Retiring On $500 A Month



South East Asia

Some people regard Third World and Developing World countries with fear or even derision. Granted they don’t have the same lifestyle, things happen more slowly in some countries, often not at all. Problems that locals shrug off, like power outages, or water shortages could drive you nuts. Yet if you are prepared to adapt you’ll find there’s a uniqueness of culture, warm weather and warm people.

Places where $500 a month can afford you a nice retirement are becoming harder to find. South East Asia allows you to tick the retirement-with-ease boxes. Granted it is an adventure and you’ll certainly never live like a king. But then, do you really live like one now!

In Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines there is great potential. Where, for instance, can you find a dramatic isolated island and stay there for around $9 a day, including food? And where is it possible live near a beach that rarely sees foreigners these days? Or, where can you find a resort for $6 a day? All these places actually exist. Granted they are far from high-end places, and they certainly don’t have glossy brochure advertising. Yet you can go to these places and you can avoid the cold and damp of the fall and that long hard winter.

These three places are tropical countries. Consequently they get quite hot in the summer. However, there are a couple of places mentioned that have cool winters. Not snow and hail and that bone-numbing feeling. These go down to just about 10 Celsius, around 15 Fahrenheit.

Living in underdeveloped countries things can surprise you. It could be the lack of facilities for disabled people, or the slums, the traffic chaos and a myriad other things that will color your first encounter. However, before you go, do your research well.

Leave nothing to chance.

Being seriously disabled in these countries is not an option on $500 a month. You will also need some insurance if you are a senior and you are prone to certain issues. Yet you could stretch to getting a person to help you out in some countries. Also if you are going to have a spouse, two can live as cheaply as one in Asia, as long as one partner is not Western. Whole families live on less than $500, but it means cutting back on things you insist on having; air-conditioning, mostly western foods, supermarket shopping, living in fancy ends of town, big houses and a car.

Some will say you can’t live anywhere on that money, but they have a higher incomes and higher expectations. Go in with none, be happy with what you get and work from there. With the right attitude on spending, it is possible to find a place and still live a good life, even near a tropical beach. You just have to leave the mental and material trappings of the West behind.

By doing that, perhaps for the first time in history, the average Joe can live almost anywhere he/she chooses. So count your blessings because you have the power to move to some very interesting places, even with just $500 a month coming in.


Before you go it would be good to get a few local contacts. Here are two sites which have those potentials.

Global Freeloaders lets you stay free in many places around the world for a day or two whilst organizing your thoughts. Free to join and free to participate. Members give you a free bed or room and in return you can agree to, or totally ignore, requests from other members for accommodation in your place. They have 6 members in Cambodia, 165 in Thailand and 285 in the Philippines.

The Hospitality Club is another place where you could stay free for a night. There are many round the world that will give advice and may even put you up for a night or two. It’s free to join and no other hidden fees. They have 17 members in Cambodia 750 in Thailand and 743 in the Philippines.
Americans abroad, and other nationalities, will like this site. Good advice and news, great links.

Ex-pat sites should be checked out too. These know what’s going on and will give you invaluable information.
The Daddy of all ex-pat links




Many people’s idea of Thailand is a rural life, water buffaloes in rice paddies, temple-dancing maidens and smiling people. Others notice a quickly developing world where technology and financial aspects are enthusiastically embraced. In reality both are correct. Thailand is a balancing act. It holds on to traditions in a world economy and an all-embracing blanket of overpowering Western culture. They take pride in festivals and try and create an atmosphere of Thai-ness. They also borrow ideas, but adapt everything to their way and liking.

Everyone or thing eventually gravitates to the main city of Bangkok. It offers a cornucopia of choice not possible elsewhere else in the country. It goes some way to explain why a large proportion of people living in Bangkok originate from the countryside, mainly from the area known as Isan, in the north east.

