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Heading to Southeast Asia for ER in 2018 (hopefully)
Old 03-03-2013, 06:45 PM   #1
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Heading to Southeast Asia for ER in 2018 (hopefully)

Hello all:

I am newbie to this awesome forum. Living in today's society where the financial press inundates everyone with horror stories about a generation that can't retire due to all the typical excuses, I breathed a sigh of huge relief to find a forum I can finally share with other smart minded individuals. Although I work in the financial services community for 30 years (not as a revenue producer), I've been looking to share our newly developed "5YP" (five year plan) without shelling out $200 an hour for a CFP; mostly for a reality check. Trying to explain everything in a short introductory post is quite difficult so I apologize if the story gets a tad long but a bit of background is essential if I expect to get sound advice and comments.

I am 48, my wife is 42 and a Canadian citizen of Chinese ancestry with a Green Card. No kids. Although not as wealthy as other posters, we believe one of the best ways to solve the FIRE conundrum with modest means is to be open minded and realize America and all its "greatness" is but one small blip on a large planet regardless of how they want you to believe that the USA is the envy of the Earth. (based mostly on ignorance by those who have never traveled). We love Southeast Asia and recently discovered the MM2H program, a fabulous visa program for middle class retires (50K deposit required) that allows unlimited entry to Malaysia and several financial perks, We would like to retire and move there in 2018; (Thailand is plan B). Here is how we hope to do it.

Current assets: (**EXCLUDING HOUSE VALUE**)
$450K in total investments split among 401k, 403b, 457b, 2 ROTH IRA's, rollover IRA, and taxable account. Also have $100K CAD (in a Canadian RRSP, a tax sheltered account), CD with 35K and about 20K cash. My wife is lucky enough to have 403b and 457b and I have 401k with company match so we max out all 3 retirement plans. The deductions lower our taxable income enough to allow full ROTH contributions. Thus, we "dollar cost" into all the tax sheltered accounts every paycheck and fund both ROTHs annually with our tax refund (we will contribute $63,500 this year) - Combined salaries: $210K - Asset allocation: 60% equity, 40% fixed income; large part in emerging markets and Asia (developed), mostly actively managed no load NTF mutual funds; some ETF's and a stock or two

Mortgage:
We overpaid for our suburban house in 2008 ($735K.) From 2000-2006 we lived in Calgary, Alberta; built new in 2002 for $225K CAD, paid it off in full in 5 years and sold in 2006 for $550K. Once back in the USA, we took a 15 year $400K mortgage, used the Canadian house proceeds to put $338K down and invested the rest. We refinanced down to 3.75% 18 months ago and had them restructure the amortization to pay it off in full on the original maturity (2023). Thus, $438 of every scheduled mortgage payment is additional principal. We also prepay $500 bi-weekly from paychecks. At this rate, we would have about $50K debt left when we want to sell but hope to increase the prepayments to get it to zero by 2018.

Worth noting:
I started tracking our investment values carefully on 1/1/2010 when we had about $245K. We have gained over 100% since them through good asset allocation, diligent investing and living below our means:

Future income sources besides investments and Social (In)Security:
My small company pension has a cash out option that allows payments from age 55 thru the first year of SS eligibility. Would work out to an extra $8 to 10K per year; would be insignificant otherwise
Wife: Pension can start at age 52 - should be about $24K annually; she also a small Canadian pension about $5K annually.

The Plan:
Because of staggered income in different phases, we think we can plan for 30 to 40 years with no problems as long as we live in a cheaper nation. House is now worth about $650K and they are selling well in our area; Hope to sell for 700K by 2018. Plan on leaving almost immediately, using about $550 to $600K to purchase an immediate annuity with a term of 12 to 15 years; this will serve as our income between 2018 and the years when our pensions/penalty-free retirement funds become available. This should net us about $50K annually (more than enough to live in Malysia or Thailand comfortably if you rent). Also plan on keeping about 100K as savings. Would roll my 401k into my ROTH in the year I quit the job at age 53 and pay all the taxes since taxable income drops drastically when employment income ends. (ROTH balance should be 200-250K); this also allows me to bypass the 5 year threshold rule and withdraw all monies tax free after 5 years (once I'm age 59 1/2.)

