As our children grow older and start their own families, many of us are left with a house that is too big for our needs. One way to save money and reduce debt is to sell up and move somewhere that is less expensive. This may be a move from the city to the country or, in the spirit of adventure, a life-changing move overseas.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how you could save a considerable amount of money and live a richer lifestyle by relocating overseas.
My recommended top 10 retirement locations in the world are detailed below. They have been chosen based on the following:
- Cost of living (including rent, basic food costs, electricity, gas, water, telephone, internet, entertainment)
- Infrastructure (roads, public transport, airports, mobile telephone coverage, internet speed)
- Visas and residence requirements
This is somewhat different to most lists of retirement locations for one good reason. Our goal is to retire at an early age, not when we reach full retirement age.
Most published lists are based on retiring in your 60s or 70s. Healthcare then becomes a big issue. So do residence visas if you are looking at somewhere to spend the rest of your life.
If you retire with a passive or portable income, you have the option to travel and continue to earn money. And, because you are not tied down to a single location, visas or residence requirements become less significant.
Let’s take an in-depth look at each of them!
Spain has been a top vacation and retirement destination for Europeans for a long time. And now the rest of the world is catching on.
The cost of living is one of the lowest in Europe, only surpassed by Bulgaria and Algarve, Portugal. In many of Spain’s coastal towns such as Valencia, a couple can live comfortably for around $2,500 per month. Short-term rentals here start at $900 per month but, if you move inland to central Spain, rentals can be found for under $400 per month.
Dining out is part and parcel of living in Spain. A three course lunch will cost you between $14 and $25 or a beer and tapas will set you back around $3. Fresh fruit and vegetables are inexpensive, as is seafood in the coastal regions. Your weekly groceries will be around $60. Each region has its own specialty food and wine. From paella in the Valencia region on the Mediterranean coast to gazpacho in Andalucia. Major Spanish wines include the tempranillos from Rioja and Ribera del Duero and sherry from Jerez de la Frontera.
Now, doesn’t that sound like a great way for you to spend retirement?
People are very friendly and you will find it easy to strike up a conversation, especially if you know speak some Spanish. Away from the cities though, there are relatively few English speakers.
Infrastructure in Spain is first class. Telecommunications are excellent, so running your portable business will be easy. Public transport is outstanding and it has the most high-speed trains in Europe, with direct connections to Portugal and France. Where there are no trains, the bus system is a very economical alternative.
The climate is generally Mediterranean with hot summers and mild winters along the coast. Inland temperatures can be cold in winter and the northwest has more than its fair share of rain and clouds. But, getting around is easy, so you should be able to choose a climate which best suits you.
The World Health Organization ranks Spain’s health care up there with the best in the world. It has both public and private health care. Facilities are modern and doctors are trained to world-class standards. Public health care is available after you gain residency, but private health cover can be obtained for less than $100 per month.
In Spain, the lifestyle is laid back and meant to be enjoyed. Combine this with a low cost of living and it may well be the place of your dreams. So take a look at Spain. This might be a great retirement option for you!
La dolce vita, or “the sweet life”, is often used to describe the simplistic Italian lifestyle. The mixture of strong family values and slower pace makes for a great retirement lifestyle, no matter what your age.
Italy has an amazing climate, predominantly Mediterranean with mild winters and very warm summers. In the south, summers can be hot and dry. The northern mountain ranges have mild summers but winters can be very cold.
It is one of the few retirement destinations that actually has four seasons!
What do I need to say about food and wine in Italy? Pizza, pasta, chianti, prosecco. The cost of living is relatively low when compared with the rest of Europe. Rents in provincial cities range from $400 – $700 per month for a furnished apartment and even less if you rent in a small town. Think considerably higher though if you plan to live in Rome, Milan or Florence.
Most retirees have found the ideal lifestyle in Tuscany or the southern regions of Basilicata, Puglia, Calabria and Sicily. Here, you can live comfortably for around $2,500 per month.
Infrastructure and telecommunications systems are high class and the cost of fast internet and cell phones is affordable. Coverage is good throughout the regional centers. High-speed trains link key centers with Rome and the rest of Europe and airports are dotted throughout the country. You can fly to almost anywhere in Europe in under 3 hours.