For our purposes, though, the capital it is too expensive. We need to go into country towns and cities to survive on $500 a month. In these country districts there are smaller cities where you can get similar things that Bangkok offers. These are quieter places where the word skyscraper is unknown and where your money goes a lot further and people get to know you.

Being poor is a way of life here. They have cell phones but struggle on 6 dollars a day. You couldn’t live that low because in Asian countries they have extended families and beg and borrow off each other, or make do and mend all the time. People live mainly on rice and are adept at scrimping and saving where you will struggle. It’s still very cheap, however, even for you. Cheap food is available from stalls and markets, supermarket food halls and small restaurants. A small meal for one plus a Pepsi at a small place would set you back about 50 Baht – just about $1.50.


Living in areas outside of the capital is pretty good for retirees of all classes, for rich and for some poorer ones. Here prices of accommodation begin to tumble down to a respectable level. Unfortunately, most seaside living in Thailand is now expensive; the same in many countries. There are a couple of places listed here that are worth considering. If you don’t like them then head for the hills.


This web site has some very good cheap apartments for rent outside Bangkok and other areas.
Go to the left hand corner and click on the UK flag then go to the Category Search. Now go down the list till you see ‘Residence search in upcountry’ and click on that. This will give you a good list of places outside of Bangkok. These apartments are mostly limited to Chaing Mai, Chon Buri, Khon Kaen, and Rayong.

The good thing about apartments is that you can stay for a night or two, usually about $10. Then you can check out the area and also the apartment building itself. The cost of a house or apartment in country districts should be around 2,000 – 4,000 Baht ($60 – $120) a month. Electricity is extra and of course so is water. It doesn’t amount to much, roughly 1,500 Baht ($45) a month. Fans are more common than air conditioning in the country so don’t expect luxuries. It also means that your electric bill would double, maybe even treble with air con. If you are hot buy another fan, they cost around $22 and save you a fortune in bills. Also make sure your apartment is not facing the sun all day.

If you rent a small house in the country these rarely come furnished, so try and make a deal with the owner to put in some things. Failing that they will know someone who has items for sale.

Thai Typical Food

Thai Typical Food


South east of the capital is Chon Buri is a small seaside town on its way to its near neighboring town, and the sex capital of Thailand, Pattaya. Chonburi also has nightlife, not as loud as its neighbor, but enough to satisfy most people. It is just 44 miles, a short bus ride, from the capital. You can go by train, at 6.55 a.m. but any other times you’ll have to get off at nearby Aranyapraphet station and finish the short journey by taxi.

Public transport is often in the form of motorcycle taxis and songtew’s. These are high-sided covered pick-up trucks with 2 benches in the back and are often crowded Both are cheap and no need to tip. Find out the cost from the bike taxi before getting on. It’s usually as low as 10 Baht or at most 15 Baht (44 cents), so check. With the songtew pay when you get off. Again it’s not more than 10 Baht (30 cents) or so. As always with people like motorcycle taxi drivers, never use big bills when paying. They will never have change and presume that as a rich foreigner you’ll let them keep the change. Chon Buri is a combination of old and new, wonderful and awful, restful and lively, a true enigma that may appeal to many, whilst others will hate it.

Some cheap short stay accommodation

Canterbury Tales Cafe & Guesthouse, Soi Chaiyapoon, Nongprue, Banglamung $17
Uwe und Wantana’s Gastehaus und Restaurant 245 Moo 9, Sukhumvit Road Najomtien Soi 9 $10


Most books can be found in Pattaya.
SE ED Bookshops containing English language material.
G Fl., Com Building, Pattaya
2nd Fl., Lotus Pattaya.
G Fl., Book Variety Carrefour


The annual Water Buffalo races. Golf at the Pattana Golf Club and a Sauna, Massage, Jacuzzi or eat in their nice restaurant. Fees are relatively cheap. Deep sea fishing organized by an ex-pat club.  e-mail   Walking, both beach and nearby hills, bird watching, biking, fishing, sailing and snorkeling.  There’s a beach and a harbor to watch the traditional fishing boats heading out to the Gulf of Thailand. Tiring of that there’s a big Robinson’s shopping mall as a change.