Wife's pension can start in year 5 of ER to help supplement the annuity. Would roll all her tax sheltered work plans into her rollover with no immediate need to use; Would start to draw on my ROTH 6 years into ER upping annual income as circumstances warrant. When the annuity term ends, I'd be 68, wife 62 and we'd have pension income along with my ROTH and be old enough to use wife's retirement funds if needed ; Would determine if starting SS makes sense and still have not touched the wife's retirement funds (estimated at 500-600K by then); also eligible for some Canadian Old Age Pension for the wife; would hope my ROTH is not yet depleted.

Before you tell us we can't live on 50K after making 210K, please keep in mind that cost of living in Malaysia or Thailand is about 1/3 of even the cheapest US state; Even allowing for another financial calamity, I think we should be OK; travel is cheap and easy in S.E. Asia and the food alone makes leaving America worthwhile (My political reasons for leaving the US warrant a new thread). Healthcare is at US standards and significantly cheaper; Best of all, as the spouse of a Canadian citizen, in a medical emergency we can always move back to Canada where I'd be immediately eligible for social healthcare.

Thanks for your patience reading this; we would appreciate any comments, input, constructive criticism, or suggestions. Let us know if we are insane or on the right track; Life to us is so much more than our well paying desk jobs that we both hate. We feel sorry for all those people whose work is their total identity and look forward to meeting many of you with similar values.
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Old 03-03-2013, 06:58 PM   #2
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Welcome to the forum.

A quick read raises no flags in my mind. You've obviously put much thought and planning into your strategy and the fact you are willing to move to a lower cost of living location gives you significant flexibility.

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(My political reasons for leaving the US warrant a new thread).
Take a look at the Community Rules - and don't go there.
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Old 03-03-2013, 07:52 PM   #3
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Old 03-03-2013, 09:52 PM   #4
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You've obviously put much thought and planning into your strategy and the fact you are willing to move to a lower cost of living location gives you significant flexibility.
+1. The only potential issue I saw was the possibility of the planned cash flows being disrupted by the death of one you. One person typically can't live at half the cost of two. The mortality risk can be managed by life insurance, or by taking pensions or annuities on joint survivor terms where you can.

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Old 03-03-2013, 10:12 PM   #5
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Thanks for the suggestion. In the event of one of our deaths we would each be entitled to the other person's retirement accounts and pensions as we are each other's beneficiary. Actually that is the law on most pensions if you are married. As long as one it us had access to the other one's cash we'd be ok. However you raise one issue. Maybe someone can help. Most immediate annuities only offer survivor benefits if the term is life. So losing that income would be a problem because we would have to use IRA funds earlier than 59 1/2
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Old 03-03-2013, 10:55 PM   #6
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Hello all:


Although not as wealthy as other posters, we believe one of the best ways to solve the FIRE conundrum with modest means is to be open minded and realize America and all its "greatness" is but one small blip on a large planet regardless of how they want you to believe that the USA is the envy of the Earth. (based mostly on ignorance by those who have never traveled). We love Southeast Asia and recently discovered the MM2H program, a fabulous visa program for middle class retires (50K deposit required) that allows unlimited entry to Malaysia and several financial perks, We would like to retire and move there in 2018; (Thailand is plan B).

Before you tell us we can't live on 50K after making 210K, please keep in mind that cost of living in Malaysia or Thailand is about 1/3 of even the cheapest US state;

Even allowing for another financial calamity, I think we should be OK; travel is cheap and easy in S.E. Asia and the food alone makes leaving America worthwhile

(My political reasons for leaving the US warrant a new thread). Healthcare is at US standards and significantly cheaper; Best of all, as the spouse of a Canadian citizen, in a medical emergency we can always move back to Canada where I'd be immediately eligible for social healthcare.

.
+100

The Malaysia my 2nd home program has enticed many American's, Europeans and Aussies to Malaysia over the last 10 years.
I have a very good friend who retired and has settled in a golfing resort in Johor Bahru which is only a half hour drive to Singapore.
They bought a beautiful 3 bedroom house with a swimming pool on the estate for USD 200k.
Food is fantastic and dirt cheap. Street food lunches and dinners will set you back US2 and restaurant (coffee shop) meals about $5

Only issues I have with countries like Malaysia is the politics. I'm not sure if you're aware that hundreds of thousands of Malaysians of Chinese and Indian descent have emigrated over the last 30 years due to the rascist policies of the ruling Malay government.
If you can ignore the fact that there are human rights, corruption and other really bad stuff the locals are subject to, then your OK.

