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Thailand Attracting Expat Retirees From Around The World

Jun 5, 2008
Thailand is the most favored home-away-from-home for expatriate retirees looking for the sunnier climes of South-East Asia, but the kingdom faces rising competition from their neighbors, a renowned international property consultant reported.

Thailand, which has been energetically trying to woo foreign retirees for years, granted 12,092 special retirement visas to foreigners in the first seven months of 2006, projecting it as the major attraction in its regional push to acquire revenues off the elderly expatriate market. According to leading property consultants, more and more South-East Asian countries are seeing foreign retirees as second home purchasers (RSH), but Thailand is still the dominant force.

Thailand stands in a very strong position competing to persuade RSH purchasers against other countries in South-East Asia. The boom in the property market in South-East Asia has been a product of, among other factors, the surge in property values in Europe and the US that have enabled retirees to sell their homes and fly abroad.

Thailand, boasting of two coastlines, warm climate, and a hospitable population, has emerged as a major destination for retirees buying second homes. If we view the country as a product, the 'Thai Brand' puts forward messages of good quality of life for RSH, comprising advanced health care, safety in life, necessary infrastructure, enjoyable vacations and the keenness of Thailand as a hub of air transportation in Asia.

However, the consultants also caution that Thailand's growing market for retirees faces hurdles, such as limitations on property ownership, financial facilitation and visa regulations. Compared with Malaysia, where there is no limitation on property ownership, Thailand does not enable foreigners to own land and grants only 30-year leases on land rental. For the ownership of high-rises, it gives 49 per cent freehold of foreigners for condominiums.

Malaysia has been the most lenient country in delivering an attractive property ownership, financial aids and visa structure for retired second-home purchasers.

The "Malaysia my second home programme" facilitates foreign sole ownership of land with houses, eligibility for domestic loans to purchase the property and a 10-year-visa permit. Despite all the favors, over the past five years Malaysia's second home programme has only catered to 8,700 people.

Singapore also attaches no restrains on freehold condominiums. Even though foreigners cannot buy land, the country delivers 99-year leases on Sentosa Cove, the only land development specifically for foreigners. China provides 70-year leases for land tenants while Vietnam permits 50-year leases.

Thailand, facing ballooning regional competition in the retirees as second home purchasers market, will require to be "committed in improving a better package of property ownership, domestic financing for foreigners and visa regulations," warned the leading consultants.

Lots of expats are thinking of retiring to Thailand, but as has already been pointed out, the government is not very favorable toward foreign retirees. The strenuous Visa, Income and reporting obligations coupled with the land ownership laws do make other countries more compelling. If Thailand is to benefit from the growing interest from foreign retirees, it requires to seriously reconsider the current status and attitude. It is not good enough to welcome the money of expats, expats have to feel comfortable and secure wherever they are looking to spend their declining years.
About the Author
Gregory S. is an independent author providing assessment and comments on leading International Property Consultants in Thailand, especially CB Richard Ellis.
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