This is Ecuador's fifth consecutive year at the top of the heap.
This annual Index—now in its 22nd year--ranks the best international retirement destinations. To compile the ranking, InternationalLiving.com editors collated data from its team of experts on the ground in the most popular countries among U.S. and Canadian expat retirees. Editors assessed factors ranging from the price of groceries and average temperature, to utility costs and the friendliness of locals.
The information was then used to score each of the top countries out of 100 in categories such as “Real Estate,” “Climate,” “Special Benefits for Retirees” and “Health Care.
“It’s designed to help readers compare and contrast what we believe are the best options for retirement abroad in 2013,” says Jennifer Stevens, Executive Editor of International Living magazine.
“Ecuador is such an overwhelmingly attractive choice for retirees overseas today in part because your dollars really stretch there,” Stevens says. “You could live comfortably for $1,600 a month, rent included. The values extend to real estate, as well. A condo right on the coast that might cost you $1 million or more in California, you could have for less than $150,000 along Ecuador’s northern Pacific. We have readers who bought a little mountain place as well as an apartment overlooking the water and split their time between the two. They could never have afforded to do something like that in the States.”
The South American country offers great variety in lifestyle options, she adds. You have sunny beaches, temperate mountain villages, college towns where there are plenty of cultural offerings, and historic colonial cities. “This country rolls out the red carpet for its seniors, as well—offering benefits like 50% off international airfares and cultural events. Plus Ecuadorians are welcoming, friendly, and easy-going. It’s a friendly place to launch an adventure in retirement.”
Panama earned the No. 2 spot in the 2013 Retirement Index, while Malaysia rounded out the top three.
“Panama is just plain easy,” Stevens says. "Panama City is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with great restaurants, and excellent hospitals. It’s a banking and commercial hub so you find a real international community there. Panama is committed to attracting foreign retirees and offers the world’s best incentive program to do so, making it convenient and easy to get residence there.”
Like Ecuador, the cost of living in Panama is significantly lower than what you’d expect back home. “A budget of $1,700 to $2,500 a month, housing included, would see you eating out, perhaps with a housekeeper a couple days a week, movies a few times a month, and so on.”
In the world's No. 3 retirement haven, Malaysia, English is widely spoken as the unofficial first language, making it easier for North American retirees to transition.
Asia’s top retirement destination is also exotic and far away—but it is incredibly affordable. “Talk about a place where you can step up in your lifestyle without blowing your budget,” Stevens says. “Our contributing editor there says that he and his wife rent a sea-view apartment in Penang that comes with a pool and gym for $1,000 a month. They keep a small sailboat, eat out five nights a week, have a maid that comes once a week – and do it all for $1,700 a month.”
Another perk: Malaysia is a ‘medical tourism’ destination, so you can count on excellent care that’ll run you less than half of what you’d pay in the U.S., she says. “Plus, unlike elsewhere in Asia, in Malaysia you can buy property, land, houses, and condominiums freehold.”
The most attractive retirement havens aren’t just cheap; they’re welcoming places where you can integrate into the community, she adds. “They’re safe. They’re attractive. They provide the diversions you want, which could be anything from snorkeling to the opera, depending on your interests.”
But of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all destination. You really have to think about your own priorities and what you really want. "The beach? Maybe--but it might be too hot. A small village? Maybe--but if you have health issues to consider, you may want to be in a bigger community,” Stevens says.
“Retiring abroad isn’t for everyone,” she adds. “The happiest expats we meet overseas have one thing in common: They brought their sense of adventure with them. They went overseas ready to try new things, to be confounded, to be impressed, to be surprised. Living overseas works best when you’re pulled there and not just pushed. If your motivation for going abroad is entirely economic, brace yourself for disappointment.”
Also, remember that it doesn’t have to be a full-time endeavor. You don’t have to sell everything and upend your life to enjoy an international lifestyle in a good-value haven somewhere exotic in the world, Stevens concludes. “Go for a month, three months, six months. In a good-value destination, you could spend less on the whole of your everyday needs than you would on just heat alone back home.”
5. Costa Rica
Full List: The Best Countries To Retire In 2013