The World Health Organization ranks Italy within the top 10 countries for health care. The best health care is available in cities like Milan or Rome, so this may impact your decision on where to retire. Public hospitals can be overcrowded and it may be best to consider private health care. It is relatively inexpensive compared with the rest of Europe.
Historic structures, the Vatican, Roman ruins and numerous art galleries all make Italy a fantastic place to retire. Whatever your taste, living in Italy is not as expensive as you may expect. If you decide to live the La Dolce Vita lifestyle, it can cost even less.
Ecuador has become a retirement hotspot for North Americans due to its many lifestyle options. From the warm year-round climate of the Pacific Coast to the cooler and drier climate of the Andes, there is a climate to suit everyone.
It is the most biodiverse country in the world, with more than 1,600 species of birds, 16,000 plant species, 6,000 species of butterflies and numerous endemic reptiles and amphibians. Conservation International, a US non-profit environmental organization identified 17 megadiverse countries in the world. Ecuador is one of them.
Most expats initially move to Cuenca or one of several coastal beaches. One bedroom apartments in Cuenca can be rented for as little as $200 per month and a couple can live well for $1,600 per month. In the coastal town of Salinas, a 3 bed / 2 bath condo, with all utilities and use of amenities, can be rented for around $550 per month or a brand new 2 bedroom oceanfront condo, for $700 per month.
Your cost of living will depend on your lifestyle. If you are happy to buy from the markets and eat locally, a typical couple could live well for $1,600 per month. If you need your North American staples like peanut butter, ketchup and the like, expect monthly costs to rise to around $2,400. And, if you need to live with all the bells and whistles, expect your cost of living to jump to around $4,500 per month.
The government of Ecuador has invested heavily in projects aimed at improving electricity, telecommunications and transportation in the country. The public bus network is great and connects all cities across Ecuador. Buses are plentiful and inexpensive. Domestic flights are frequent and a common mode of transport due to the mountainous terrain.
If you are contemplating a stress-free retirement, Ecuador is a great place to consider. The Ecuadorian people are laid back and helpful and you should follow their lifestyle. Yoga on the beach. Reading in a hammock or lazing on the beach. The options are endless.
And if you do have health problems, health care in the larger cities is world-class. Costs are a fraction of what you would pay in the US. When you become a resident (the visa process is fairly straightforward), you become eligible to join the country’s Social Security health care system. And, premiums are less than $80 per month for a couple.
The climate of Ecuador varies from year-round spring-like temperatures in the Central Valley cities of Quito and Cuenca to warmer tropical temperatures in coastal towns. Temperatures remain fairly constant but there are distinct wet and dry seasons each year.
Malaysia is a special place for me as I spend a lot of my non-working life here. Whether it is the tropical beach paradises of Penang and Langkawi, the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur (or just plain KL) or the hill stations in the Genting Highlands, the landscape is magical.
As Malaysia is an ex-British colony, English is widely spoken and people drive on the left side of the road (great for us Aussies).
The climate is generally hot or hotter, with day time temperatures in KL around 85 and nighttime temperatures of 75. Temperatures at the hill stations are generally cooler and a perfect respite from the norm.
Most expats live in Kuala Lumpur, Penang or Melaka. You can live comfortably in KL for less than $2,000 per month or rent a large home in Penang for around $800 per month. As you move further from the city centers, rents progressively decrease.
The cost of living is low and income derived overseas is not taxed; great if you receive a foreign portable income! Food is inexpensive and you can find some of the best street food in Asia in Penang and KL. The population is predominantly Malay, Chinese and Indian, so the infusion of flavors makes some of the best food in the world.
Infrastructure in Malaysia is world-class with excellent airports and an extensive well-maintained road network throughout the country. KL has an inexpensive train network which quickly gets you where you need to go and there is a high speed train connecting with the international airport.
Telecommunications are very good. High speed internet is available in all major locations and the cell coverage is extensive with several low-cost carriers to choose from. Satellite TV is readily accessible.
