12 years to the retirement age. Vivien had a demanding regional management role with a very large retail company and I was keeping myself busy with sub-contracting work.
So here we were with so many questions that we needed to find the answer to:
- Do we stay where we are and let the development happen around us and be one of the few remaining houses in the suburb surrounded by low rise apartment buildings?
- If we do stay, will our house and land retain it’s current ‘desirable’ value or will we have ‘missed the boat’ so to speak?
- Do we keep working for the next 7-10 years to build up our superannuation nest egg and maybe even become eligible for some of the government pension – even though we were around that age where companies preferred to ditch the ‘experienced workers’ for the ‘brighter younger models’. I had certainly experienced that ‘ageist’ discrimination.
- Could we afford to retire early if we sold our house for a good price; paid off the remaining mortgage; and live off our combined life savings including our limited Superannuation – and if so, where and on how much?
Much calculation, consultation, and research followed.
We built spreadsheets extrapolating our monies out for the next 35+ years under different financial scenarios. We visited representatives from our respective Superannuation Funds to cross-check our calculations and to get clarity on the law. We visited with our Accountant to check the tax implications on the various scenarios we were considering. We became members of a select few websites that provided information for potential ‘retirees’ looking for affordable and safe overseas retire locations. We also went back to the very relevant info in Sell Up, Pack Up and Take Off.
Australia, not an affordable consideration
Interestingly, or sadly, Australia was not an affordable consideration for us if we were to retire earlier than the traditional age. All our deliberations and considerations had us leaning towards an early retirement and a move overseas to a location (or locations) where we could, according to all our calculations and available advice, afford to live till our death.
Exquisite Timing or Fate
As part of this whole process, we were planning an investigative trip to the Central American country of Panama and to Ecuador in South America to evaluate these countries as potential locations for our ’new life’. For several years now, they had been topping a list of the most affordable and safe countries for people to retire to. International Living Magazine is one organisation that produces an annual listing of countries that rate well on their retirement index and we found to have valuable information.
In both countries, we went on organised “Relocation Tours” led by expats living in those locations who had created businesses to educate others on the merits and realities of retiring to these countries. Panama, in particular, got our vote as a place we could live in.
On our return from Panama and Ecuador in July 2015 we received an offer for the purchase of our house that was too good to refuse. We accepted and settlement date was agreed for mid-October 2015.
We continued investigating our options for Panama and Ecuador, however, the drawbacks for both of these countries was the distance from Australia some 20+ hours travelling time as a minimum, and the fact that both countries used the US Dollar as their currency.
Around this time the Aussie Dollar started to really decline against the US Dollar so these (potentially desirable) countries all of a sudden become much more expensive.
What were we to do? We had a contract of sale on our house that was just about to go ‘unconditional’ and the countries at the top of our list as locations to live were becoming financially unattractive for the long term.
A sense of urgency or even panic was settling over us!
Asia, it is!
We knew that Asia was still an option and there were several countries that were welcoming of expat retirees as the Sell Up, Pack Up and Take Off book so effectively demonstrated. Asia was also much closer to Australia – for family and friends to visit, or for us to visit them if needed. International Living was also a great source of information that helped with our decision making.
Which one would it be?
We were already familiar with several Asian countries. We had taken our honeymoon in Vietnam nearly 20 years ago – before mass tourism had started there. We had travelled around the back blocks of Bali Island and Lombok in Indonesia as well as travels in Thailand and Cambodia. In fact, after our trip to Cambodia, we spent 6 months exploring the feasibility of gaining reasonable paying jobs in Cambodia but the stars did not align at that time.
So after more calculations and (frantic) research, Thailand was chosen as the starting point for our ‘new life’.
With the house sale now ‘unconditional’ – ALL we had to do now was sell up ‘everything’ we owned; sort out our personal and financial affairs; secure a ‘retirement visa’ for Thailand; and farewell family and friends.
We set ourselves the ambitious goal of achieving this ALL in just three months – meaning we would be leaving Australia three short weeks after the settlement of our House sale.