Editor’s Note: This exclusive guide was written by Jason Fieber. While some numbers listed in this guide are subject to change at any time — such as portfolio, passive income and local prices — the revolutionary strategy he discusses is timeless.
You go to school. Have some good times. Have some not-so-good times.
Get a degree.
Then you get a job where you, well, work until you’re old and used up.
After spending most of your waking hours at this job for vast majority of your adult life, you retire.
You can finally spend a few years of your life however you wish, allocating your time toward pursuits, interests, and hobbies that make you happy, regardless of the income potential.
Of course, by this time, your body and mind are well past their respective primes.
This is the template of life.
But what if you don’t want that?
What if you want to experience a much better path forward?
What if you want to pursue your passions and live the life of your dreams while your body and mind are both young and healthy enough to fully enjoy everything?
Well, I’m here to tell you that this is all possible.
I’m here to tell you that the life of your dreams is within your grasp.
This might sound like some kind of infomercial. But I can promise you, I’m not here to sell you anything.
But I am here to tell you that there are amazing opportunities available in the world that you may not be aware of. And if you take advantage of these opportunities, you can break that typical template of life into a million tiny pieces.
See, I’ve broken the template. I’ve achieved the life of my dreams.
I achieved financial independence at the tender age of 33 years old.
And I did so just six years after I set out for it.
To make matters even crazier, I was worth less than $0 when I started my audacious journey at 27 years old.
Oh, and let’s not forget that I worked a very middle-class day job after dropping out of college.
A college-drop out goes from below broke to financially independent in just six years?
It sounds crazy, but it’s true.
The fact that I’ve done this is what drives and motivates me to write and inspire others out there to chase a better life.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t use my newfound freedom and opportunities to help others.
I know what’s possible, because I’ve done what others might think is impossible. I know what you’re capable of, because I know that someone as regular as myself can make dreams come true. I know what’s out there waiting for you, because I’m currently experiencing it.
As I noted earlier, I’m not here to sell you anything.
In fact, I freely share everything I’ve done and learned.
I’m not here to keep secrets.
To prove that point, I wrote my Early Retirement Blueprint in order to capture and share the exact strategies I used to become financially independent in my early 30s.
The Blueprint is a guide that’s over 7,000 words in length. These are practical and tactical concepts that anyone can use.
You don’t have to be someone special to access the guide. And you don’t have to be someone special to use the strategies laid out therein.
I can tell you, though, that a major component of the Blueprint is to live quite frugally.
As I noted earlier, I worked a very middle-class job.
I spent my entire eight-year career in the auto industry.
I worked at a car dealership. This is not a luxurious or high-paying job.
When I first started my journey toward financial independence, I was pulling down about $40,000 per year.
I knew that I had to save and invest as much of that income as possible, which meant I had to figure out a way to squeeze blood from a stone.
That involved plenty of frugality.
Through a number of lifestyle changes I lay out in the Blueprint, I was able to routinely save and invest more than 50% of my net income.
However, the lifestyle that one must adopt in order to live on relatively little money can be a difficult pill to swallow.
I’d actually say that’s one of the largest barriers to entry for most people when it comes to achieving financial independence at a young age.
A lot of people just aren’t willing to live a very modest life for many years on end in order to escape the rat race.
If the choice is living well below my means or working a job until I’m old and used up, I view the latter as the much greater sacrifice.
However, even I will admit that it’s not fun to watch and pinch every penny for the rest of your life.
Extreme frugality can be just fine – even exhilarating, perhaps – for a few years or so, but it can be hard to sustain for a decade or more.
This means that saving and investing your way to financial independence inside of a decade might be a reasonable undertaking on paper, but one then needs to understand that they could be living on a pretty tight budget for the rest of their life.
Faced with this prospect, the solutions for people living off of a relatively small amount of passive income range from building some kind of home-based business… to turning a hobby into a money-making venture… to radically rethinking a lifestyle.
But how free are you if you’re still beholden to money?
I’d argue that being somewhat free is certainly better than not being free at all.
It’s about being flexible in life. Having some degree of control over your financial destiny is incredibly empowering.
Moreover, the very investment strategy I’ve long espoused and personally used – dividend growth investing – builds in an increasing runway of flexibility and freedom due to the very nature of growing dividends.
Because high-quality dividend growth stocks are typically increasing their dividends every year at a rate that exceeds U.S. inflation, your flexibility and available slack in spending should be increasing year in and year out.
The issue, though, is that U.S. inflation isn’t always a great measuring stick for increasing expenses.
