The 10 Best Places To Retire Overseas in 2018
For nearly 40 years, International Living has made it a mission to demonstrate that you can indeed enjoy a comparable, if not better, retirement overseas. As the world’s most well respected resource for overseas opportunities, we are inclined (and delighted) to agree!
International Living just released its 2018 Global Retirement Index, a catalog of worldwide destinations that has been assessed along dimensions such as cost and affordability, topography and climate, food and culture, and quality of life and healthcare. We’ve rounded up the Top 10 countries for you, most of which happen to be Spanish-speaking. Now may be the time to start brushing up, ¡Hala!
#1 COSTA RICA
If there’s one Spanish phrase you must know to fully experience the richness of International Living’s top-ranked location for retirement overseas, it’s “Pura Vida.” Costa Rica’s unofficial slogan translates roughly to “life is good.” The idea that life should be pure, simple, and happy is so fundamental to the Costa Rican spirit that you might even say pura vida in place of hello and goodbye or cool.
No worries if Spanish doesn’t come easily to you! Costa Rica is an increasingly popular, safe, low-stress place for plenty of American tourists and expats. In fact, it jumped from #4 to #1 in this year’s Global Retirement Index, performing strongly in all 12 categories that informed the rankings. The economy is growing, the rainforests are flourishing, and the thermal springs are bubbling—Costa Rica ranked highest for Buying & Investing, Entertainment & Amenities, Health Care and Healthy Lifestyle.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Costa Rica is its stability. It’s so peaceful that it doesn’t even have a standing army, and last year almost 100% of its energy came from renewable resources. In addition, the government offers financial stability with a radically affordable lifestyle.
Costa Rica’s national health care system (Caja) is open to expat residents at a low cost—about $95 a month for a couple. Expats can qualify as residents if they have at least $1,000 a month in income from Social Security, a pension or a similar source per couple.
A retired couple can live comfortably on $2,500 a month in Costa Rica, say International Living’s editors. A furnished two-bedroom home can be rented for $500 a month, and you can come by that ocean view property you have your eye on for under $200,000.
In every way, Mexico is the most convenient place to be an expat retiree. If you have friends and family in the States, getting back and forth is a breeze with direct flights from most major cities in both countries. What’s more, International Living describes Mexico’s health care as “good to excellent.”
Private health care typically costs a quarter to half of what it does in the U.S.. With a residence visa, you can get Mexico’s public health care (which is free if you’re over 60 and a legal resident) for a few hundred dollars a year.
With the dollar currently strong against the peso, Mexico is an amazing bargain. International Living asserts that a couple can live on $1,500 to $3,000 a month—including rent and that top-notch health care—depending on location. And there is a vast choice of locales, to say the least: you could be choosing to retire along its long Pacific and Gulf/Caribbean Coasts, in a Spanish-colonial city set among a temperate mountainside, or in a tropical, forested village.
The Top 3 is rounded out by yet another Latin American country, and Panama may just be the best option of the three for the reticent Spanish-speaker. Americans have been working and living in Panama since the Panama Canal was built, so there is a large and well-established English-speaking expat community.
Panama is notable for its top-notch infrastructure, with just about every modern-world amenity you might want or need. Some of the best amenities available are the country’s famed benefits and discounts for retirees and an incredibly easy path to permanent residency. Another perk: health care typically costs 40 to 75% less than in the United States.
Expats can often live well on $1,500 a month, although Panama City, its bustling, modern capital, can get pricier. But for such a small country, there’s quite the variety of other locations to consider: from expat-popular Boquete in the Chiriqui Province to the beaches of Coronado and Bocas Del Toro on Panama’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts, respectively.
Ecuador is the highest scoring South American country on the Index, dominating International Living’s categories of Benefits & Discounts, Fitting In, Entertainment & Amenities, and Healthy Lifestyle.
Climate, however, was the standout in Ecuador, where the high altitude keeps temperatures moderate year-round. Maybe that’s what makes the colonial, Andean city of Cuenca the most popular expat spot in the country. Here, a semi-furnished one-bedroom apartment goes for about $200 a month.
If you’re more of a beach bum, there are several towns along Ecuador’s Pacific coast to check out. Some say the Ecuadorian coast reminds them somewhat of Northern California—only at 1960s prices for beach properties and condos.
