Retire Cheap in SE Asia or Latin America?

In this report, we discuss whether it is better to Retire Cheap in SE Asia or Latin America.

In our last report, we talked about whether “Malaysia or the Philippines is Better for Budget Retirees” (link provided). Today we expand the scope of the discussion and ask whether you should “Retire Cheap in SE Asia or Latin America.” In our next few reports, we will continue to explore the cost of living in various countries and cities when compared to others, so make sure to subscribe so you won’t miss anything.

Now I will cover the main ideas of whether we would rather Retire Cheap in SE Asia or Latin America with respect to Finding Love, Nature, Language, Visa, Health Care/Insurance, Cost of Living, Food, and Safety.

We will cover the Top 3 Factors last, Cost of Living, Food, and Safety, so make sure to stay until the end. As I discuss differences, I will show you pictures or videos taken by myself while I was in each country conducting this research.

I left the USA in 2007 and I have visited and lived in over 65 countries so far. I will be summarizing differences between SE Asia and Latin America, but you can access my detailed information in over 50+ retire cheap in paradise tricks, tips, and reports that are provided with a membership to VagabondBuddha.com. But there is no need to take notes for today’s discussion. I will provide you with a link to my written notes for this report, “Retire Cheap in SE Asia or Latin America” towards the end of this video.

Finding Love

English speaking male retirees overwhelmingly find love more easily in SE Asia. That is true for someone like me but also true for people seeking more causal relationships. There just seems to be more people in SE Asia that speak English and are not bothered by a 20 to 30 year age difference. In places like Thailand and the Philippines, it is more pronounced and obvious, but it is true in general all over SE Asia. During World War II, Vietnam, and the Korean War, SE Asia developed a kind eye towards western men and that remains true today. So a normal guy that wants a real relationship rather than paid sex will have better luck in most of SE Asia generally as compared to Latin America. Because of the dangers inherent in prostitution, I highly recommend not getting involved with that underworld. I am not sure why, maybe it is the language barrier, but Latin American culture does not seem as welcoming to older English speaking male retirees looking for long term relationships. There are always exceptions in both SE Asia and Latin America, so I am just talking about my overall experience spending time there. SE Asia wins in finding love.

Nature

With two large regions such as SE Asia and Latin America, it is almost ridiculous to talk about which has the most beautiful natural beauty. So I will just make some generalizations. SE Asia does have some mountains. But overall, the mountains are much higher in Latin America, some even have snow year-round. Whereas in SE Asia, the hills are mostly like hill stations where the colonialists went in the hot summer months to cool off. So SE Asia is primarily lower elevation rolling hills and jungles with the main populations living within an hour of the beach at below 400 feet elevation. That is why you think palm trees, jungles, and beaches when you think of SE Asia. Not as true in Latin America. You do have some large beach level cities in Latin America like Cartagena, Caracas, Rio de Janeiro, San Paolo, Buenos Aires, and Lima, but most of the large older cities, certainly in the hotter regions of Latin America were built during the colonial period before airconditioning was invented. So Spanish colonists built cities up to one mile or more in the mountains, so it remains cooler year-round. Places like Mexico City, Morelia, Queretaro, Puebla, and Oaxaca in Mexico, and Medellin, Bogota, Quito, Arequipa, and Santiago in South America were built at higher elevations where the air is cooler year-round. Of course, Central America and the other Latin Caribbean Countries are mostly low-level jungles and beaches like SE Asia. So if you are looking for a variety of topography that includes extremely high elevation with much cooler temperatures and snow-covered mountains, Latin America provides that diversity.

English Language

I speak only transactional Spanish. So I struggle slightly more when I am in Latin America. In tourist areas, I can often get by with low-level Spanish skills but when I start venturing into local neighborhoods or traveling off the beaten path to less touristy areas, I have to pull out my Android smartphone and use Google Translate. Google translate has gotten me out of a bunch of jams in a few minutes. In SE Asia, their English skills are better overall. But you will run into trouble in smaller towns off the beaten path. In Vietnam, in particular, once you are out of the Tourist areas, you will need Google Translate by your side. Google translate and Google Maps will keep you communicate all over the world so make sure to get a local SIM card each time you enter a new country. You will find local data cards in every country in SE Asia and Latin America with local data rates up to about 80% off your home country rates. You might wonder why I say Latin America wins in the language department, yes? No matter whether you pick SE Asia or Latin America, you are going to want to learn the local language if you pick a primary retirement location for your travel base. In that case, if you pick Latin America if you should learn Spanish. Once you know Spanish, you will be able to travel through all the other countries in Latin America (except Brazil) using your new language. Whereas, if you pick any country in SE Asia, and learn the local language, you will only be able to use it in that country.

Visa

The visa rules are better in Latin America overall. Many of the Latin American countries will stamp your passport for 90 days, with no visa required, upon entry for Americans, Canadians, and Europeans (i.e., westerners). Mexico will stamp many Westerners’ passports with 6 months visa-free on entry. Whereas Thailand only gives you 30 days if you enter by air and then you have to get an extension for only 30 days more. Vietnam requires Americans to get a Visa (or visa letter) before they try to enter the country. Malaysia stamps many westerners with 90 days visa-free upon entry. Of course, these rules are subject to change without notice and are presently suspended during the coronavirus. Make sure to contact the embassy for each country before buying your entry flight or ground transportation. The nice thing about SE Asia is you can quickly get a cheap flight to another SE Asian country when your time is up. Whereas the airline industry is not as competitive because it is more monopolized in Latin America, so the flights can be way overpriced. So you may want to move between countries linearly on land to avoid flights. Just start in N. Mexico and slowly move south on Buses avoiding airfares. We have done this for months at a time. This will make sense when you are exploring your favorite places to live or retire cheaply. So Latin America wins the visa game. At 90 to 180 days visa-free for each country, you can spend years traveling around SE Asia without paying for visas.

