Philippines sees opportunity in wealthy neighbors' golden years

Thu Feb 18, 2016 6:28pm EST
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By Neil Jerome Morales

MANILA (Reuters) - Japanese housewife Noriko Iwamoto is clear on the reasons that led her to retire in the tropical Philippines, leaving behind a stagnant economy, deflation and a rigid Japanese workforce: it's cheap, and you can work.

"I was looking forward to living somewhere outside Japan," said Iwamoto, 62, a widow and one-time vet from the port city of Nagoya, who now runs a small tea shop in Manila.

"There are no jobs in Japan, but I still want to work."

The Philippines is tapping wealthy north Asian retirees who want sunshine, low prices and a refuge from record low interest rates - wooing them with soft wealth barriers and an initial age hurdle of just 35.

A handful of other Southeast Asian neighbors are doing the same, but the likes of Thailand and Malaysia demand retirees have higher pensions, fatter bank balances and are at least 50 years of age.

Though numbers are small, Filipino authorities say arrivals from China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan are the most numerous, escaping economies that have eaten into their retirement savings and now offer little opportunity to top up those pension pots.

Japan, for one, has 34.6 million people aged 65 or older and a public debt burden that means many already choose to retire abroad to get cheaper health care and a better quality of life.

At current levels - 42,511 foreigners are enrolled into the retirement plan - the number of arrivals is small, in a country of almost 100 million. Economist Euben Paracuelles at Nomura in Singapore said the business would need to be part of broader reforms to encourage foreign investment and tourism, in order to provide a significant boost to the economy.   Continued...

Noriko Iwamoto, a Japanese widow and senior citizen, smiles as she poses outside a condominium building where she lives in suburban Quezon city, Metro Manila, in the Philippines February 12, 2016. REUTERS/Erik De Castro