Hospitals in and around Chonburi

Chollavej Hospital Sukhumvit Rd. KM. 143
Chonburi Hospital Sukhumvit Rd. Muang
EK-Chon Hospital Prayasatja Rd
Pattaya Memoriam Hospital 328/1 moo9 Pattaya-Klang rd., Nhongprue, Banglamung.
Phayathai-Sriracha Hospital Srirachanakorn 3 Rd
Samitivej-Sriracha Hospital Jermjompol Rd
Somdet Pranangchao Sirikit Hospital. A.Sattaheep


A four hour drive, or an hour and a half by plane from Bangkok, is Rayong. The town has 200,000 people and is not far from the Cambodian border. The area has a100 km of beachfront where you can see most of the 10 islands groups in the Gulf. Elsewhere are waterfalls, mountains, fruit plantations and forest. The usual amenities for a moderately sized Thai town exist; supermarkets, franchised outlets such as KFC, 7/11 and movie theaters, though the films will be in Thai.

The first big beach in Rayong is about 10 km after the city, called Hat Mae Ramphung. It’s popular at the weekend, but is 12 km long so it’s easy to find a deserted bit. The top of the beach is fringed with sea oaks which gives you some good shade. There are beach chairs that cost 20 Baht a day and these double as an ad hoc restaurant where someone will come with a menu. It’s in Thai so ask for Kow Pat Gai fried rice with chicken – about 30 Baht (88 cents). The place is quiet, a few mini-marts and a few other stores.

If you want peace and an easy life there is also Ban Kon Ao, a small fishing village at the other end of the beach. Not that many foreigners get here. Mostly Thai families go there for their holidays. If you make a base in Rayong, or the Reggae Guest House, take your time and check things out.

Cheap short stay accommodation

A place to stay on the beach, with a Caribbean touch, is the Reggae Guest House. It is very welcoming and you can pick up some good local information here. A rear balcony room goes from 200 Baht a night (under $6) for a 2 night or more stay. An ocean view room shoots up to 350 Baht (just over $10) a night for a 2 night or more stay. Considering its location next to the beach, the place is a real bargain. You can get a discount of 40% if you book for 30 days!

The local area has many Scandinavians renting houses or those who have bought houses there. If you don’t stay at the Reggae Guesthouse buy a meal from their vast menu and talk to the obliging staff about local rentals.


There are few things to do in Rayong, bar the usual fishing, walking, swimming, beach activities and some sailing. There are one or two golf courses such as the Rayong Green Valley Country Club. It’s not cheap but it has other facilities in the club. As always with golf clubs go there during the week, since weekends get packed out.


Mongkuit Rayong Hospital Mabya Rd
Rayong Hospital Sukhumvit Rd
Thonburi Sriklang Hospital Sukhumvit Rd. A.Klang
Quite a few clinics and pharmacies in town, some on Sukhumvit Rd


Just 278 miles north of Bangkok is Khon Kaen. Situated in the middle of Isan the town is a vibrant place with a university. It is a town of 150,000 people and is the administration center for the northeast of Thailand. You can get there by plane in 1 hour, or bus in 5 hours.

It is not a tourist town, so don’t expect the same facilities as those places. The night life is OK and the people are friendly, though not many locals speak English. Try the Khon Kaen Forum – this thread is not just for accommodation there are lots of other threads and is used by ex-pats in the area.
For public transport there are songtews. There are different lines through the city. You can decide between the different lines by the color of the car. Wave the vehicle down and ask for your destination. It costs around 10 Baht. There are often Tuk Tuk’s which will take you everywhere in town for similar prices.

