Whether you just need a change of scenery or it’s always been a life goal to live in another country, many of us have considered moving abroad at some point. The prospect can be highly tantalizing: A fresh slate in a new, exciting country with different food, interesting culture, and expanded career opportunities. The question is: Where to go? And how?
Due to its relatively low cost of living and fairly straightforward visa processes, Southeast Asia tends to be a popular landing spot for American expats. While many European countries may require you to have a certain (enormous) amount of money in your bank account or wade through mounds of paperwork before issuing an extended-stay visa, most Asian countries are slightly more relaxed. Here are the five Asian countries most accessible for American expats to move to.
Cambodia’s low cost of living makes it incredibly attractive to expats. Coffee costs the equivalent of 75 cents, an average meal costs about $2, and for just $1,000 a month, you can maintain a comfortable standard of living, including eating out regularly and frequent travel. Although many expats work locally in education, medicine, or tourism, if you’re lucky enough to earn a US salary while living in Cambodia, you can really live like a king.
Cambodia is one of the easiest countries in the world for most nationalities to get a visa. You can receive a one-month tourist or business visa upon arrival or online, and a business visa can be extended for up to 12 months. You don’t have to jump through any crazy hoops to do it, either. Just take your passport to a local travel agency along with a $280 payment. When your year is up, simply apply for a new visa, and you can continue doing this as long as you want to live in Cambodia.
Also note: While it’s called a “business” visa, you’re under no obligation to actually start a business unlike in many other countries.
You might find yourself more at home in the Philippines than in other Southeast Asian countries. Due to its previous status as an American colony, the Philippines shares more cultural similarities with the US, like American TV shows, fast food, and English language proficiency. They even drive on the right side of the road. The country itself has some of the world’s most incredible beaches, dive sites, and natural scenery, especially in the province of Cebu.
The Philippines offers a number of visa options depending on your specific needs and circumstances. If you’re only planning on staying for six months, you’ll want to look into the Long-Stay Visitor Visa Extension, which lets you extend your initial tourist visa. If you’re prepared to invest a significant amount of money in Philippine business or property — to the tune of $75,000 — you should apply for the Special Investor’s Resident Visa. If retiring in the Philippines is your goal, it offers a Special Resident Retiree’s Visa, which allows tourists over 50 to stay indefinitely.
Foodies should look no further than Vietnam when considering their next landing spot. Vietnam is widely known to have some of the best cuisine in the world. Pho, banh mi sandwiches, an unparalleled street-food scene, and beer for 20 to 50 cents a glass all make Vietnam a mouthwatering destination. It’s also got some pretty spectacular beaches, especially on the Phu Quoc and Con Dao islands. They’re not as well known as Thailand’s beaches, but that means they’re also less overrun by tourists.
Vietnam’s tourist visa is relatively strong, allowing you to stay for three months with multiple entries. You can’t simply show up in Vietnam and be granted a tourist visa, however. You need to apply for a visa approval letter online, which is easy to obtain. Once you arrive at the airport, simply bring your approval letter along with a filled-out visa application and a small photo, and you’ll have your visa in a matter of minutes. To stay longer than three months, you’ll need to obtain a work visa, which is valid for a maximum of three years. It’s common to enter the country on a tourist visa, use that time to find employment, and then trade in your visa for a work permit.
Malaysia is becoming one of Southeast Asia’s most attractive destinations for expats, mainly due to its tropical weather, affordability, and rich blend of cultures. Since Malaysia is home to a variety of ethnic communities, including Malay, Chinese, and Indian, the cultural experience and food options are truly diverse. English is widely spoken, however, so a language barrier shouldn’t present too significant of an obstacle. Much like Vietnam, Malaysia’s beaches are quiet compared to those in Thailand. Langkawi and Pangkor are two islands particularly rich in beaches and diving spots. Add to this that meals can cost as little as $3, and it’s easy to see why more and more people are moving to Malaysia.
Malaysia is among the more expat-minded countries in Southeast Asia with its “Malaysia, my Second Home” (MM2H) program. For foreigners who meet certain criteria, the program offers a renewable 10-year, multiple-entry visa and allows visa holders to bring spouses and young children. The MM2H program is open to applicants of any country recognized by Malaysia, and in major cities like Kuala Lumpur and Penang, organizations like Alter Domus specialize in helping foreigners relocate.
The cost-reward balance of Indonesia is one of the best in the world. International Living estimates that a couple in Bali can live comfortably on a $1,410 monthly budget, which is insanely cheap given the natural beauty of Bali’s beaches and rice paddies, as well as the vibrant nightlife that’s available. If you want to live even cheaper, you could settle into the more rural island of Lombok or find a place on Java. Pretty much anywhere you go in Indonesia, you’ll have access to beaches, temples, and hiking trails around volcanoes.
Like many countries, you can enter Indonesia on a 30-day tourist visa, but the country actually lets you extend it twice. Just go to any immigration office in the country. Like Vietnam, a longer-term stay will require you to find employment within Indonesia and apply for a VITAS — a temporary-stay visa for workers that is valid from six months to two years. And if you’re over 55 years old, you’re in luck. You qualify for a retirement visa, which means you can spend the rest of your days on the warm, tropical beaches of Bali without having to constantly worry about renewing your paperwork.