Revealed: International Living Australia’s 2018 Global Retirement Rankings
By the Staff of International Living
It’s been years in the planning. Now, for the first-time ever, we’re giving you the opportunity to get your hands on the ultimate tool in your search for a dream overseas retirement destination…
The 2018 International Living Australia Global Retirement Rankings are complete.
For decades, International Living has been developing an extensive network of editors, correspondents and contributors that now spans four continents. For months they have been helping us amass the wealth of information needed to prepare our first-ever Global Retirement Rankings for Australians.
Our focus is multifaceted. Our key aim is to help you find locations where your dollar goes further, where you can get the best bang for your buck in terms of real estate, cost of living and overall quality of life. We also assess the quality of a country’s healthcare and infrastructure, the proficiency in English of the local population and the size of existing expat communities (ensuring there’ll be plenty of like-minded people for you to mix with once you arrive). How close to home are you, can you hop on a direct flight…how easy is it to get a long-term visa or residence…?
Our starting point was a model used to determine the best retirement havens for readers of International Living in the United States. We adapted and refined it to focus on the needs and wants of Australian boomers.
To compile the rankings and shortlist of the world’s best retirement havens for Australians, we sent out a comprehensive questionnaire. We then added the questionnaire results to other research and resources, such as data from the World Bank and the World Health Organisation.
Let’s be frank: Our rankings are subjective. We purposely rely on the judgment and experience of in-country expats…people just like you who have made the move and learned all their lessons the hard way. All these people were once in your shoes. All of them wondered if they could find a better life abroad. many of them were former International Living readers who took the plunge, and now want to share their love for their new home with the world. These are the people we draw upon to put these rankings together. They live in the countries they write about. And they’ve been there long enough to get under the skin of their host nation and provide us with real insights into what it’s like to live there.
So, without further ado, read on to discover International Living Australia’s Top 7 Retirement Destinations for 2018.
A country with surprisingly varied landscapes, Panama is so much more than its modern, cosmopolitan capital city. There are mountain towns boasting cool climates, pine-covered hills, and sweet, Swiss-style cottages framed with bright bursts of bougainvillea. And of course there are beaches galore, from the white sand gems of the Caribbean, to the many popular and easily accessible beaches of the Pacific.
IL Editor Jessica Ramesch makes her home in Panama City’s middle-class Betania neighbourhood. “When I arrived here I found a four-bedroom apartment in a small building (formerly a three-level home) and fell in love with the idea of all that space. My rent 11 years ago was just $730 a month, and since then it’s only gone up by $270. The owner could charge a bit more, but he’s happy to have a reliable tenant.
“Like my landlord, who lives next door, my neighbours are mostly locals. My landlord’s grandfather lives two houses over and across the street is the family home of one of the city’s more successful real estate agents. It’s a safe, quiet, very local area. When I’m in the mood for a little excitement…a good show or dinner at a trendy restaurant…I take a $1 metro ride (or $5 to $6 Uber) to the bay area.
“In other parts of town, you will generally pay $1,600 to $2,000 a month for a nice two-bedroom apartment. It’s steep compared to some other parts of Panama. But where else in the world can you live in a truly cosmopolitan capital…on the water…for so little?
“What works for me—now, after 11 years of living here full-time—may not work for you. Or it may suit you just fine. But again, that’s the beauty of Panama City. There are plenty of safe, convenient, diverse neighbourhoods offering high-value lifestyles. Come here and you’ll see that the sky…almost literally…is the limit.”
Sell your winter clothes…and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime in the Land of Eternal Spring. Every cliché you’ve heard about living large on little…on even a retiree’s budget…is true in Ecuador.
Ecuador lies in the northwestern corner of South America, bordered by Colombia to the north, Peru to the south and east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. At just 455,338 square kilometres, Ecuador’s small size belies its incredible diversity.
The Andes Mountains form Ecuador’s backbone and from the 6,310 metre-high top of Mount Chimborazo, the mountains descend on the east to dense tropical rainforests and on the west to balmy Pacific beaches. In between, you’ll find more climates, cultures and natural wonders than almost any place on earth.
