Growing Number of Americans Retiring to Southeast Asia


America’s baby boomers are reaching retirement age. Many are choosing not to be confined to retirement homes, but rather to adventure and retire abroad. Some go so far as to sell their homes and all of their belongings. According to the New York Times, citing the Commerce Department, retirees traveling abroad rose from 9.7% to 13% between 1993 and 2012. In 2013, more than 360,000 Americans received Social Security benefits at foreign addresses.

Many factors go into the decision a retiree makes when choosing a country to settle in. They look for affordability, an English speaking community, solid health care options, optimal weather, and an active social life. In recent years, many retirees are finding exactly what they are looking for in Southeast Asia.

In their recent ranking of top 10 places to retire abroad, U.S. News had Southeast Asian cities in the third, fourth, and fifth slots. Southeast Asian cities are also seen in the top 10 of Huffington Post, Forbes, and others. The three cities that made the U.S. News top ten are Georgetown, Malaysia, Chiang Mai, Thailand, and Dumaguete, Philippines.

These locations offer many amenities that make them attractive options for American retirees. They have affordable, well-developed health care facilities that employ doctors who speak English. This is understandably an important consideration among people of retirement age. Some countries are taking steps to smooth the logistical process of moving abroad. Malaysia offers a program called My Second Home, which helps with and expedites the paperwork and immigration process. In addition, many expat retirees are finding that they can afford beachside real estate that they would not be able to afford in the United States.

With cheaper rent, food, and health care, expat retirees are able to stretch their retirement savings farther than they would be able to in the US. To that end, Southeast Asia is providing some Americans the opportunity to retire more comfrotably than they could have elsewhere.

Ethan Kannel is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a junior at Cornell University.