Shopping malls are world-class and carry a huge variety of local and imported goods. Food products and beauty products from back home are readily available through the major supermarket chains.
Health care services are excellent and prices are as much as 80% less than you will pay at home. The quality is also exceptional and Malaysia has become a focus for medical tourism in SE Asia. They even have a lounge at the airport to cater for people coming for medical procedures!
Malaysia is ideally located for exploring Asia. Most destinations are less than 3 hours away and return flights from KL are generally less than $300 for a return flight. There are also direct flights to Europe, US, Australia and New Zealand, so coming and going is not complicated.
As a retirement destination, Malaysia definitely ticks all the boxes.
Peru still remains fairly undiscovered as a retirement destination. And many expats that live there would like to keep it that way! Why? Because Peru has one of the cheapest costs of living anywhere in the world and is also one of the easiest countries to gain residency.
Most expats that move to Peru live in one of the following areas: Lima, Trujillo, Arequipa or Cuzco. Rental prices are very affordable throughout Peru and you can rent a 1 or 2 bedroom apartment in any of these cities for less than $400 per month. For the more expensive suburbs of Lima, rental costs can be significantly higher.
The cost of living will depend largely on your lifestyle, but a couple could live well on $1,500 to $2,000 per month in Peru. Utilities are affordable and, if you live in a town that doesn’t need air conditioning, electricity will run $50 to $60 per month. Monthly water costs are around $10 and high-speed internet and cable TV will cost you around $70 per month.
Combine this with the low cost of food (and it doesn’t matter whether you eat at home or dine out, it is still cheap!) and your monthly grocery expenses will be low.
While Peru’s healthcare may not reach the same level of quality as its Latin American neighbors to the north, good healthcare is still available. The best hospitals and facilities are found in the larger cities of Lima, Cuzco and Arequipa. However, public facilities are crowded and understaffed and they don’t offer the same care as the private hospitals. Unless you have an unlimited cash supply, I recommend that you have some form of private health insurance and use the private facilities.
If you head south to the city of Arequipa (Peru’s “White City”), you can enjoy more than 300 days of sunshine in a year. Temperatures hover in the mid-70s year-round during the day and drop into the high-40s / low-50s overnight. It is less than 2 hours drive from some of the best surf beaches in Peru.
Or if you prefer a cooler climate, the Andean highland towns such as Cuzco may be more to your liking. Here, daytime temperatures hover in the high-60s for most of the year but, in winter, temperatures can drop into the low-30s. The Peruvian Amazon is characterized by heavy rainfall and high temperatures. However, in the southernmost part, winters are cold and the rainfall seasonal.
Peru’s culture is a set of beliefs, customs and way of life handed down from the native Incas, Spanish conquistadors and early settlers. The most outstanding example of Incan architecture is Machu Picchu, the Sacred City. It was built around 1460AD and then lost until 1911, when it was accidentally re-discovered by American explorer, Hiram Bingham. UNESCO declared Machu Picchu a World Heritage Site in 1983.
Whether their ancestry is Incan or Spanish, Peruvians are laid back and friendly people and they value family principles. Generations of family generally live together, with the younger members looking after the elderly. This sounds like an ideal place for you to retire.
So, if you are looking for a retirement destination with an inexpensive lifestyle, friendly people, and great food, Peru is worth a look.
As continental Europe’s western-most country, Portugal has its coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. And the sea plays a major role in Portuguese life and diet. You will see fish and seafood on menus throughout Portugal.
The climate is more Mediterranean than you might expect, with the warm weather and lifestyle that you generally associate with Mediterranean countries. Portugal has a warm, temperate, moist, forest climate with summer temperatures in the mid-80s and wet winters around 50 F. In the far south Algarve region, the climate is warm and dry, while in the north, temperatures are cooler year-round.
A small country with a long coastline, the Portuguese lifestyle is all about the sea. You can enjoy surfing, boating, diving, kite-boarding and more. Or, if you prefer something more terrestrial, there is golf, tennis, biking, horseback riding and Roman ruins to explore. All this in a country that you can drive north to south in a little over 5 hours!
