move to asia

Considering Asia For A Work Break, Or Retirement? Take The ‘Move To Asia’ Test

Moving to Asia–especially tropical Southeast Asia–has never looked more attractive, either as a year-round or part-time option. A confluence of favorable circumstances today means a comfortable, healthy and interesting lifestyle awaits just about anyone looking for a change. If the biographies of the hundreds of expats I’ve met in Bali in the last 11+ years is any indication, a move to Asia is possible in 2017 and beyond even if you’re not wealthy, young or well-traveled (yet).

But here’s the real question: how would you know if a move to Asia makes sense for you?

Let’s find out.

How Many Of These 9 Questions Do You Answer ‘Yes’ To?

I’ve posed as questions nine reasons why people take a break from work, are on sabbatical, or even choosing to retire–early or otherwise–in Southeast Asia.

I’ve drawn from stories I’ve heard over the last 20+ years of traveling and living in Asia, as well as my own experience.

I’ll use Bali as a sample destination since it’s been my base for over 10 years (for my book on the cost of living in Bali click here) but many places in SE Asia have similar benefits. (Each item below could apply to living well and inexpensively elsewhere in the world too!)

1) Is your life in transition?

Maybe you’re about to graduate university, retire, or make a major life pivot.

If your future is suddenly wide open it might be a good time to really step back and consider a broad range of alternatives, because you might not get a moment like this again.

Years from now you might be living a life you won’t want to disrupt with a major redirect. It’s important to see a time like this for what it is, the choices it contains, and respond accordingly, in a way that fits your big-picture priorities. You might not get a chance like this again.

2) Do you wonder whether you can afford a comfortable retirement?

If money is tight, a move to Asia is a way to live well, for less. If you’re nearing retirement and will be living on a fixed income, you should know this: in 2016, the cost of living in SE Asia especially is still a fraction of what it is in the ‘developed world’. More to the point: whatever level of comfort you choose, value for money for most things is still very high.

cost of living in Bali3A Bali example: you might be very surprised at the quality of accommodations available here for 3 million to 6 million rupiah/month (US$228-$456, AU$305-$610, €210-€415 in Aug. 2016), or good restaurant meals from 50,000 to 80,000 rupiah, etc. In 2016 a good, healthy, hygienic meal in a local warung starts at under 20,000 rupiah (US$1.52, AU$2, €1.36). Really.

I get emails almost every day from people approaching retirement who are worried about finances. Spending all or part of the year in a place like Bali won’t solve everything, but a western pension or social security/retirement income of even US$800-$1,000/mo. buys you a lifestyle you might find hard to believe.

3) Do you wonder if a simpler life might reduce your stress or chronic health problems?

Would an extended period in a warm climate—with maybe less stress than you’re used to—help improve your overall health, or a chronic condition you’re battling?

It’s hard to say, but if you have health concerns that don’t necessarily require frequent visits to your family doctor, it could be a reason for taking a break from work somewhere in SE Asia, if you can.

Objective self-assessments are difficult, but aside from making intuitive sense, the opinion of many health professionals is that there’s a connection between lower stress and overall well-being.

In conversations with westerners who now base themselves in Bali and elsewhere in Asia, you’ll stories of relief from various problems:

  • neuralgia pain going away due to the warmer climate
  • losing weight due to walking more, eating less and more healthily
  • relief from insomnia
  • lower blood pressure
  • relief from depression, and more

4) Is it time to leave a job, a relationship, or other bad situation?

Sometimes you need to stay and fix what’s broken. Sometimes a situation is beyond repair. It can be hard to know when you’re ‘running away’ and when you’re sensibly cutting your losses.

But staying to fight when another party isn’t cooperating or acting in good faith becomes unproductive futility eventually–especially if we’ve put months or years into improving matters.

Our lives are too short to contain eternal struggles. In an effort to save something are you losing something greater?

The world has endless new, possibly healthier challenges you were built to engage, especially as you change over time.

Sabbaticals, work breaks, or outright retirement are ways our culture accepts our need to redirect ourselves, sometimes.

