We all dream of one day retiring to a tropical paradise, buying a second home in a quaint beach town where it's summer all year round, or relocating our lives to an island in the sun. But it can be more than just a dream…your tropical island or beach life can be a reality.
If you like the idea of getting away from it all on an island surrounded by crystal-clear waters, where the pace of life is slow and the lifestyle affordable…or would like to be near a beach that has all the amenities you could wish for…or perhaps you’d like a tropical climate where you can throw away your winter clothes and live year-round in a sunny paradise. Whatever your dream looks like, there are plenty of destinations that can match it.
In countries like Belize, Uruguay, Panama and the Dominican Republic you can live an affordable lifestyle. In these tropical paradises, your dollar will go further and you can live a better life for a lot less that you might imagine.
Find out more about tropical destinations around the world—where you can be by the beach, enjoy perfect weather, sip cocktails while swinging in your hammock, and generally lead a laid-back and stress-free lifestyle. Sign up for IL’s free daily postcards in the box below and we’ll also send you a FREE REPORT: The World’s Best Island, Beach and Tropical Retirement Destinations. (We value your privacy. You can unsubscribe at any time.)
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For a tiny country, Panama offers a lot of choice—city living, mountain hamlets, and more beaches that you might realize. Despite having both a Pacific and Caribbean coast, a host of affordable flights from the U.S., and stellar infrastructure, Panama’s beaches aren’t overrun by big resorts. Each little beach town has its own personality, so no matter your taste or budget, you’ll find a beach town to suit you. Just an hour’s drive west of the nation’s capital, on the Pacific Coast, you’ll find the beach town that’s favored by expa
For many years, Kathleen Evans and Steve Spada knew they wanted to live and retire abroad. So, they spent their free time researching locations, dreaming about the move, and even looking at real estate abroad. “Even before the internet,” Kathleen says, “we were subscribed to International Living and looking at properties when traveling overseas.” A few years ago, the couple got serious about selling their home in Austin and making a move. Kathleen had had enough of the rush and stress of the workaday life.
Financial struggles weren’t the only thing motivating our retirement abroad, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that’s what got us looking for an out-of-the-box solution to begin with. Like a lot of people during the financial crisis, my husband, Donald, and I took a big hit. Here we were nearing the end of our working years, and our financial security had evaporated in a seeming instant. My husband had his second heart attack in three years, and then lost his job—along with his medical insurance. We were tired, vulnerable, and drowning in stress. I remember my husband declaring that he felt as if he’d, “been running a marathon for 60 years.” We both worked regular jobs, and even started a couple of small businesses on the side to claw our way back. But it would be years before we could hope to retire, and we were spending all our time and energy just to hold on.
This is the nicest raw beachfront lot I’ve stepped onto in a long time. Warm breezes clear the scant, broken clouds, opening up a big blue sky. The sea is blue turning turquoise as gentle waves roll in. It’s a picture-perfect vista and setting. The beach stretches as far as the eye can see. Sandy points frame the horizon in both directions. In the distance giant dunes dominate the landscape. This beachfront lot is like a little oasis. Wild-growing palm trees sway. Colorful flowers crawl up walls and sprout from hedgerows.
Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast has a long history as a beach destination. Costa Ricans from the Central Valley (the mountainous interior region surrounding the capital, San José, where most of the population lives), have been coming to the area for vacation and beach getaways for decades. And North American and European visitors have been right there with them for many years, too. They’re drawn by several factors, many of which also attract expats to the area for long-term living…
It’s just a little sign on the main road through the popular expat community and tourist hotspot of Manuel Antonio, on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast. It points to Punta Quepos, and when you make the turn you quickly find yourself on a barely-wide-enough-for-two-cars road that hugs the cliffside. Jungle trees surround you, interspersed with boutique hotels and homes with wide views of the blue Pacific.
Mexico’s Riviera Maya runs south of Cancun to Tulúm. The sand is white…and the water, turquoise. In the jungle, you’ll find Maya ruins. Offshore, the world’s second-longest coral reef is home to brightly colored fish. The biosphere at Sian Ka’an is a great place to hike, kayak, and study nature. The coral reef offshore attracts divers and snorkelers. Golf, hiking, spelunking in ancient caves…it’s all here. Tulúm is, and will stay, boutique. The Sian Ka’an biosphere means that much of the land is protected. Development will be low rise and low density—that’s if and where it’s permitted. Yet, amazingly, you’re just a 90-minute drive to the airport and two hours in the air to the U.S.
