Moving overseas gives you an opportunity to reinvent your life in retirement. In many places you will also be able to significantly reduce your cost of living. Here are my picks for the world’s top retirement havens in 2016.
Algarve, Portugal. Algarve has a low cost of living, affordable real estate and great weather. A move here will be made easier by the established expat community and low-cost retiree residency program. In addition, you can get by speaking only English, thanks to the region’s strong historic and cultural links with England.
The Algarve is home to more than 100,000 resident foreign retirees. The area includes the stunningly beautiful Algarve coast, medieval towns and fishing villages as well as open-air markets and local wine. This area has cobblestoned streets and whitewashed houses with lace-patterned chimneys. Health care is international-standard, and medical tourism is a growing industry.
The Algarve also offers great weather, with 3,300 hours of sunshine per year. That’s more sunny days than almost anywhere else in Europe, which allows you to enjoy some of Europe’s best-kept sandy beaches. The Algarve’s 100 miles of Atlantic coastline has jagged rock formations and award-winning beaches. In addition, the region is a top golfing destination with 42 golf courses in less than 100 miles.
The cost of living in Portugal is among the lowest in Western Europe. A retired couple could live here comfortably on a budget of as little as $1,500 per month. With a budget of $2,000 per month or more you could enjoy a more luxurious European lifestyle.
Pau, France. When you’ve entered the Basque region, you’ll know it by the change in architecture. Almost all the houses are painted white with accents of Basque red, which creates a pristine and stunning effect. The Basque people also have their own language, music, cuisine and even an alphabet typeface.
The geography of the area ranges from rolling hills to towering mountains. You might view a meandering river or a wild coastline, and everywhere it is gloriously green and lush. The shallow water of the bay gives rise to a spectacular surf.
Retirees who dream of Paris, but can’t afford it, should consider Pau. A couple could retire here on as little as $2,000 per month.
Abruzzo, Italy. Abruzzo it known for its golden beaches and panoramic views of the sea. The nearby mountains offer scenic beauty as well as skiing in the winter. The castles, vineyards and villages made of stone allow you to imagine you are transported to another era.
Pescara has one of the best city beaches in Europe and is not far from the Apennine ski slopes. Ambitious retirees might be able to visit both in the same day. The delightful recreation options and beautiful scenery are available at bargain prices. A couple could retire here on as little as $1,800 per month.
In Latin America:
Cayo, Belize. Belize is one of the quirkiest countries in the world. Geographically, Belize is in Central America, yet its strongest ties are to the English-speaking Caribbean. Belize is Caribbean, Central American and, thanks to its history as a former colony, British. Belize City’s roadways are built around a system of roundabouts, but shops alongside them sell rice, beans and tortillas still ground by hand.
English is the country’s official language. The 350,000 people populating Belize today are diverse and include the descendants of migrants from Britain, Mexicans, Guatemalans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans mixed with current-day generations of the Maya who originally inhabited this land.
Belize is a sunny country that’s easily accessible from the United States and the folks all speak English. It’s also one of the easiest places in the world to establish foreign residency, as well as a banking and tax haven. You could live and run a business here tax-free.
On the other hand, this is a small country where the infrastructure is developing. The cost of living can be affordable. However, if you want to live a more developed world lifestyle that involves buying lots of things not available or produced locally, be prepared to pay an inflated price for imported goods.
Medellín, Colombia. Twenty years ago Medellín was drug- and crime-ridden, but the city has been cleaned up. Medellín is no longer unsafe or unsavory, but it is establishing a name for itself as one of the world’s most progressive cities. Almost every building is constructed of red brick and topped with red clay roof tiles, and the city is full of parks and flowers.
Thanks to its mountain setting, Medellín enjoys pleasant weather year-round. No heating or air conditioning is required, which you will appreciate when you see your utility bills. Furthermore, the medical care in Medellín is excellent, with eight of the 43 best hospitals in Latin America located here.
The current exchange rate between the Colombian peso and the U.S. dollar is making Medellín a more affordable place for U.S. retirees to live and to purchase property. It’s possible to enjoy a luxury retirement in Medellín on even a modest retirement budget.
Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is a melting pot with an eclectic population and a diverse history informed by Afro-Antillean, European, North American and Latin cultures. This island is among the most affordable spots in the Caribbean. It’s a place where you could retire near the beach even if your retirement nest egg is nothing more than a monthly Social Security check. If you can swing a travel budget, island-hopping around the Caribbean could be your new retirement hobby from this convenient base.
The Dominican Republic makes establishing residency easy. The country embraces foreign investors and even rewards them through incentives. Residents are eligible for local home financing, can import household goods and a car tax-free and could qualify for citizenship.