You will find that the cost of living is around one-third of what you pay in the US. An apartment in one of Portugal’s small cities will cost you around $500 per month, while a larger apartment or home in one of Lisbon’s more prestigious locations could be more than $1,000 per month.
Food costs are generally low and many towns have traditional markets, as well as supermarkets. Your monthly grocery bill should not set you back more than $400. Bottles of local wine can be purchased for less than $5 and a dinner for two, including wine, will start at around $30.
Utilities, including electricity, telephone and internet, water, heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer (if you live in the south), will average around $250 per month for an average-sized apartment. It will obviously be more expensive if you choose a larger home.
Overall, a couple could live a comfortable lifestyle for about $1,700 per month in Portugal’s interior but, if you prefer Lisbon or the expat communities of the Algarve, monthly living expenses will jump to around $3,000.
Getting around Portugal is easy and inexpensive. Trains and buses connect regional centers and a metro system operates in the major cities. International airports connect with the rest of Europe and beyond. As it is a major European tourist destination, many low-cost carriers fly into Portugal on a daily basis.
A potential downside of retiring in Portugal is the language, as relatively few foreigners speak Portuguese. Fortunately though, in the larger cities and tourist areas, many Portuguese do speak English. Many more speak and understand Spanish, so maybe you could consider language lessons before you leave the US. This will provide the convenience of conversing in both Portugal and Spain.
So, if you have dreamed of a home in Europe, you should consider Portugal for its lifestyle and low cost of living.
Colombia is located at the northern tip of South America and has coasts on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean. The Andes run up the center of the western part of the country and the huge biodiversity means that you can easily find a climate and environment to suit your taste. From the warm, sandy beaches of Cartagena and Santa Marta to the more temperate climate in the mountain city of Medellin or the “coffee triangle” town of Manizales, Colombia has it all.
Infrastructure quality depends a lot on where you take up residence but in Medellin, expect an excellent public transport system, a dependable telephone system, high-speed internet and modern shopping malls. Smaller towns may lack some of the amenities of Medellin or Manizales but they make up for it with a low cost of living and great cultural offerings.
Health care in Colombia is outstanding and it is home to some of the best hospitals in Latin America. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks health care in Colombia at #22, ahead of both the US and Canada. It is becoming a popular destination for medical tourism.
Being located at the crossroads between Central and South America, Colombia is a great central location to explore both regions. And, direct flights from several Colombian cities will have you back in the US within 3 hours if you need to head home.
Many people think Colombia and automatically think Pablo Escobar. But times have changed since he was causing havoc in the 1980s. Safety in Colombia has improved significantly and even the US State Department is now touting Colombia as a safe destination for tourist and business travel.
The low cost of living in Colombia means that a couple can live comfortably for less than $2,000 per month. Rents for apartments start at $250 per month in some of the smaller towns to over $1,500 per month for a penthouse apartment in the upmarket suburbs of Medellin. A 2 bed, 2 bath apartment close to the beach in Santa Marta can be picked up for around $500 per month. Now that is retirement living!
Coupled with all of this, Colombians are very friendly people and the lifestyle is second to none. Fresh fruit and vegetables are available year-round and, because of the great climate, outdoor activities such as walking, hiking and golf are healthy lifestyle options.
Colombia holds great appeal as a retirement destination: a perfect climate, a low cost of living, great health care and easy access to Latin and South America.
If you daydream about sunshine, tropical beaches, and welcoming locals, then Panama may be your perfect retirement destination. With its modern amenities, a solid, growing economy and a stable, business-friendly government, it could be ideal for you.
Competing weather patterns coming onshore from both the Caribbean and the Pacific result in two distinct seasons, a hot, humid, rainy season and a short dry season. However, temperatures in Panama rarely change more than 20 degrees, no matter what elevation you are at.
By moving to Panama, you can enjoy the benefits of a developing economy. Taxis are inexpensive for getting around town, a haircut costs a couple of dollars and a dinner for two with a bottle of wine will cost you less than $30. Local fruit and vegetables cost next to nothing but imported food items may cost you more than at home. All the more reason to take up the healthy, local lifestyle!
