How to Retire in Thailand’s “Rose of the North” for $537 a Month

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“My biggest fear in retirement is waking up and not having a clue what I’m going to do that day,” says David Lucero.

But David’s fears never materialized…as he went in search of an adventure abroad.

His journey began with an epiphany in his office. “In 2013, I was working in Houston, Texas, and at the time I was about 62 years old. I worked at a private equity firm and was tired of spending 10-11 hours a day staring at a computer screen. I’ve always loved traveling so I started looking for things to do outside of the United States”

David discovered a multitude of teaching jobs abroad. “I found a teaching job in Yantai, China (Yentai University) and in early 2014, I went there for a year and stayed for four years.”

During this time, David used China as a base to explore Asia. “I have traveled in Central and Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines. My brother had been to Chiang Mai 30 years ago and he suggested I go there.

Chiang Mai is a city in northern Thailand known as the “Rose of the North”. With golden temples to explore, international restaurants and festivals to celebrate regularly, Chiang Mai is popular with tourists and expats alike. Although it has a warm to hot climate, Chiang Mai has a cool season and temperatures can dip into the 60s during the winter. It is an hour’s flight from Bangkok and has an international airport serving destinations throughout Asia.

Nestled among the mountains, Chiang Mai offers a variety of lifestyles, including city living in a high-rise condo, suburban living, and country living with views of rice paddies and banana plantations.

“This city is great because it has a good expat population. The size of the city suited me. Here you can get anywhere you want in 20 minutes by motorbike. Whatever your interest, head over to Facebook and you’ll find a group in Chiang Mai. Hike, walk, eat, golf, whatever,” says David.

“When I got back to China, I realized that I really liked teaching, so when I got to Chiang Mai, I walked around a few schools that I had driven and just walked in and asked if they needed teachers. Teaching began to fill a gap. I could teach as much or as little as I wanted, so I chose to teach 15 hours a week. I was only paid around $9 an hour, but it was something I liked.

One day, someone suggested that David attend a Rotary meeting. At the meeting, he was asked if he was good at math. “They told me about a charity school helping Burmese migrant workers and they were looking for a math teacher to volunteer,” he recalls.

This meant that David could stay in Thailand on a volunteer visa. It is illegal to work or volunteer on a retirement visa in Thailand, so reputable places offer volunteer visas and pay the fees.

David’s volunteer teaching schedule is around 10 hours per week and is flexible so he has plenty of time for other travels, which he loves to do.

“My favorite place to travel is Koh Chang, the third largest island in Thailand after Phuket. It’s an eight-hour mini-van trip from Bangkok. There are beautiful beaches and it’s relatively sparsely populated compared to other beach towns.

When David is not teaching and traveling, he is busy with the many social events that are an integral part of expat life in Chiang Mai.

“I joined a pool league and we play in bars and travel to a new location every week. I got involved through friends. I’ve never played pool much in the US, But we’re getting better. We play as a team. It’s just people getting together to have a beer, play pool.

David says that when he arrived in Chiang Mai and was looking for activities online, he found a competitive bridge competition. “I played bridge when I was younger, but I hadn’t played for 30 years. They have a wonderful club here and they are mostly retirees, but some are Thai and some are young digital nomads. They also host tournaments so you can meet players from out of town and make friends. Some players are competitive, but most of us are just there to drink beer, make friends and have fun.

A big part of social life as an expat in Chiang Mai is the food scene. There are hundreds of restaurants in and around the city and since the food is so tasty and cheap, there’s never a reason to cook.

“My girlfriend cooks a lot of Thai food, so my favorite restaurant is not a Thai one. Ribs and Rump is my favorite restaurant.

“It’s inside the old town and the chef is Thai but he cooked in New Zealand for 10 years. They have a great ribeye steak with either mashed potatoes or fries and a salad. It’s around 300 baht or $9. David is renting a three-bedroom, three-story townhouse near Old Town for the low price of $537 per month. This means that there is plenty of room for visitors to us. Her water bill is less than $10 a month and, depending on her air conditioning usage, her electric bill ranges from $20 to $75 a month.

David says a good quality lifestyle here costs around $2,000 a month. His medical care is also affordable.

“I’m very lucky not to have any underlying health issues so it’s not high on my list, but I’m going to see a very knowledgeable English speaking doctor at Ram Hospital and they’re testing my blood and do a general checkup.The doctor costs around 400 baht ($12) and the blood tests and tests cost around 2,000 baht ($60).

“I have enough money in the bank in case I have a heart attack, but my medical insurance is really just a ticket home. I have accident insurance which is very cheap. costs 6,000 baht ($180) a year and earns up to 300,000 baht ($9,000),” says David.

“What surprised me about moving here is how much I enjoy Chiang Mai,” says David, “how different it is from the United States, how different it is …and how much better it is.”

This story was originally published in International Living.

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