Thailand attracting expat retirees


Thailand is the leading home-away-from-home for expatriate retirees seeking the sunnier climes of South-East Asia, but the kingdom faces growing competition from their neighbours, a leading international property consultant said Wednesday.

Thailand, which has been actively trying to attract foreign retirees for years, granted 12,092 special retirement visas to foreigners in the first seven months of 2006, putting it at the forefront of the regional push to generate revenues off the elderly expatriate market, said James Pitchon, executive director of CB Richard Ellis Thailand (CBRE).

According to CBRE, more and more South-East Asian countries are eyeing foreign retirees as second home purchasers (RSH), but Thailand is still in the lead.

"Thailand stands in a very strong position competing to attract RSH purchasers against other countries in South-East Asia," said Pitchon.

The boom in the property market in South-East Asia has resulted from, among other factors, the rise in property values in Europe and the US that have allowed retirees to sell their homes and move abroad, said Pitchon.

Thailand, blessed with two coastlines, warm climate, and a hospitable population, has become a major destination for retirees buying second homes.

"If we look at the country as a product, the 'Thai Brand' conveys messages of good quality of life for RSH, including advanced health care, safety in life, adequate infrastructure, beautiful vacations and the readiness of Thailand as a hub of air transportation in Asia," said Pitchon.

But he cautioned that Thailand's growing market for retirees faces obstacles, such as restrictions on property ownership, financial facilitation and visa regulations.

Compared with Malaysia, where there is no restriction on property ownership, Thailand does not allow foreigners to own land and grants only 30-year leases on land rental. For the ownership of high-rises, it allows 49 per cent freehold of foreigners for condominiums.

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

The "Malaysia my second home programme" allows foreign sole ownership of land with houses, eligibility for domestic loans to buy the property and a 10-year-visa permit.

Even so, over the past five years Malaysia's second home programme has only attracted 8,700 people.

Singapore also binds no restriction on freehold condominiums. Although foreigners cannot buy land, the country provides 99-year leases on Sentosa Cove, the only land development specifically for foreigners. China allows 70-year leases for land tenants while Vietnam allows 50-year leases.

Thailand, facing growing regional competition in the retirees as second home purchasers market, will need to be "involved in improving a better package of property ownership, domestic financing for foreigners and visa regulations," warned Pitchon. Bangkok Post

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