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About taking your cat from Australia to Thailand

What follows is a copy of an article I wrote for August 2013 edition of MelbThai magazine.

A Cat’s Tale: Monte the ‘meow farang’

A difficult decision faced by many people moving to Thailand is whether or not to take the family pet with them. Our cat ‘Monte’ travelled with us, and I wanted to share a little about what we learnt during that process. Much greater detail is provided in several posts that I contributed to an online discussion thread at http://www.thaivisa.com/forum/topic/88593-importing-a-pet-into-thailand/page-4 (see posts #91, #92, #95 and #114).

The next decision to be made is whether to make all the necessary arrangements yourself, or to use the services of a specialist pet transportation company. The latter option is more expensive, but may be essential if you don’t have a lot of free time and/or the skills and patience needed to navigate bureaucratic ‘red-tape’. Brace yourself, because you’ll need to deal with regulations and procedures mandated by the Australian Government, the Thai Government, and the airline/s of your choice.

Below I’ve listed the key steps to be followed should you choose the Do-it-Yourself route:

1. Obtain an IATA approved cage of adequate dimensions, plus a suitable water container

2. Obtain an animal import permit for Thailand

3. Apply for an export permit from the Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service (AQIS), and organize a time to meet with relevant staff to discuss the process

4. Undergo a pre-trip medical examination at an AQIS accredited vet, including a flea bath and worm treatment. You’ll need to have your vaccination certificates with you

5. Attend a meeting at AQIS to present your papers and collect your export permit

6. Obtain the necessary papers from your chosen cargo company (NB: separate from the airline), including sticker for the cage, air waybill, etc. They will need a copy of both your import permit and export permit.

7. Deliver your pet to the freight depot at least six hours prior to your flight.

  1. Submit your pet and paperwork for inspection by Quarantine and/or Customs staff at the point of entry into Thailand.

Further information and forms are available from:  http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/wildlife-trade/live/household-pets.html

http://www.dld.go.th/dcontrol/move/imex_e.html#L1

You will naturally worry about your pet suffering trauma but I can report that our furry companion emerged unscathed. He quickly settled into his new surroundings and was soon discovering the joys of ‘pla tu meow’. Happily he also appeared to pick up ‘phasa Thai’ much faster than his owner, and thus experienced no undue difficulty in communicating with his Thai brethren.

A final factor to consider is that your pet’s journey will probably be a one-way trip. The prevalence of rabies in Thailand means that many countries will only allow the entry of animals (that have been living in Thailand) after very lengthy and costly stays in quarantine facilities in one or more countries.

Addendum 2016:

Monte lived happily in Thailand and managed to avoid the soi dogs, etc, until passing away in his sleep aged 16 years.

monte

Gold’s biggest quarterly gain in decades

Gold prices notched their largest quarterly gain in three decades, showing that worries about the markets and economy continue despite a six-week-long rally in stocks, bonds and commodities.

Gold prices rose 16.5 per cent in the first three months of the year, the biggest leap since 1986. Holdings at SPDR Gold Shares, the world’s largest gold-focused exchange-traded fund, are approaching their highest level since December 2013, while traders are placing more bets on rising prices.

The rally is a rare bit of good news for a metal that has been in retreat for much of the past five years, a period when US economic activity picked up and the dollar surged. Even so, many investors remain sceptical that gold will go much higher unless the global outlook dims considerably.

More at Gold’s biggest quarterly gain in decades (1 April 2016)

Watch this space folks, I think we might be in for an exciting ride

Official complaints to federal and state advocates about age discrimination are starting well before retirement age

A national inquiry has heard that society’s obsession with youth and looks is driving down the age when bosses consider employees to be past their use-by date.

Official complaints to federal and state advocates about age discrimination start well before retirement age, with Queenslanders complaining that they are being sacked and passed over for work from their 40th birthday.

Cases include an employee in the 45-54 age bracket who was told they were too old to use the stairs at work and fired for safety reasons.

Another was made redundant because the company needed “fresh faces”.

More at http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/official-complaints-to-federal-and-state-advocates-about-age-discrimination-are-starting-well-before-retirement-age/story-fnihsrf2-1227610109469

The Injustice of the Portability of the Australian Age Pension

With the decision by many Australians to take early retirement or being affected by redundancy we find people moving overseas and living off savings or investments for their final working life years.