Standing knee-deep in clear Caribbean blue water looking back at the white-sand beach and the swaying palms, I thought it over. I was on vacation, but what was stopping me from living here? Rent here was a fraction of what I paid for my apartment in Washington, D.C., the cost of living was low, and I hadn’t felt this relaxed in years. (It helps that it’s so affordable here: All in all, a couple who own their own home could live on a monthly budget of only $1,000. With rent, that couple would have a comfortable life for around $1,800.)
Dick Walton, 53, and his wife, Dawn, 47, have always loved to travel. And they knew for a long time that they wanted to retire to English-speaking Belize…the tiny Central American country on the Caribbean sea. But when Dawn had an aneurysm in 2009, the couple pushed up that timetable to escape the stress and fast pace of life in their hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Over time they visited a few places in the country: the island of Ambergris Caye and the low-cost retiree haven of Corozal. But nothing struck them.
A new report from the editors of InternationalLiving.com ranks and profiles the five best tropical-island paradises for retirees today. Spread throughout the world, these islands are unique—but they share certain characteristics: They’re warm, offer good infrastructure, provide acceptable healthcare facilities either on-island or nearby, and they represent good value—a couple can live comfortably from $1,500 a month, housing included. “Something about the word ‘island’ makes the mind race to ‘escape,’” says InternationalLiving.com’s executive editor, Jennifer Stevens. “On an island, the pace slows, you live in the present, you shed concerns right along with your closed-toed shoes.
With stress-melting coral-sand beaches, warm tropical seas, an eclectic mix of welcoming locals and friendly expats, and international dining, the Dominican Republic epitomizes the laidback, sun-kissed lifestyle the Caribbean is known for. And you don’t have to be rich to buy a home here. I explored two up-and-coming beach towns, Cabarete and Las Terrenas, which offer exceptional Caribbean island value; you’ll find newer condos starting at $100,000, sometimes even less. Even better, many properties on these sumptuous stretches of coast will cover all your ownership costs and could even make you a profit. This is among the very few places left in the Caribbean where you can buy affordable, quality properties and take advantage of a robust rental market.
In this article, we outline the best five tropical island paradises for retirees. These places meet all the criteria needed to make them perfect retirement havens. As well as looking the part, all five of these islands—spread throughout the world—are becoming easier to get to as more and more flights open up to and from North America. Many tropical getaways have been consumed by commercialism, leaving them beyond every reasonable budget. But the islands on our list remain affordable, as attested by our expat experts on the ground. On some, it’s possible to live for as little as $1,500 a month including rent.
Lots of expats are already living their dream Caribbean lifestyle… Taking leisurely walks along the coast, cooled by the enticing Caribbean breeze…swimming and snorkeling in the living aquarium of the Caribbean Sea…feasting on fresh fruits, seafood and lobster…indulging in afternoon catnaps in a comfy hammock…meeting friends for a fresh catch lunch at a seaside café…Here’s the good news—this idyllic Caribbean lifestyle is still possible for those with a decent Social Security income—if they know where to settle, and how to cut corners…
If you like the sound of a laidback, English-speaking, Caribbean retirement at an affordable cost and with easy access to the States, you can’t do much better than Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island. Ambergris has racked up a series of impressive “best island” awards over the last few years; the island received a Traveler’s Choice Award for Best Island for 2013 and 2014. But Ambergris Caye is much more than a tourist destination. It’s a perfect retirement haven. Every day I can enjoy the gorgeous Caribbean Sea and the sight of waves crashing on the offshore Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. The Caribbean’s aquamarine hues never fail to dazzle me…
I’m on an English-speaking tropical island right now gathering data for International Living readers. The sea and beach views are hard to beat. The island’s surrounded by a fringe of coral reefs, so the water inside the nearby reef is that irresistible aquamarine color. The beaches on this island tell a variety of geological stories. Some are composed of soft, golden sand, with wide, welcoming shores.
Island time. It’s different from time in most of North America. In North America, time is kept with a smart phone, phablet, PDA, or—for the very hip—a trendy and retro watch…albeit one that also tracks how many steps you’ve taken so far in your day and annoys you into taking more if it senses you’ve been sitting longer than it thinks you should. On the island, time is kept by the sun, the moon, and the tides.
