On New Year’s Day, International Living – a global travel magazine – released its annual compilation of the world’s best places to retire in 2022. The list, which ranks countries based on various factors such as climate, health care, cost of living, accommodation, ease of obtaining visas, etc., saw Thailand come in 11th place and take top honors in Asia.
Sensing an opportunity to start the year on a positive note and take credit for the accomplishment, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was quick to thank Thais for their hospitality and expressed his pride for the country’s unique culture, said government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana.
Although the 11th place is not negligible, Thailand should be more competitive. In fact, the country ranked 7th in 2016 on the list, but it failed to capitalize on that momentum.
Thailand has a lot to offer, especially in terms of affordable housing, low living costs, and modern cities with excellent health care and world-class amenities. But the quality of life does not hide the fact that retirees enjoy few opportunities in the country.
Even after completing the bureaucratic maze required to obtain a retirement visa, retirees must maintain their status by regularly reporting to authorities, which means keeping up with changing rules and regulations.
It is also difficult, if not nearly impossible, for retirees to acquire permanent residence after deciding to settle permanently in Thailand. Retirees also miss out on benefits like utility discounts and find it difficult to start a business here. Compare that to top-ranked countries like Costa Rica, which grants retirees permanent residency after three years in the country, or Panama, where retirees get a wide range of discounts at hotels, restaurants and hospitals.
Covid-19 has revealed that the world is not static. People react to changing scenarios and countries need to adapt to these changes in real time to stay competitive. This principle applies not only to make Thailand more attractive to retire in, but also to coax other high-potential demographic groups such as remote workers or entrepreneurs wishing to set up local businesses.
For example, Dubai has moved forward with a digital nomad visa that allows employees earning a minimum of US$5,000 (165,000 baht) to live in the country for one year. Similarly, Portugal, which ranked 4th on the list, grants residency to remote employees earning at least €702 (26,500 baht) per month. Meanwhile, Thailand has been languishing for more than half a decade trying to introduce a visa option for the ever-growing remote work community.
Despite these challenges, foreign retirees and other groups enjoy a good lifestyle here, but can the same be said for Thai seniors? In 2016, nearly 40% of the 10 million elderly Thais who had passed the mandatory retirement age of 60 were still working, said the Department of Older People (DOP) of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development. In the twilight of their lives, elderly people drive buses in Bangkok, work on farms or work in factories to help support their families or pay for their grandchildren’s education.
The Old Age Allowance Fund (OAA), which was established in 2009 to support older people who do not receive a government pension, pays out a meager 600 baht per month to people aged 60 to 69, 700 baht per month to those aged 70 to 79. , 800 baht for 80-89 and 1,000 baht per month for 90+. While the initiative is commendable, it is an unrealistic amount to retire on if seniors do not have prior savings or are not receiving support from their children. With Thailand rapidly aging, the burden on this fund will continue to grow, which, in turn, will put pressure on the working-age population who pay for it.
In addition to better internal policies promoting savings from an early age and some form of access to social security for the workforce, including blue-collar workers, rapidly aging societies must also look to outside for help. Thailand should make the most of its international reputation as an ideal destination for remote work, business and retirement to bolster its pension fund. Give people with disposable income who want to live and spend here a headache-free legal option, incentivize spending and collect taxes to not only stimulate the economy, but also improve the retirement system. After all, shouldn’t Thailand also be a good place for the average Thai to retire?
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent the Bangkok Post’s thoughts on current issues and situations.
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