Most are not aware that this can cause problems when they reach the Age Pension age qualification and return home to claim this.
People who may have spent over 40 years in Australia working and paying taxes can find themselves in a position where although they are entitled to the pension, or part of if they have investments, it is not portable for 2 years.

Another person who stays in the country until he is 65, or whatever age he now needs for the Age Pension, can cheerfully leave the country the day he qualifies and be paid while overseas.

This is not a situation where people who have worked overseas for years can claim a full pension outside of Australia, the Australian Working Life Residency law makes sure of this, you must have spent 35 years in Australia at working age to take a full pension offshore for any length of time.

I can see no rhyme or reason to the 2 year portability law, a person who returns to Australia for a few years before he applies for the Age pension will qualify for portability while someone who does not wont, even though they may have worked longer in Australia in total.

To make it even more unfair, the decision whether the time spent overseas is too long to qualify for the pension portability is not in any legislation, it is made by Centrelink.
Someone who spends the final 12 months of his working life period can possibly be at the same risk of portability loss as someone who may have been away for 10 years.

Most people I know who have been forced into this situation have accepted it and returned to Australia for 2 years, often undergoing considerable hardship with partners or family left behind and finding themselves placed in a position of having to make a new home for a 2 year period while trying to spend as little as possible.

I think everyone effected should appeal and complain to the highest level, become a serial pest, write, ring and email the relevant ministers, camp on your MP’s doorstep and in particular ask WHY????

It is a law that benefits no one, self funded retirees are not restricted and the taxpayer support their pensions through tax breaks to the same extent as the Age Pension.

Stay safe,

Banjo

Consumer protection in Thailand

Many people are unaware of mechanisms to address consumer complaints in Thailand, and particularly concerning the existence and role of the Office of the Consumer Protection Board (OCPB).

The OCPB receives complaints from consumers who suffer hardship or injury resulting from the acts of the business operator for submitting it to the Consumer Protection Board for further consideration and proceeding. Every consumer being disadvantaged or injury from any product or service can make the complaint at the Office of the Consumer Protection Board, the Government House, Bangkok 10300 by sending letter to P.O. Box 99, Bangkok 10300 or coming by himself/herself or by telephone hotline number 1166. There is also an online complaint lodgement facility.

Consumer rights are addressed in The Consumer Protection Act B.E. 2522 as amended by the Consumer Protection Act (No.2) B.E. 2541, details of which are summarized here.

 

When financial return isn’t everything

The aim of most investment strategies is to maximise financial return within a given range of acceptable risk. But there are other approaches – based on alternative belief or value systems – that also merit consideration. In such cases the sought-after return on investment is – to varying degrees – a better quality of life for current and future generations.

In recent years ethical or socially responsible investing has gained recognition as a legitimate and credible investment theme. Perhaps the most common example of this are the ‘green’ mutual funds offered by some fund managers, which are based on a goal of environmental sustainability.

Another alternative investment framework is that of ‘Buddhist Economics’, described below:

“Short term investing, such as day-trading, is more gambling than investing, as one person has to lose money for another to gain. From a societal standpoint this is a waste of time, as all the effort of the investors goes into trying to outsmart their competitors rather than creating new wealth. Since you are concerned not just about maximizing your own wealth but also about societal well-being, you want to avoid short-term zero-sum game investing”. (Refer http://fatknowledge.blogspot.com/2007/10/buddhist-economics.html and http:// buddhist-economics.info).

‘Venture philanthropy’ on the other hand, takes concepts and techniques from venture capital, finance, and business management and applies them to achieving philanthropic goals that focus on private initiatives for the public good. This approach has been described by Frances Hesselbein as “investing in people, not giving to charity.”

While Thailand is not a third-world country, there remains a great deal of hardship, with often little in the way of a government safety net.

The Ayui Foundation (www.ayui.org) was established as a non-religious, non-profit organization in 2007 by Sumalee Milne. ‘Ayui’ (pronounced ah-yer) is an Akha word that means ‘older sister’ as the founder prefers the children to see her more as an older sister who cares for their development, rather than an inaccessible person of authority. The name was also chosen so that Akha villagers would recognize it as a welcoming place for their people.

