Let’s be honest. Retirement abroad is not for everyone. A totally new environment. Distance from relatives and long-time friends. Culture clashes. Health care issues. Language barriers. But it’s also possible to enjoy a higher standard of living at a lower cost in foreign locations of natural beauty, appealing culture and great charm.
We’ve identified 20 appealing foreign countries based on our review of such factors as cost of living, taxes, medical care, climate, security and crime, cultural attractions and hospitality, and ease of return to the U.S. Not all score high on all of these factors (for example, they may be pricey, or hard to get to). But each should rate as a top retirement haven for at least some American retirees. The list is alphabetical.
The world’s only single-country continent offers a reasonable cost of living, especially for health care; affable people speaking English, stable politics, low crime and a warm climate featuring lots of beaches. Australia actually encourage retirees, but they generally have to meet financial requirements, including a net worth, depending on location in the country, of at least $600,000 for a couple.
Melbourne ranks high for culture and livability. Adelaide, on the south coast, and Brisbane, on the eastern, are also popular. Plane rides back to the States are direct, but very long–14 1/2 hours from Melbourne to Los Angeles.
The sole Central American country with English as the main language is a warm outdoor paradise of barrier reef diving, fishing, boating and beach. Belize aggressively courts retirees with a Qualified Retired Persons program offering permanent residency, and the cost of living is modest.
Popular spots for retirees include Ambergris Caye (pictured), an island 35 miles northeast of Belize City. Health care away from Belize City can be spotty, but Miami is just a two-hour plane ride away.
Canada offers a high quality of life at a reasonable cost outside of the big cities. Healthcare is cheap and good, although proximity to the U.S. allows Americans to take advantage of Medicare. Popular places include the scenic Sunshine Coast on the Strait of Georgia a 40-minute ferry ride northwest of Vancouver; Windsor, Canada’s southernmost city, which faces Detroit; and Niagara and Niagara-on-the-Lake, which touch New York State.
One big problem: In recent years Canada has tightened up its rules on retirement immigrants to the point where the two best routes are having a family member already in Canada, or planning to spend no more than six months a year in the country.
Politically stable Chile has a wide range of agreeable climates–from desert to Mediterranean to subtropical to snowy–at a reasonable cost. Health care is considered excellent and affordable. There’s no local tax on pensions and Social Security income from the U.S. Retirement visas are available upon showing of a secure source of income.Inviting locations for expats include the beach cities of La Serena and Vina del Mar, and the Las Condes district of the capital, Santiago. Trips back to the U.S., though, usually require a stop or change and can last nine hours.
Inviting locations for expats include the beach cities of La Serena and Vina del Mar, and the Las Condes district of the capital, Santiago. Trips back to the U.S., though, usually require a stop or change and can last nine hours.
Few countries have come farther on the retirement front than Colombia, which has shed its 1980s image as a dangerous hotbed of violent drug traffickers. The draw for retirees is outstanding weather and scenery, a low cost of living, good, cheap health care and tax-free status given to pension and Social Security payments.
With the drug cartel defeated, Medellin is particularly appealing for its European architecture and flavor, but the capital Bogota has its fans for a big-city atmosphere. Knowledge of some Spanish is helpful.
Long a lure for U.S. retirees, politically stable Costa Rica offers enormous scenic beauty and beaches–on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Popular expat destinations include the mountain-ringed Central Valley with year-round spring-like weather, and San Jose, the cosmopolitan capital.
Financially, foreign retirees need only prove a monthly income from pension or Social Security of $1,000 to get permission to settle there. Plane rides back to the states are non-stop and quick: three hours to Miami or Houston.
On the Adriatic Sea, Croatia contains beautiful scenery, a good climate, ancient cultures, a low cost of living and tax breaks for retirees. The country clearly has put behind itself a 1990s civil war.
Inviting retirement venues include the Istria peninsula and the walled medieval waterfront city of Dubrovnik (pictured). Negative: There are no direct flight connections with the U.S.
On South America’s Pacific Coast below Colombia, Ecuador may be the world’s greatest retirement value play. Amid beautiful terrain, beaches and, offshore, the Galapagos Islands, there’s a cost of living less than half the U.S. average.
Ecuador is one of those rare foreign venues–reasonable values, straight-forward procedures–where buying a home might make sense. Expat favorites include the mountain town of Cuenca, blessed with a year-round pleasant climate, and the big city of Quito (pictured), the capital. Non-stop flights to the U.S. take 5 1/2 hours.