Housing in many places across the country has seen costs exceed inflation for quite a few years now, for example.
And let’s not even get into healthcare!
But what if you could have your cake and eat it, too?
It’s possible to make some lifestyle sacrifices for a few years, save your pennies, intelligently invest your capital, become financially independent, and then go on to live a life where you no longer have to worry too much about spending, inflation, or frugality.
I’ll let you in on a secret.
I’m actually living a pretty luxurious lifestyle on the passive income my real-money and real-life dividend growth stock portfolio generates for me.
I feel almost guilty about it.
I live in a luxury furnished apartment in the center of town. I eat out at restaurants for every meal. I’m at a beautiful coffee shop every afternoon. I work out at a fully-equipped gym just a few steps away from where I live. I attend awesome events like enjoying live music, meeting up with friends, or catching a movie practically every evening.
Almost everything in my life is at a world-class level of quality and enjoyment.
There is essentially no sacrifice in my life.
How does this work?
Let’s dig into some numbers real quick.
My portfolio is generating over $14,500 in annual passive dividend income (averaging over $1,200 per month). Factoring in some other passive online income puts me at over $18,000 per year.
All in, I’m looking at $1,500+ per month in passive income.
This is money I don’t have to lift a finger for. I get paid just to exist.
While this is impressive, considering I started with $0 in passive income less than ten years ago, a lot of people might find it difficult to actually live much of a life on this, let alone a lifestyle that’s luxurious and carefree.
Some might even say that’s a poverty-level existence in the United States that’s just not worth considering.
You could argue this a lot of different ways.
But the argument ends now.
That’s because I decided to dramatically shift how I live my life in order to completely eliminate money worries from my life… permanently.
More importantly, and more to the point, I decided to dramatically shift where I live my life.
Yes, it’s the where that counts. And it counts in a major way.
I left the United States in late 2017 in favor of indefinitely relocating to Chiang Mai, Thailand.
This might serve as a shock to a lot of people.
Leaving everything I’ve ever known to live a new life where the people, culture, weather, food, and way of life is so radically different can be quite the jolt.
But after living here, I can say that it’s easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!
I’m thoroughly enjoying my new life to a degree that makes me feel like it’s a dream that I’ll soon wake up from.
I no longer worry about money for even one second per day, even though my level of passive income is near the annual income threshold for poverty in the USA. Not only that, but I live a lifestyle that would typically be thought of as reserved for a millionaire.
Some might think this is impossible. Or it’s at the very least hyperbole.
But I can assure you it’s not.
This has occurred because I took a very small amount of money to buy an “investment” that turned me into a millionaire overnight!
What was this magical investment?
It’s not a penny stock. It’s no cryptocurrency.
It was a plane ticket.
Yep. A plane ticket.
I’ve made some fantastic investments in my time. I own slices of some of the best businesses in the world. And I wake up almost every single day to a fresh dividend in my brokerage account. It’s a great way to start my day.
But the best investment by far was the plane ticket that brought me to Thailand.
This plane ticket cost me just over $600. Yet it returned me over 137,000% on my investment. And it did so in one day.
There’s no stock that will do that. There’s no other investment in this entire world that will do that.
Not even Warren Buffett can do that.
There’s no trickery here. I’ll show you how this works using real-life numbers that I’ve personally experienced after living in both the USA and Thailand.
The bottom line is quite simple…
Through the power of geographic arbitrage, I turned a poverty-level amount of passive income into a millionaire-level lifestyle.
And just like everything else I’ve done, this is an easy-to-understand strategic execution that is in no way difficult to access for anyone else.
I’m still the regular guy who worked a middle-class job at a car dealership.
But I’m now a long way from home. And gratefully so.
Sounds like a fancy and complicated term.
But the concept is actually exceedingly simple – both in terms of understanding it and executing it.
It’s basically involves earning an income in a strong currency and spending that income in a place that has a weaker currency, which essentially results in one’s local and realized purchasing power increasing.
Because places with stronger currencies tend to have higher incomes per capita, that higher income translates into far more opportunities and flexibility when it’s spent in a place where the income per capita is much lower.
So I told you readers in the first chapter of this guide that my ~$600 plane ticket to Thailand turned me into an instant millionaire.
This occurred through the power of geographic arbitrage.
Even though the absolute amount of money I earn and have hasn’t changed, my relative wealth and purchasing power have shifted rather dramatically.
I’m now going to break that down for you readers so you understand how this works.
