When it comes to expat living, many retirees lean toward Southeast Asia. And Michael Wells is no different. For the 64-year-old, it was a place that fascinated him.
“I always felt more drawn toward the Eastern world. But why did I choose Phnom Penh? Well, Cambodia was always somewhere I had heard about on the news years ago. Initially I was hesitant until I started to investigate more into the current status of the country.
“Cambodia attracts millions of tourists and plenty of expats, too, because of the low cost of living, the simple residence visa requirements and the all-round attractiveness of the place.”
Michael knew that he couldn’t afford to retire back home and have the kind of life he dreamed of.
A little money goes a long way in Phnom Penh—it’s possible to live comfortably on a pension cheque here. But to give himself some extra income, Michael goes one step further.
“I supplement this with part-time writing for corporate customers,” he says. “This allows me the financial freedom to do pretty much whatever I like when it comes to my passion for luxury travelling, which I partake in as often as possible.
“I began writing a few years ago now, using a website called Elance, where I built up a profile of my capabilities and areas of expertise, and then bid on projects posted by potential employers. This was a way of both keeping myself busy and earning an extra income at my own pace.
“I was lucky enough to have bought property a while back, and despite still having a mortgage at the time, the ongoing boom in prices meant I had enough equity to give myself some options. Although the more I looked at it, the more I realised that my best chance at having a decent retirement would be somewhere overseas.”
Michael has made his home in the capital, Phnom Penh, a city that fuses colonial-era architecture with Buddhist temples and royal palaces. And despite this magnificent setting, costs pale in comparison to his home country.
“The cost of living in Phnom Penh is so ridiculously cheap,” says Michael. “What I used to spend back home in one week more than covers my expenses here for the whole month. My basic overhead to cover rent, food and social activities is not much more than $1,900 a month.
“I love the simple things that I can afford to get done for much less here. Small things, like a visit to get my hair cut, are so much more pleasant—and a heck of a lot cheaper.
“My favourite place to go is the Tokyo Barber Shop, where I get my hair washed and shampooed by a lady who also gives me a free head massage, followed by a very professional haircut by one of their barbers. And all for just $6.50.”
After only a year of writing, he generated a decent side income and attracted a number of repeat customers who liked his style of writing and ability to deliver on time.
“Elance has since merged with a similar website to become a new platform known as Upwork. But, due to my existing customer base, I don’t even have to bid for projects anymore. I have established a strong clientele who seek me out directly.”
It’s a line of work that suits him down to the ground. “Aside from the financial benefits, I can’t emphasise enough the pleasure of being my own boss. For years I worked for other people. Now I get to be in charge of when I work and who I work for. It’s all about elevating my comfort levels and expanding my horizons.”
Michael loves to spend this extra income on his travels. So far, he has visited Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Burma, where he stays in five-star hotels for a fraction of what they would cost back home.
But a life in Phnom Penh did mean a few adjustments. “I definitely endured some culture shock by moving full-time to Asia.
“I had visited before, but though this helped prepare me for the move, no amount of tourist trips can ever fully make you ‘ready.’
“But I have enjoyed every moment of my culture shock, as it has been a learning experience. Everything from the change to an Asian rice- and noodle-based diet to learning to speak some rudimentary Khmer has been something I have savoured.”
If, like Michael, you’re thinking of embarking on a new life abroad, he says you should look deep inside yourself and contemplate your future.
“If I could go back 30 years to give myself a piece of advice, it would be this: Plan for your future without setting any limitations. Don’t confine yourself to one place or outcome, and let the world remain open to your dreams.”
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