Sumalee is an ANU graduate who has been working with the Akha hill-tribe people since 1998. Sumalee’s father, John Milne, is a former diplomat who is currently President of the Canberra-based Australia-Thailand Association. The Ayui foundation manages a hostel in Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand, which currently houses twenty children. The objective is to support the education and living costs of Akha hill-tribe orphans and teenagers from poverty-stricken families, whilst providing them with educational activities where they learn valuable life skills, and encouraging them to preserve and practice their traditional culture.

 

(This article appeared in the August 2011 edition of ‘MelbThai’ magazine)

Aged care in Thailand: Challenge and opportunity

In Thailand the elderly are traditionally kept in the bosom of the family, often actively involved in household chores or family businesses, right up until the time of death. While there are now more exceptions to this rule as families disperse for education or employment, it still remains common practice. This, combined with limited public sector funding, have meant that Thailand has yet to develop the system of elder care facilities found in most western countries. The facilities that are current available are mainly limited to designated aged care wards in a few of the hospitals.

Now introduce into this picture the many thousands of expats choosing to retire in Thailand. One reason for this growing trend is a recognition that they can no longer afford to maintain an adequate standard of living in the West in their golden years. Another factor is that retirees today are more well-travelled and savvy than any generation before them. Many of these folks rely on pensions from foreign governments, whilst others have personal savings or investments. Almost all have been hard-hit in recent years by a combination of inflation, adverse movements in the value of foreign currencies, and the Global Financial Crisis.

It is no revelation that as people age they require an increasing amount of medical intervention – and assistance generally. As expat numbers grow this is beginning to have a noticeable impact on already-stretched Thai public health services. For example it has been reported that the clinic that services Bangkok’s international airport is now facing budget over-runs as a result of treating foreign patients who subsequently claim to have inadequate funds to pay their bills. There have also been reports of similar situations occurring in areas of Thailand popular with expats.

Most older expats enter and remain in Thailand on the basis of a ‘retirement visa’. These are granted, and extended annually, on the basis of a number of conditions. One of these is that a minimum balance of 800,000 Thai baht (about $26,000) is maintained in a Thai bank account. But this mandatory nest egg can be quickly eroded in the event of a major health crisis. Similar financial crisis can also occur when elderly persons, sometimes with diminishing mental capacity, are scammed or simply spend their money unwisely. In some cases those responsible are unqualified female ‘personal assistants’ who have been provided with PIN numbers to enable them to shop for food and household items.

Frequently unable to speak the language, and without access to family and old friends, or the sort of government safety nets found in a western country, old people can very quickly find themselves in a dark place if and when things begin to unravel. Help is often then sought from honorary consuls or embassy officials, but who have limited resources on hand to support or repatriate old, sick and/or penniless citizens.

What can the Thai government do about this? Well some possible responses might be increased visa fees, imposing maximum age limits, mandatory health insurance for expats, and increasing the thresholds for minimum cash holdings and/or annual income. These are not ideal solutions and will adversely affect many expats in order to help safeguard the Thai public purse from a minority. Still some action seems inevitable, and it’s hard to see what else might be done given the resources currently available.

What can expats themselves do to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem?

  • Prepare a financial plan and a personal budget, and be careful with your cash
  • Prepare a Will, an Enduring Power of Attorney, and maintain adequate health insurance
  • Register your name and contact details with your embassy
  • Have a contingency plan in place for when you can no longer manage on your own – which might well include returning to your country of origin
  • If you employ a personal carer then ensure they are qualified and undertake whatever checks you can concerning their character and bona fides.

One further step, only now becoming a viable alternative, is to enter a specialized aged care facility.  For the reasons set out earlier, these remain few and far between.  In fact the author is unaware of any integrated three stage aged care facilities operating in Thailand (i.e. independent living + hostel + nursing home). Foreign entrepreneurs have entered the market but appear to be only interested, thus far, in developing small blocks or clusters of independent living units.  One of the few existing facilities for people requiring a higher level of care (that is not merely a hospital ward) is ‘Dok Kaew Gardens’ in Chiang Mai (see www.mckeanhosp.org/mckean-rehabilittation-center).

One would sincerely hope, and it would seem likely given current demographic trends, that further quality aged-care facilities will come on stream in Thailand in the very near future – catering for Thais and foreigners alike.

