Schemes lure more Asians to retire in Southeast Asia
Japanese and Chinese are among those seeking places with warmer climates, lower living costs
Like many mothers, Ritsuko Kawasaki fretted over the health and safety risks of remaining in Japan after last year's quake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.
So in August she and her two boys moved to the Malaysian island of Penang under a government long-stay programme that aims to lure foreigners - and their money - to the country.
"I don't think I want to return to Japan. Life here in Penang is so comfortable," said Kawasaki, 43.
With its warm climate, political stability and modern economy, Malaysia has drawn 19,488 foreigners to settle in the country since launching the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme 10 years ago.
MM2H and similar schemes in Thailand and the Philippines have usually targeted Western retirees in the hope they will settle down and boost the economy.
But programme officials say Asians are now the typical applicants, led by post-quake Japanese and increasingly affluent Chinese.
A total of 2,387 MM2H applicants were approved last year and the government is targeting 3,000 this year, officials said.
The Malaysian incentives include a 10-year multi-entry visa, tax exemption for remittances of offshore pension funds, the right to open a business, tax-free purchases of locally made cars, and other enticements. Applicants must also deposit a certain amount of money in a local bank account - US$50,000 for MM2H - in return for a life under the sun.
For Britons Keith and Adrienne Francis, sunshine was the clincher as they considered whether to settle back in England after Keith's 2004 retirement from 35 years in the Hong Kong police force.
"Look at the UK, it is dull and cold," Adrienne said as the couple sipped sweet milk tea in an Indian restaurant in Georgetown, Penang's British colonial-era capital. Their other options had included the Thai resort Phuket.
The couple said Malaysia was attractive due to its high living standards, lack of the political upheaval seen often in its neighbours, high-quality medical care and widely spoken English.
Under MM2H, retirees also can own freehold property and land - although some restrictions apply - a key factor for the Francises, who shuddered at the thought of a costly and cramped retirement nest in Hong Kong.
Home is now a spacious 2,500 sq ft Penang condo they bought in 2004 for US$182,000.
But Janice Chia, of Singapore consultancy Ageing Asia, said increasingly it was Asians, particularly Chinese and Japanese, driving the so-called "silver" market - business opportunities linked to retirees.
She said that by 2050, Asia would account for 63 per cent of the world's senior citizens, who would become increasingly important to economies, especially as medical advances extend lifespans.
The Philippine Retirement Authority cites a similar mix for the nearly 21,000 people now in its retirement programme, led by retirees from mainland China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. Britons, Americans and Germans still top Thailand's long-stay scheme, which approved 35,488 applicants last year.
Shigeru Tanida, 65, has lived in Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, since 2006, drawn by the year-round sunshine and far lower living costs than in Japan.
He now teaches karate, and plays his beloved golf far more cheaply than he could at home.
"Living costs here are a third lower than Japan and the weather is good," he said.