A 2-bedroom apartment in central Panama City will set you back $900 to $1,500 per month, but the same apartment in Pedasi will generally cost you less than $1,000. If you include your utilities, living expenses and a modest entertainment budget, you can live comfortably as a couple in Panama for between $1,500 and $2,500 per month.
If you like shopping, Panama (and particularly Panama City) is one of the best shopping destinations in Central America. Whether you’re seeking inexpensive clothing or luxury items, there are any number of shopping malls that have you covered. While the local handicrafts aren’t as plentiful as in Mexico, which is the best in Central America, there are still a number of distinctly Panama souvenirs to purchase. Panama hat, anyone? It is also famous for its coffee; whether from a coffee plantation tour, or one of Panama’s large supermarkets. So, stock up and enjoy.
Many expats decide to live in the larger expat communities where English is spoken, but if you intend to live in Panama, I advise you to learn some Spanish to be able to communicate comfortably. In Panama City, where there is a greater need in business for employees to be able to converse bilingually, there is a higher English-speaking population.
If you’re looking for low-cost, quality healthcare, Panama may well be a good option. Clinics and hospitals are strategically located throughout the country and since it is so small, you will generally be less than an hour from a modern facility…no matter where you choose to live. It is not unusual to find English-speaking doctors, as many study abroad after finishing their initial training in Panama.
Panama’s infrastructure is one of the best systems in Central America. Infrastructure in Panama includes a network of roads and highways, the Panama Railroad, over 100 international and domestic airports and, of course, the Panama Canal. Roads in the urban areas are generally good, but in the rural areas they remain poor. Panama has five international airports, the largest being Tocumen International Airport in Panama City. It has flights to destinations throughout the world on a daily basis and is only 3 hours from Miami.
While the official Panamanian currency is the Panama balboa, the official paper currency is the United States Dollar, which makes living in Panama so easy. And in most cases, you’ll only see balboas in the coins you receive as change.
So, whether you are looking to retire from your current job and take up a portable business or you just want to make a change to your life, Panama is worth your consideration.
2. Costa Rica
Tens of thousands of expat Americans and Canadians have made Costa Rica their home and it has been a retirement haven for over 30 years. Plus, millions of tourists travel to Costa Rica each year to take in the great climate, the spectacular landscape and the Pura Vida (“life is good”) lifestyle.
The climate ranges from hot near the coast, spring-like in the Central Valley and generally much cooler in the mountains. Pick the climate best suited to you. There are so many choices.
Housing, services and health care are considerably less expensive than in the United States. No matter where you choose to live in Costa Rica, you can benefit from bargain real estate. Three-bedroom homes in the Central Valley start from $120,000 to buy and $500 a month to rent. And a two-bedroom condo close to the beach on the central Pacific coast can be rented for $700 a month.
Most expats in Costa Rica spend much less money on day-to-day expenses than they would in their home countries. Live like the locals. The feria, or farmers market, is an institution in almost every Costa Rican town. This is where the locals go to stock up on fresh fruit, vegetables, and spices. A couple can fill the fridge for about $30 per week. And it is fun!
Depending on the lifestyle you choose, a single person can live on between $1,400 and $1,700 a month and many retired couples live well on $2,000 per month (and even better on $2,500 to $3,000). That includes all living expenses, including housing, transportation, medical care, utilities, food, and entertainment.
Healthcare in Costa Rica is high-quality and low-cost. The country has two systems; private, for which you can pay cash or use your private medical insurance, and the public system which you can join when you become a legal resident. Overall, expats in Costa Rica pay a fraction of the cost of healthcare in the US.
In Costa Rica, all personal income that has a foreign source is tax exempt. So, if you telecommute to a job abroad, have an online business, or are a freelancer, you do not have to pay income tax in Costa Rica.
With online jobs you have the advantage of being paid in United States Dollars and living in a low-cost destination. So, why not take advantage of a portable income! You can have a flexible schedule, with more time to enjoy the beach or a hike in the rainforest or you could take the opportunity to travel. The world is your oyster.