“I love the greens and blues,” says Washington native Deb Crofutt of her new life on a tropical island. “I love the smiles on the faces of everyone I make eye contact with. I like being away from the hustle and bustle of home and the pressure to own ‘things.’ I spent so many years working in the corporate world just to have stuff. This is a simpler, better life.” Imagine the feel of the warm sun on your shoulders as you walk along a pristine white sand beach stretching to the horizon, fringed by palm fronds and the sumptuous blue ocean.
I’m standing on a floating footbridge over a piratedug canal once used as a secret ship hideaway. To my right lies the tiny island of Santa Catalina, birthed when the creation of Canal Aury separated it from the main island, where centuries-old cannons still stand watch atop a high bluff. To my left is the sleepy town of Santa Isabel, administrative center of Isla Providencia. Other Caribbean islands may be soaked in pirate lore, but Providencia is drenched in it. More than one buccaneer made this his base, perhaps the most notorious of whom was Captain Henry Morgan. Today he is most famous for the rum that bears his name, but in his time Captain Morgan made a name for himself by attacking Spanish strongholds.
Standing knee-deep in clear Caribbean blue water looking back at the white-sand beach and the swaying palms, I thought it over. I was on vacation, but what was stopping me from living here? Rent here was a fraction of what I paid for my apartment in Washington, DC, the cost of living was low, and I hadn’t felt this relaxed in years. So…five days after arriving on the Caribbean island of Roatán, 30 miles off the coast of Honduras, my vacation became a new life. I forgot about that return flight and instead settled further into the sand. I felt at ease and welcome in this community, and I realized it was because people were taking the time to actually chat and get to know me. Nobody was rushing; nobody was too distracted by emails or phone calls. Everyone just seemed so calm.
I’m walking barefoot on volcanic sand that sparkles like diamonds in the sun…and the only sound I can hear is the soothing crash of waves on the shore. There’s no music or shouting from vacationers or revelers to break the silence…and I don’t have to step around chairs or towels or anything else. In fact, I have the beach almost to myself. There’s a girl jogging up ahead, and that’s it for today. You see, on Panama’s Coronado Beach, huge resorts don’t line the shoreline. There’s a small one a few minutes’ drive from the water, which also serves as a country club for the golfing enthusiasts who live here. But besides that, there are surprisingly few inns and hotels to be found.
Manzanillo just might be the most beautiful beach in Costa Rica. You’ll find it at the end of the road, literally, in the far southeastern corner, near the border with Panama. It’s on the Caribbean coast, the most undeveloped portion of the country. You drive two hours east of the capital San José, on Highway […]
Recently, I was sitting on a French beach. The sunshine was warm on my back and bathing suit-clad locals and tourists splashed happily in the surf in front of me. A gentle sea breeze blew over the water, as couples strolled the promenade behind me with their small dogs and young children. It felt just like the middle of summer. The funny thing? It was actually November. In fact, that day, Biarritz—the French beach town where I was staying—was officially the warmest city in Europe. It beat even southern Spain and always-temperate Malta to claim the title. And everyone was celebrating the early winter sunshine with a dip in the Bay of Biscay.
Washed by topaz-blue seas, garlanded with reefs, and blessed with sunshine, the islands of the Caribbean draw millions of visitors each year. If, like me, you’re hooked on the ocean and the laid-back vibe, you may also dream of living there… But, driven by the tourism industry, rising prices mean that many people feel a slice of Caribbean paradise could be beyond their budget. Let me introduce you to Grenada, where my husband Michael and I were lucky enough to spend one month last year. (And we intend to go back soon.) We’ve visited many Caribbean islands, but in Grenada we found a true gem that combines terrific beaches and weather with an affordable cost of living and reasonably priced real estate.