One question - doesnt the MM2H program require you to bring in a certain amount of dosh, and buy a home?
Renting is cheap, but no so if you want to live in an "expat" area. But renting gives you greater flexibility if you change your mind.

Good Luck
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Old 03-03-2013, 11:43 PM   #7
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Hi Jags
Thanks for the post. We are interested in Penang not Johor. We dont really like Singapore very much but might visit occasionally. There is no requirement to purchase under MM2H. Only requirements are showing 10,000 MYR a month on income which can be demonstrated while you still have employment income in the US (basically designed to keep out other deadbeat southeast Asians) or you can show any combination of dividend, rental or other income. Second requirement (the crappy one) is you have to give a deposit of 150RM (about 50k USD) and keep it on deposit in a Malawian bank as long as you ray on the program. They pay you the interest and it can be returned if you abandon the program. You can use some obtuse money for a house purchase but there is no requirement to buy

Aa for the politics I very up on the government places we own Malaysian IShares which have gapped down this year due to the Upcoming elections which might result in the first real change of power in 49 years. However it will have little if any financial effect and all the big investment houses have said that the county's economy is very sound regardless of the election results. The corruption rating is in the top third quartile or all countries so not all that bad but coup be better. That has little effect on expats and btw one of the good points of Malaysia is there is no "expat housing area" like almost all Latin and South American countries, at least not in Penang

The visa is renewable indefinitely every 10 years and there is no offshore tax liability. You can't work except for certain Internet based business but that is the whole point for us. Another fascinating feature is the almost total lack of anti-American sentiment in a nation dominated by Muslims. As is usually the case however the Chinese Malaysians control most of the money and businesses. While this does creat some resentment with Malays it is a mostly non violent nation they is just a tad short of developed status according to the financial markets

Food in Penang is considered the best in all of SE Asia. We love Borneo also especially the orangutans and hope to devote some time towards helping their survival. All in all a wonderful alternative to the USA at one hits the cost. Gas is about $1.50 a gallon and hasp tics do not fluctuate wildly like the collusion we have here in the US
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Old 03-03-2013, 11:46 PM   #8
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Sorry for my very crapy iPhone typing everyone Hopefully you get all my points
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Old 03-04-2013, 12:33 AM   #9
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Rodiy2k,

Welcome. You have given a good deal of thought to this. As we are also thinking of either Thailand or Malaysia. I would be interested what resources you used to compare the two before settling on Malay/Penang. Can it work for only halftime residents? What did you conclude about the healthcare?

Malcolm
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Old 03-04-2013, 06:31 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by rodiy2k View Post
The Plan:
Because of staggered income in different phases, we think we can plan for 30 to 40 years with no problems as long as we live in a cheaper nation. House is now worth about $650K and they are selling well in our area; Hope to sell for 700K by 2018. Plan on leaving almost immediately, using about $550 to $600K to purchase an immediate annuity with a term of 12 to 15 years; this will serve as our income between 2018 and the years when our pensions/penalty-free retirement funds become available. This should net us about $50K annually (more than enough to live in Malysia or Thailand comfortably if you rent). Also plan on keeping about 100K as savings. Would roll my 401k into my ROTH in the year I quit the job at age 53 and pay all the taxes since taxable income drops drastically when employment income ends. (ROTH balance should be 200-250K); this also allows me to bypass the 5 year threshold rule and withdraw all monies tax free after 5 years (once I'm age 59 1/2.)
Depending on the balance of 401k and all income for the year, you may want to investigate spacing out or starting the roth conversions the following year to keep yourself in a lower tax bracket, thus lower tax rate paid on conversion.

Welcome to the forum.
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Old 03-04-2013, 06:43 AM   #11
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Before you tell us we can't live on 50K after making 210K, please keep in mind that cost of living in Malaysia or Thailand is about 1/3 of even the cheapest US state; Even allowing for another financial calamity, I think we should be OK; travel is cheap and easy in S.E. Asia and the food alone makes leaving America worthwhile (My political reasons for leaving the US warrant a new thread). Healthcare is at US standards and significantly cheaper; Best of all, as the spouse of a Canadian citizen, in a medical emergency we can always move back to Canada where I'd be immediately eligible for social healthcare.
For sure you can live comfortably for $50k. It is not clear you can do so for the next 40 years. Like most other Asian countries, Malaysia is trying to develop its economy, and if successful both the standard and cost of living will rise, making it tough for someone on a fixed $ income. No one knows if this will happen or not, but it might help to have an option, just in case.
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Old 03-04-2013, 07:50 AM   #12
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Depending on the balance of 401k and all income for the year, you may want to investigate spacing out or starting the roth conversions the following year to keep yourself in a lower tax bracket, thus lower tax rate paid on conversion.

