Authors Stephen Wyatt and Colleen Ryan wrote the 2014 book Sell Up, Pack Up and Take Off about the trend of older Australians moving to South-East Asia to escape their home country's skyrocketing living costs. The Byron Bay couple and former Financial Review correspondents have made the shift overseas and returned home several times in their retirement. Photo Contributed
Authors Stephen Wyatt and Colleen Ryan wrote the 2014 book Sell Up, Pack Up and Take Off about the trend of older Australians moving to South-East Asia to escape their home country's skyrocketing living costs. The Byron Bay couple and former Financial Review correspondents have made the shift overseas and returned home several times in their retirement. Photo Contributed Contributed

Can retirement really be an extended holiday?

GIVEN the choice of scrounging every penny just to survive or jumping ship to a life of comfort in your autumn years, what would you choose?

The path was clear for Byron Bay couple Stephen Wyatt and Colleen Ryan - just as it was for the hundreds of smiling expats with healthy flecks of over-ear greyness they met along their travels.

The husband and wife authors pulled up stumps when they retired and journeyed across South-East Asia, where they were astonished to learn how many older Australians had made the same choice.

"It sounds a bit elitist, but most people had house help, gardeners and massages twice a week," Colleen said.

"You could see it added to the enjoyment of their lives."

Compare that to home, where many of these retirees faced barely surviving on the pension - lives where going to the movies seemed an obscene luxury.

Stephen and Colleen have left Australia and returned several times and said the shift did not always have to be a permanent one.

MORE: Poverty rates of older Australians three times OECD average

Retirees often set off for decade-long adventures at about age 60, only to return to their loved ones when their autumn years faded into winter.

"That's fine - you can enjoy five or 10 years of cheap living and take that fantastic experience back with you," Stephen said.

The stories the couple heard along the way prompted them to write Sell Up, Pack Up and Take Off, a book exploring the trend of older Australians escaping their country's rising living costs.

"We noticed more and more older Australians living in places like Malaysia, Thailand, Bali and even Cambodia," Stephen said.

"Prices were 50-80% lower for people living in those countries, particularly if they lived and ate more like locals than tourists."

But that was 2014.

Sell Up, Pack Up and Take Off by Stephen Wyatt and Colleen Ryan. Book cover. Published in 2014. Photo Contributed
Sell Up, Pack Up and Take Off by Stephen Wyatt and Colleen Ryan. Book cover. Published in 2014. Photo Contributed Contributed

The Australian dollar has since collapsed, prompting many to assume the shift had become unaffordable.

Not so, the duo says.

"People were saying, 'You really picked a bad time to write your book'," Colleen said.

"That would be the case if someone retired to the United States, but it's a different story in South-East Asia."

As well as being authors, Stephen and Colleen are former Financial Review correspondents to China and economists with majors in accounting.

Having crunched the numbers, they found commodity-producing countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia had felt the effects of the economic downturn just like Australia - even more so, in some cases.

"In fact, the Australian dollar has risen about 5% against the Malaysian ringgit and about 15% against the Indonesian rupiah," Stephen said.

"So the currency changes for retirees with an Australian dollar income have actually benefited them in those two countries.

"It's a different story in Thailand, where there has been about a 10% fall in the Aussie dollar against the baht."

They found rent was still 80% cheaper in Penang in Malaysia than in Sydney, with meals costing about 75% less.

"It's pretty much the same in Bali except the beer is even cheaper and rent is a bit cheaper too," Mr Wyatt said.

"In Chiang Mai, it's the same story.

"The thesis behind the shift holds despite the currency movements.

"We met so many people living wonderful lives they could never have had in Australia."

Jennifer retired to Chiang Mai in Thailand. Here she is visiting Hua Hin, south of Bangkok.
Jennifer retired to Chiang Mai in Thailand. Here she is visiting Hua Hin, south of Bangkok. Contributed

Work is also underway to ease foreign ownership laws for apartments in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia to allow Australian expats to own freehold title over property.

"That's still up in the air, and we would certainly recommend not buying until you were absolutely sure you were going settle there - rent is so cheap anyway," Stephen said.

The couple are now working on follow-up books including ones targeted to United Kingdom and United States audiences that will also look at Sri Lanka, Laos and the Philippines and other countries for the first time.

"Our gold standard was originally Malaysia where retirees can get a 10-year visa," Colleen said.

"But then we learned in the Philippines you can get a lifetime visa if you're over the age of 35 as a retiree.

"There are certain restrictions on income, but they are actively trying to welcome more retirees than anyone else in South-East Asia."

It is sad, but true.

With cost of living pressures rising against an aging population, leading a comfortable retirement in the Lucky Country is impossible for many in our community.

But with a few savings, a sense of adventure and a taste for tropical climes, many Australians have found a way to escape.

-APN NEWSDESK



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