Retire in Chiang Mai, Thailand – Interview with Godfree Roberts


Chiang Mai, Thailand is one of my favorite places in the world for it’s great balance between quality of life and low cost of living. Those factors also make it a popular destination for digital nomads and other long-term travellers. In this interview, Chiang Mai retiree, Godfree Roberts shares his reasons for choosing the city and talks about the business he set up there to help others retire in Thailand.

Godfree Roberts 200x300 Retire in Chiang Mai, Thailand   Interview with Godfree Roberts

How long have you been living in Thailand?

Twelve months.

Why did you choose Chiang Mai?

I chose Chiang Mai for four reasons:

1. It’s small. 160,000 people in the 1 square mile old town–the hub of life here. Another 1.5 million in the surrounding area support the amenities of a real city, but are not enough to create the negatives of a big city.

2. It’s better than just laid back. Chiang Mai people put fun first. They like to start work around 10 am, go to bed around midnight, and spend as much time as possible in between hanging out, singing, chatting, and drinking beer.

3. It’s a truly ancient city set in fabulously beautiful countryside. Even within the city limits there’s an almost jungle-like abundance of flowering and fruiting trees and bushes. Many people make extra income by picking the fruit that grows profusely in their back yards and selling it to tourists on folding tables at their front gate!

4. It’s primarily a temple culture: there’s a gorgeous temple on every block and people really use them. If someone is disturbed by a broken heart or a business setback they’ll just show up at the temple unannounced and be given a place to sleep, a robe, and a begging bowl. After a few days or weeks of temple life they’re chilled out and ready for action again, sane and happy. Stray dogs are equally welcome and lovingly protected.

Why Thailand?

I’ve lived all over the world, and I’m here because Thailand has one of the most highly evolved cultures on earth, one which makes every day a delight.

Thai culture expresses, on an everyday basis, compassion, beauty, tolerance, happiness, and a real sense of fun. Foremost among these virtues, of course, is fun. Chiang Maians find an excuse for a major public celebration almost every month (which blocks traffic for hours and sometimes stops it completely for the entire day) and they look forward with special delight to Songkran.

Songkran festival Retire in Chiang Mai, Thailand   Interview with Godfree RobertsSongkran is a 4-day water fight held just before the summer rains, so the weather is hot and dry. People spend days preparing and days recovering–which requires considerable sitting around, drinking beer, and telling tall stories. Even the (plentiful) local elephants participate: they stand on street corners blasting unsuspecting motorbike riders with trunks full of water, enjoying it as much as the humans. Their aim and timing are much better than the humans with their high-powered water guns.

How does Thailand compare to other inexpensive countries like the Philippines or Indonesia?

Thailand is unique in that it combines increasing prosperity (the economy is growing 7% and everyone is benefiting), absence of beggars, and extremely low costs. For example, a nice Thai meal for two in a garden restaurant, with two bottles of Singha beer, served at your table, costs around $12.

Can you give a quick overview of the best places to live in Thailand?

I give a fuller account of this in my book  How to Retire in Thailand and Double Your Income. Thailand is remarkably diverse: mountains with ancient tribes, legendary rivers, forests, and a thousand kilometers of white, sandy beaches. Here are some highlights:

Bangkok (Krung Thep): with a population of 12 million, Bangkok is the largest city and the capital. Cheapest of the “world cities” but at least 15% more expensive than Chiang Mai. More crime, pollution, etc., as you would expect. It’s hotter and more humid than Chiang Mai which has the advantage of being in the highlands. Big, busy, beautiful airport with skytrain connection. Very multicultural. Flooding is an increasing problem. Culturally and historically rich. Both Bangkok and Chiang Mai have excellent medical and dental facilities and cater to medical tourists.

Phuket City, population 80,000, on Phuket Island, a major tourist destination in southern Thailand. Housing ranges from simple to elegant, and cost of living is low. Snorkeling, diving, fishing, and much more. Malls, markets, restaurants, parks and nightlife are all available. More rural and isolated beach settings outside the city on Phuket island.

Pattaya City, 1 million in the entire metropolitan area plus 4 million tourists a year. Pattaya beachfront is a popular dining, nightlife and shopping area. Jomtien Beach is where condominiums, bungalows and hotels predominate. Good rail, bus, and taxi services. In addition to ocean activities, botanical gardens, wildlife reserves, zoos, museums, amusement parks, an aquarium, and a host of other things for visitors and retirees–of which there are many.