Welcome to the forum.
Excellent suggestion. I would probably convert the Roth the calendar year after we both leave our jobs to decrease the tax burden. As it stands now, thanks to the stupidity that is the US tax system, we can convert several thousand dollars and all it does is reduce the tax refund a bit. You don't actually "pay tax" on the conversion. You just tack it into your total taxable income for the year. If you are lucky enough to max out three retirement plans and two Roths every year like we are it just increases your total tax liability back to a point that would be more reasonable. Basically we enjoy some of the same perks a the mega wealthy because my wife's employer qualifies to have both a 403b and. 457b so we can contribute twice what most of America can and deduct it from taxable income. Stupid system but we like it
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Old 03-04-2013, 08:56 PM   #13
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Those contemplating the move to Malaysia might find this site useful

Malaysia Expat Forum - Expat Forum For People Moving Overseas And Living Abroad
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Old 03-04-2013, 10:34 PM   #14
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It seems like you are planning an annual expenditure of ~50k annually? If so, this is more than enough to live in many places in the US/Canada as well. I would only move to Asia if that's what you really want to do, and not for monetary reasons.
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Old 03-04-2013, 10:58 PM   #15
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Rodiy2k,

Welcome. You have given a good deal of thought to this. As we are also thinking of either Thailand or Malaysia. I would be interested what resources you used to compare the two before settling on Malay/Penang. Can it work for only halftime residents? What did you conclude about the healthcare?

Malcolm
Penang is not set in stone. We actually have yet to take an extended trip there in 2015. We have been to Borneo however an although Sabah is very different from peninsular Malaysia we loves the feeling of the culture and the people. We have been to Thailand and lives it. Chaing Mai is a very livable city that is cooler than most of Thailand.

Honestly the main difference between the two is the level of development. Thailand has weaker infrastructure and the bottom line is that it's a Nom English speaking nation. Although getting by is not really a problem it is noticeably different than Malaysia. Everyone speaks English in Malaysia mostly due to the British influence. We "like" a few businesses on Facebook in MY and there is no Malay on there even though English is not the official language.

We like to follow blogs written by expats as one of the best resources. We like expat-blog.com We also like expatforum.com For an excellent source of information on everything relates to MM2H I suggest looking at theexpatgroup.com. They have numerous publications designed only for expats. We recently ordered the annual magazine for MM2H which can describe the healthcare better than I can. It is up to western standards with mostly western educated doctors. Thailand of course has the world's most popular travel tourism hospitals. Check the website and you will be impressed. If you are healthy it will certainly not eat into your budget

We went to Ecuador last year. Beautiful country but confirmed our suspicion that Latin America is not our cup of tea. There is a reason why Latin American mutual funds didn't soar last year while Asia is clearly the wave if the future. It's where all the economic growth will be

regarding part time residency MM2H is not a residency visa. There is virtually no such thing as PR. It is an entry visa so once you have it they don't care if you stay one day a year. Thailand has the easiest visa of any expat nation I know of but it's only good for a year and PR is also hard to get without buying property. But that's the trade off for being in a less developed nation.
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Old 03-05-2013, 05:40 AM   #16
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No red flags raised in my mind either. Welcome to the forum, OP. And good luck.
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A quick read raises no flags in my mind.
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Old 03-05-2013, 09:17 PM   #17
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It seems like you are planning an annual expenditure of ~50k annually? If so, this is more than enough to live in many places in the US/Canada as well. I would only move to Asia if that's what you really want to do, and not for monetary reasons.
50k might be livable in some places in the US but absolutely not in California where we live now. In addition the only practical way for us to retire in so early and ensure a good cushion is to take the house proceeds and not turn them into an annuity. Investing it would be way to risky. As a 30 year employee of the financial services industry I guarantee there will be another financial meltdown in my lifetime. And one should only invest in an a immediate annuity with funds that you don't ever new in case of an emergency since you can't get them back. In my mind that leaves a house sale, inheritance or some other large windfall apart from your retirement investments.