Las Terrenas, once a hamlet and still largely unknown among North Americans, was discovered in the 1970s by Europeans looking for an affordable Caribbean getaway. Today, Las Terrenas is a vibrant international community with residents from all over the globe, including French, German, Polish, Swiss, Italian, Dutch and British expats. The eclectic population means you can find exotic food imports from Europe in the supermarkets, freshly made Swiss cheese and German sausage at the local shops, excellent international restaurants and an active and mixed group of folks to welcome you to their well-established community.
Despite its thriving foreign population, costs in Las Terrenas have remained local. A couple could live well here on just $1,200 a month. You could buy a loft-style apartment for less than $100,000, a townhouse in a gated community for under $200,000 or a private villa for as little as $250,000.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Mexico is a big country with coastal, mountain and colonial city living options. There’s also Mayan ruins, rivers, lakes, jungle and rain forest. Mexico is the most accessible overseas retirement destination from the United States. You could drive here if you wanted to.
Mexico is home to the biggest established populations of American expats in the world, making it a great choice if you seek adventure with the comforts of home. Mexico is no longer cheap, but it does provide a luxury coastal lifestyle to retirees on a budget in Puerto Vallarta. Puerto Vallarta is more expensive than other places where you might consider living or retiring overseas, but you’re paying for the high standard of living. This stretch of Mexico’s Pacific coastline has been developed to a high level.
Life here is comfortable and includes world-class amenities like golf courses, marinas, restaurants and shopping. This is a lifestyle that is comparable to what you could enjoy in southern California, if you could afford to live there. Here you can afford it even on an average budget.
Puerto Vallarta is home to more than 40,000 expats and foreign retirees. This is one of the biggest and most welcoming communities of expats anywhere in the world. You probably won’t be able to live well here on Social Security income alone. However, if your retirement budget is a bit bigger and you dream of retirement on the Pacific Ocean, Puerto Vallarta deserves your attention.
Granada, Nicaragua. A Spanish-colonial city can be a great choice for retirement, and Granada is one of the best options. This city has a great variety of classic and charming Spanish-colonial homes with high ceilings, painted tiles and private courtyards that you can own for as little as $40,000.
Granada is among the most carefully restored and preserved colonial cities in the Americas. This city of 120,000 has a sizeable expat community and attracts many international travelers with its upscale hotels, fine restaurants and well-kept buildings. Many parts of the city are walkable, and the nearby airport in Managua provides many connections to the United States.
However, Granada maintains an authentically Nicaraguan feel. You will be able to sample local delicacies and pottery is made by hand. You may even see old oxcarts in the streets. The city is a blend of native Nicaraguan life with modern amenities.
You can qualify for Nicaragua’s retiree residency visa program with as little as $600 per month of retirement income. But you’ll probably need a budget of at least $1,200 per month to live here comfortably.
City Beaches, Panama. Panama’s most convenient and comfortable stretch of Pacific coastline is known as its “City Beaches” area, thanks to the proximity to Panama City. The most developed, established and fully appointed beach community along this stretch is Coronado, about two hours from Panama City. This fast-growing coastal region offers a high quality beach lifestyle with all the amenities and services you could want.
Coronado is an affordable place to live but not as cheap as other top beach choices in this country. The trade-off is access. The more affordable choices are also more distant from Panama City.
Panama offers many advantages to retirees. The country uses the U.S. dollar for its currency, meaning people with retirement income in U.S. dollars have no currency exchange risk to worry about. Medical care in Panama City is international-standard and affordable. And the country offers a gold-standard retiree residency visa program.
George Town, Malaysia. Historic George Town began as an 18th century British colonial outpost. The city has grown significantly since then, but maintains its colonial flavor. In the historic downtown it’s easy to imagine yourself living in another era. Various neighborhoods are reminiscent of China, India and an old Malay village. Impressive British-colonial buildings are now banks, churches and residential mansions. Many of the dilapidated Chinese shop houses have been scrubbed, painted and renovated into attractive hotels, community centers, cafés, galleries and private homes.
The low cost of living is a big part of George Town’s appeal. In some Asian cities, foreigners are overcharged, but in Malaysia visitors pay the same rates as the locals. In addition, public transportation is modern and efficient, health care is first-rate and the tap water is safe to drink. You can also escape the city at nearby beaches and mountain retreats.
Chiang Mai, Thailand. Thailand’s scenic beauty ranges from beaches to lush mountains and jungles. The laid-back culture and modern infrastructure have attracted tens of thousands of foreigners to the country. Chiang Mai couples a low cost of living with great weather. The high quality health care and abundance of Western amenities are also big pluses for foreign retirees.
It’s possible to enter Thailand with a tourist visa, but a foreigner who wants to live in Thailand long-term needs a residency visa. Thailand provides several attractive residency visa options.
Many foreign retirees work to supplement their retirement nest eggs. Popular employment opportunities in Chiang Mai include language schools and tourist-related industries. A part-time job can be a great way to get involved and make friends in your new retirement community.