Khon Kaen, population 110,000. The educational and financial center of northeastern Thailand. The silk industry is important. There are several universities and more people speak English. Social amenities are adequate for a small-town-international-retirement lifestyle. The local culture is far less commercialized than the tourist cities. Khon Kaen is a highly affordable ‘university town’ for international living.

Thailand is known for its medical tourism. Can you give any examples of your experience with the Thai medical system?

I’ve had four encounters with the Thai medical system.

  • After I was assaulted by a crazy farang (foreigner) the police sent me to the University hospital at their expense for a checkup. The staff were utterly charming and made a huge fuss of me. Specialists gave me every kind of test while nurses kept bringing glasses of iced water. I was reluctant to leave. They billed the police department their regular charge for me, which was $23.00.
  • The second was with a Thai friend whose little boy had developed some alarming symptoms. I checked them out on the Internet before we went to the public hospital and felt I’d diagnosed the problem so I was curious to see how the pediatrician would perform. She nailed it, offered to keep the boy overnight for observation, and wrote a prescription. Elapsed time was 25 minutes. Cost, including prescription, was $6.80.
  • I pinched a nerve in my leg and created a painful condition known as meralgia paresthetica. I self-diagnosed and self-prescribed a bunch of drugs. Prescriptions are not required in Thailand so I was able to treat the entire event–which lasted 6 weeks in bed–for $12.00. Thai pharmacists all speak English and really know their drugs.
  • Annual dental checkup and cleaning, plus replacement of a broken ceramic, semi-precious crown. Superb service from a UCLA-trained, English-speaking dentist in a beautifully equipped surgery. Total cost $452.00.

How do you manage your visa there?

I applied for a non-immigrant retirement visa in Australia. It’s available to anyone over 50 with sufficient means/income. I will renew it annually here in Thailand. It allows unlimited exits and re-entries. It’s easy to get and costs about $200/year. Mine is handled by a wonderful British/Thai law partnership, Assist Thai Visa, since Thai regulations seem to change daily and I hate queues.

Have you had any major problems there?

The only problems I’ve had were with foreigners who believe they can behave badly and get away with it here. After being hit by one such thug, the police spent hours with me and subsequently tracked the man down, arrested and fined him, and deported him. Altogether a thorough job.

My other experience with the Thai police was after I lost my wallet, containing all my credit cards and drivers license, plus 35,000 Baht in cash: two months salary for a Thai policeman. The wallet contained no local ID so there was no way for anyone to contact me. But when I went to pick up my dry cleaning the following week–trusting that they would give it to me without the ticket–the dry cleaner told me to go straight to the police station. There an interpreter was waiting on the steps. She gave me a hug (!) and took me to the detective who had found the dry cleaning ticket and alerted the dry cleaner . Everything was intact, and my faith in the (grossly underpaid) Thai police was firmly established.

What are your approximate monthly living expenses?

HERE’S MY MONTHLY BUDGET*
Flat Rental (incl. water & electricity): 3,000 Baht = $100.00
Food (Eat out breakfast, lunch, dinner+ daily iced coffees): 9,000 Bt. = $300.00
Rent new moped: 3,500 Bt = $120.00
Fuel: 1,200 Bt. = $32.00
Internet: 600 Bt = $20.00
Yoga 3x/week: 2,700 Bt = $90.00
TOTAL: 20,000 Bt. = $646.00

*This is my current, bare-bones budget. It’s tolerable because I’ve been working flat out for the past year and using spare cash to fly back to Australia.

Tell us about your new website and business

The website is Thailand Retirement Helpers.com. Previously I was relying solely on referrals and I only launched the website in May. (I’d love it if fellow-jetsetters would critique it and send me their comments. I’m already planning the first revision).

Because I had wasted so much time and money getting settled here, I set up an Australia-based company to help foreigners interested in moving to Thailand. We run a $1500, full-immersion, week-long, residential workshop in Chiang Mai.

How to retire in Thailand 180x300 Retire in Chiang Mai, Thailand   Interview with Godfree RobertsBecause most people had more questions than I could answer on my website, Thailand Retirement Helpers.com, I wrote an eBook that they can download from Amazon for $9.95:  How to Retire in Thailand and Double Your Income. 

“Double your income” is the doubling of your buying power when you move here. It’s extremely detailed, and covers everything from Thai culture to sex and marriage to dental care. It also deals with the downside of living in Thailand. I don’t want to “sell” people on Thailand. I want to inform them, then let them make up their own minds.

