Southeast Asia: 4 Options for Enjoying the Most Affordable Retirement on Earth

English is widely spoken in the region, the culture is exotic and the people are delightfully welcoming.

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Kathleen Peddicord
Kathleen Peddicord
Southeast Asia can be a great choice for long-term living. Life here can be remarkably affordable - cheaper than anywhere else on earth.

In addition, the tropical climate and thousands of miles of coastline present unlimited opportunity for beach bums. Cool mountain retreats, caves, waterfalls and hot springs reward intrepid explorers. English is widely understood and spoken throughout the region, the culture is exotic and the people are delightfully welcoming.

All things considered, no question, Southeast Asia can be a great place to live. The question is, can you, as a foreigner, live here ... legally?

Indeed. Increasingly, you have many appealing options for taking advantage of the world’s most affordable retirement options.

Malaysia. If you'd like to live permanently in Malaysia, you can apply for the "Malaysia My Second Home" (MM2H) program, which grants visas that are valid for up to 10 years, once the financial criteria are met. MM2H visas can be easily renewed. Applicants of any age are invited to apply for the MM2H visa. Unfortunately, many people can't meet the financial requirements, which include making a fixed deposit into a Malaysian bank of at least 150,000 Malaysian ringgits (about $47,500) or being able to prove a pension of 10,000 ringgits ($3,160) per month.

Thailand. For Thailand, the financial requirements are less. Applicants need to deposit 800,000 Thai baht (about $25,700) in a Thai bank, show an income of 800,000 baht or a combination of the two. However, it is extremely difficult to be granted permanent residency in Thailand. The retirement visa must be renewed every year. And those who have the visa are required to check in with immigration authorities every 90 days. If that's not enough, you also need to be at least 50 years old to qualify for a retirement visa in Thailand.

Singapore. Singapore offers permanent residency to those who can meet the income requirements, but this is not practical if you're on a fixed income or have limited assets. To retire in Singapore, you need to own property that is valued at $400,000 or more, in addition to having a pension of at least $5,500 a month or a combination of income and savings of $317,000 or more. No surprise that the cost of living is also the highest in the region.

Philippines. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, financial requirements are low, benefits are generous and a stay of many years is practically guaranteed. More than 27,000 foreigners have retired to the Philippines under the Special Resident Retiree Visa, or SRRV.

Retirees in the Philippines are permitted to hold employment, own a business, attend school, buy a condominium or house (but not the land), receive mortgage financing and enjoy most of the same benefits offered to any citizen of the country. The duty-free importation of household belongings valued up to $7,000 is another benefit of retiring to this country. The SRRV visa never expires: Once you have it, it's a simple matter of reporting to immigration once a year and paying $10 to get your ID card renewed.

There are four types of SRRV visas. The most basic is the "SRRV Smile," which allows you to remain in the Philippines as long as you wish, provided you deposit $20,000 in a Philippine bank and keep it there for the duration of your stay. This visa is available to anyone who is 35 or older. The deposit is fixed and may not be converted into an investment for a long-term lease or condominium purchase.

With the "SRRV Classic," you can use your funds to purchase a condo or a long-term property lease. Applicants age 35 to 49 must deposit $50,000 in a Philippine bank or buy a ready-to-occupy condo costing $50,000 or more. Applicants age 50 or older need to invest only $10,000 if they have an individual pension of at least $800 per month. (A couple would need a combined pension income of at least $1,000 per month.) Applicants who are at least 50 years old but cannot meet the pension requirements can still qualify for the "SRRV Classic" visa by maintaining a deposit of at least $20,000 in a local bank.

The "SRRV Human Touch" offers the benefits of permanent Philippine residency to any retiree with a pre-existing, non-contagious medical condition who is in need of ongoing medical care or services. The minimum investment amount is just $10,000 for any applicant age 35 or older, and the conditions are the same as for those in the "SRRV Smile" program. "SRRV Human Touch" applicants must be able to show a pension of at least $1,500 per month and give proof of health insurance. This makes residency in the Philippines a great option for people with disabilities or chronic medical conditions.

The "SRRV Courtesy" visa is for individuals age 50 or older who are either former citizens of the Philippines or ambassadors or diplomats who have served in the Philippines. The terms and conditions for the courtesy visa are the same as for the "SRRV Classic" program.

Retirees who have any of the four SRRV visas are allowed to remain in the Philippines for as long as they want without needing to re-qualify or leave the country for any reason. If you do want to leave the country, though, you can come and go as you wish.

Your overseas pension or Social Security is exempt from Philippine taxes, and any interest earned on bank deposits may be withdrawn at any time. If you ever decide to relinquish your Philippine residency status, your entire qualifying deposit is returned to you.

SRRV applicants must pay a one-time administration fee of $1,400. The application process is relatively simple and can be completed online. There is no need to hire an agent for assistance.

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 28 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her newest book, How To Buy Real Estate Overseas, published by Wiley & Sons, is the culmination of decades of personal experience living and investing around the world.