I noted before that I’m earning somewhere around $1,200 per month in passive income.
While I was able to get by and live a decent life in the USA on that amount of money, it was a lifestyle that required constant planning and thinking.
Every penny spent required a thoughtful exercise in financial planning.
That’s because $1,200 per month just isn’t that much money in the USA. The cost structure in the country is such that one’s lifestyle has to be approached very carefully with that kind of income.
That’s more or less “middle-class” money for a single person.
Meanwhile, the poverty threshold for a single person under 65 in the USA is close to $12,000 per year.
So even after saving and investing like a maniac in order to become financially independent, I still found myself closer to the definition of poverty than middle class.
Fine by me. I don’t care about definitions.
But I do care about having options, freedom, and flexibility.
And that’s what leads me to my next point.
Official statistics are very difficult to come by, but numerous reports, stats, and numbers indicate an average personal income of approximately $500 per month in Thailand.
And after living here, meeting many Thai people, and learning more about their culture and finances, I don’t think this is terribly inaccurate.
Now, income will be higher in the cities due to greater opportunities for income.
Still, though, earning even $1,000 per month here in Chiang Mai is a strong income for a professional.
I proclaimed in the first chapter that I turned a poverty-level amount of passive income into a millionaire-level lifestyle via geographic arbitrage.
Well, I was near the literal dictionary definition of poverty in the States.
But I’m now earning an income that qualifies me for upper-middle-class living here in Thailand.
To earn the $45,000/year in passive income that would qualify one as “average” in terms of annual personal income in the USA, one would have to have a portfolio of $1.125 million at a 4% yield.
After living in the USA for many years, and after now experiencing Thailand for many months, I can say that, on an apples-to-apples basis, my lifestyle here is even better than what $45,000 would do for me in many parts of the States.
My purchasing power has essentially been tripled (and then some), turning my $1,500+/month in passive income into, conservatively, $4,500+/month in passive income. That’s in terms of local purchasing power.
And all I had to do to accomplish this was purchase a ~$600 one-way plane ticket.
I noted in the first chapter that this $600 “investment” turned me into an instant millionaire and returned me over 137,000% in one day.
Doing the math on that 137,000% ROI breaks down like this:
My personal dividend growth stock portfolio value is over $425,000. Tripling the value of that portfolio (and the passive income it produces) would require another $850,000. Getting $850,000 out of $620 in one day is a return of over 137,000%.
See, it would take all of a $1 million+ portfolio (and the passive income it produces) in the States to afford the lifestyle I’m now living in Thailand.
You want an inside peek? Want to see what that lifestyle looks like?
I’m going to break down some lifestyle elements and the associated costs today so that you can see exactly how far $1,500 per month in passive income can go here in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
First, though, I want to note that I’ve always focused on what I call the “Big Three” – housing, food, and transportation – when it comes to reducing expenses. I even wrote a guide that’s largely based on this idea. You can read it here: 5 Ways to Start Saving Serious Money (And Fast-Track Your Early Retirement).
Most people spend most of their money on these three budget lines.
Specifically and strategically concentrating my efforts on managing these three spending categories went a long way toward helping me achieve financial independence at 33 years old.
But those same efforts can admittedly become exhausting over the course of many years on end.
However, I no longer have to worry about limiting myself in any way when it comes to any of these things.
I live where I want, eat anywhere I please, and transport myself with ease and enjoyment.
But because of the way spending scales up and down, I find that housing and food still ends up eating up a substantial portion of my monthly spending. Likewise, anyone who would move here in order to also take advantage of geographic arbitrage would likely find a similar outcome.
And so I’ll break these expenses down with detail first. Then I’ll move on to some ancillary costs.
First, let’s get into housing.
I live in a new, luxury, furnished one-bedroom apartment that’s located right in the middle of the trendiest and most walkable part of the city.
My monthly rent includes not only the furnished unit itself, but it also includes Wi-Fi, cable TV, and water.
My unit itself is a bit over 400 square feet. But I can tell you that it feels much larger because of the layout. For instance, the kitchen is almost non-existent because it’s not practical to cook at home (which I’ll explain in a moment).
It’s big where it needs to be. And it’s small where it should be.
This apartment building has amenities like a beautiful pool that’s accessible all year long because of the sunny and warm year-round weather Chiang Mai sports.
There’s a small gym that’s available for workouts.
Full maid service is available for a few dollars per cleaning.
Oh, and there’s a gate to get in the complex. With a guard. Who’s there 24 hours per day.
The cost of all of this?