Malaysia is the sole representative of Asian destinations for the 2018 Index, where International Living editors have described it as “easy, English-speaking and First World.” As an ex-colony of Britain, English is widely spoken. Expat clubs have been around since the 1700s and still welcome new members.
Editors considered Malaysia to have the best Entertainment and Amenities of all 24 countries ranked—it must have been the unbelievable street food or the splendors of Penang, a popular spot for expats that sits on a natural harbor overlooking the Strait of Malacca. Here, you can rent a 2,195 square-foot, four-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment for $700 a month. That means a couple could live comfortably on $1,500 a month…or extravagantly on $2,500 a month.
Colombia: its narco reputation is decades outdated, but International Living still commends it for drugs. In 2018, they are of a different vintage: the World Health Organization ranked Colombia ahead of the United States and Canada for quality of healthcare.
Yes, today’s Colombia is smart, thriving, and modern. This even goes for the former cartel capital of Medellin, which is now a highland home to many expats. While this sophisticated country is not the least expensive place to retire—International Living says a couple’s total cost of living can be $2,000 a month or less—Colombia is still highly affordable.
The scenery is a great return on a little extra investment anyhow. Colombia is the second most biodiverse nation in the world, so you won’t have any trouble finding a suitable climate: there are tropical beach towns as well as high-altitude, Andean settlements that will take your breath away in more ways than one.
International Living names Portugal “Europe’s Best Retirement Haven,” ranking it high for friendly residents and affordable lifestyle and health care.
Expats say the beaches of southern Portugal alone are enough to keep them there, although the some of the low cost of living available in Western Europe is another great feature—a couple can live on a monthly budget of $1,761.
Further up the coast, expats also populate the capital city of Lisbon, where English is widely spoken and whose airport has direct flights to most major cities. Here, a couple can pay $1,000 a month for a four-bedroom, four-bath home. It’s no wonder why Live and Invest Overseas just dubbed Lisbon the #1 place to live in the world.
Nicaragua is known for its surfing, fishing, hiking, and, in its cities, shopping and entertainment. But surprisingly, for all the impressive coastline and colonial charm that tropical Nicaragua has, it’s one of Central America’s best value destinations. Some call it “Costa Rica at half the price,” International Living editors say, and that’s because a couple renting there and eating out a few times a week can easily live well on $1,500 a month, and often much less.
Bang-for-buck Nicaragua may be as affordable as it is if only because it is somewhat off the beaten path. “Nicaragua is different enough to be interesting, but not so different as to be bizarre,” expats Darrell and Amy Bushnell told International Living contributor Scott Hed.
Expats tend to favor Granada and San Juan del Sur, where locals speak some English, though, as with most destinations on this list, knowing Spanish can be helpful.
Laidback Spain, the only other European country to make the Top 10 alongside neighboring Portugal, is growing increasingly popular among American expats. Among the countless reasons as to why this may be—alright, it’s probably the unparalleled food and wine—a curious parallel can be drawn between the geography of Spain and the U.S. There is something for everyone: the rainy and green Northwest, the sunny and dry South, and the snowy and mountainous East.
Wherever you may find yourself—the Mediterranean coast is understandably popular—you’ll find Old World culture alongside ultra-modern comforts. And, as in Mexico, your strong dollar exchange rate goes far in Spain today.
Peru is a relative newcomer to the Index, thanks to an up and coming expat community in Lima, its vibrant, seaside capital. International Living considers Lima to be a Goldilocks locale for retirees: the weather is not too hot, not too cold, and the bright, coastal cuisine is more than just right.
There are 1,500 miles of Peruvian coastline extending from Ecuador to Chile to its north and south, respectively, but the interior of the country is a trove of old colonial cities, mountains, canyons, and Incan ruins. For those with an interest in archeology and ancient culture, Peru is home to the tourist favorites of Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and the still-thriving cultures of several indigenous groups.
Living costs are a favorite, too: International Living says you can find two-bedroom apartments renting for as little as $250 a month. While Peru is not in the top countries when it comes to public health care, there is a large network of excellent private clinics and hospitals. A health insurance policy can cost as little as $100 a month.