Most ex-pat activity is centered in the ex-pat bars. Some worth a visit, especially for getting contacts are: Eric’s Bar between Hotel Sofitel Raja Orchid and Kosa Hotel, centrally located in downtown Khon Kaen. Leo’s Bar Located in the heart of Khon Kaen City opposite the Hotel Sofitel and only a few minutes walk from the Kosa Hotel and Charoen Thani Princess. Number 1 Bar Located on Namuang Road, a few minutes walk from both Khon Kaen Hotel and Kaen Inn. Seven’s Corner Located on Soi Yimsiri, cross Srichan Road near Bangkok Bank and follow the Soi to the end.

Cheap short stay accommodation

Europe Guest House Air con rooms 460 Baht $13.70, fan only 150 Baht $4.50


SE-ED Book Centers
1st Fl. Fairy Plaza, Khon Kaen Branch. 69/9 Klang-muang Road, T. Ni-muang, A.Muang
Ground Fl.,Kosa Com Building, Khon Kaen Branch 250/1 Sichan Road, T.Ni-muang, A.Muang


Horse racing is held in a good stadium every Saturday and Sunday except on holidays. Racing starts at 12:00 (noon) and goes through to 6:00pm for a ten races. Swimming in a local pool, at Chol 2, or in the Kosan d Sofitel hotels costing about 100 Baht. There’s golf and possibly cricket some time soon, in the university they play rugby.


Pracha Wet Hospital near Khonkaen University.
Srinakharint Hospital (government)
Khonkaen Hospital (government)


A popular place to retire in Thailand is Chiang Mai. Look on a map and it is the most north westerly big city. It’s a bit more expensive these days, but it has a thriving foreign community. It has a train service from Bangkok and you can fly there cheaply enough, for around 2,000 Baht ($60). Chiang Mai is regarded as Thailand’s second city, with a population of 1 million. Its importance is mostly derived from tourism these days.

Chiang Mai, is cradled by forested mountains and has seven hundred years of history. It has its own culture, festivals, and traditions as well as arts and a mix of local Hill Tribe communities. Many rate it as one of the best towns to live in Asia with its mix of cosmopolitan and traditional appeal. As it is situated in the north of Thailand it gets cool in the winter. Something a lot of people love.

Public transport is the usual songtew and Tuk Tuk variety, as well as the motorcycle taxi. These are cheap and cheerful at around 10 Baht for short journeys.

Some cheap short stay accommodation

Parami Guest House 210 – 212 Charoenrat Rd – $6
Same Same Guest House 104 Ratchaphakinai Rd – $6
Julie Guest House 7/1 Soi 5, Prapokklao Rd., Muang $6
Thapae Gate Lodge 38/7 Moonmuang Soi 2 $7
Tha Phae Garden Guest House 60 Thaphe Road Soi 3 $7


Book Zone 318 Thaphae Road.
Bookazine Basement of Chiang Inn Plaza Chang Khlan Road.
CE-ED Lotus Supercenter Flr 2, 132 Moo 1, Chiang Mai-Hang Dong Road.
Dokya Book 177 Chang Phuak Road. Duangkamol Chiang Mai Co., Ltd. 79/1 Kotchasan Road.
Sangseaw Book Co., Ltd. 15/75-76 Huai Kaew Road.
Suriwong Book Centre 54, 54/1 Sridonchai Road.
Tokyodo Books Kad Suan Kaew Flr 4, 99/4 Moo 2, Huai Kaew Road.
The Bangkok Post and Nation newspapers come in around 9.00 a.m.


Jogging since it’s cooler up north, especially in the ‘winter’. Fishing, bird watching, walking and swimming in hotel pools. Tennis, some court rentals are $1.6 to $3.5 per hour. Fitness centers and gyms in most big hotels. Ask for daily rate or membership. There are a number of golf clubs; The Royal Chiangmai Golf Resort is one.

Ballooning; not very cheap. Flying can be done at Chiangmai Flying Club and even offers pilot training, or Microlights 15 minutes for $55 You can even learn to fly one, but it’s over $2,300 for 20 hours tuition. Horse riding in a number of riding clubs average $12 an hour.

