As luxurious as it sounds, retiring abroad can often make a lot more financial sense than living out your golden years close to home. Deciding where to lay down roots outside of the U.S. is the tricky part.
Each year, International Living Magazine releases its Global Retirement Index to help point retirees in the right direction. The survey relies on a combination of first-person accounts from their legion of international correspondents and editors, as well as data from the World Bank and the World Health Organization. Countries are ranked based on a range of factors, including real estate, cost of living, ease of fitting in, health care costs/quality, infrastructure, and climate.
For the full index, which ranks 25 countries, check out the report here. We’ve highlighted the top 10 below:
(Last year’s rank: 10)
With its low cost of living and wide array of entertainment and arts offerings, Thailand has long been a popular destination for American expats. According to International Living, North American influences in major cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai make it easy to feel right at home (many of the locals speak English). And the cost of living is so low that a couple could live comfortably on $1,500 a month, which would include housing. A routine doctor’s visit costs around $30 and you can find a decent health insurance package for $300 a month.
(Last year’s rank: No. 15)
Portugal cracked the top 10 this year, owing to its great climate (warm and sunny in the south and cooler up north), low cost of living, strong infrastructure, and proximity to Spain. “English is widely understood, especially in the large cities, and—combined with the warm Portuguese hospitality—makes it easy to settle in and feel at home, whether you prefer sophisticated urban environments like Lisbon or one of Portugal’s many beach communities,” says International Living.
(Last year’s rank: No. 6)
Colombia is one of the most affordable countries on this year’s index; a couple could live comfortably on just $1,200 a month, according to International Living. But it’s truly establishing itself as a haven for expats looking for excellent health care on the cheap. Its first-rate medical facilities have attracted a booming expat population in major cities like Bogotá and Medellín, according to IL contributing editor Michael Evans. The South American country's biodiversity is a huge draw for foreigners as well. “Colombia is the second-most biodiverse country on the planet. It has beaches, jungles, deserts, and a few steamy volcanoes,” Evans says. “You’ll never get bored.”
7-6. Spain & Malta (Tie)
[Last year’s rank: Spain (5) and Malta (7)]
Spain is one of the more expensive European destinations, but it still has one of the lowest costs of living on the Continent. A couple could live well in Spain on about $2,600 per month, including rent, according to IL. It tied with Malta this year. For what the small island nation lacks in size, Malta makes up for in year-round sunshine, excellent health care and low crime rates.
5. Costa Rica
(Last year’s rank: 4)
Costa Rica earned top marks this year for its low cost of living, entertainment/arts offerings and the ability of expats to fit in with the locals. It helps that a lot of locals speak English and the tourist-friendly country is used to outsiders.
(Last year’s rank: 3)
Malaysia is a great base for expats looking to travel throughout Southeast Asia while still living comfortably. Cost of living is about $1,500 a month for a couple, according to IL, and public transportation is ubiquitous enough that cars aren’t necessary. A basic doctor’s visit costs about $15. It’s the highest-ranking Asian country on this year’s index.
(Last year’s rank: 7)
Mexico took a big leap this year, sailing into the top 3. It’s a great starting point for Americans looking to test their travel skills abroad without moving too far from home. Its proximity to the U.S. is a major plus, not to mention the fact that it’s relatively easy to find familiar brands and services there. “In Mexico I can get almost anything I could get back home, between the U.S. chain stores and the local shops and markets,” says International Living editor Glynna Prentice. Prices are so low that a week’s worth of groceries can cost as little as $15 to $20 and property taxes are quite low as well, for those who consider buying.
(Last year’s rank: 1)
Panama slipped from the top spot this year, but it’s still the second-best place to retire, according to IL. The benefits for expat retirees are probably the country’s biggest draw. Panama offers something called a Pensionado visa, which provides any foreigner who can prove they receive income from a lifetime pension or Social Security of at least $1,000 a month the ability to live there indefinitely. The visa also comes with some pretty sweet discounts — 20% off medical services, 50% off entertainment, 25% off restaurant meals, 25% off airfare, and 25% off electricity and phone bills.
(Last year’s rank: 2)
Like Panama, Ecuador really caters to the expat retiree community. Seniors (65 and over) can easily get discounts on flights originating in Ecuador and as much as 50% discounts on movies and sporting events. That discount also applies to public transport (50%) and utilities. On top of all that, it’s a pretty cheap place to live, costing the average couple about $1,400 per month.
To see the full International Living Global Retirement Index for 2015, check it out here.
Did you retire abroad or thinking about it? We’d love to hear your story! E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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