Making money in thailand 208x300 Retire in Chiang Mai, Thailand   Interview with Godfree RobertsThen…after people moved here they wanted something to do–preferably something that would make money. So I wrote “Making Money in Thailand: A Retiree’s Handbook“, also $9.95 at Amazon. I rounded up all my friends who had started successful businesses here and they gave me almost 30 ways to make money. Again, it’s very detailed–mostly so I won’t have to answer too many questions later on! We’ve got some great stories (and even business ideas that are going begging).

Do you have any advice for people considering relocating to Thailand?

Come for a visit. Look around. Email me, I’ll introduce you to people like yourself. Everyone here is more than willing to put themselves out for visitors and new arrivals. Read both books. Seriously. They’re deliberately cheap so everyone can afford them. Go through every page of the website. Watch the videos on the website: they’re real people with real experiences and really useful things to tell you.Take the workshop. People say it’s the best money they’ve spent here because they were able to integrate quickly, smoothly and inexpensively into their new lives in Thailand.

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

25 Responses to Retire in Chiang Mai, Thailand – Interview with Godfree Roberts

  1. rubin pham says:

    thailand is not the only cheap country in southeast asia.
    all contries in southeast asia are cheap.
    to name a few here: malaysia, cambodia, lao, vietnam, indonesia…

    • John says:

      Thanks Rubin,

      Yes, you are correct. There are other inexpensive countries in South East, Asia. Chiang Mai is still one of my favourite destinations though.

  2. nigel stewart says:

    I live in los Angeles. I just turned 62. I have been to Thailand twice. I went to Bangkok(just to see but I would not want to live there,too big)I went to Patong on both trip’s and loved it. I even hired someone to drive me around the entire island for a day to look to buy a property. I have deceided that it would be better just to rent. I have never been to Chiang Mai. I am seriously considering retiring in Thailand. I will have an income of $35,000 a year. I am just putting this out there. Any help or comment’s would be helpful.

    • John says:

      Hi Nigel,

      Northern Thailand is a great option. I love Chiang Mai, but Chiang Rai and even smaller villages like Pai could also be a great choice if you want a little quieter life.

      On $35,000 per year you could have a great life here. It’s definitely possible to live comfortably on $1,000 per month.

  3. Johnny F.D. says:

    Hey great article, I’m currently living in Chiang Mai as well and love it here.

    Just a small typo on your budget, 7,200 baht a month for petrol! I was thinking, what are you driving! But then I realized you must have meant 1,200 baht.

  4. shainan smith says:

    I am a 37 year old single w/m looking to settle in a place such as Thailand. I am in the middle of embarking on a second career as an accountant, my first was as a “chef” or over rated cook. I do not have a residual income from the States nor do I have the money to invest in a business otherwise I would open a deli somewhere. Tired of the crime and shady politics involved with living in the States. So my questions are; how does a person as myself get their foot in the door in a quiet, drama free town and live w/o an income from the States. What are the drug laws concerning marijuana? Can I marry there? I love to cook and crunch numbers so I would seek self sufficiency by one of those means. Am I just a dreamer??

    • John says:

      Hi Shainan,

      The easiest west to work in a foreign country is to teach English. Go to Thailand and take a TEFL course, many jobs are available. You could also do freelancing work online. Accounting sounds like something you could do remotely.

      Drugs are available, however the penalties are much more severe. I wouldn’t recommend it.

      Yes, you can marry there. You won’t have any trouble finding a bride, however, there it’s also a great opportunity to get cheated. If you do find a good wife, you can life and work in the country freely.

      It’s unlikely that you’ll find work as a cook because Thai staff are so much cheaper.

      You’re not a dreamer. It’s very inexpensive to live in Thailand. Work hard for 6 months, save as much as you can, then move to SE Asia. There are a lot of opportunities if you work hard.

      • shainan smith says:

        Thank you John. I have a couple of books started that I plan to epublish, nothing fancy but just another hobby of mine and I will sell cheap just to make sure they sell. I do not want to get cheated nor do I want to create a stir,I’m just a quiet person looking to settle with a like minded lady eventually. So I will follow your advice. I will research visa requirements as well.Thanks again.

  5. gary says:

    you fixed the typo in the fuel section but did not change the total which should be 20,000 baht or 645 USD.