Costa Rica is well-connected by air to other Central and South American countries, as well as the US. With most US cities within three to eight hours of Costa Rica, it makes the country an ideal retirement destination. It offers a fantastic lifestyle for anyone looking to enjoy the natural beauty of the world and life’s simple pleasures. You’ll find close-knit expat communities all over the country, so it’s easy to understand why so many choose to make Costa Rica their home.
All these advantages make Costa Rica a premier destination for those looking for a secure, fun, and active retirement. If you choose to retire with a portable income from freelancing or an online business, Costa Rica’s tax system makes it even more worthwhile.
And my #1 retirement destination is….
For someone considering moving overseas from the US or Canada, Mexico provides the easiest transition to an expat lifestyle. With its low cost of living, friendly locals and plenty of expats, it offers a mixture of foreign charm and first-world convenience.
Mexico is huge, with thousands of miles of coastline on the Pacific Ocean, the xxx and the Caribbean. It also has high mountains, jungles, deserts and everything in between. If you can’t find your ideal climate in Mexico, you aren’t looking hard enough. There is a climate to suit everybody!
If you like the heat, the city of Merida on the Yucatan Peninsula has high summer temperatures, but winter temperatures in the 70s and 80s. Along the Caribbean coast, Playa del Carmen and Cancun are always sunny and temperatures hover in the 80s year-round. For those who like to have seasons, towns in the Colonial Highlands have summer temperatures in the 80s but winter nights can drop into the mid-40s.
And Mexico is close to home. Return flights from the Riviera Maya cost around $350 and it is less than 2 hours from the States. For those living in the southern US, it is an easy drive to other popular expat towns like San Miguel de Allende and Lake Chapala.
English is widely spoken in most expat hotspots which makes it easy to fit in. But, hey, if you are thinking about hanging around for a while, some Spanish will make life that much easier. There are quite a few Facebook groups for expats living in Mexico. This is a great way to make new friends and find out what is going on in your community.
Private health care in Mexico costs less than half of what you would pay for it in the US. Private hospitals are world-class and, with some of the best private hospital chains available, you are rarely more than a few hours from a top-rate facility. Mexico also has two national health programs which expats can join. For permanent or temporary residents over 60, coverage is generally free.
With the peso in the financial doldrums, the purchasing power of the US dollar is king. You can buy a lot with your money in Mexico, including properties for sale or rent. You can purchase a large lakeview home in the Lake Chapala area for less than $200,000 or an apartment in Merida for around $50,000. Depending on location and amenities, rentals range from around $300 per month to more than $1,500 per month.
“Try before you buy”; rent a property to decide if this is really where you want to settle down.
When you talk Mexico, it is all about the food. Tacos and tamales, tequila and mescal. Mexican food is some of the world’s best. And remember, the further south you go from the US border, the cheaper it gets.
There are also many supermarkets stocking major US brands which makes everyday shopping easy. US chains, such as TGI Fridays, Bubba Gump and Applebee’s, also operate in Mexico.
Talking of cheap, the low cost of living is probably the biggest drawcard for retiring in Mexico. A couple can live very comfortably in Mexico for $1,200 to $3,000 per month. Most popular expat destinations have good cellphone coverage and high-speed internet. Utilities are inexpensive and satellite TV is available in most areas.
Mexico has an extensive network of transport systems, both public and private. This makes getting around easy and affordable. There are also domestic and international airports throughout Mexico if you don’t like the idea of sitting on a bus for hours and hours.
But what most expats really love about Mexico is the vibrant life and culture. There are so many things to make you happy in Mexico. A lone musician playing a tune, a local parade of costumed dancers, colorful traditions such as the Day of the Dead celebrations.
All these things, combined with the seemingly ever-weakening peso, make Mexico your #1 retirement destination for 2019.
So. there you have it. Ten great destinations that can provide the lifestyle for a dream early retirement and where the cost of living is most likely lower than you currently pay. Be adventurous now or put plans in to place for your future. Your health and bank balance will thank you in the long term.
I just completed this article while holidaying at Sok San Beach in Cambodia. This is one of the most magical places on the planet and I may have to come back here to see if it ranks for a retirement destination in my 2019 list. Stay tuned but check out the picture below!
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