Envision your dream location—an unspoiled beach, a bustling city, university town, quiet mountain village—Ecuador has them all. Choose the place that’s right for you and start enjoying a better quality of life now.
Fresh fruits and vegetables—clean air and water—year-round temperate climate—no wonder so many expats living in Ecuador say they feel better than they have in years.
Healthcare in metropolitan areas is top-notch and low-cost. And residents are eligible to join the country’s Social Security healthcare system with premiums of less than $100 a month for a couple.
Ecuador also offers special benefits to residents aged 65 and older. Public transportation is half price, airfare (even when flying internationally) is significantly discounted and seniors receive a monthly refund of sales tax paid. Plus you get to go to the front of the line at the bank and grocery store!
Whether you want to live, holiday, retire or simply relax in Ecuador, you’ll find the perfect combination of climate, culture and affordability to make your dreams come true.
Bali is a place of tradition and symbols…an island of fragrance and flower offerings. You’re surrounded by blooms. You’ll step over them on the street, find them on the beaches, outside houses and piled in the many temples. Every morning the pavements are scrubbed and little baskets of blooms are laid out. Frangipani flowers are strewn on statues and steps, baskets of woven palm are filled with white lime, red betel-nut and more…each colour has a meaning…yellow for the god Mahadeva…blue for Vishnu…
It’s also a low-cost paradise, long-loved by Aussies. “I start my day on the beach and end it on the beach,” says Shirley Bowman, 62. For the past seven years, she has lived six months of each year in her spacious villa in the Balinese coastal village of Canggu.
Canggu lies just north of the popular beach resort of Kuta, on Bali’s south coast. Although just a 40-minute drive from the airport, Canggu, with its enticing mix of verdant countryside and laidback black-sand beach, feels a world away from the island’s crowded tourist hotspots.
“When I first decided to move to Bali I went all the way around the island on a motorbike,” says Shirley. “I finally settled on Canggu because it was a bit rural and off-the-beaten-track, removed from the main tourist centres.”
Although foreigners aren’t permitted to own land in Bali, many have obtained long-term land leases and built or purchased villas of their own. Shirley owns several properties, including the three-bedroom villa in Canggu where she lives. “I got in when property was cheap,” she says. “I was one of the first expats to come and buy here.”
Now Shirley divides her time between Australia and Bali, where her days are fun and stress-free. After catching the sunrise at the beach, she enjoys spending time in her private swimming pool or exploring the area. “I love adventures, getting on my motorbike and going on a road trip with my girlfriends.” In the evening, she heads to the beach or to a friend’s house, where they’ll have some beers and watch the sunset.
She finds that almost everything costs much less in Bali than it does back home. “I generally allow myself about $1,000 per month for my motorbike, food, clothes and incidental expenses,” says Shirley. “That’s a whole lot less than I spend in Australia.”
Healthcare in Bali has improved in recent years and Shirley wouldn’t hesitate to seek medical care in Bali if she needed it, but she maintains insurance through Allianz—which costs her about $800 per year—and recommends any other expat to do the same.
Bali is a dental tourism hotspot among Australians and Shirley is a satisfied patient. “I go to Bali 911 Dental Clinic. Recently, I needed implants on three of my teeth. After the examination, I was booked for just a few days later and paid a total of $5,000. When I came back, my girlfriend told me that she had paid $7,000 for just one implant in Australia. I can see why Bali is becoming known for dental tourism.”
Shirley says that living half of the year in Bali and half in Australia works well for her. “When I go to Australia, I enjoy spending time with my family in Cheshunt. I don’t see Bali being that different from Australia. In Australia, I have friends and family; in Bali, I have friends and people who I consider to be family. Both places have wide-open spaces and clean air. But Bali feels much freer than Australia…”
IL Cambodia Correspondent Steven King has travelled extensively throughout Southeast Asia. He knows just how rich the region is in opportunities and beauty. But, for Steven, the moment he arrived in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, he knew he had found the place he wanted to put down roots.
“When it comes to moving overseas everyone has their own list of wants and needs…English-speaking, friendly locals, welcoming expats, low-costs, top-notch cuisine, white-sand beaches, boatloads to see and do… The list goes on…and on…and the good news is Cambodia doesn’t fall short on any of them,” says Steven.
