Phuket, Thailand

Tom and Sonia

Tom and Sonja have been living in Phuket for thirteen years. They have both worked there but Tom is now retired. They have no interest in moving back to Australia. ‘We feel like we are in the middle of things here,’ Sonja said. ‘We have no regrets after all these years in Phuket. And there are sound financial reasons for living here as well.’

Sonja said they are living the good life. ‘We couldn’t afford a maid six days a week and a gardener in Australia. We couldn’t afford to have a massage at home every Sunday. And we eat out three or four times a week.’

They both have health insurance, which proved to be vital. Tom, who pays around A$3200 a year for his medical insurance, had a very bad motorcycle accident in 2013—his treatment would have cost them more than A$17,000, but it was fully covered by the insurance company. And, because he had insurance cover pre-60 years of age, he was able to continue his policy without penalties.

One of the great attractions for the older and less agile Western-expatriate in Asia is the old-age care that can be provided. Moving to Thailand truly gave Sonja’s father, Bill, a second life, although the Thai health system itself had little to do with that. Bill moved to Phuket at the age of 77, after his wife’s death and a heart triple-bypass in Australia. He was lonely and unwell.

‘But he got a new lease of life when he came to Phuket,’ said Sonja. ‘He was reinvigorated.’ In Phuket, Sonja explained, Bill was looked after by a lovely Thai lady, and was very happy for the last six years of his life, before he passed away in 2013.

He was able to cover the bulk of his living costs from his Australian pension, paying A$400 a month rent for a comfortable apartment. Sonja and Tom supplemented his living costs, paid the Thai carer and bought his medication; but even this was a fraction of what it would cost in Australia.

The point here is that Bill not only had a great second life—a renewal—but as he became increasingly frail, he was able to stay at home. He was well looked after by the Thai carer, and he didn’t end up in the antiseptic environment of aged-care accommodation.

Bill did not have medical insurance, and when he fell ill and finally needed hospital care, it ended up costing A$18,000. But, according to Sonja, Bill would say his new life and ongoing independence was worth every cent.