When most people think of retiring in Asia, they imagine the warm beaches of Thailand, the exotic super-cities of Japan and China, or the beautiful colonial buildings of Vietnam. It’s an image that is filled with clichés – some of which are fairly true – and fantasy. It’s also an image that rarely has a backdrop of snow-covered mountains or immense steppes as a part of it.
But one small landlocked country in South Asia is beginning to change that perception. Once one of the world’s most impoverished nations known only for its incredible natural surroundings, Nepal is now one of Asia’s top spots for tourists, expatriates, and retirees seeking a significantly different life to that which can be found in East Asia’s gigantic cities and Southeast Asia’s scenic beaches.
Nepal is one of Asia’s smallest countries – a landlocked, mountainous piece of terrain that’s home to almost thirty million people. With a well-known capital in Kathmandu that is a home to five million people, Nepal offers a combination of big-city living and incredible natural surroundings that aren’t easy to find elsewhere in the world.
Known for its incredible mountain ranges and historical culture, Nepal has been through a great deal of political and social turbulence in recent years that may discourage people from visiting. A series of recent government issues stemming from the 2008 election have made Nepal less stable than in the past, although this is unlikely to have any effect on retirees and expatriates.
Unfortunately, Nepal lacks a formal visa system for retirees and expatriates. Working visas are given out to many of the expatriates working for NGOs and charity organizations, although the work experience requirements for these positions are often steep and the required qualifications extensive. As such, many retirees and expatriates live in Nepal using a long-term tourist visa.
Tourist visas are available for ninety days at a time, with the maximum period for tourism in Nepal set at a flat 150 days per year. This means that during any 365-day calendar period, expatriates are entitled to spend just 150 days in Nepal. Because of this restriction on long-term stays, retirement is difficult, at least for those that plan to spend all of their time within Nepal.
Nepal’s financial system is relatively undeveloped, and most of the country survives using cash as a primary form of currency. Nepalese banks are restricted and generally uninterested – or unable – to work with foreigners, particularly those that are not Nepalese residents. As such, almost all retirees in Nepal carry out their banking from their own country, or from a more banking-friendly territory.
ATMs are found throughout major cities such as Kathmandu, and in major tourist areas. Most of the public ATMs in Nepal will support cards from Cirrus, Mastercard, and Visa, allowing retirees from almost all Western countries to withdraw cash from their home bank easily. Some small fees may be applied to your account, although these are generally inexpensive and manageable.
Internet access in Nepal can range from relatively modern and convenient to slow, outdated, and even completely absent. Many of Nepal’s towns are in mountainous areas and lack any dedicated phone or internet service, making communications difficult. However, residents of Kathmandu or any other major cities will have no problem accessing fast, relatively stable internet connections.
Cell service is widely available in Nepal’s major centers, although cellular coverage in the country can be spotty and fairly unreliable. Many expatriates and tourists, particularly those involved in the trekking community, will use satellite communications to ensure that they have adequate coverage in remote or unsafe areas.
Electricity can be an issue for visitors to Nepal. Due to the region’s limited infrastructure and its extreme environment, power cuts are a common occurrence, even in major cities. As such, those involved in online business or any electricity-dependent activities may wish to invest in a power generator or some form of backup electricity supply.
Sanitation is also a concern in many parts of Nepal. Large portions of Kathmandu are unconnected to any major sanitation system, and as such drinking water can be scarce and cleanliness quite a rare feature. Most modern parts of the city, which are popular amongst expatriates, will have sanitation systems that are of an acceptable – or at least manageable – standard.
Housing is widely available in Kathmandu and in other cities throughout the country. Despite its somewhat rustic appearance, Kathmandu is home to numerous modern condo developments that appeal to foreign visitors and wealthier Nepalese. Prices for a small serviced apartment start from just a few hundred dollars monthly, while large family-sized residences are available for $1,000 USD or even less, depending on the area and amenities provided.
Nepal is fairly well connected to other parts of Asia by air, with several international airports that offer connecting flights to Thailand, Singapore, China, and India. Due to its mountainous terrain, road travel in Nepal is fairly time consuming and occasionally risky – crashes are common in the mountainous parts of the country due to limited driving abilities, thick fog, and icy roadways.
A major concern for travelers in Nepal – and for expatriates and retirees, in particular – is access to modern and clean medical care. Nepalese hospitals, particularly public hospitals, can be unclean or unsanitary, and conditions are often fairly poor in the more remote parts of the country. Kathmandu is home to several private hospitals that can provide high quality care for those with insurance.
Several domestic companies offer insurance coverage for foreign visitors, although most expatriates choose to go with an international company that offers insurance coverage in multiple regions. The quality of care at a private hospital is significantly better than that found in public ones, and as such it’s very important to ensure that you have access to private medical care should you ever need it.
Keep in mind that many of Nepal’s smaller cities and towns will be located a significant distance from any reliable medical care, and that helicopter evacuation may be your only reliable option in these circumstances. As such, it’s worth investing in a medical insurance policy that provides the option for air evacuation if it’s ever required, as this will be an important last-resort option.
Despite its lack of modern services, particularly in the countryside and in remote parts of its high mountain ranges, Nepal is a country that offers a great deal of value for retirees willing to tolerate its restrictive visa rules and unique lifestyle. Just a short flight from many of Asia’s coastal cities, getting to and from this mountainous wonderland is rarely a difficult or expensive process.
Because of this, thousands of expatriates have made Nepal their home. While it lacks the stunning beaches of Southeast Asia or the high-tech cities of East Asia, this relaxed and remote country has something to offer every visitor, particularly if their love for nature and peaceful surroundings is a driving factor in picking a good retirement destination.