Aside from the food and scenery, for many American retirees in France the big lure is inexpensive, high-quality health care. In a generally high-tax nation there are tax breaks for foreign retirees.
The cost of living in Paris is pricey, but other places are more affordable, such the port city of Bordeaux in southwest France, or Lyon, which is just an hour’s drive from the alps. Knowing French is a big plus.
For American retirees, Ireland can almost seem an extension of the U.S., except a lot prettier. Almost everyone speaks English. While living costs have come down, they still remain higher than the U.S. average.
Flights back to the U.S., though, are plentiful and relatively cheap. Popular venues include the village of Dingle on the Atlantic Ocean in the southwest corner, and the nearby resort of Ballybunion.
On top of good climate and food, Italy is blessed with affordable health care and insurance. Cost of living is reasonable, especially if you stay away from the larger cities.
Marche and Abruzzo, scenic regions along the Adriatic Coast far away from Rome or Milan, get some buzz. Italian government policy facilitates residency visas for Americans. Proof of financial means is required.
The climate is hot and humid, but suits fine many retirees who enjoy cheap living, terrific outdoor venues and the mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay cultures. English is widely spoken.
So long as crime-plagued border cities along U.S. are avoided, Mexico offers substantial benefits for retirees, including a warm climate, low costs and friendliness.
Proximity to the U.S. makes it possible to take advantage of Medicare, although local health care is adequate and cheap. Popular destinations include Puerto Vallarta (pictured), San Miguel de Allende, Tlaxcala and Lake Chapala.
Another country shedding its unstable past, Nicaragua is leveraging its natural beauty and dirt-cheap cost by shoveling economic incentives at retirees.
The biggest: no tax on income from abroad. The colonial city of Granada (pictured), on Lake Nicaragua near the Pacific Ocean, is a real gem. Health care is cheap, but basic. However, it’s only a 2 1/2 hour plane ride back to Miami
Long a fixture on foreign retirement lists, Panama offers a Florida-like experience at a steep discount. Government policies offer financial breaks to retirees, including no tax on foreign income and discounts for seniors. Health care is top rate and cheap.
Favored sites include Boquete (pictured), a small town in the highlands with a cooler climate and lots of U.S. expats, and the amenities of Panama City, the capital. It’s a quick hop back to the States.
For U.S. retirees the principal appeal of the Philippines is a low cost of living in a tropical environment full of English speakers and outdoor beauty. Foreign income is untaxed, and permanent residency can be had on a minimal showing of retirement income.
Popular locations include Tagaytay, a suburb of Manila, the capital, that is elevated and therefore cooler, and Subic Bay, with an infrastructure from the old U.S. Navy base. Non-stop flights between Manila and the U.S. average 15 hours.
The closest county in Western Europe to the U.S. is also the cheapest, affording retirees many benefits. Among them: a relatively low cost of living, a warm but mild climate, and a slower pace of life.
Hot spot for expats right now include the Algarve region (pictured) on the Atlantic Coast just south of Lisbon, the capital, which has adequate health care. But flights to U.S. entail stop or change.
Blessed with abundant sun, Spain is a bit like Florida. But it’s cheaper, especially for expats willing to settle a few miles back from the beautiful coasts.
Popular spots: Costa del Sol (pictured) along the Mediterranean and the Orange Blossom Coast near Barcelona. Retirement visas are pretty easy to get upon a showing of adequate income and health insurance. Flight time to the U.S. averages nine hours.
With an average cost of living one-third that of the U.S., a developed, inexpensive health-care infrastructure and a warm tropical climate, Thailand has drawn a significant retirement community.
Retirement visas generally require proof of $2,000 in monthly income. Northern town of Chiang Mai draws buzz. Political tensions in the kingdom avoid expats. But with connections it can take a full day or more to travel between Thailand and the U.S.
Long a beacon of democracy in South America, Uruguay is that rare country that allows foreign retirees to use the national healthcare system. Retirement visas are easy to come by, and most foreign income is not taxed. Many expats buy a home rather than rent one.
The climate is moderate, with four seasons but little snow. Sitting east of Argentina on the Atlantic Ocean (with beautiful beaches), Uruguay is somewhat remote for Americans. Montevideo (pictured), the capital, a popular spot for expats, is a lot closer to the South Pole than New York City. Flight time to Miami is 9 1/2 hours.