It’s a tropical night. Families and friends throng the café terraces along the waterfront. Everyone can see the Dragon Bridge. It’s lit a brilliant orange and designed to look like a dragon flying across the Han River. If you turn up at 6 p.m. any evening, you’ll see fireworks pour from its mouth. Cross it and you’ll find neighborhoods where expats rent for as little as $400 a month just a few blocks from miles of sandy beaches. The city of Da Nang is my first experience of Vietnam. I didn’t know quite what to expect, but I really didn’t expect what I found…
Have you ever been to a place so breathtakingly beautiful you never wanted to leave? And once you did, you couldn’t stop thinking about it? Los Frailes is that place for my husband and me. Better yet, it’s one of Ecuador’s best kept secrets…one I am going to share with you… The first time we visited this unspoiled piece of paradise I let out an audible gasp when I caught a glimpse of the beach’s turquoise-blue waters and its white sand. I turned to my husband, Mark, and whispered, “You have to promise me you’ll never tell anyone about this place.” It reminded me of Horseshoe Bay in Bermuda where we spent our 25th wedding anniversary.
When you come from San Diego, California, most people think, “You are already in paradise, why would you ever leave?” But after traveling throughout Thailand and Malaysia, Ron Bond fell in love with Koh Samui, Thailand. So he went home, tied up loose ends, and moved there three months later. Back in the States, Ron had it all: a booming hypnotherapy business, a beautiful home near the beach, and great friends and family. But he also had a severe back problem that left him constantly needing prescription drugs to manage the pain.
Gary lost his job as a producer selling commercial printing after 30 years with the same company. Louise says, “It was terrifying; we went from a very livable income to nothing in a matter of minutes.” Fortunately, as a stay-at-home mom, Louise had set up a lighting business several years before Gary’s job loss. “Gary joined me and we expanded my little business into a very lucrative lighting business. We designed and manufactured the most wonderful, whimsical lighting.”
Eighteen years ago along with my whole family, I moved from Colorado to Ecuador. Most people thought we were crazy, but that decision opened my eyes to a beautiful world and changed my life forever…for the better! It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Ecuador…especially with our new home town of Tena. There is a vibe about Tena, a feeling of youth, fun, and adventure. That atmosphere is contagious and impossible to shake. It’s rather like a hip beach town…except instead of the ocean we have rivers, instead of sand we have jungle, and instead of surfers we have kayakers. The laidback lifestyle is one of my favorite things about Tena and about Ecuador as a whole.
Ecuador takes top spot in this year’s Annual Global Retirement Index. Every year, International Living releases this Index after months of research. With the assistance of dozens of expats and experts around the world…data is collated and numbers are crunched…to identify the very best retirement destinations in the world in 2015. Using input from our team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, we combine real-world insights about climate, health care, cost of living, and much more to draw up a comprehensive list of the best bang-for-your-buck retirement destinations on the planet. Twenty-five countries made it on to the list this year, and Ecuador gets the highest score.
I’m a beach girl—I love the sun, sand and surf. A few years ago I had a choice: to never be able to retire in the U.S. because it was too expensive, or retire 11 years earlier than planned and live in a tropical paradise, free of stress and close to the ocean, my favorite place to be. Nicaragua called me and the coastal town of San Juan del Sur captured me. In San Diego there was no possibility of ever living near a beach. I’d never have the millions necessary. But here in San Juan del Sur, I was able to buy a small, two-bedroom/two-bathroom house for $132,000…with an ocean view. My friends can’t understand how I keep so busy in a beach town the size of a stamp (the main part of town covers three square blocks), but I’m doing things that I’d never have done back in California.
Ten years ago it was mainly scuba divers, anglers and adventure travelers who knew of Belize’s natural treasures. At that time few tourists could point to Belize on a map. But there’s been a growing buzz about Belize for the last few years. The constant press coverage about predictions of what would happen at the end of the Maya calendar (December 21, 2012) catapulted Belize into the international spotlight. Ever since, tourism numbers have been on the rise. And a growing number of Baby Boomers are retiring there.
Just south of the busy beach resort town of Jaco on the coastal highway is one of Costa Rica’s hidden gems. Esterillos is a quiet community (there are actually three sections: Esterillos Este, Esterillos Centro, and Esterillos Oeste) that a small but significant group of expats have come to call home. Laid-back beach living is the name of the game. No big hotels, no tall condos…not much development at all, although it is a popular weekend destination for Costa Ricans who live inland. You can walk the beach for miles and not see many other people. During the week, your only companions will likely be surfers and fisherman.
