Over the 20th century, many retirees moved from New England, California and the Midwest to the sunny and sparsely populated Sun Belt, where low taxes and warm weather beckoned. Today, many Americans are moving much farther afield to enjoy a new life at a low cost. Thousands are migrating to Asia, South America, Europe and beyond to stretch their retirement dollars. And foreign countries, eager for the boost to their economies, have taken notice.
With so many nations interested in attracting retirees from abroad, Americans are spoiled for choice. Bankrate uncovers six up-and-coming destinations where retirees can easily live on an income of $2,000 a month. In some cases, retirees are already living there for far less. Read on to discover the affordability of housing, food and medical care at these retirement destinations.
1. Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thanks to its weather and low cost of living, Thailand has been on retirees' radars for years, and Chiang Mai is cheap, even by Thai standards.
"For under $2,000, I live like a king," says Barry, a Canadian who relocated to Chiang Mai in early 2009. Since then, he has rented a 1,200-square-foot condo for a little more than $400 per month. Groceries are no big concern, usually running him about $50 per month. Restaurants cost about twice that at $100 per month -- and he goes out to eat almost every day.
Barry says that Chiang Mai has just about everything he needs. "There are Western-style restaurants, entertainment venues and social events," he says. The city has several modern hospitals. "I had an emergency spinal fusion two years ago at a cost of 280,000 baht (about $9,300 at the time). In Canada, medical coverage is free, but the waiting time is long. Here, the service is almost instantaneous and very professional."
More routine medical issues are so inexpensive, Barry says, that he doesn't need insurance to cover them. "Going to a dentist for a checkup and cleaning is 500 baht," or about $17.
Guam is an often-overlooked alternative for American retirees, despite its many benefits. Because it's a U.S. territory, English is spoken everywhere on the island, and its currency is the U.S. dollar. And, at least on the surface, much of the country's culture and politics will seem familiar to many Americans.
Situated 3,700 miles southwest of Honolulu, Guam is a lower-cost alternative to Hawaii while sharing the same climate. One-bedroom apartments in Guam can rent for as low as $400 per month, with luxury units facing the sea costing $1,000 per month. American citizens can buy property on the island; three-bedroom houses often sell for less than $200,000.
Since the territory is a small, remote island, most items have to be imported, which means groceries can be more expensive than on the U.S. mainland. Meats, most vegetables and some dairy products can cost twice as much. Restaurants, however, are usually comparable in cost to their American counterparts.
Besides enjoying the weather, retirees in Guam can use both American and Guam-based insurers -- including Medicare -- to cover their health care costs. All major medical services are available at Guam Memorial Hospital, which is certified and accredited by several federal agencies in the U.S.
3. Vancouver, British Columbia
While it doesn't have a reputation as a retiree destination, Vancouver remains a viable option for Americans who want to stay close to home while living the cosmopolitan life across the border. The biggest hurdle for Vancouver-bound Americans is real estate. With the most expensive housing prices in Canada and some of the most expensive property in the world, Vancouver is not an investment option for many retirees.
The average house price is $857,400, according to CanadianBusiness.com. Renting is a possibility: One-bedroom apartments in downtown Vancouver start at around 1,400 Canadian dollars (nearly $1,364). Food and entertainment cost about the same as in Seattle, which is less than three hours away by car.
While Americans may not save much on rent or living costs by moving to Canada, one expense is considerably lower up North: health care. "I save over $400 per month on medicine, and I never have to wait to see my doctor," says Betty Segel, an American who has lived in suburban Vancouver for five years. Retirees in Canada have access to the country's public health care system, which provides free care to residents, including expats with a permanent residence in the country.
For Americans concerned about health care costs, the added premium of Vancouver property just might be worth it.
4. Valencia, Spain
The subprime mortgage crisis caused property values to plummet everywhere, including Spain, making the Mediterranean nation suddenly affordable for a number of retirees. The euro crisis notwithstanding, the southeastern coastal city of Valencia offers hundreds of villas, apartments and houses for less than $200,000. New one-bedroom apartments in the city sell for less than 50,000 euros ($65,575). For those who do not want to invest in real estate, rentals are cheap and plentiful. A two-bedroom apartment in the center of Valencia rents for 600 euros per month ($780).
Groceries sold in traditional open-air markets cost the same or less than supermarket prices back in the States, while low property taxes keep the cost of living low for expats in Spain. The country offers free public health coverage, and additional health insurance rarely exceeds $300 per month. Prescription medicines are almost always a fraction of what they would be in America.
Valencia is a great option for retirees who want to spend their golden years traveling. Its airport offers direct flights to France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Morocco and Norway. Round-trip flights to the rest of Europe often cost less than 150 euros ($195).
5. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Although Buenos Aires is pricier than most parts of South America, it is still a bargain compared to most American cities. A one-bedroom apartment in a good neighborhood can be rented for less than $400 per month or bought for less than $70,000. Internet, cable and electricity combined rarely costs more than $100 per month. The city's comprehensive subway system and buses make transportation cheap. One ride on the subway costs 2.50 Argentine pesos (about 50 cents).
Health care in Argentina is a bargain, thanks to the country's public health care system and surplus of doctors. The quality and affordability of Argentina's medical services has led to a booming medical tourism industry. In 2011, more than 100,000 visitors came to Argentina to receive medical care, according to Argentina's National Institute of Tourism Promotion.
For most expats, the costliest part of Buenos Aires is dining in the city's European-style cafes, restaurants and night spots. While movies are relatively cheap in Argentina (a ticket costs less than $8 in most places), dinner out at a restaurant usually costs between $25 and $45. An espresso will cost around $2.50 and can be found in any of the city's thousands of small open-air cafes.
6. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Lake Atitlan is about 75 miles away from Guatemala City and is surrounded by volcanoes and villages where Mayan traditions still thrive. The area has perennial spring-like temperatures ranging from the 60s to 80s Fahrenheit. Several waterfront houses are available for rent on the lake; a three-bedroom house costs around $300 per month to rent.
Other expenses remain extremely low in this retiree-friendly part of Guatemala. "Restaurants cost about $10 per dinner and $3 (to) $4 for breakfast," says Andy Lee Graham, founder of HoboTraveler.com. The cheapest foods are also the healthiest; fresh fruits and vegetables cost about a third less in local markets than they do in the U.S.
For those who require assisted living, a full-time personal nurse can be hired for $15 to $20 per day, says Graham. "A maid is about $4 (to) $10 per day."
Graham recommends using taxis or tuk-tuks in Guatemala, which he notes are very cheap. Tuk-tuks are three-wheeled motorized versions of rickshaws. "Tuk-tuks will go between cities for about $3 (to) $5 per city. Inside metropolitan areas, they cost 75 cents for one trip." He warns that, "Driving a car is dangerous, but taxis are safe."
Andy estimates that retirees need $1,000 per month to live near Lake Atitlan.