They say it means they can retire sooner and live very comfortably on just a few dollars a day.
“It’s much cheaper living here, it’s amazing,” Ken Bingham tells Nick Lazaredes in a story to be broadcast on tonight’s Dateline on SBS ONE.
The 67-year-old was once a butcher in Melbourne, but has made Thailand his new home. He’s looking at spending just $60,000 on a two bedroom apartment in Pattaya, about 200 kilometres from Bangkok.
“I can live comfortably on our pension here and live a good lifestyle, where at home it’s pretty hard [and] you’ve got to cut corners,” he says.
Ken is part of what some describe as a new diaspora of Australians over the age of 50, who are making the most of the cheaper cost of living in parts of Asia.
“It’s the best balance I think of scenery, culture, cost and fun that I’ve been able to find anywhere,” is how Godfree Roberts from Byron Bay describes his new home in Chiang Mai.
“Most of the Aussie expats here would say pretty much the same thing.”
His retirement fund was wiped out by the Global Financial Crisis, but even a small pension is enough for him to live on in Thailand, and the pensioners’ money is proving vital for the local economy.
“We collectively kick in a billion dollars a year here,” Godfree tells Nick. “This is a small town remember, there’s only 160,000 people live in old Chiang Mai… so we’re a welcome addition to a culture that has no negatives towards us at all, just happy smiles.”
Retiring to Thailand is actively supported by the country’s immigration authorities, with visas relatively easy to get for over 50s with proof of sufficient income or pension.
But for some, the attraction is also the pleasures of red light districts like Pattaya, and there’s concern from some locals over too many ‘sexpats’ making Thailand home.
“No wonder the guys are coming here to retire,” says Steve from Brisbane in one of the bars Nick visited. “The ladies… you treat the ladies with respect and they will treat you like god.”
Former builder Graham from the Gold Coast is a member of Pattaya’s retiree police brigade, a team of Westerners who volunteer to work with the Thai Police and help keep the streets clear of trouble.
“No way I could have retired at 52 on the Gold Coast,” he tells Nick. “I wouldn’t be able to afford it.”
“You can have a champagne lifestyle here on a lemonade budget,” says his colleague Tom, who retired from Ireland. “You can live a very, very good life here for not a lot of money.”
With the number of Australians aged over 65 set to reach eight million in the next 35 years, they could be part of a growing trend.