Throughout the Western world, the ‘retirement home’ or village, as it’s often known, has grown from a fringe retirement choice into one of the most popular options for retirees seeking a stable post-working life in relative comfort. Affordable and built to provide a high standard of living for retirees without the means or desire to live on their own, they provide a useful service that’s made them particularly popular.
Unfortunately, however, the concept of a retirement home or community hasn’t caught on in Asian countries. Many retirees in these countries either live on their own in a standard home or apartment, or choose to live with their families as part of their larger household.
At its core, this contrast in retirement living comes down to the culture of Asia and the West. While Western countries value individuality and autonomy dearly, Asian societies – particularly East and Southeast Asian cultures – place a huge amount of importance on keeping families close together. As a result, many retirees don’t like the idea of living on their own, even as part of a greater retirement community.
As a result, there are relatively few retirement communities in Asia, at least very few aimed at local residents. The appeal of family life and a culture that stresses being a close-knit family unit has made them culturally unappealing. However, a growing community of Western retirees and expatriates exists in many Asian countries – a potential ‘retirement community’ of sorts for those planning to retire to Asia.
Over the last two decades, retirement hotspots have popped up all over Asia. These regions, colloquially known as ‘grey zones,’ have grown in popularity over the past ten years as greater numbers of Westerners pack their bags and move to Asia. Many coastal towns and small communities in countries such as Thailand and Malaysia are now hotspots for Western retirees seeking a better life overseas.
A classic example of this phenomenon can be seen in Hua Hin, a small beach city on the Gulf of Thailand. Just two hours south of Bangkok by road and a short one-hour journey by air, this charming and quiet beach city has grown into one of Thailand’s biggest immigrant hotspots. Its primary residents: Western retirees and families that left their own countries in search of a more peaceful, inexpensive lifestyle.
The success of Hua Hin as a retirement community is unquestionable. The city was once a small town dependent on domestic tourism and agriculture. Today, it’s one of the country’s most well-known beach resorts and a hotspot for tourists and retirees alike. The economy has grown substantially and both locals and retirees are reaping the benefits of a healthy economy and comfortable climate.
Located far away from the vices and big business that make Bangkok a stressful city, Hua Hin is a classic example of a ‘retirement bubble’ popping up in a country that’s otherwise primarily known for short-term tourism.
Other emerging retirement hot spots are popping up in Penang, a small island off the coast of Malaysia, and Phuket, one of Thailand’s biggest tourist destinations and a growing destination for retirees seeking an inexpensive tropical lifestyle.
While these retirement communities differ from the typical Western retirement village in many ways, they offer the same sense of comfort and familiarity that can be important when retiring to a foreign country. There are no walls or locked gates to keep intruders out – they aren’t necessary because of the region’s low crime rate and inexpensive security staff.
Likewise, there are no care staff or offices to manage the place – only maids and domestic staff that can be hired independently, often at prices far below those that you would see in the West. Overall, life in a retirement hotspot in Asia tends to be a more independent experience that’s much more fulfilling and fun for retirees.
All in all, the retirement experience in countries such as Thailand and Malaysia is much more independent than life in a retirement community in the West. But at the same time, however, it offers more value for retirees.
Rather than living in a modest space and having every aspect of their lives managed, retirees in Asia have a higher level of purchasing power and autonomy, allowing them to manage their own lives and hire help when it’s required.
While the lack of formal retirement villages in Asia may be upsetting to those that seek comfort and a more ‘managed’ type of life, it’s a boon for those that would like their post-working years to be more convenient and comfortable, yet every bit as independent and free as their prior life.
For this reason, life in a retirement community or ‘retirement hotspot’ in many parts of Asia is often a better choice for would-be retirees than a more managed life close to their home. The pleasant weather, the inexpensive cost of living, and the level of autonomy they can experience can add fulfillment and adventure to a retirement life that would otherwise be dull and uninteresting.