  6. Bridget Nelson says:

    I would like information on attending one of your work shops in Thailand when is the next one

  7. Russell says:

    I called Human Resources today (in Australia) and was told I will still recieve my full aged pension if I move to Thailand, because I worked for 49 years paying my hard earned taxes

    And I’m not required to return to Australia every 6 months.

    That gives me just over AUD$1,600 a month to live on… nice I think.

    • morry says:

      hi russel,
      are you sure you dont have to come back to australia every six months, i am now 65, and have worked in australia since the age of 15, i was told a different story that thailand does not have a commenwealth agrement, under the social services age pension, i am looking to retire in thailand next year, 2015, but i would like to be informed of my recieving the age pension whilst living over there.

      cheers morry, perth australia.

  8. Fran says:

    Hi. I am a nurse in the UK and considering a different sort of lifestyle. Two of my sons live in Australia and on one of my visits I stopped in Bangkok and travelled to Chiang Mai and Hua Hin for a few days. After reading your blog it has really made me think about my options for the future, although change can be quite scary and I would still need to earn money. What Kind of place can you rent in Chiang Mai and how would you go about getting a visa?

    • John says:

      Hi,

      Chiang Mai is getting to be a fairly modern city. Every type of accommodation is available for every budget. The cheapest I’ve seen starts at about $100 per month. There are also villas with swimming pools and maids. It really depends on what you want.

      My wife and I generally rent in the $150 to $250 range but those are short term apartments. You can rent a house at that price outside the city if on one-year leases.

      If you’re over 50, you can apply for a retirement visa. They are not that hard to get. Check out your local Thai consulate to find the exact requirements.

  9. Fran says:

    Thanks for the reply John I really think I am going to look into this.

  10. Glenn Capitanio says:

    Godfrey, Just as Your friiend, you need to sell your books at $19.95 or higher to sell more books. Selling at a lower price does not create more value. People see that it’s cheap and say there must not be value here. I just bought an e book for $37.95. Just test the market. You have a lot of books written. Raise the praises to $19.95 or $24.95 and you will get more Sales.
    Glenn

  11. Vincent Pham says:

    Hi:

    I love to visit Chiang Mai for a month before I can make decision about my retirement. How much does it cost for rent a place to stay in Chiang Mai during my visiting there for a month in April this year. What should I do before making a trip? Any help will be appreciated.

    Thanks

    • John says:

      April is typically not a good time to visit because of the burning of the rice crops. However, the Songkran festival is nice to see.

      You can rent a place for anywhere from $100 to $1000 depending on what quality you are looking for. I’d recommend booking a guest house first, so you can visit apartments in person.

  12. PD Ryan says:

    A very helpful article. There are so many opinions/info etc re retiring to Thailand that it can be confusing.
    I’ll be getting your book from Amazon as part of my prep.
    Do you have similar info for Pattaya?

    cheers
    Pete

  13. Rebecca says:

    My husband and I are looking around for a place to retire and we have been told Chiang Mai is one option. However, we don’t know much about this place and is planning a trip there to look around. Is there someone or organization where we can approach to help us.

  14. hou bok says:

    Dear sir
    I am a malaysian who have just moved to chiang rai. I have some knowledge in baking so I have invested my money in bakery machines, however things are not running smoothly. I am facing problems in marketing as I am all alone in thailand and I have no idea on how to get the bakery business running.. besides production.. I have no problem in production but not getting my products out into the market. I knw it sounds dumb but I really need help and advices.. thank you very very much.

  15. Lisa says:

    Hv access to super now (at age 57) and modern archetect designed home paid off. Quals: Mental Health Clinician / Masters in Clinical Family Therapist. Partner Jazz Musician / clever clever owner builder / small business owner – domestic concreting / paving. What are the chances of picking up work in our fields if one day we decide to try semi retirement in foreign country. I used to work in diplomatic so get the ex pat thing. It can be a fantastic lifestyle. I do though recall expats start to get a bit whiney re: shortcomings of their adopted countries around year 2.5. Will buy your book and keep in touch. PS: Amazon review mentioned you dont sell the negatives strongly enough. I think comments mentioned Thai using their heart rather than their heads when dealing with legal / administration / important issues. What say you

  16. Bill Hawkins says:

    I lived in Chiangmai for 20 years. I am currently in the USA but plan on returning. I use to take care of my yearly retirement visa myself but find that the Chiangmai Immigration is horribly small and have many people in line. Which legal service do you use and what does it cost for them to renew the visa?

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