So in our case it's a win-win. We would only consider warm places and besides California that leaves Florida which we hate and maybe Arizona (too expensive for international travel). We loved SE Asia and my wife is Chinese. In Penang they have the largest concentration of Chinese and speak a simile dialect so that is excellent for us. Also being married to an Asan has a lurid little advantages in Asia - we always get locals prices at markets.

Renting in Asia is the exact opposite of the US. Almost every place is tastefully and fully furnished. Unlike in the US there is limited space ago renting does not carry the stigma that it can in the US as geared towards lower class people that can't afford to rent. If you buy in any foreign country there is always a geopolitical risk that comes with financial risk even if you are a PR. If we took house proceeds and paid cash for a house we could never afford 30 or 40 years in retirement if lost our investment. When you rent the worst that happens is you find another place to live. Watch house hunters international and you'll see what I mean about renting

Asia is an exciting place and represents everything upcoming and new. Every day I commute on America'a oldest commuter rail system with all the trains and equipment 46 years old and crumbling away. Once you see transportation and infrastructure in Asia it's hard to come back to the embarrassment that is America. This is an outdated nation being propped up by the Fed'a low interest rates. There is little if any hope for the next generation to enjoy the benefits of the great nation this once was thanks to government policy that has squandered and spent. We love a lot of thing here but are ready for a retirement adventure. Every day a an expat brings new and interesting things
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Old 03-05-2013, 09:19 PM   #18
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No red flags for me either.

SE Asia is one of my longer term plan B's/C's only because of travel distance/difficulty from USA where I still have family. I have been interested in Malaysia for some time; your post make me even more so.

I happen to view Central America somewhat differently than you; that is likely my plan A; but, I have spent significant time there as it seems you have in SE Asia.

Good luck; please keep us posted.
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Old 03-05-2013, 09:44 PM   #19
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No red flags for me either.

SE Asia is one of my longer term plan B's/C's only because of travel distance/difficulty from USA where I still have family. I have been interested in Malaysia for some time; your post make me even more so.

I happen to view Central America somewhat differently than you; that is likely my plan A; but, I have spent significant time there as it seems you have in SE Asia.

Good luck; please keep us posted.
Thanks for the kind words. Don't get me wrong. I spent a year planning to go to Panama bit it turns out that Ecuador became the new hot place to retire according to Forbes and International living.com. Since we wanted to see Galapagos once anyway we made it a three week trip and includes Cuenca and done other expat hot spots.

It is an absolutely beautiful country with decent infrastructure and delicious and inexpensive food. The people are very proud of their country and pleasant enough. But the main difference between south/Latin America and America lies in a cultural aspect. South Americans do not aspire to learn or speak English unless they really need to like in hospitality or banking. And there is nothing wrong with that. I hate ugly Americans that travel to foreign nations and want to know why he locals don't speak English. In Asian culture however it is recognized that English is absolutely positively needed to stay at the forefront of the developed world. Malay is the official language in MY but every single person from peasants to CEOs speak mostly English except perhaps at home to their families. In fact they don't even botch the grammar like today's idiot generation of texters do. This is just much more appealing to us because it's simply easier to adapt to. It is imperative to speak Spanish in Spanish speaking countries unless you choose to be a recluse and the locals hate that. In MY everyone mostly coexists harmoniously with Muslims and Christians and Chinese and Indians all living in mostly non segregated communities

The apartments in Cuenca that thy all rave about are very basic albeit inexpensive but the expats all live in two areas. One for wealthier and one for those that lot jobs and have no alternatives in the US so decided to leave because they heard its cheap. Don't like that feeling and didn't really see what all the hype was except for the perfect spent temperature. Now that Chavez is dead it will be interesting to see how the politics change. Although Ecuador uses the USD they will never get the political advantages they could with the US.because they support Iran, sell their oil to China and stay politically aligned with their closest neighbors which were relatively pro Chavez. Too many expats don't take the politics of their country very seriously which can have negative consequences

OTOH Malaysia is having elections that could hypothetically change the power trickier that's been in place for 40 years and yet the only real effects have been a drop on the IShares and credit Suisse says there will be no net effect whatsoever on the economy which is very strong and not feted by Europe thanks mostly to palm oil exports which all of Asia uses
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Old 03-06-2013, 03:40 PM   #20
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50k might be livable in some places in the US but absolutely not in California where we live now.
I do not agree with you there, but anyways your plan sounds good to me. $50k USD annually is more than enough in SE Asia
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