I couldn’t imagine finding an apartment just like this, in a city just like this, in the States for less than $1,500 per month.
Housing is almost always one’s biggest monthly expense.
When you’re able to knock housing out for a few hundred dollars per month, you’re sitting very, very pretty.
Keep in mind that I like living in the city. And I prefer an apartment.
But you could just as well go out and rent a fairly large home, on the outskirts of the city, for just as much (or less) as I’m paying for my apartment.
Now let’s talk food.
I eat out for every single meal.
Yes. You read that correctly.
I literally never cook food at home.
This is why having a small kitchen is such a great design feature over here. It makes a small space look and feel much bigger. And it cuts out a lot of the unnecessary – who needs 20 cabinets in a small apartment?
The reason why I eat out every day is because it’s the logical and enjoyable thing to do.
Thai food at the local markets can be had for as little as $1 per dish.
These are heaping portions of absolutely delicious food.
The food is cooked for you. Then delivered to your table. And then they clean up after you.
For a dollar!
As you might imagine, my diet has shifted radically since moving over here.
I now eat Thai food almost exclusively.
It’s a world-class cuisine. So I haven’t minded that one bit.
But the one massive benefit I didn’t see coming is the improvement in how I look and feel.
Food in the US – especially food at restaurants – tends to be on the, well, unhealthy side.
I was hitting the gym six days per week, watching my food intake, and generally taking care of myself in the States.
Yet I’ve lost 10 pounds in less than six months here in Thailand.
Smaller portions, healthier food, and a life that is almost completely devoid of stress has no doubt been a boon for my health and fitness.
You can eat delicious food at markets every day, never cook or clean, and easily spend just $250/month, per person.
That’s approximately what I’m spending right now.
Next we’ll look at transportation.
Getting around the city over here is easy and cheap.
Now, I walk most places. The weather is warm and sunny all year, which permits plenty of opportunities to stroll around. It’s healthy and enjoyable. And you feel like you’re a part of your environment. I thoroughly enjoy walking. The fact that it’s free is icing on the cake.
But when the time comes to hop around the city for longer distances, it couldn’t be easier to get around.
Local red car taxis, known as songthaews, can get you to most places within the limits of the main city for about $1.
The songthaews are effectively converted pick-up trucks. And so you’re exposed to the heat and fumes of the street.
That’s why I usually just take an Uber or Grab. It’s just about as cheap, except I’m riding around in the comfort of a newer car with A/C.
Another option is a bicycle. They’re everywhere. It’s a healthy and near-free way to get around.
Unless you’re constantly moving around the city, it would be really hard to spend more than $50/month on transportation here in Chiang Mai.
I’m personally spending less than that right now.
So we’re talking approximately $720/month on the “Big Three” of housing, food, and transportation for myself. And that’s even with living in a luxury pad.
Comparing that to the US, the BLS reported that the average expenditures of a consumer unit in 2016 for housing, food, and transportation added up to an astounding $2,928/month.
That’s a difference of $2,208 per month.
Let’s say you’re building a portfolio that’s designed to cover your expenses for (early) retirement. And let’s assume you’re able to generate a 4% yield on that portfolio.
In order to cover that difference of $2,208 per month, you’re talking about $662,400 in capital.
How long would it take you to work, save, and invest your way to over $650,000?
How much of your life are you trading for money?
Wouldn’t you rather live that life of freedom decades sooner?
Maybe you can do much better than average. Maybe the BLS stats don’t apply to you. But the US will in no way be able to come close to offering the quality of life that can be achieved in many places around the world on the same amount of money.
Ancillary expenses are also extremely cheap over here in Thailand.
My mobile phone is $17/month. It includes unlimited access to the internet. I even get unlimited tethering included!
Tickets to the cinema run around $4.
A consultation with an English-speaking doctor at a fully-equipped hospital runs less than $10.
Healthcare in general is substantially cheaper here compared to what you find in the States.
No $120 doctor visits. No $500/month insurance premiums.
Even major medical procedures can run 90% less than the equivalent in the US.
Healthcare was an omnipresent concern when I lived in the USA. But no longer.
I’d say it’s actually quite possible for someone to retire in Chiang Mai with a $200,000 portfolio (generating $750+ per month in passive income) and live a fairly comfortable life.
No, you wouldn’t be living in a McMansion with a BMW parked out front.
But you also wouldn’t be overworked and overstressed, letting your time, happiness, and health slip right between your fingers.
