Dull, boring things

One of the best aspects of my new, first-floor apartment is that it is on the first floor, but even now I have to plan my trips for groceries or dining due to the at least 6-block walk to anything. In one direction six blocks, I have a Tesco, what amounts to a small 7-11 in the States. There’s a 7-11 right next to it. Go figure.

Or, I can go about 10 blocks toward town until I get to Soi 51, where there are a number of Thai food restaurants (and also a sushi place I may have to check out), and a 7-11. ATMs are located in both directions.

I had a couple of goals today so I mapped out my route to go to the main highway where the Tesco is located, but turned to go to a copy shop to get prints of documents I will need next week for my visa extension. I also wanted to print up new business cards, but for the second time the files were not saved correctly. The shop has a young Chinese-looking guy who speaks some English; it’s just a little shop and they probably welcome any business they can get.

A few blocks after that shop is Soi 51, that has maybe 10 restaurants, Thai and Western, and where I’ve eaten a few times. There is one place that grills pork, chicken and fish that I’ve tried a couple of times and is usually busy (a good sign), and also seems to specialize in papaya salads. The last papaya salad I tasted here was too spicy for me to eat but I was assured they could make them non-spicy.

There’s a mom-and-pop restaurant nearby serving more basic Thai foods – noodles, rice, boiled chicken and pork. They also tout their chicken noodle soup and that was my goal today. The cook is an older women and I’m sure the co-owner. A young guy, maybe her grandson, assists, along with a couple of others, probably family.

But she had not yet prepared the chicken noodle soup. So I ordered an alternative – chicken and rice. Mostly rice.

There are three other Thai-style restaurants next door that deserve some attention.

A stop at the 7-11 and the 10-block walk back. Daily exercise and errands and lunch taken care of.

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Restaurant relief on the horizon

On my return from the beach this evening (I go to the beach pretty much every early evening, and sometimes later), I noticed three middle-aged women at a new sign on a building facing the alley leading to the beach. The sign said it was a restaurant/cafe. So I wandered over and briefly chatted with three delightful ladies who are, in fact, opening a Thai restaurant next week. Only a block away. I asked if there would be tourist prices or Thai prices and they admonished me for suggesting. If the food’s any good, they will have me as a regular customer as I will eat local far more often if I don’t have to walk six blocks. Don’t you think?

Did I make the wrong choice?

Contrary to what some people might think, a lot of thought went into where my next home would be. I have a pretty good file on a number of countries but had focused my research lately on Philippines and Thailand. Returning to Batam, or going somewhere in Central America were my other options. I have to admit that because of previous Thai experiences I was leaning that way.

And while it’s too early to second guess, and I plan to give this home a year’s try, this article I found is interesting:

Retirement: Philippines vs. Thailand

Retiring abroad has become a reality for an increasing number of older adults looking to trade in cold weather and rising costs for a lower cost of living and a tropical paradise. There are popular expatriate communities in virtually every corner of the world, from Canada and Latin America to Europe, the South Pacific and Asia. The Southeast Asia region is one of the most popular. It offers an enticing blend of natural beauty, warm weather, rich culture, welcoming people and in many cases a lower cost of living. But how to decide where to go? Here, we take a look at some important factors to help you compare and contrast two of Southeast Asia’s most popular expat locales: the Philippines and Thailand.

Cost of Living

The cost of living for a comfortable lifestyle is a top concern for many older adults considering an overseas retirement. If you’re looking for a low cost of living with a high standard of living, you’ll find it in both the Philippines and Thailand, though one does tend to be cheaper than the other.

Expats in the Philippines can live comfortably for about $800 to $1,200 a month (more if you live in Manila’s city center), and that may include dining out, some in-country travel and hiring someone to help with the cooking and cleaning. If you’re at least 50 years old, you qualify for one of four Special Resident Retiree’s Visas (SRRV). The SSRV Classic is for “active/healthy retirees.” To get it you need a time deposit of $10,000 and must have a monthly pension of at least $800 for a single applicant or $1,000 for a couple. If you don’t have a pension, the required deposit is $20,000; it’s $50,000 if you’re between 35 and 49 years old.

A big part of any retirement budget is housing. In the Philippines the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center is approximately $211, according to city and country database website Numbeo.com. If you need more space you’ll pay about $370 a month for a three-bedroom unit. Outside the city rent drops to an average of $118 a month for a one-bedroom apartment and $240 for a three-bedroom unit.

