Daily Life As An Expat in SE Asia

Andrew Leeson


Expat in SE Asia
Dive right into the cliché of tropical lifestyle.

At 53 I feel that I’m too young to retire, but only just. Plus, for family reasons I am unable to make the permanent move just yet. But I am dreaming of the day. And I pretty much know what I am going to do – the how, the where and what I’m going to be doing. I want to buy my own condo overlooking the sea. Preferably not facing into the sun in the afternoon. 

Where did Retire to Asia come from and the importance of speaking to expats

The idea of the Retire to Asia website came when I worked in Singapore, predominantly dealing with Australian expats living throughout SE Asia, with a few other nationalities thrown in. I remember one client saying to me, ‘why would I retire back to Australia, when I can live on the coast of Thailand for half the cost, twice the house and three times the fun’. I’ve never forgotten that statement.

Since I started the website, we have exhibited at trade fairs, presented at expat clubs in SE Asia, been interviewed on TV, toured SE Asia many times each year, spoken to thousands of expats and want-to-be expats, and spoken to a myriad of service providers helping expats make the move, whether that be for visas, insurance, housing and so on.

If moving to SE Asia for a while is what you are thinking, I recommend you speak with a few expats to see how they spend their days. If you don’t know any expats feel free to contact us on the link below and we’ll be happy to pass you onto an expat group. Otherwise, on your next trip to SE Asia search for a club or a venue where expats congregate and just start a conversation. You’ll learn far more than by researching on Google. 

Island Life As An Expat

Island life. How could you be stressed here? 

The time I lived in Phuket, Thailand for six months

I’ve had a few extended SE Asia stays. Singapore being the longest, but I have also had longer stays in Bali and Phuket. Phuket was the closest I’ve been to living the long-term retired expat lifestyle.

Why did I choose Phuket as a place to live?

The same reason why most people choose their initial place to retire – at the time it was where I’d been most times. I simply knew it better. An interesting fact, however, is that about 50% of retirees that relocate to SE Asia will move locations within and around the first-year mark. There are so many more places you’ll discover when living there permanently, and you may find those places better suited to your needs.

The set-up to living in Phuket

I had an English friend at the time that was self-employed and working out of Kuala Lumpur. I told him I was going to live in Phuket for a while and if he would be interested in joining me and we’ll rent a very nice condo overlooking the beach.

He said, ‘sure’. So, we did.

We chose Karon beach in Phuket to live. Mainly because it was close to Kata beach which is one of my favorite Phuket beaches, and it was still close to Patong when we wanted to kick on a bit.

Karon itself has a nice village feel to it which we also enjoyed. After a few weeks we found ourselves being treated as a kind of local. Once the bars, restaurants and local Thais in general find out that you are not passing through as a tourist, they start to interact with you more.

We rented a huge condo on a high floor with 270-degree views, from the mountains out back to uninterrupted sea views out the front. It was a 142 sq/m two-bedroom condo, with the obligatory nice resort style pool, pool room, sauna, and tennis courts.  

Beach life of an Expat

The obligatory tropical beach photo. Water’s nice all year round. 

When renting for a longer term you can negotiate great rates. Especially if your term goes into the off season when places may generally be empty. From memory we got about 1/3rd off the usual monthly rate as we rented for 6 months, and half was during the off season. There is still plenty to do during the off season. Phuket is always ‘on’, but in the off season it may rain a bit and does have noticeably fewer visitors. On the plus side some beaches have waves to surf during the off season.

With the sea out front, and a plethora of bars, restaurants, and entertainment within a stone’s throw, we were set.

Daily life in Phuket, Thailand

I found I went through two main phases during this time: 

Phase 1 – first month: It was just like being on holiday with a mate. We didn’t hang out much during the day, too much time together can test any friendship, so mostly the days were my own. There was plenty of walking around exploring all the nooks and crannies of the local area and beyond.

Street Food in SE Asia

Great food at fantastic prices can be found at the markets. They’re everywhere. 

I like markets for fresh food, which Thailand has plenty of. Thankfully Karon had a great outdoor food market that had a huge selection of locally grown fruits and nuts, along with spices, meats, veggies, and snacks. I became quite good at blending fruit shakes.

I also like reading, so I spent a lot of time sitting on a deckchair on Kata beach reading various novels. Lunch was usually on the beach. You place your order with the server on the beach and a local eatery delivers direct to you. I would spend 3-4 hours each day swimming, reading, eating, and walking on the beach.

Each afternoon my friend and I played tennis for a couple hours, followed by a dip in the pool. Then upstairs for a change then out for a few beers as the sun went down and a meal. Then a few more beers. Plenty of places for live music and socialising usually kept us out late. 

Perfect Transport Option for Expats

Perfectly suited transport for island life. 

Renting a scooter was a must for me, but there are plenty of taxis, rideshare and tuk tuk’s if you don’t wish to rent a scooter.

Phuket is Thailand’s largest island so there are a lot of places to visit. As it’s a high tourist area there is a lot of infrastructure all over the island to keep visitors entertained. The scooter also gives you the ability to be mobile, flexible, and free.

After a month of being active and generally being outside in the great outdoors, I started to look and feel noticeably better. I had a great tan, beach-blond hair again and I was losing weight. 

But I learned you can’t have a limited routine forever!

Phase 2 – after month 1: This will be the same no matter where you are in retirement. But after 30 days of the same routine, sitting on the beach, reading, swimming, tennis, beers, and music and so on it gets a bit repetitive.

Don’t get me wrong, I was in the tropics in a beautiful location and loving it. Life was getting a bit repetitive though. It reminds me of that old saying, ‘being rich doesn’t make you happy’, but in reality, I’d prefer to be rich and miserable than poor and miserable. This was like becoming a little bored, but hey, I’d prefer to be in a stunning location in the tropics and a little bored than elsewhere and a little bored. 

LIfe's a beach

This could be your neighborhood. 

I found out more about myself whilst living as a retired expat 

I found that I needed a purpose otherwise I would become restless. It’s hard to aimlessly meander through life for too long doing nothing in particular. For me anyway. For a great majority of us I would suggest.

Thankfully Phuket has that covered. For me it was something simple. I joined an expat football (soccer) team. Twice weekly training and a weekly competition game gave a bit of structure and was a great way to meet people. I discovered that when you meet one person you eventually meet their friends.

Suddenly you have a social network, BBQs, golfing, fishing trips and so on. Along with a bit of structure I always had something different to look forward to. Life was no longer a set routine.

There are heaps of ways to obtain structure and both ensure you don’t become bored and obtain a social group. Teach English as a second language, volunteer for a charity or non-profit, join one of many sports clubs from Muay Thai to golf and everything in between. There are even card playing clubs of various games. The list is almost endless.

Unsure if SE Asia retirement is right for you – give it a go for 6-12 months and find out

If this is something that appeals to you but are still a bit unsure, have an extended holiday like I did and see what happens. Or as I wrote a few weeks ago ‘take a seniors gap year’.

You might learn more about yourself. You might be surprised with how it changes you.


If you’d like more information or have any questions, please feel free to call 1800-961-377 or email in**@re**********.au and let the team at Retire to Asia help make your dream lifestyle a reality.

Andrew Leeson

Andrew Leeson

Over 20 years of experience helping people live a better life in SE Asia. Having worked in financial services in Asia I understand the challenges when moving to and living in a new country. I have travelled extensively throughout the region and experienced what SE Asia has to offer to retirees.

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