What’s even better about this scenario is that the investment strategy I espouse, write about, and personally use and benefit from – dividend growth investing – is perfectly and purposely designed to allow one a growing amount of flexibility as time goes on, which means one’s purchasing power is likely going to grow exponentially year in and year out.
Everyone is different. Some can live on very little. Some need more luxury and comfort.
The bottom line is that you could shave decades off of your retirement timeline by taking advantage of geographic arbitrage, regaining control of your life, time, happiness, and health in the process.
It’s a big world out there. And you have to decide for yourself if the US is really the best place for you to live the kind of life you’ve always dreamed of.
Stay tuned for the next chapter where I’ll reveal what everyday life looks like – complete with pictures – for a 35-year-old guy living off of passive income and taking advantage of geographic arbitrage in beautiful Chiang Mai, Thailand.
So what is everyday life like for a young expat living off of passive dividend income in Thailand?
Well, it’s quite similar in some ways to what my life was like in the States. And it’s very different in other ways.
And so I want to take some time to show exactly what life is like for me over here, complete with pictures.
But keep in mind that what life is like for me might be wildly different from what life is like for you – regardless of where you live.
However, I’ve certainly built a life that’s customized for me and by me. And what makes it so wonderful is that it’s now almost completely devoid of any of the anxiety I used to feel in the U.S. due to a constant need to be incredibly calculating.
I won’t discuss every single detail of my life, but I will go over some quick highlights that I think will maximize value for you readers, as you can then take some of these ideas and costs and think about how they might fit into the puzzle that is your own life.
First, I want to show you my apartment here in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
As I noted in the last chapter, focusing my efforts and savings on the “Big Three” – both in the States and here in Thailand – has been critical to my financial success.
Housing is almost always the biggest expense for most people.
And so this is where the “bread and butter” is when thinking about the financial benefits of engaging in geographic arbitrate.
Indeed, this is, in my opinion, the biggest fundamental financial difference between living in the States versus living over here.
You simply get much more housing for much less money.
I live in a fully-furnished one-bedroom, one-bathroom luxury apartment that’s located right in the middle of the trendiest and most walkable area of the entire city, replete with great restaurants, coffee shops, shopping, nightlife, a dynamic and vibrant energy, and anything else you could possibly want in an urban environment.
This apartment, which costs well under $500 per month all-in, would easily be over $1,500 per month in a comparable area in the USA.
When I first open my eyes in the morning, this is the first thing I see…
I have a giant, floor-to-ceiling window in my bedroom that looks out into some beautiful Thai vegetation, which is in stark contrast to the other side of the apartment, which faces the city. It’s a nice, quiet break from the city chaos.
Not a bad way to wake up!
When I want to clean up before starting my day, I walk into the bathroom, move past the glass shower door, crank the water heater up to my personal comfort level, and do my thing.
This isn’t your standard ceramic tub you find in the States.
One last look at my apartment before I get on with my day shows a quiet, comfortable space that, while minimalistic in its design and feel, has exactly what I need without anything I don’t.
The first place I go just about every day is this little Thai kitchen across the street from my apartment.
It’s there that I load up on a $1.25 plate of delicious Thai food, prepared fresh for me by this sweet Thai cook who knows what I want before I even order.
A massive plate of pork fried rice (khao pad moo) goes for just over a buck here. It tastes great. The value is incredible. And I feel a guilt-free fullness after eating. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Full of happiness and energy, I walk the streets of Chiang Mai.
The street scene here is vibrant and even a bit chaotic, which I actually enjoy.
There’s this combination of heat, people, traffic, and smells of food that you either love or hate. I’m in the former camp.
It’s only a five-minute walk over to my favorite coffee shop, which I frequent daily. It’s here where I write, sip amazing coffee, and listen to music. I thoroughly enjoy being here.
Whether it’s iced or hot coffee, they serve up a great product quickly and cheaply.
An amazing latte will run you $2.50.
The iced caramel macchiato I often get, which I estimate to be 16 ounces, runs the same $2.50.
And the lower cost translates well to tea, muffins, cake, and anything else you can imagine in a coffee shop.
By the way, if you’re into coffee at all, Chiang Mai is an absolute treat.
I’ve been all over the States. Even great cities for coffee like Chicago and Portland.
And I must say that Chiang Mai is in a league of its own when talking about quality and quantity in combination – there are dozens of phenomenal coffee shops within just a square kilometer or so in just about any part of the city.
You practically can’t walk one block without seeing 3-4 high-quality coffee shops.