I don’t like the term ‘unplugging’, because it implies we aren’t plugging back in to an alternate purpose. But we do.

If you can explore this it can be a healthy way to reset. Sometimes it’s just a break, sometimes it becomes a tangent you take to a new life.

Expats will tell you how this sort of path played out in their lives. Usually they seem happy about it, and wish they’d made a move sooner. It’s too bad more people who could use a change don’t hear that. It’s part of what I try to do with

5) Do you want to work on a project or develop an ability amid fewer distractions?

work break in southeast asiaPainting, building furniture, writing, learning to build mobile apps, designing clothes, starting an online business, yoga teacher training….

Do you have a talent or interest–some larger purpose–you don’t find time to express or explore enough? ‘Things happen’, and eventually who we were can be hard to reconcile with who we’ve become, and what our life turns into.

You might believe your creative ability has value, to you if not the world, but if you never figure out how to integrate it with the rest of your life–or earn an income from it–you won’t pursue it with the enthusiasm it deserves.

I did that for a long time myself.

But a funny thing happens when you’re away from familiar circumstances, for more than a holiday. Without the friction of obligations and routine you’ll gravitate to that interest or project of yours.

For lots of people, pursuing a creative purpose isn’t much of a reason to take a sabbatical, an extended work break, or even to move to Asia. For some it will be though.

I know dozens of people in Bali for whom it was the primary reason they’re here.

If you harbor an unscratched creative itch, please know this: the world would appreciate it if you wouldn’t neglect your talent any more. We wish you’d believe you can pursue it, that you should embrace it, and many of us are waiting for you out here, to discover who you really are.

6) Do you have an online business?

If you have–or are interested in starting–an online business you manage via an Internet connection, you might enhance your life as you reduce your expenses in SE Asia.

I talk a lot about digital nomads here at so I won’t belabor it too much, but nowadays a huge and increasing number of people manage their own online enterprises as they travel around the world.

Maybe because these people inject a lot of money into local economies as they travel–without competing for jobs with locals–in many places the authorities seem not to mind too much, yet at least.

Especially if you’ve created your own online income streams, give this lifestyle some thought. You’re lucky to live during a period when ordinary people travel more easily than royalty or the wealthy could have decades or centuries ago.

You’ve already done the work to make yourself ‘location independent’ so why not reap an additional benefit and try life as a digital nomad for a while? It might suit you better than a ‘move to Asia’.

By the way, if the demographics of people I’ve met in Bali doing this are any indication, you certainly don’t have to be young or childless to fund your lifestyle with online income.

6a) Do you work remotely, or could you?

If you’re employed, asking your boss if you can work remotely might not sound as crazy as it would have 15 years ago. The challenges today tend to be more organizational and psychological than they are practical.

Go to your boss with a plan and make a case that you’ll be reducing company overhead and improving your productivity (you’ll work very hard for this arrangement, right?) without impacting your role in the organization.

Yes, he/she could fire you. Maybe start by asking to go remote one day a week…

Millions of people are working remotely–even overseas–helped by terrific communication tools and better Internet. Many, many of them are in SE Asia.

To get started, check the link just above, and even the chapter on broaching the subject with your boss in the 4-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss (it’s required reading for all Wage Freedom readers!).

7) Do you have more curiosity than your life (so far) indicates?

Maybe the amount of travel you’ve done in your life isn’t in line with how much curiosity you have about the wider world.

Maybe circumstances have changed for you, or you feel like a change of scenery. If you’re willing to do some planning and replace familiar comforts with a slightly more exotic lifestyle for a while, a move to Asia is one good way to approach it.

8) Do you want to diversify your assets to reduce exposure to property price swings and/or currency risk in your home country?

If the developing world is where economic growth will be in the long term, then buying property could be a good move, both as an investment and in case of local currency appreciation. Of course you could end up on the wrong side of both trades too. Caveat Emptor.

Still, Indonesia and Vietnam in particular are growing faster and might have more room to run than other more-developed countries in the region, and the rest of the world.

