One of the greatest advantages of retiring overseas can be a dramatically reduced cost of living. Indeed, if your retirement budget is modest, your best options for enjoying a rich, full, comfortable retirement are not, I would argue, to be found in the U.S. ... but elsewhere.
If your nest egg is small, but you don't want to give up on the retirement lifestyle you've spent your entire working life dreaming about ( who does?), here are nine places worth a close look.
1. Nha Trang, Vietnam
Monthly budget: $650
All things considered, Nha Trang, Vietnam, has one of the lowest costs of living of any city in Southeast Asia or the world.
The city has been actively welcoming westerners to its shores since the 1920s and has a foreigner-friendly vibe that helps even nervous new expats feel comfortable. Life here can be as adventurous or as laid-back as you like. The beach, the ocean and the bay all offer water diversion, and the mountains and rural landscapes invite exploration.
English is widely spoken and understood, and the locals are gracious, industrious, curious and friendly. The food is delicious and varied, and the weather is comfortable year-round without extreme variations.
Local doctors can treat uncomplicated ailments at a cost of about $10 a visit. There's also a modern hospital here, opened in 2010, that receives strong reviews from expats and is similarly affordable. Dental care is good and affordable by any standard. A cleaning or filling runs about $5.
2. Chiang Rai, Thailand
Monthly budget: $750
With a population of fewer than 100,000, Chiang Rai offers an intimacy that cannot be found in a large city. Although there are internationally accredited hospitals here, as well as some large shopping complexes just outside the city center, a small-town ambience prevails.
Chiang Rai is in a natural setting. Thick, cool forests, majestic waterfalls, elephant camps, hot springs and some of the most diverse hill-tribe villages in the world are located just a short distance outside the city.
Most expats move to Chiang Rai after living in Chiang Mai. Here they tout the cleaner air, lighter traffic, friendlier population and lower cost of living. And unlike better-known Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai is not overrun by tourists and expats.
Chiang Rai has largely escaped the breakneck pace of "development at any cost" prevalent in much of Southeast Asia. Rental prices are extremely low, and you get a lot of house for your money.
3. Ipoh, Malaysia
Monthly budget: $897
Ipoh is an increasingly popular retirement haven among Malaysians, who claim its fresh air, clean water and relaxing lifestyle not only improve the quality of life but also promote longevity. Foreign retirees are beginning to take note.
Despite having a population of more than half a million, Ipoh feels like a small town. You can expect first-world health care and a modern infrastructure but no overcrowded city center packed with skyscrapers and high-rises. Friendly locals speak English, making it easy to assimilate, and lenient immigration policies make Malaysia an easy country to live in full or part time.
4. Dumaguete, Philippines
Monthly budget: $1,000
In addition to its welcoming, friendly, English-speaking people, Dumaguete boasts a warm, tropical climate and lots of opportunity for outdoor adventures, including world-class diving and snorkeling and whale and dolphin watching.
Dumaguete sits right along the ocean, with attractive beaches to the north and south of town. This is also a university city, meaning an abundance of inexpensive restaurants that cater to "starving" college students. Foreigners have the opportunity to make friends with educated professors and aspiring students, take classes and enjoy cultural opportunities not typically found elsewhere in the Philippines, including theater, ballet, art shows and libraries.
Medical and dental care is good, with a new hospital under construction and international-standard health care available in nearby Cebu.
5. Cayo, Belize
Monthly budget: $1,100
Despite the growing numbers of expats here, the real estate market in Cayo, for sales and especially rentals, is still priced for Belizeans, which helps keep the cost of living very low.
Belize is a retirement, tax and offshore haven. A place of stunning landscapes and abundant natural resources, this is a sunny country where the folks speak English and value their freedom and privacy. On the other hand, this is a small country where the infrastructure is most kindly described as "developing."
6. Loja, Ecuador
Monthly budget: $1,100
Ecuador has acquired a reputation as one of the best options in the world for retirees on a budget, but little Loja is still off the world's radar. In Loja, you'll experience life in the real Ecuador, off the beaten path.
The climate here is pleasant, the health care great and the people friendly. Expats who settle in Loja say they enjoy becoming a part of the local community.
If you want to live among other expats or you're not interested in learning another language, Loja isn't for you. However, if you're up for an adventure, this charming town has a great deal to offer.
7. Granada, Nicaragua
Monthly budget: $1,300
With two long coastlines, two big lakes, volcanoes, highlands, rain forests and rivers, geographically, Nicaragua has it all. And it's all less discovered and more affordable than Nicaragua's better-known neighbor to the south, Costa Rica.
Granada is the center of foreign retiree interest in this country and home to an established expat retiree community, making it an easy place to settle in. The capital, Managua, is less than 45 minutes away with its international-class Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pellas, opened in May 2004 and said to be the best private hospital in Central America.
8. Tralee, Ireland
Monthly budget: $1,500
Other cities and towns in Ireland, Dublin in particular, continue to move in a more European direction. You see the same brands, franchises and shop fronts as in any European city, with little of the town's own heritage and character shining through.
In Tralee, the majority of people you find working in shops, restaurants, bars and tourist sites are locals. As a result, this town offers a more authentic Emerald Isle experience. And thanks to the recession of recent years, the cost of living and of real estate is temptingly low.
9. Carcassonne, France
Monthly budget: $1,750
In general, France is not a place to choose if you are hoping to make a massive cut to your cost of living. That said, this area, the "other South of France," is far more affordable than its flashier counterpart while offering the best of French country living.
Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 28 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her newest book, "How To Buy Real Estate Overseas", published by Wiley & Sons, is the culmination of decades of personal experience living and investing around the world.
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