And although I’m not a big drinker, one can say pretty much the same thing about bars and areas to enjoy beer and spirits.
There are spots to drink, socialize, and listen to music everywhere.
But you don’t have to wait for happy hour to be happy here.
You can get a beer, for example, from most places across town for between $2 and $3 (depending on the brand and size). Even the fanciest places rarely have much of a markup.
I work out six days/week. And although my gym is fully equipped with everything I need, I’d say a gym membership is probably the only thing that is a poor relative value over here.
A gym membership often runs between $20 and $30/month here, depending on the gym, the package you want, and how often you plan to go.
If you love to hit the gym, like I do, you’ll find this is probably the only expense you won’t save money on.
But that really doesn’t matter much when your big expenses like rent, food, and transportation are 60% to 80% less.
Speaking of transportation, this is something you’ll most likely spend very little money on.
Now, walking is free, healthy, and plentiful over here. You’ll see people walking everywhere. And so walking is always my first choice. Whenever I have to get somewhere, I’m usually walking there.
But if this bothers you for any reason, or if the destination is too far to walk, it’s super easy to transport yourself for very little money.
You can jump in a songthaew for about a dollar.
These “red cars” (which are converted pickup trucks) will take you almost anywhere in the city for 30 baht (just under $1).
You just have to tell the driver where you’re going. The driver will nod yes or no, depending on whether or not they’re heading that way.
If it’s a yes, you jump in the back.
If it’s a no, you wait for the next red car, which will almost surely take less than 60 seconds (songthaews are ubiquitous here).
But I’ll tell you what I do.
I rarely take red cars.
I instead opt for Uber or Grab (Grab is the SE Asian version of Uber).
They’re not much more money than a red car.
And you’re able to jump in a newer car with air conditioning.
No need to sit in the back of a hot pickup bed, breathing in the street fumes.
Plus, both services are constantly running promotions that end up making the rides free (or nearly free).
When it’s time to go out to dinner (because there’s absolutely no need to cook and clean here in Thailand), you have your pick of the city. I’m never more than a five-minute walk away from 15 different restaurants.
Now, Thai food is obviously everywhere. Thai restaurants will make up the bulk of your options. This is Thailand, after all.
But it’s a world-class cuisine for good reason.
Plus, you’d have to go out of your way to spend more than a dollar or two per plate.
The food tastes incredible when it’s authentic.
And you’re getting healthy portions.
Those are good reasons why I eat Thai food for 90% of my meals.
Eating Thai food most of the time has been healthy for not just my wallet; it’s also been a boon for my waistline – I’ve lost more than 10 pounds since relocating to Chiang Mai in September 2017.
However, I also understand that some people don’t like to eat Thai food all the time.
Fortunately, you have options for Western food.
No, it’s not easy to find amazing Italian or Mexican food here. This isn’t Rome or Mexico City.
But you can find fairly good non-Thai food at still-good price points.
I’ll give you a couple real-life examples.
An amazing whole pepperoni pizza can be had for under $7.
And you can even find burgers that are surprisingly good – for about $8 (with fries, no less).
What about travel?
Chiang Mai has an international airport that can get you all over Thailand – and beyond.
Domestic flights are silly cheap. It’s possible to fly to Bangkok for less than $30. And even getting to the islands in the south can be very cheap and easy, especially if you land a promotion.
Going international from Chiang Mai isn’t difficult at all, although you’re probably not getting a direct flight.
But if/when you have to travel, Chaing Mai makes it very possible.
The inside of the airport is clean, modern, and easy to navigate.
And what about healthcare?
While I’m young and healthy, and therefore I don’t think or worry too much about healthcare, I also understand and appreciate that many people who would aim to retire abroad are going to be much older.
As such, healthcare is of prime importance for many people.
Well, this alone could be a great reason to relocate, because the dysfunctional and costly US healthcare system is enough to keep me away from the States.
I can tell you that I’m only a couple kilometers away from a fantastic hospital with world-class equipment and English-speaking doctors.
The facilities are clean. Signs are in both Thai and English. And the nurses are all too happy to help and direct you.
A consultation with a doctor runs about $10 here.
Compare that to the $100+ you can easily spend in the States.
Antibiotics, which are prescribed like candy in the US, are available cheaply and without prescription here.
A round of antibiotics can set you back less than $5. So if you do need antibiotics, you can skip the doctor and go right to the pharmacy (this is not something I’m recommending, however).
Of course, shopping is also available.
There are giant malls in the city that will carry any of the products you’d be familiar with.
