2012 Retirement Index 

Cheapest Places to Retire

Ecuador 100/100

Ecuador stormed to the top of our list in the cost of living stakes. We’ve heard from couples who are living well on $800—and less.  Everything from home rentals and health insurance cover to eating out and motoring costs come in significantly lower than in the U.S. There are also regional differences – small towns like Cotacachi are significantly cheaper than the bigger cities.

To help demonstrate just how much life here costs, we’ve pulled together detailed budgets for couples living in some of the most popular expat locations in the country. You can take a look here.

Panama 95/100

Panama is another country marked by significant price differences. In Panama City, many expats live comfortably on around $2,500 a month. However, we have heard from many who live well here on as little as $1,500 a month…including mortgage payments.

But while it is competitive in the cost of living stakes, Panama City can be notably more expensive than locations outside the main population centers. In the highland town of Boquete, you can rent a three-bedroom apartment for $450 a month. On the Pacific Coast in Coronado,  you’ll get a top grade meal out for $7.

Then you have places like David; the capital of the province of Chiriqui. Located just 45 minutes away from Panama’s highlands, this small colonial town seems to have it all. Have a nice “executive lunch” for as little as $5, including a soft drink…or a large Panamanian “worker lunch” for as little as $2.75.

All the basics you need to live comfortably are available: from hi-tech needs like reliable high-speed Internet from $19 a month to low-tech needs like clean water (often less than $7 a month for a two-person household).

A full-time maid can cost you as little as $175 a month, or pay $10 to $12 for a full day’s work. One can live very comfortably here for $1,500 a month or less, including rent or monthly mortgage payments.

Malaysia 95/100

Multicultural Malaysia is one of Asia’s real gems—especially when it comes to cost of living. Penang resident Keith Hockton told us about the lifestyle he enjoys in the old colonial city—and the tiny price tag it comes with.

Go to a local market in Penang and you will walk away with a bagful of fresh fruit, including mangoes, bananas, devil fruit, and pineapples, for around $4. Renting here is cheap, and a 1,000-square-foot apartment with sea views, a pool, tennis and squash courts, and a gym rents for as little as $500 a month.

“Friends of ours rent a 1,000-square-foot apartment without the sea views, with the same facilities, for just $300 a month,” says Keith.

Cable Internet costs $30 a month for unlimited downloads, and the top cable TV package costs $40 a month. All the channels are in English and include favorites like HBO, CNN, and the BBC.

A four hours-per-week maid costs $12. Electricity costs us $100 a month and water costs about $10 a month. In Malaysia, dining out is a delight. Good steak dinners will set you back $12, while local fare is cheaper still. Depending on where you go and how much you eat, two people can have a three-course meal for $10.

Even with the cost of his luxury $1,000 accommodation factored in, Keith’s monthly outgoings come to $1,719.

Mexico 94/100

Close-to-home Mexico was another strong scorer in the cost of living stakes this year, and it’s not difficult to see why. Take San Miguel de Allende—one of Mexico’s prettiest colonial towns and an expat favorite.

San Miguel de Allende is one of Mexico’s prettiest colonial towns and an expat favorite. But it doesn’t have to be expensive. You can find properties there now starting at about $150,000, and enjoy San Miguel’s vibrant atmosphere and many amenities. And your cost of living in San Miguel will be low, too.

In San Miguel de Allende you can rent a two-bedroom apartment with one or two bathrooms for about $400 a week. Groceries are about 30% to 40% cheaper than you’d pay in a supermarket back home and fresh fruit and vegetables are a lot cheaper.

Make sure to visit the Tuesday market, where you can find anything from snacks to bicycle parts. Or shop for crafts at the Mercado de Artesanías or dozens of other shops that line the cobbled streets of San Miguel.

Eating out at a restaurant will cost you a few dollars for breakfast. And the menu of the day for lunch costs about $10 to $15.

Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, simply click on the below button to subscribe to International Living magazine at the special introductory price of $49. You will get instant access to the current issue of the magazine as well 10 years of back issues. As an added bonus, we will also send you a FREE report – How to Retire in Paradise on $30 a Day. (You can cancel your subscription at any time.)


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