This article is also available at http://issuu.com/austcham/docs/advance_october_2011?e=2062779/2987225 (see page 6). A slightly amended earlier version appeared in the June 2011 edition of MelbThai magazine.

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Two articles on aged care in Thailand written by other authors can be found at http://www.chiangmainews.com/ecmn/viewfa.php?id=1937 (September 2007) and
www.chiangmainews.com/ecmn/viewfa.php?id=4046 (May 2014)

Australian government further impinges on the rights of pensioners to travel or live overseas

In early 2012 I wrote a submission to the Australian Government Inquiry into the Asian century called ‘Parity for Pensioner Pariahs’. In that submission I addressed the topic of ‘portability’ of welfare benefits, and considered its impact on the ability of Australian citizens to access affordable care facilities overseas.

Fast forward to May 2014 and I’m fuming about changes to the rights of Australian welfare recipients to travel and live overseas announced in last night’s Federal Budget.

Under current regulations the Disability Support Pension (DSP) can be paid for absences from Australia for up to six weeks, on multiple occasions in any one year. In addition, a small number of exemptions are granted depending on assessment on a case-by-case basis.

It is now proposed that DSP recipients who leave Australia on or after 1 January 2015 will only receive DSP for a maximum of four weeks in a 12-month period. The Government claims that this move will result in savings of $12.3 million over five years.  

Another change that was announced was that of limiting the six week portability period for student payments from 1 October 2014
to generally align the portability period for student payment recipients (Youth Allowance, Austudy and ABSTUDY) with the rules for job seekers. Recipients of student payments will no longer be eligible for payment while overseas on holiday.

In addition, the relevant Minister has indicated that he would like to see a uniform approach taken to all welfare recipients. Thus it is highly likely that further restrictions will eventually be imposed in relation to, for example, recipients of the aged pension.

This tightening-up of regulations was foreshadowed by the media, for example in an article in the Courier Mail entitled ‘Travel bans to ground disability pensioners’. Extracts from that article, together with my response, are provided below.

“Disability support pensioners will be banned from travelling overseas for more than four weeks at a time as part of Budget crackdown on welfare cheats.”

Oh, ok, let’s label pensioners who travel/live overseas as “welfare cheats”, despite them presumably meeting all existing eligibility requirements.

 “The Government will tighten “portability” rules for the Disability Support Pension to crack down on recipients taking holidays at taxpayer expense or living in places like Bali while claiming they are in Australia.”

Loaded statement. They are a taxpayer expense where-ever they are located – unless they can be coerced into relinquishing the right to welfare support accorded to other Australian citizens.

“Taxpayers spend about $100 million a year on payments to 7,313 disability support pensioners who live overseas.”

Irrelevant point – would this amount be any less if they stayed in Australia the whole time?

The Government has already cut trip times for these pensioners from 13 weeks to six weeks to reduce the risk of them basing themselves in cheap destinations like Bali and flying in and out of Australia to meet residency requirements.”

Hmm, sounds serious. But in what way does their choice to base themselves there constitute a “risk”?

Mr Andrews said he eventually wanted a consistent approach to travel rules for all who received welfare payments.”

Aha, then I guess we can assume that the four week absence rule will soon apply to old age pensioners too, right? They already can’t afford to live in the mainstream Australian community, so perhaps the Government might need to create cost-effective special settlements for them – perhaps somewhere in the outback?

“The question here is what’s fair from the community point of view given that people are in receipt of benefits and that’s the balance we’ve got to try and achieve”.

No Minister, the question is whether economic logic tempered with some compassion should drive government policy, or whether pandering to ill-informed bias and media-inspired stereotypes should dictate how our government treats its citizens.

Yes, you bet I’m angry about this progressive winding back of peoples’ right to be absent for extended periods or to relocate to their country of choice. I’m angry not only because it is unfair, but also because it doesn’t even make economic sense.

The Government decides who qualifies for citizenship, and who is therefore potentially eligible for welfare payments. The Government determines the eligibility criteria for particular forms of welfare (other than residence), and how much people are paid. I’m not buying into those broad issues, other than to say that if there is a problem with those determinations then fix that problem and don’t try to balance the books by pushing people overboard on the basis of a bogus “crack-down” on “welfare cheats”.

