An Affordable Retirement Awaits You, But Maybe Not In The U.S.
If you have had thoughts recently about what it might be like to live in another country as you get older, you are not alone. I think more older (and younger!) adults than ever before are giving serious thought to living somewhere other than the United States. If you are at or above retirement age, you will soon be eligible for the Covid-19 vaccination and that will very likely give you the credential you need to start traveling again, maybe as soon as Spring of 2021. Once those doors are open, we can give serious thought to where we might want to comfortably settle as we add those years.
Last year at about this time, I wrote about the best places to retire as of early 2020. I got that information from my favorite source: International Living (IL). The writers and researchers who work for IL make it their full-time job to evaluate all the places in the world that might be hospitable to Americans who, for a variety of reasons, want to retire outside the United States. They have writers who live and work throughout this planet; they monitor the kinds of issues we care about when we consider a new environment. The criteria they use to evaluate potential candidates are:
How easy is it to buy or rent a home? They assess prices of houses and condos in areas an expat retiree would find attractive. They also look at property taxes and restrictions (if any) on expats owning property.
Benefits and Discounts
in some countries expats are eligible for enticing discounts on things like transportation, electricity, food, and taxes.
Visas and Residence
This category looks at how easy it is to get permanent residence in the country as well as taxation on money you make while living there.
Fitting in and Entertainment
Is English spoken widely or will you need to learn at least the basics of another language? Can you get your favorite American newspapers? Are there things to do (museums, cultural events, American movies)? What are the outdoor activities in the area?
MORE FOR YOU
This category evaluates how modern the country has become and whether they have invested in infrastructure such that you will have reliable electricity, quality roads, and internet access.
Many expats want fine a more hospitable climate than what they had in their part of the U.S. IL rates the climate of each country in terms of rainfall, temperature, and humidity.
IL gets down to the nitty gritty in this category. Their country experts look at quality of care as well as how much expats pay for things like cataract surgery, dental work, and blood transfusions. They also explore how readily people can get prescriptions for popular medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma.
Will your new home country respect your privacy and freedom? Do they keep bureaucracy to a minimum and have a record of stability? This year the IL editors gave special attention to how well the government handled the Covid-19 crisis.
Many retirees today have no interest in lying on a beach all day. This category explores how well the local economy supports small businesses and whether it’s easy or challenging to work remotely.
Cost of Living
Most important to the majority of older adults who want to move off-shore is finding a country where they can live comfortably within their means.
The IL editors believe their retirement index is the most comprehensive and in-depth survey in the world. I am inclined to agree. It’s not meant to be scientific in nature; rather it’s designed to be a tool for real people who are exploring the possibility of becoming expats. And now, without further ado, here is the list:
10. Vietnam.One of the least expensive countries in Asia, Vietnam has had nothing short of meteoric growth and development since the devastating war 40 years ago. Beautiful beaches and vibrant cities both hold attractions for expats. With friendly locals, English widely spoken, and much to see and do, Vietnam is a good choice for those who don’t mind the distance from the U.S.
9. Malta.Like a jewel in the Mediterranean, Malta offers one of the best quality-of-life options in Europe. It’s small–one tenth the size of Rhode Island–but captivating, with its beaches and historical structures to enjoy. Housing is more expensive in the cities than in the countryside, but it’s easy to get around on public transport. One of Malta’s biggest advantages: it’s close to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Spain, France, and Morocco.
8. France.Certainly, France is the gourmet and cultural gem of Europe. For expat gourmands, it doesn’t get any better than France, whether one prefers the country live or an active, vibrant city, France offers up its enviable lifestyle and myriad choices of locale and climate.
7. Malaysia.American social security checks go quite far in this tropical country in Southeast Asia. Expats can make out quite well on $2500. per month (total), even living in a modern high-rise condo with a pool, a gym, gated security, and covered parking. And that’s the high end with 3-4 bedrooms and an ocean view. Don‘t need the view or the extra bedrooms? You can live on much less. Health care, too, is high quality and extremely affordable.
6. Ecuador.With 1200 miles of beaches, an active volcano, and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador is one of the most ecologically fascinating and diverse countries in the world. You have your choice of living at sea level or in the Andes in cities like Quito or Cuenca, both UNESCO heritage sites. Cost of living is low and expats communities are tight-knit and friendly.
5. Portugal. Portugal has been in the top five on the IL list for many years, sometimes at number one. Wine, beaches, old-world charm and one of the most affordable countries in Europe make Portugal a popular choice for expat life. One can choose from a variety of climates and lifestyles in this friendly and laid-back country.
4. Colombia.Having finally shed its dark past as a drug-infested, dangerous place, Colombia is now enjoying its rightful place as a vacation or retirement paradise. At the northern tip of South America, it is the gateway to the West’s southern hemisphere and shares a border with Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela, as well as many miles of beaches where the Pacific Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. The WHO has ranked Colombia’s health system as #22 in the world (the U.S. is #37), and two can live comfortably in any of its many cities for less than $2000. per month.
3. Mexico.More than a million Americans call Mexico home and it’s easy to see why. As the closest option for U.S., expats, Mexico offers a cornucopia of advantages. The cost of living is quite attractive–similar to Colombia and Ecuador, residency is easy to qualify for and obtain, health care is of good quality, especially in the cities, and the government-run system is FREE for Mexican citizens and those with temporary or permanent residence. Beyond the government health care system, one can purchase private care at prices well below those in the U.S. With a great diversity of climates, friendly people, and huge expat communities in many locations, Mexico is a good choice for many retirees.
2. Panama.This small, S-shaped country has vied with Costa Rica for the number one slot for several years. They are both tropical countries in Central America, with higher elevation towns that offer a more temperate climate for those who prefer their temps in the 60s and 70s. Beaches abound in Panama and the Panama City skyline reminds one more of Miami than a sleepy tropical paradise. Because of its significant income from the canal, infrastructure in Panama is excellent, with a first-class international airport, excellent roadways, and top-notch amenities for travelers and expats. Yes, it remains quite affordable for Americans and the government has made it easy and enticing to become a resident.
1. Costa Rica.Claiming the number-one spot this year is Costa Rica. It is safe (they abolished their army in 1948 and pledged the monies to education and health care), eco-conscious (about ¼ of the land is protected as wildlife refuges and national parks), and modern (LGBTQ rights are mandated by the current government). The locals (called Ticos) are warm and welcoming and expat communities exist in pockets all over the country. It excels in all the categories evaluated by IL and as a bonus, it is a short plane ride to the southern gateways of the U.S.
Having visited every country on the list, with the exception of Malta and Colombia, I can vouch for those elements that make tourists feel safe and welcome. Leaving the U.S. and embarking on a new home in a foreign country is a daunting and difficult decision for most people, and the older we get, the more entrenched we become in our life and lifestyle here in the U.S. However, if you (or someone you know) are among the millions of people who don’t know how they will afford to live in the U.S. during their older years, relocating to a less expensive country can be the answer you are seeking, and the earlier you do it, the easier it will be. You can see the full index and how each country scored on each of the categories in International Living’s comprehensive report.