“I live in Boeung Keng Kang 1, known as BKK1, a desirable Phnom Penh district thanks to its bustling restaurants, coffee houses, shops and supermarkets. BKK1 plays home to a vibrant mix of Cambodians and expats and is also a popular spot with visiting tourists.
“My apartment, which takes up the entire first floor of a modern townhouse, has been my home for over a year now. It’s by far the most comfortable and spacious property I have lived in since moving to Cambodia nearly 11 years ago. In fact, it’s the biggest and best-value property I have ever had the opportunity to rent in my life.
“My apartment boasts two spacious bedrooms with king-sized beds and air conditioners in each room, an en-suite bathroom with a decent bathtub, a separate bathroom for guests, a large, open-plan space that includes a living area with a sofa, coffee table and television hooked up to Pay TV, plus a dining area with room for half a dozen friends.
“At the back of the apartment is a well-equipped kitchen with a refrigerator, gas cooker, sink and plenty of storage space. By far the coolest room in my apartment can be found by climbing a small staircase leading to a second-floor partition which has ample space to fit in the work desk, reclining chair, sofa and coffee table that makes up my very own home office.
“There’s more than enough room here for everything I need for myself and the occasional friend or family member visiting me and the location is second to none.
“For all of this I pay a mere $530 a month and recently signed a new lease for another year without any price increase at all.
“Aside from the property rental, I pay a little over $130 for utilities such as electricity, Pay TV, water, private garbage collection and for a cleaning service three times each week. I also pay $13 a month to have my clothes professionally washed and ironed. At such affordable prices, there’s no reason for me not to have somebody else handle the cleaning.
“The $673 all-up I spend on my apartment is my biggest monthly outgoing but as it’s such a modest amount I’m still able to save most of my income. As much as I live the good life in Cambodia, with an active social life and regular splurges on imported creature comforts, my bank balance remains healthily in the black.”
Mexico is full of overlooked retirement havens where you can retire in luxury without spending a fortune. The country’s lower cost of living—and of just about everything else—means a comfortable, fulfilling life here will likely cost you a fraction of what you pay back home. From real estate to groceries, entertainment to healthcare, life in Mexico simply costs less.
Here you can still find comfortable homes for under $190,000 and buy fresh fruits, vegetables and meats for just a few dollars. As for healthcare…treatment by well-trained medical professionals in first-class hospitals and clinics will cost you a fraction of what it does in Australia. (In fact, there are few places in Mexico where you’re more than a few hours from a good private hospital.)
Today’s Mexico is largely First-World, with excellent highways, sleek airports and high-speed telecommunications, as well as first-run films (in English, with Spanish subtitles) and television shows.
But you’ll also enjoy a slower, more relaxed pace of life here, where children still play in the streets and neighbours know each other. You’ll find a rich, strong local culture, too, with traditional markets; colourful, indigenous dress; ancient ruins of great civilizations; and regional music, dance and customs. You’ll find plenty to do and see in Mexico—and the Mexican people, some of the friendliest folks around, will be happy to share it with you.
“As I write about my life in Cancún, Mexico, it seems like a fairytale and yet, it’s very real,” says IL Correspondent, Don Murray.
“The first thing I see every morning, even before getting out of bed, is a clear, unobstructed view of the shimmering, aquamarine Caribbean Sea…just beyond the pool. Pelicans air-surf the ocean breezes, soaring silently above the gentle waves. Occasionally, one will fold its wings tightly against its body and plunge headlong into the foamy brine to collect a shimmering fish. Gulls skitter along the sand finding plenty to eat as the waves deliver their tiny portions and then recede, until the next delivery. Watching this activity is my regular morning entertainment as I drink my first cup of coffee.
“But there is more to living in paradise than a perpetual beach holiday. There are bills to pay, shopping to be done, clothing to be dry-cleaned and the Jeep needs an oil change. Building a full-time life in paradise also means finding good doctors and dentists, insurance agents, a good auto mechanic, and a seamstress, while making new friends in a new language; things that 5 million annual tourists never need to consider. Fortunately, all this is easily accomplished in Cancún, a modern city of some 750,000 people.