Minister Andrews, is it not a fact that if everyone receiving benefits abroad  simply returned to and/or remained in Australia, then these tightened residence restrictions would have had the effect of actually costing tax-payers substantially more money? [see footnote] Has this not been established in research undertaken by the Government? Research that seems to have been quietly shelved … perhaps because it went against what the radio shock-jocks were telling us, and what the man-in-the-street preferred to believe?

I don’t believe for one moment that savings of anything like the forecast figure of $12.3 million will be achieved. In fact the only way the tightened residence restrictions can result in any savings is if welfare recipients stay overseas and conveniently drop out of the welfare system. I believe that this is most likely the real objective of the Government’s announcement.

Just for the sake of argument though, let’s say half of those affected obliged the Government by dropping out of the welfare system (saving taxpayer$). Let’s say the other half returned to and/or stayed in Australia (costing more taxpayer$). Even if that meant tighter controls on travel became a zero-sum game in a monetary sense, the government could care less given that it still gains some advantage just by being seen to be strong on welfare rorting.

Thus these further restrictions are not about stopping welfare rorts, they are about getting otherwise eligible Australian citizens off welfare. This will be achieved by forcing people to choose between living in penury in the suburbs watching TV 24/7, or living in somewhat great comfort in warmer and more exotic locales.

I’m angry because these changes really does seem to be all about pandering to a media-created perception that if people can afford to travel overseas then they don’t need and/or deserve welfare payments.

It really is very sad that Australian Government policy formulation has descended to this low level of rigour and vision, and that it has reflects poorly on the potential of the country we are creating for the next generation.

It was extremely disappointing to note that all of the major newspapers were content to unquestioningly parrot the same line. So much for the benefits of a free and independent press! In reviewing the readers’ comments appended to the article at http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/youre-paying-100m-for-pensioners-to-live-overseas/story-fni0fiyv-1226901383832, it was however gratifying to note the number of people who saw through the charade and expressed opposition to the further tightening of residence restrictions.

Interestingly, a similar biased pattern of behaviour towards expat pensioners is being demonstrated by the British Government, see:

http://www.survivefrance.com/profiles/blogs/british-expat-pensioners-to-be-given-badge-of-shame-by-british-go

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/pensions/10665839/Frozen-pensions-force-expats-to-come-home.html

Footnote: For those of you who are asking how welfare recipients who stay away from Australia could possibly be SAVING the taxpayer big bucks …

Most welfare payments and Government services are already denied to citizens outside Australia. That means that when (in this case) disability pensioners return to Australia they become eligible for (for example) rental assistance payments, subsidised medicine, and access to public hospitals/Medicare. Then factor in government subsidies on aged care home placements for some. Really, the list just goes on from there. And don’t forget to include the pensioner’s spouse and perhaps children, and the support (e.g. family assistance payments) and services that they receive/use.

OK so those are immediate costs arising from forcing pensioners to spend at least 48 weeks of the year in Australia. But what about the additional (taxpayer-funded) costs incurred should pensioners’ physical and/or mental health deteriorate as a result of poorer diet, colder weather, and the onset of depression and anxiety related to their reduced circumstances in a country with much higher costs, higher stress, and lesser amenity?

Now some might say, “well why don’t we make sure that no-one receives any government benefits if/when outside Australia“. To that I’d say why? On what basis? The constitution doesn’t include provision for two classes of citizenship, e.g. citizen and citizen lite. Why – especially in this much-touted age of globalisation – should expats only deserve a portion of the rights and benefits of citizenship accorded to those back home in Oz?

Postscript: In July 2014 I prepared a submission to another federal government inquiry into proposed changes to the welfare system – you can read it at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Social_Services_2014_Budget_Measures/Submissions (refer submission #28)

Postscript 25 February 2015: The report of the Inquiry mentioned above has now been released and can be accessed at https://www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/review-of-australias-welfare-system. There was virtually no discussion of the issue of portability of benefits. This summary of proposed changes indicates an intention to “limit the period for which Disability Support Pension (DSP) recipients can travel overseas and remain eligible to 28 days in a 12 month period (with some exceptions for special circumstances)“.

Postscript 25 January 2016: I noticed this article in The Age today, it’s entitled ‘Moves to limit overseas travel for pensioners ‘discriminatory’ say migrant, refugee groups