Be it your toothpaste, morning cereal, or a particular clothing brand, it’s unlikely you’ll have to be without any of the goods that make you comfortable.
Plus, many Western chains can be found in the city. Think McDonald’s and Starbucks.
And you’ll never be far away from a more traditional Thai market or bazaar, which will offer all types of unique, handmade goods at extremely low prices.
There’s not a day that goes by where I think about what I’m missing.
I don’t ever find myself thinking there’s some measure of sacrifice in my lifestyle.
The bottom line is that you can build and customize your own high-quality life in Thailand, with very little or no sacrifice, on relatively little wealth and passive income. You can get more for less. And by ridding yourself of the stress, high cost structure, and live-to-work mentality that’s so prevalent in the States, you may find yourself much happier abroad, all while spending less money to attain that wonderful position in life.
Welcome to the conclusion of this exclusive guide on geographic arbitrage.
I hope the first three chapters have provided you a lot of value and food for thought.
Geographic arbitrage can provide for an immense and immediate improvement in your quality of life, especially if you’re aiming to become financially independent quickly.
That’s because most of us who are aggressively saving and investing while living in a high-cost-of-living country (like the United States) will be somewhat limited with the amount of passive income we can amass in a relatively short period of time.
And that limitation translates to our options, possibilities, and potential lifestyle.
If we’re not free from worrying about money, we’re not truly financially free.
Moving to a low-cost-of-living country while still earning in high-cost-of-living-country money can free you from these worries.
That all said, I can readily admit that my preferred location for geographic arbitrage – Chiang Mai, Thailand – isn’t for everyone.
Where I am happy might not be the same place where you will be happy, even if your money goes a lot further.
And so I want to point out three different locations where I believe a person could attain a relatively similar lifestyle on a relatively similar amount of money.
Let me preface the following text: I don’t believe anywhere will provide the advantageous spread between quality of life and cost of living that Chiang Mai does; if I thought this place existed, I’d be living there.
But I think there are a lot of places in the world that will provide a massive boost in happiness, lifestyle options, and quality of life relative to the US, all while spending a lot less money in the process (which is part of the appeal).
Here are three cities where that is possible:
This is one of the best options if you want to relocate to Europe indefinitely.
Budapest is a beautiful city that flies way under the radar.
Walking down Vaci Utca will give you the full-on European experience – at a fraction of what it would cost in many locations across Western Europe.
In fact, I’ve personally found very acceptable apartments that are centrally located to everything you could possibly want, all for pennies on the dollar.
Now, you’re not going to be living in a luxury apartment right in the middle of the city, for under $450/month. It’s not Chiang Mai. This is still Europe.
However, I’ve seen a number of centrally-located one-bedroom apartments that are between $500 and $600 per month. That’s almost unheard of for a high-quality European city.
These apartments could allow for a robust lifestyle that gives one ample opportunities to enjoy all of their newfound time and freedom.
And delicious street food in Budapest can be had for just a few dollars a plate.
Think lángos and/or gulyás for a quick lunch.
Even full-on restaurants cost significantly less than a comparable alternative in the States.
Transportation is also cheap and easy in Budapest.
In fact, it’s probably superior to Chiang Mai due to the mass transit options they have (metro, trams, and buses).
But due to the density of the city (especially on the Pest side), it’s not difficult to walk almost everywhere.
Budapest does have four seasons, though, so one should prepare for that if they plan to retire early in this city (which can be said for a lot of places across Europe).
And because Hungary is in the Schengen Area, a long-term visa could be difficult to come by.
Cebu City, Philippines
The Philippines is a great option if having broad access to English-speaking people is extremely important to you as an expat retiree taking advantage of geographic arbitrage.
That’s because ~63% of the population speaks English. Communication shouldn’t be a problem for any American traveling to or living in the Philippines, especially in the large cities.
The reason why that percentage is so high is due to fact that call centers and BPO are huge industries in the country.
The weather is warm and sunny all year. Since the Philippines is made up of over 7,000 islands, some of the world’s best beaches are extremely accessible.
And the cost of living is quite cheap, approaching even Thailand’s enviable COL in some cities.
Cebu City is arguably the best option for urban living in all of the Philippines. It offers all of the upside and opportunities that big-sister Manila does, without the numerous drawbacks that Manila has.
Housing is likely going to be your biggest expense in the Philippines (as it would be almost anywhere else).
Well, the good news is that the Philippines is going to be significantly less than any comparable option in the States.