Government Hospitals and Medical Centers

Maharaj Hospital
Chiang Mai Ram Hospital
Suan Prong Hospital
Chiang Dao Hospital
Chai Prakarn Hospital
Chiang Mai Neurological Hospital
Dararatsami Hospital
Doi Saket Hospital
Doi Tao Hospital
Fang Hospital
There are many more as well as numerous clinics and pharmacies throughout the town.

These towns and cities could be jumping off places, If none appeal there’s a vast amount of small townships and villages to look into. You will need to seek out apartment-type buildings and call in. Word of mouth is a good way of finding things. Ask around in restaurants and even go to a bar or two in town and ask if anyone knows of permanent accommodation. Most people know someone who can speak a smattering of English. Please be aware that life in a village in Asia is not the same as one in your country. Few if any people speak English and their customs aren’t yours. Of course, it could be the very reason why you want to live there

Approximate expenses for apartment living on the cheap in Thailand.

Rent: 4,000 B
Electric: 1,500 B
Water: 250 B
Cable: 500 B
Groceries: 4,000 B
Transport: 1,500 B
Miscellaneous – Visa Insurance etc. 2,500 B
Total monthly expenses 14,250 B – $401.00


Domestic and foreign banks


Real Estate

Information on low cost travel in the region

Lowdown, reports and info from Thailand

Cheap flights inland and some Asian countries

Bus enquiries and information for travel round Thailand

A good site for all train information, though confirm at the station first

Work out your costs with this money exchange rate site

Legal advisors

Visa Matters



Next Month – How to retire to Cambodia and the Philippines on $500 a month.

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  1. Pingback

    Travel Voices — Blog — Retiring On $500 A Month | EFAM | Escape From America Magazine

  2. Doug Rice September 21, 2009 at 1:31 am

    Man what a good review of living in Thailand on the cheap. I’ve visited the kingdom numerous times and learned a lot of new things from your piece. Solid references , can see you have lots of work invested in pulling them together.

    I look forward to reading more… Doug

  3. JeffR October 7, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    Yes, nice job! Thank you for all of your hard work and good information.

  4. david January 24, 2010 at 3:50 am

    what do you do about a visa if you want to do this? a tourist visa is only 60 days max and they’re cracking down on the re-ups.

  5. Chris August 15, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Hey, great article. @ david: if you apply for a non-immigrant visa at the thai embassy in your home country you can get a 1 year visa :) cheers

  6. Pingback

    How To Retire on $500 a Month |

  7. Mickalena February 25, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    Great material, recently considering retiring to Thailand. I’d be a 63 year old divorced woman living
    stricky on SociaL Security of $750.00 a month, good idea or no? I am very frugal I might add.
    Thanks for your advise.

  8. Johannes Bergstrom July 21, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    Great post. Also a hospital in Chonburi that is good is the Bangkok hospital. If you go for Thai accommodation there are many cheap alternatives and they have good standard inside Bangkok for around 5000 baht.

    Thanks for a good post


    • Michael Reinch April 5, 2013 at 5:50 am

      I have been living in Thailand for almost a decade and it is getting more and more expensive. In the south east asia region I would definitely go for Cambodia, Phnom Penh or maybe even Laos

  9. neale March 19, 2012 at 12:23 am

    Just got back from a 12 day holiday, staying in Rayong a couple of days, It has all the attributes of a great city to live in with out all the normal stuff associated with Phuket & Pattaya and the likes.

  10. Curtis Hill September 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    Hello, I am getting ready to retire.. I have $ 50,000.00 USA dollars to spend for a livable house with at least ( 30-acers)( of land… The wife wants to be able to see ocean? What you got?

    Curtis Hill

  11. sonya savoy December 15, 2013 at 6:27 am

    no thank you that house is a dump I can find a better house here for $500

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