Thailand is more expensive. $2,000 a month would serve as a good starting point for most expats, although your budget will vary depending on your lifestyle and preferences (true anywhere). To qualify for a long-stay visa you’ll need a minimum monthly income of 65,000 baht​ ($1,823 as of Jan. 29, 2016), an account balance of at least 800,000 baht ($22,437) in a Thai bank or a combined bank account and monthly income that equals 800,000 baht per year.

As far as rent goes, you’ll probably end up paying more for housing in Thailand. According to Numbeo.com you’re looking at an average of $363 to rent a one-bedroom apartment in the city center and $1,092 for a three-bedroom unit. You’ll save money if you rent outside the city center: Average rent there is $197 for one bedroom and $529 for three bedrooms.

Daily Life

Many aspects of daily life are similar in both countries. Each offers rich biodiversity, natural beauty, white-sand beaches, crystal-clear water, and ample opportunities to enjoy the outdoors with activities such as golf, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and diving, to name a few. In either country it’s possible to find established expat communities in the middle of a large, bustling city or a quiet, scenic town – in the mountains or at the beach.

Language

Despite many similarities there naturally are certain contrasts between the two countries, perhaps most notably in how easy it is to communicate with the locals. If you’re not already fluent in one of the languages, you’re likely to have a much easier time in the Philippines, where English is one of two official languages, the other being Filipino (or Tagalog). The Philippines markets itself as the third largest English-speaking country in the world, behind only the U.S. and the U.K. You’ll also find that many Filipinos speak with a clear American accent, partly because the nation was a U.S. colony for five decades.

This isn’t the case in Thailand, and you may find it difficult to have any type of conversation with the locals unless you speak Thai (or the other person happens to speak English – which is the exception, not the norm). According to the EF English Proficiency Index 2015 conducted by Education First Language Institute, the English abilities of Thai people are ranked 14 out of 16 Asian countries (surpassing only Mongolia and Cambodia) and 62 out of 70 countries worldwide. The index notes that Thailand is a non-English speaking country with “very low” English proficiency.

Visas

Visas are another difference. The Philippines is very welcoming to expats and even has a government agency dedicated to attracting foreign retirees. Once you have permanent residency you can stay in the country as long you like (your retiree visa does not expire), and you can leave and return without reapplying for residency. Expats can take advantage of a number of financial benefits too, including discounts for the 60-and-up crowd, the duty-free import of $7,000 worth of household goods and immunity from airport travel taxes. Expat residents are also allowed to work or start businesses.

You can get a retirement visa in Thailand, but you’ll have to jump through a few hoops to do so. (For more, see Getting a Retirement Visa in Thailand). You’ll also have to notify the immigration office every 90 days regarding your address – either by checking in with your local immigration office (or with the local police station in areas without one), by mail or by hiring an agent who can act on your behalf through a power of attorney. If you don’t get a retirement visa for one reason or another, you can get a one-year multiple-entry visa, extendable for three months on or before its one-year expiration date. Unlike with a retirement visa, you’ll need to exit and re-enter Thailand every 90 days.

Other Considerations

While the big differences likely to affect expat retirees are the language situation and immigration procedures, it’s worth noting a couple of other considerations. One is the food. Thailand is home to one of the world’s most popular cuisines, which is based on pairing opposite tastes: chili paste with coconut milk, palm sugar with lime juice, sweet noodles with salty crunch. While considered good, Filipino cuisine is generally less noteworthy.

Another consideration is healthcare. You can expect reasonably good, affordable healthcare in the Philippines if you are in Manila, but it may be a different story outside the city. The U.S. embassy in Manila notes that “hospitals in and around Manila often offer high-quality medical care. Many hospitals outside major urban areas may offer only basic medical care in rudimentary conditions. It is wise to evaluate the standards of medical care at a hospital before contemplating a medical procedure.” (For more, see Can You Trust the Philippines Healthcare System?)

The healthcare system in Thailand, on the other hand, is considered excellent, and you can find at least one private hospital in most major provinces (popular tourist areas have more). Thailand is one of Asia’s leading medical tourism destinations, and English-speaking practitioners and quality health care can be found both inside and outside of Bangkok.