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Health Care/Insurance

The health care/health insurance situation is a little too complex to generalize when comparing SE Asia and Latin America. Both regions have great hospitals and doctors if you can afford it and you know who to go see for your particular ailment. The best care in both SE Asia and Latin America is almost always in larger cities. But those are also the most expensive places to live and to get health care. So, for either SE Asia or Latin America, you should purchase an international ex-pat travel insurance plan. That way, if you decide to live in Colombia for example, and you get some weird cancer that is better treated by an expert doctor in Mexico City, your insurance will cover you there. Plus, make sure you get an insurance policy that covers repatriation. Repatriation means they will fly you back to your home country if you prefer to get treated there. If you are from a country like Canada, the EU, the USA (retirement age), your insurance will probably cover most if not all of your treatment. However, make sure you ask all the right questions so you don’t end up with a policy with too many exclusions like pre-existing conditions or hospital choice restrictions. If you are retirement age, you will be quoted in the range of $1500 to $3000 USD per year, depending on your age and pre-existing conditions if any. Just Google “Expat Health Insurance Latin America” or “Expat Health Insurance in SE Asia.”

Cost of Living

We are presently in the Philippines waiting out the Coronavirus before continuing our retire cheap in paradise data gathering tour. We are two people and our food, rent, and local transportation is running about $1200 USD per month. We have met a few ex-pats here that are spending less than us, as little as $800 USD, most are spending more, like $1500+ USD. But when I drill down on their costs, many are spending way more money than us on alcohol ($200 to $400 per month) in bars. Many are also eating more meals at expensive international ex-pat restaurants for $6 to $12 per entree.

We have seen that same pattern on our travels throughout SE Asia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Lao, and Cambodia. Cheap people throughout SE Asia (other than Singapore) are able to live on budgets ranging from about $1000 to $1500 per month for two people, for rent, food, and local transportation. They are often able to live on less by shopping in local markets instead of fancy ex-pat grocery stores. They also save money by cooking most of their meals at home instead of eating in ex-pat restaurants. If they drink alcohol, they save money by drinking local alcohol at home with friends instead of imported alcohol in bars. If they go out to bars, it is once a week instead of daily. And, before the go to the bar, they have a few drinks at home and only have 1 or 2 drinks at the bar.

We followed many of these same living patterns in Latin America to keep pour budget low. We bought fresh foods in the open-air markets 3 or 4 times a week (instead of ex-pat grocery stores) and cooked most of our meals at home. We even packed lunches when we went on day trips to avoid buying expensive food the tour guides invariably took us to during day trips.

So we maintained a budget of around $1200 to $1800 USD per month in much of Latin America. Some cities we went way over budget like in Playa del Carmen, and Tulum Mexico, but that was when I had a consulting contract so we weren’t budgeting at the time.

Many of our retire cheap reports at VagabodBuddha.com have tips and tricks like these to save money.

Food

We prefer the food in SE Asia but that is purely a preference thing. Our favorite foods in the world are Thai, Vietnamese, and Italian. Asian dishes in general provide a larger helping of fresh vegetables integrated into every meal. So we always felt like we were giving our bodies the energy we needed without having to take naps after heavy meals. When we travel through Latin America, many of the dishes have rice and beans and felt heavy to digest. We felt like the food in Latin America slowed us down instead of empowering us. But that was okay because we could buy cheap fresh food ingredients and cook healthier foods at home in our kitchen. No matter where we are in the world we also make and eat very large salads packed with healthy vegetables, nuts, and fruits. But since we prefer Asian food, SE Asia wins this factor.

Safety

As I have mentioned before, I have never been the victim of a violent crime since leaving my home country (USA) in 2007. But I just feel safer in SE Asia in general than I do in Latin America. I feel safer in some countries in SE Asia than others. Malaysia and Singapore feel the safest, and the Philippines feels the least safe. But I would go back to any country without thinking twice. The other countries in SE Asia feel about the same, Thailand, Indonesia, Lao, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar. There seems to be something about the Buddhist culture that is more peaceful.

Ecuador felt like the safest city in Latin America. Valenzuela has been in turmoil for a few years so we haven’t gone there. There were a few times when we felt uncomfortable in Colombia. But I would still go back there too. We hear how dangerous Mexico is in the USA but I never felt in danger there in 35 years over 20 visits.

I still would go to every country in Latin America (except Venezuela), I would just be more careful in areas where it didn’t feel as safe.

In conclusion, I would pick SE Asia over Latin America if I was going to settle down and create a base in one region of the world. But we are not settling down any time soon. We are still slow traveling the world and collecting data about the best places to retire cheaply in paradise.

Please grab a free copy of my eBook “How I Fired My Boss and Traveled the World for 13 Years.”

This is Dan from Vagabond Awake, the Youtube Channel for VagabondBuddha.com. The world is your home. What time will you be home for dinner?

2 thoughts on “Retire Cheap in SE Asia or Latin America?”

  1. Hi Dan,
    How do you pay for your expenses during such long trips? Do you use credit cards? I don’t know if the US cards are acceptable in some countries.
    Thanks

    1. Visa and MasterCard are accepted pretty much all over the world. But some establishments such as ones frequented by locals often take only cash. So get cash out of your ATM. Charles Schwab has a credit card that refunds ATM fees.

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