Opinion

Is this the key to a happy retirement?

New Zealand's mountains, Thailand's beaches or Singapore's urban energy? A happy retirement often depends on picking the right place

Retirement. Once upon a time the prospect led to feelings of joy, with thoughts of waking up at 11am every day, reading a book in a garden after a wine-fuelled lunch, taking five-week holidays, seeing the kids (grandchildren) without being responsible for their welfare and generally enjoying the fruits of 40 years of labour.

This is sadly no longer the case. Retirement hopefuls now face two widely discussed questions. The first: how on earth am I going to afford it? My state pension is risible, I spend 70 percent of my income on my shoebox flat and I’m not saving enough. The second question: when will I be able to retire? Nowadays, 70 is increasingly looking like the new 60.

But there’s a third issue that’s much less well documented: the question of where. This too used to be simple. Most people retired in their home country, in a house close to their family, likely in a spot a little less busy than where they’d worked. But push and pull pressures have made this decision far more vexing.

The push pressures – those repelling you from home – include the possibility that you don’t have an obvious home any more (serial expats), that your children live nowhere near home (thanks to the international labour market), that your home is actually a terrible place to wind down (Soho in Hong Kong) and, most significantly, that you can’t actually afford to live there on your pension (Greater London).

And then there are the pull pressures. After four decades of living in Chicago or Beijing with their crushing winters, who wouldn’t want to go somewhere cheaper with year-round sun? Some countries with such qualities have cottoned on to this and offer programmes that pave the way for retirement with residency. Spain, Thailand, Malaysia, New Zealand, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Mauritius all offer such schemes, with surprisingly little investment money required.

We all know retirees who have started new lives far from their old ones. This move is understandable – and also generally proves to be a failure. Larry, in New Zealand, misses the pace of urban life and his children in New York and London. François is bored witless in Saint Kitts and Nevis, with no theatre or Michelin-starred restaurants, and suffers a tortuous journey to get back to Paris.

Those who are happy have found balance with something akin to dual living. Alison and Andrew split their time between Switzerland (their home), France (their holiday home) and Asia (where their kids live) and have just the right balance of sun, culture, city, beach and family. With far less money, Paul lives in Singapore’s Sentosa, enjoying beach living while having Hong Kong just four hours away.

If I had to choose right this minute, I would plump for Hong Kong’s Deep Water Bay and France’s Provence or, if I tossed away most of my money on a dubious investment, Singapore. Each to their own, though. So where would you choose?

Let me know at cathayeditorial@cedarcom.hk

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