Prices are already approaching western levels, specially in some neighborhoods in expat enclaves like Bali.

But it might not be too late. You can still find good deals with some legwork. And I’ve given up calling a top in Bali property prices—I though it was inflated in 2011 and I’ve been wrong ever since!

In any case, if owning property in places like Bali, Phuket, Koh Samui or Chiang Mai means spending more time in the tropics, you might think of it as a ‘guaranteed return’.

9) Have you always wanted to experience another culture directly, or learn another language?

Taking a break from work might be your motivation, but making a move to a place like Bali or Thailand isn’t just about changing your life and yourself.

Regardless of your motives for coming, the benefits of staying include encountering new people and ways of life, and new experiences that give you perspective on the larger world. It’s stimulating, and it in turn leads to personal growth. You’re never too old.

To this day I’m still amazed at how alive the Balinese culture is, and how gracefully the Balinese seem able to balance cultural obligations, traditions and ceremonies with their increasingly modern lives.

And if you’ve always wanted to learn another language? Schools and informal teachers abound, and I can report that if you’re up for Bali or another part of Indonesia, Bahasa Indonesia is a relatively simple language and you’ll meet lots of enthusiastic Indonesians to help you practice!

Is a Move To Asia Right For You?

How many of these questions apply to your situation or priorities? Have I left out a reason you might have for looking at expat life, maybe moving to Southeast Asia or elsewhere? If so I’d really appreciate it if you’d let me know in the comments or on twitter: @wagefreedom ! As always, thank you for reading.

Why not sign up to my newsletter below? I’ll email you two free chapters of my new book “How To Live In Bali” (2016 edition) with almost 30,000 words of detail about staying longer than a tourist might in Bali.

7 thoughts on “Considering Asia For A Work Break, Or Retirement? Take The ‘Move To Asia’ Test”

  1. Thanks Tom…I think, think and think. And that’s all I do. Fear of committing to something, anything has me stuck and as a consequence opportunities have passed me by. I’m free to go anywhere anytime but don’t because I’m held hostage by a coward too frightened to do anything proactive about his future.


  2. Thankyou very much for these questions which certainly “polarized” & sharpened my focus and motivation towards making such a move. Having “thought” &”procrastinated” (is a better word), about it for 5 years after visiting Bali & Lombok 3 times, I can now dismiss all the insecure, fearful reasons I used to delay positive action. Your set of Qs really make us “take stock” of our situation and make a confident decision. Thanks again Tom. Dox. 🙏

  3. Hi I have been pining to move to Bali. I have started the ball rolling and have applied to volunteer in an orphanage over there. I will start in Oct for 3 months. Thank you for your article. I will be spending that time too looking for online work.

  4. Hi Vanessa — wow, that is terrific! Step one–taking action–might be the hardest step of all.

    I see you signed up for my Bali guide; let me know if you have any questions it didn’t answer.

    Good luck to you Vanessa.

  5. Hi Dox and thanks for connecting.

    Hey, making even a part-year base in Bali or trying it for a few months is a huge step, and looking before you leap is just common sense.

    Eventually the ‘consideration step’ can take on a life of its own and we might need a little poke to ever move past it. I’ve been there.

    If the idea is still in your head after five years and multiple trips here though…maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe it’s not too impulsive.

    I do think that sometimes, never making the leap is the thing to fear the most.

    Good luck Dox.

  6. Hi i have visited Bali quite a few times and will again in mid October. I am in my mid 50s and will be looking into relocating in the near future once I have done research into business ideas etc

  7. Hi Adrian, thanks for your comment.

    Well all good things start with thinking… but everything we’ve ever actually *done* has been accompanied by action. You know that. My point is that you’ve taken action many times in life–despite the missed opportunities–so give yourself some credit.

    And, a day doesn’t go by for any of us without ‘missed’ opportunities. Sometimes it takes the feeling of having missed a few over time to resolve to seize the next one. They’re always coming. I hope that resolve–if it rises in you–is also the tripwire by which you decide that feeling like a hostage is unacceptable, too.

    Hang in there Adrian.

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