For perspective on this, I’ve found a number of furnished one-bedroom apartments that are centrally located for under $600 per month.
These apartments are similar to the one I have in Chiang Mai in terms of size, features, and location. So we’re talking newer apartments that are fully furnished and all-inclusive, running about 450 square feet or so.
One of the main drawbacks to apartments in Cebu is that they usually require a lease and a deposit, so keep that in mind.
The people of the Philippines are widely known for their friendliness, especially to Americans. The cultural similarities are everywhere due to the strong presence America (especially on the military side) has maintained in the country over many decades.
Local food is incredibly cheap and accessible, although some expats complain that the local food (like lechón and abodo) isn’t quite to their tastes. Not liking the local food would mean one is more exposed to (imported and thus expensive) Western foods.
No mass transit in Cebu (just like Chiang Mai), but ride-sharing services are prevalent.
One big issue with the Philippines is that they’re subject to frequent natural disasters, especially typhoons. Another issue is that the Philippines is currently aggressively fighting problems with drugs and crime.
But I think this might be one of the few places in the world where there would be almost no adaptation necessary at all for an American – a person could go right in and live their life with almost no change at all, other than the much lower cost of living.
A huge bonus is that the visa situation is currently such that it’s very easy for an American to indefinitely live in the Philippines.
Medellín sports some of the world’s best weather.
Nicknamed the “City of Eternal Spring”, the city rarely gets too hot or too cold. But it does get plenty of rain.
The natural topography makes it an incredibly beautiful city. And that natural beauty is juxtaposed by the modern architecture that is so prolific across the city.
The modernity translates to infrastructure and public transit – they have a system of trams and buses to go along with a metro.
For being so beautiful, modern, and comfortable, Medellín is surprisingly cheap.
While it’s the most expensive option on this particular list, the city is quite cheap relative to anything like it in the States. And its proximity to the US makes this a great choice for expats who desire the ability to routinely travel back to the US.
The El Poblado commune is upscale and full of foreigners, providing a dream of a lifestyle for most people.
Living outside this area will dramatically reduce costs.
That said, I’ve run across a number of quality one-bedroom rooms in El Poblado for under $700 per month.
These apartments are over 400 square feet, furnished, all-inclusive, and stunning.
At that price point, you’re living in what might be one of the best possible environments anywhere on this planet.
Getting around the city is a breeze thanks to the cheap and fairly amazing mass transit system.
And you won’t go starving or broke in Medellín thanks to the street food that’s everywhere in the city.
Empanadas, chorizo, and arepas are all ubiquitous and inexpensive. Empanadas, for example, can be had for well under a buck each.
The city does have drawbacks, though.
The visa situation is sticky and the crime rate (especially in certain parts of the city) is higher than I’d personally like to see.
Thailand isn’t for everyone.
The culture is very different from the States. The language is hard to learn. The food isn’t to everyone’s tastes. And it’s a place that is hot pretty much all year long.
But don’t go thinking Chiang Mai specifically or Thailand generally is the only place where you could retire decades before most people could even imagine possible.
Thailand is but one of many countries where it’s possible to significantly increase your quality of life while simultaneously radically decreasing your expenses.
The three aforementioned cities are all great alternatives to Chiang Mai.
And these are just three cities.
There are dozens of very suitable places where an American could start a new life that’s much more enjoyable and free than the one they left behind.
As always, the most important aspect of a journey abroad will be your own mindset.
Wherever you go, there you are.
So if you bring along unresolved issues, you’ll likely find any place in the world to be problematic.
But if you go into the concept of geographic arbitrage with an open mind, you’ll probably find a new and exciting life awaits you.
Geographic arbitrage here in Chiang Mai has been so profoundly life changing for me, I don’t ever see a day in which I’d actually want to return to the States.
And I’d be willing to bet that many other people would find this is one of the few cases where the grass really is greener on the other side.
It’s my hope that you readers have thoroughly enjoyed this guide on geographic arbitrage.
It’s an idea that is not covered enough, in my opinion.
While we talk about great investments all day long, I can say for sure the ~$600 plane ticket out of America was by far the best financial investment I’ve ever made.
Maybe I’ll see you in Chiang Mai one day.
Either way, make sure you live wherever you do because you feel that’s the place where you’re happiest and experiencing the highest quality of life possible.
Maybe that’s America. But maybe, just maybe, it’s not.
If it’s not, there are a lot of places out there that can provide an amazing lifestyle on very little money.
The world is yours.
-Jason FieberWe’re Putting $2,000 / Month into These Stocks
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