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Asian Destinations, Compared
Saturday, July 26, 2008, By iStockAnalyst

SIX years ago in 2002, a survey found that Hawaii was the most popular place for retirees, followed by Canada and Australia. Then in 2004, Malaysia made it to the top three, with other Asian countries such as Thailand and the Philippines also included in the list of well-liked destinations.

One of the ingredients that shot the country to the top is the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme. Established in 2002, its friendly policies have made it one of the best long stay programmes in the world. When added to the relatively low prices of the high quality properties in the country, the fact that legal documentation is in English and the leniency of foreign ownership, the result is a recipe that can be highly addictive to expatriates, especially those from Western countries.

Further flavouring the concoction are the country's low cost of living, short flying time to many international market centres and the warm climate, which have resulted in the saying "cheap, near, warm".

Besides Malaysia, many other countries in the region also offer long stay programmes. Let's take a look at what some of them offer and how they stack up:

Singapore

Foreign retirees can opt for permanent residence, which has to be applied for and granted during the working contract and before they reach the age of 50. Without it, foreigners must invest a minimum of S$1 million (RM2.4 million) in Singapore's economy.

The country is politically and economically stable with a sophisticated banking system. It's also a major aviation hub for destinations in Asia and beyond and an offshore banking and possible tax haven.

To take advantage of its financial framework, there's no need to become a resident - funds can be deposited or invested in Singapore's banks by foreigners.

The city state's rules for buying property are just as relaxed. Foreigners no longer need approval from the government for purchase of apartments in non-condominium developments of less than six storeys, though permission is still required for landed properties.

Permanent residents can borrow up to 80 per cent of the purchase price from banks and mortgage companies. Both variable and fixed rate mortgages are available with terms of up to 25 years.

Thailand

The Thailand My Second Home and Vacation Investment Programmes are not part of the Thai government policies - they are schemes offered by private sector companies involved in property management.

For retirement, foreigners can apply for visas that permit oneyear stays with option for yearly renewals.

When it comes to buying property, foreigners are limited to 49 per cent ownership and land purchases are restricted. Although the general rule is that foreigners cannot purchase land, exceptions can be made for selected industries, sites in certain areas and for use as residences. In all these cases, government permission is required and regulations are tightly monitored.

Foreigners cannot buy using a Thai company or a local nominee, but they can become "lease owners". Under this law, any lease exceeding three years in Thailand has to have the name of the lessee recorded in the land title. However this does not protect foreigners from any complications that can arise from the arrangement.

Foreigners generally also cannot mortgage properties in Thailand. In fact, mortgage lending by local banks to foreigners was virtually unheard of until recently.

With the government's move to promote tourism and encourage economic growth, there has been a slight shift in policy in recent years which allows foreigners limited access to financing. So now, the Bangkok Bank's branch in Singapore has opened up borrowing possibilities for property investment in Thailand, financing up to 70 per cent over 10 years.

Before that, buyers had to obtain mortgages from a bank in their home countries and then transfer the amount to their Thai bank accounts, while using lawyers to oversee the logistics of the process.

Despite all the red tape, according to a Bangkok Post report last year, Thailand still led the regional push to generate revenue off the elderly expatriate market.

In explaining it, the daily said it was partly the result of the rise in property values in Europe and the United States that allowed retirees to cash in their homes and move to lower-cost destinations.

However, it questioned how long the surge would last given Thailand's restrictions on property ownership, financial facilitation and visa regulations.

Just across the border, the Bangkok Post said the picture is the complete opposite.

In Malaysia, there are no stringent controls on property ownership, foreigners can borrow from local banks and the MM2H programme offers 10-year renewable social visas.

Singapore too has fewer restrictions, said the daily, as foreigners can buy freehold condominiums. However, to own landed property, they are restricted to the Sentosa Cove development where 99-year leases are offered.

In China, the daily said land tenants are given 70-year leases while in Vietnam, 50-year leases are issued.

Indonesia

Foreigners desiring to spend their golden years in Indonesia have to meet the conditions of its retirement visa facility.

This requires applicants to be aged 55 or older, possess a passport or travel documents with more than 18 months remaining validity and have a statement from pension fund foundation or bank from their home countries (or Indonesia) proving they can derive at least US$1,500 (RM4,800) a month during the tenure of their stay.

The Indonesian government also requires proof of medical/ health insurance, death insurance and personal liability insurance.

Once the visa has been obtained, no work is permitted and its initial tenure is for one year, though an extension of up to five years can be granted.

For property ownership, laws prohibiting foreigners from having their names on the official title of a freehold piece of land in Bali is only now changing.

In a 1996 regulation, foreigners only have a "right of use" title valid for 25 years with the possibility of another 25-year extension.

However, the extent of the changes has not yet been ascertained and whether permanent residents, temporary residents with working or retirement visas, or visitors, would qualify.

(c) 2008 New Straits Times. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

Story Source: New Straits Times

 


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