Retirement no mere snooze

Retirement no mere snooze

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 a variety of factors such as climate, healthcare, cost of living, housing, ease of acquiring visas, and more, saw Thailand come in at the 11th spot and take top honours in Asia.

Sensing an opportunity to start the year off 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 pride in the country's unique culture, said government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana.

Although 11th spot is nothing to be sneezed at, Thailand should be more competitive. In fact, the country had ranked 7th back in 2016 on the list, but it has failed to capitalise on that momentum.

Thailand has much going for it, especially in terms of affordable housing, the low cost of living, and modern cities with great healthcare and world-class amenities. But the quality of life does not mask the fact that retirees enjoy few opportunities in the country.

Even after completing the bureaucratic maze that is needed to acquire a retirement visa, retirees have to maintain their status by regularly reporting to officials, and that means keeping up with changing rules and regulations.

It's also difficult, if not almost impossible for retirees to acquire permanent residency after they've decided to call Thailand home for good. Retirees also get no benefits such as discounts on utilities and find it difficult to set up a business here. Compare this to the top two-ranked countries such as Costa Rica, which gives retirees permanent residence after three years in the country, or Panama, where retirees enjoy a wide range of discounts at hotels, restaurants and hospitals.

Covid-19 has revealed the world is not static. People respond to changing scenarios and countries must adapt to these changes in real time to remain competitive. This principle applies not only to making Thailand a more attractive place to retire but also to coaxing other high-potential demographic groups such as remote workers or entrepreneurs wishing to set up local-based businesses.

For example, Dubai has forged ahead with a digital nomad visa that allows employees earning a minimum US$5,000 (165,000 baht) to live in the country for one year. Similarly, Portugal, which ranked 4th on the list, issues residency to remote employees earning at least €702 (26,500 baht) per month. Meanwhile, Thailand has been languishing for the better part of over half a decade trying to introduce a visa option for the ever-growing remote work community.

Despite these challenges, foreign retirees and other groups do enjoy a good lifestyle here, but can the same be said for the Thai elderly? As of 2016, nearly 40% of 10 million elderly Thais who had crossed the mandatory retirement age of 60 were still in the workforce, said the Department of Older Persons (DOP) under the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development. In the twilight of their life, the elderly are driving buses in Bangkok, working on farms, or tolling in factories to help support their families or pay for their grandchildren's education.

The Old-Age Allowance (OAA) fund, which was established in 2009 to support the elderly who do not receive a government pension, pays a meagre 600 baht per month to people aged 60–69, 700 baht per month to those 70–79, 800 baht for 80-89, and 1,000 baht per month to those 90+. While the initiative is commendable, it's an unrealistic amount to retire on if the elderly do not have prior savings or receive support from their children. With Thailand rapidly ageing, the burden on this fund will continue to grow and this, in turn, will put pressure on the working-age population who pay for it.

Besides better internal policies promoting savings from a young age and some form of social security access for the workforce, including labourers, rapidly ageing societies must also look outwards for help. Thailand should make the most of its international reputation as a great destination for remote work, business, and retirement to boost its pension fund. Give people who have disposable incomes and want to live and spend here a headache-free legal option, incentivise spending, and collect tax to not only boost the economy but also improve the pension system. After all, should Thailand not also be a good place for the average Thai to retire in as well?


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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