Her hands move in a rhythmic, soothing motion across my back, releasing any tension or stress, and loosening tight muscles. I lay face down on the massage table in a deep state of relaxation. “Ahh, this is the life.” After our massages, my husband, Fred, and I stroll through Nosara, a coastal town on the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica, and stop off to eat some fresh fruit from a local stand and a hearty meal of local fare—chicken, rice, and beans—at a small street-side restaurant. Our feet take us in the direction of the beach. Shoes come off, toes dig into warm, soft sand. They continue moving until bathed in the bath-water warm waves of the Pacific Ocean.
Eighteen years ago Penny Sue Leonard visited Belize for the first time, on an assignment to teach nursing practices at hospitals. She was so impressed that a year later she left Orlando, Florida, and permanently moved to Punta Gorda in the south of Belize. “Something drew me in. The fact that it is so far off the beaten path. I fell for this part of Belize. I already loved the whole country, but Punta Gorda just pulled at me.” While she was initially attracted by Belize’s beauty and the warm waters of the Caribbean, another big draw for Penny was that English is the primary language. And the lifestyle in Punta Gorda is affordable. “It is so much less expensive to live here than in the U.S.,” she says.
With spiraling costs compelling more and more North Americans to retire overseas, retiring abroad has never been more attractive. But finding the right location among the myriad options available can be daunting. That’s what our Annual Global Retirement Index does. Using input from our team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, we combine real-world insights about climate, health care, cost of living, and much more to draw up a comprehensive list of the best bang-for-your buck retirement destinations on the planet. Keep in mind that, even though only 25 countries feature on our list, all of them are worth your attention. We selected them from among all the countries in the world for their qualities as retirement hot-spots, so even the lowest-ranked nation on our index is still very much an option worth considering.
“Rio de Janeiro.” The name alone conjures up images of broad beaches populated by impossibly beautiful people. But while everyone has heard of Rio, far fewer know that “The Marvelous City” lies in a state of the same name. Rio de Janeiro state, though small in size, is geographically quite diverse. Mountains parallel the coastline, sometimes veering down into the sea. Broad swaths of the original mata Atlântica (Atlantic forest)—one of the most biodiverse areas in the world—still blanket the hillsides. Scores of lakes and lagoons lie within sight of the shimmering South Atlantic. Majestic beaches stretch literally for miles; others lie sheltered in secluded coves, accessible only by boat. Tantalizing palm-studded islands, most uninhabited, await the more adventurous.
Located on Spain’s popular Costa del Sol, Málaga is clean and bright, with a pedestrian-only city center and a revamped harbor. The city is brimming with museums, great dining, and plenty of shopping to suit all tastes and budgets. The best of “old” Málaga is well preserved. The city, with its miles of seashore, is cheerful and vibrant, oozing trademark Andalusian charm. Year-round the sun shines and winter temperatures are balmy (days average 63 F in January). Sea breezes blow off the Mediterranean, cooling the hotter summer days. “Málaga remains a very Spanish city, even in the prime tourist areas. Here you can enjoy big-city life with laidback charm,” says InternationalLiving.com editor Glynna Prentice.
The low cost of living in Belize means a couple can live well on $2,000 to $3,000 or less a month. Established expat communities make for a ready supply of new friends, and it’s English-speaking, even if it’s the second or even third language for many locals. (I spoke only English during my time there and had no issues.) Plus, it’s easy to get to from North America, thanks to daily flights.
Punta Blanca is a beautiful, exclusive area on Ecuador’s southern Pacific coast. Only about a four-hour drive from colonial Cuenca, where I live, Punta Blanca has a super-convenient location 30 minutes north of Salinas, the country’s most developed resort area, and 30 minutes south of the always happening party town of Montanita. Because Punta Blanca is residential, you need a vehicle to get there and to get around, as there are no stores or restaurants within walking distance. Rentals are available, and visitors are treated to a gorgeous and isolated beachfront experience with lots of activities and amenities nearby.
Costa Rica is a small country, about the size of West Virginia. Overall, you’ll find a low cost of living (many retired expat couples I meet live well on around $2,000 a month)…top-notch, low-cost medical care…friendly people—the national motto is Pura Vida, which translates to “life is good”…and bargain real estate—you can rent from $300 a month and up and find North America-style homes for $150,000 or less. But tiny Costa Rica has a tremendous variety of climates, lifestyles, and landscapes within its borders: bustling beach resorts, quiet fishing villages, high mountain towns, vast farmlands, looming volcanoes, lush rainforests, isolated rural areas…