SEOUL: South Korean retirees who want to stretch their budgets and students seeking a cheaper English-language education are increasingly flocking to Southeast Asia, where the sunshine is an added bonus.
The region’s cheaper living costs are luring retired Koreans who find their savings are not enough to support them in one of Asia’s most expensive countries. The strong won also makes it attractive to look overseas.
Middle-class workers in their 30s and 40s who want a cheaper English-language education for their children are also looking to Southeast Asia.
“A tough life and soaring education expenses prompted me to leave South Korea,” said Romeo Yoo, who emigrated to the Philippines in March last year after wrapping up an office supplies business in Seoul.
Yoo, 55, lives in Quezon City with his wife and two children. To support his family, he relies on about three million won (Rs140,516) in monthly income from a real estate investment in Seoul.
“My living costs are higher than others because of my kids,” he told AFP, suggesting that less than 1.5 million won a month might be enough for a retired couple with no dependent children.
Yoo said he enjoys his leisurely life, although he sometimes feels uncomfortable due to language barriers and cultural differences.
Agencies have sprung up to cater to people like Yoo. They offer investment programmes in condominiums or resorts being built by South Korean firms in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The government’s decision in March last year to lift the ceiling on overseas real estate purchases also fuelled interest in emigration to Southeast Asia, said Jung Ki-Young of South Korea’s largest travel agency Hana Tour.
Hana launched a long-stay tour programme last year for those interested in investment in, or emigration to, the region.
“Our business is still at the initial stage but we are getting many calls from retirees as well as those in their 30s and 40s seeking better education for their children,” he said.
The Philippines is most favoured among retirees because it offers a retirement visa providing multiple entry and indefinite stay, he said.
The number of Koreans who retired to the Philippines rose from 150 in 2003 to 372 in 2005. From January to August 2006, 505 arrived in the former American colony, according to the Philippine Retirement Authority.
Southeast Asia also attracts students who cannot afford the customary private tuition which supplements school lessons in Korea, or international schools in Western countries.
The education ministry said 4,011 Korean primary to high school students headed to Southeast Asia in 2005 compared to 712 in 2001.
Malaysia — with moderate prices and national fluency in English — receives about half of all Korean students in Southeast Asia, said Kim Young-Jun, who arranges educational opportunities in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.
“Malaysia is more expensive than the Philippines but parents prefer the Islamic country which offers relatively good education programmes,” Kim said.
Many students who choose to go abroad stay alone or with their mothers while fathers generally remain in Korea to work and support them, putting strains on families.
To avoid the stresses of separation, Peter Jang, 42, decided to emigrate to the Philippines with his wife and two children in 2004.
“In South Korea, I was in a difficult situation mainly because of high education expenses. Now I and my kids feel relaxed,” he said.
He lives in Antipolo east of Manila, earning about two million won a month by arranging golf tours for Koreans.
Despite the warm winters and leisurely lifestyle, some emigrants come back after failing to overcome loneliness and language barriers.
“For retirees, living abroad is not a recommended life. They cannot spend their remaining years only playing golf,” said Kim Sun-Kyung of the Korean Association of Retired People.