Re. the most recent health scare, both countries have had minuscule numbers of Zika cases reported thus far (Thailand had seven; the Philippines, one, according to one report), but they are tropical countries and cases may be more widespread. A Thai man was recently hospitalized in Taiwan with that country’s first reported case, according to the Bangkok Post.

The Bottom Line

The Philippines and Thailand each offer a good quality of life, a low cost of living, beautiful scenery and many activities to keep you busy during retirement. Ultimately, the choice between the two is a very personal one, depending on your lifestyle, preference and comfort. As with retiring abroad anywhere, it can be a good idea to give a country a “trial run” first – such as spending six to 12 months there – to make sure you’ll be happy over the long term in retirement. – investopedia.com

The 30-day extension experience

Truth be told, I had no clue what I was doing this morning, but I had to do it on my own. It was time to go to immigration to apply for a 30-day extension of my tourist visa. Yes, I have been in Thailand for almost a month.

us-embassy-in-bangkok

U.S. Embassy, Bangkok

Why the extension? Because I need to go to Bangkok to visit the American Embassy and receive some sort of certified letter about my income and bank account. Then I bring that back to Hua Hin and go back to immigration to apply for a 90-day extension and non-immigrant retirement status. After 90 days, the government reviews my bank account and determines whether I qualify for a one-year visa. After one year, I start the process over again.

I wasn’t totally clueless this morning; I did know that the extension would cost 1,900 baht ($60) and that I would need my picture taken. I was advised not to do this on a Monday, and Wednesday worked out better anyway due to the later date. (I lost whatever days I have left on my current visa when I get the extension.) I also knew where immigration was located, after making the long walk days earlier.

immigration

Hua Hin immigration

I decided to get there as close to the 8:30 opening time as possible, walked the 4 blocks to the highway to find a motorcycle taxi, and rode to the office (50 baht). The place was packed, with about 30 people sitting in the A/C inside and another 20 or so outside.

They place the different forms you need on a table outside, written in Thai and English. I grabbed the one I needed (application for 30-day extension), grabbed a number inside and went back outside to fill out the form, which was pretty straightforward. There are tables and seating outside and there’s even a little ice cream cafe at the end of the building.

Inside, there is a bank of immigration officers processing the applications. A machine spews out your number and digital signs call out the next number and which desk to go to. Given how many people were there, I expected a long wait.

But I found something constructive to do. On one of the tables were copies of a slick, 4-color monthly magazine called “Approach,” in English. Lots of advertising and lots of email addresses. I need  as many Hua Hin email addresses as possible for when I launch HuaHinExpatNews.com and this was a gold mine. So, I started writing down the addresses.

immigration inside

Inside immigration

It didn’t take long for my number to come up, however, and by the time I re-entered the room, my number had been passed by; but the attendant said no problem and ushered me to the next available clerk. She, of course, promptly sent me back outside to get copies of my passport and the mug shot. She indicated I should just come back to her when I was finished.

Down by the cafe, they also have a copying and photo operation set up. There was a line but it did not take long to get to the front, where a very busy woman was multitasking. The passport copies (first page and tourist visa page) and the mug shot cost 125 baht ($4). For a mug shot, it wasn’t bad.

I then returned inside and the attendant said I didn’t need another number and he would seat me with the same clerk as soon as she was available, which was 2 minutes. The clerk did a cursory look at the information, stamped a lot of stuff, wrote some stuff down, and then asked for the money. She then asked me to sit in the waiting area. Within 2 minutes, another lady called out my name and handed me back my updated passport, with a receipt for payment.

I was on my way, which meant walking about a mile to the highway and catching a song taew back to my street.

I have to say that I thought the process was pretty efficient. Immigration was processing expats as fast as possible. I was in and out in about an hour. When I arrived, I was sure I would be there for several hours.

This experience leaves me feeling I can handle the 90-day extension process by myself, but I still feel the $100 expense of having an expert along with me on that visit to immigration is still a good idea.

Victory Monument

Victory Monument, Bangkok

Next step: I will be researching Bangkok hotels located near the Victory Monument, which is where the minivan taxi drops you off, and near the American Embassy. Proximity to both would be good because taxis will be necessary and I want to keep my expenses down. I will ride up one day, go to my hotel, and then go to the embassy the next morning. That should allow me to get back to the Victory Monument to catch a minivan back to Hua Hin that day. Maybe splurge on a good dinner while I’m in Bangkok. Maybe contact my friend there.

(FYI. These are not my photos.)