“Cancún provides all the comforts you would expect from a 21st century city. Modern hospitals, excellent and affordable medical care, over 700 restaurants, world-class shopping, warm tropical weather, solid and functional infrastructure and a system of paved roads make expat life here very agreeable and smooths the way for transitioning expats.
“Cancún sits on the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and is the gateway to the famed Riviera Maya. With a bustling international airport and a vibrant public transportation system, Cancún has earned its well-deserved reputation as an iconic destination and its position as a top-ranking retirement haven.”
From the golden beaches to the fabulous food and friendly people, it’s easy to see why Thailand is known as “The Land of Smiles”.
For years, its warm climate, low cost of living and laidback lifestyle have attracted tourists and expats from around the world for both short-term and long-term stays.
Some of the world’s most beautiful beaches are located in the south of the country. From the bustling seaside resorts of Koh Samui and Hua Hin, to the more tranquil islands of Phi Phi and Lanta, there is something for everyone who dreams of retirement in the tropics. Some expats prefer to live in the smaller villages that dot the coastlines on both sides of the country, where accommodation costs are much less expensive and life is slower paced. It is still possible to find furnished townhouse and apartment rentals within five minutes of the beach for less than $670 per month.
A couple of years ago, IL Chiang Mai Correspondent Rachel Devlin decided to sell up in Australia and make the move to Thailand. When she told friends and family her plans they thought she was making a mistake. Two years on, at the age of 47, she’s retired and living her dream life in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s “Rose of the North”.
“My move wasn’t about escaping a terrible life, but shifting to a healthier one,” says Rachel. “Two years ago I didn’t even realise that I yearned for a better lifestyle. It naturally evolved when I moved here. Here, I have time to pause, breathe and really appreciate the time I have.
“And the secret to how I made it happen? I sold my house in Australia and bought property in Thailand. It provides me with an income stream that meant I could kiss goodbye to my old 50-hour work week. Apartments here start at $40,000–that’s in the bustling city–they get cheaper as you move out into the peaceful suburbs. This is a well-kept secret which I only wish I had discovered sooner. It’s certainly proved a life-changing discovery for me…”
The 2018 International Living Australia Global Retirement Rankings–Final Scores
And The Winner Is…
Bang-for-buck, the quality of life in Malaysia puts it among the best retirement havens in the world and makes it our number one spot in the 2018 International Living Australia Global Retirement Rankings.
Life here is just so easy. You’ll get by in English without much of a hitch, if you chose to drive you’ll find the roads are excellent and you’ll have no problem finding high-speed internet.
Like many things about Malaysia, healthcare is world class, doctors speak English and you can see a specialist without any need for an appointment for as little as $28. Just turn up. It’s the same with dentists.
The average countrywide temperature is 27 C all year round and you’ll find pristine beaches and castaway islands to explore by yacht. Fancy a break from the heat? Spend time in the cool northern hill stations, where you can get a taste of the local strawberries or enjoy afternoon tea—a legacy of English colonists.
Malaysia is the only retirement haven in Southeast Asia to have been a British colony. The British influence is important (it’s why English is spoken so widely). From the end of the 18th century the British established footholds along the Straits of Malacca—a vital sea lane connecting Europe and Africa to the Asia-Pacific region. These places drew Chinese migrants—today known as Peranakans—and Indians, mainly from southern parts of the subcontinent.
Westerners are still coming to work for the many multinationals based in these places today. In fact, many of the retirees you find in Malaysia first discovered the benefits of living there as employees of firms like Dell, Intel and Bosch. This melting-pot mix of Malays, Indians, Chinese and Westerners makes for the best retirement destinations in the country—places like Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru.
“I feel welcome,” says IL Southeast Asia Correspondent, Kirsten Raccuia, who lives on the island of Penang. “People here are so honest, I have been chased down the street by vendors trying to return change or been told we’ve paid too much and refunded.”
As a foreigner you can buy freehold as long as you meet the minimum purchase price. (Each state of the Malaysian Federation sets its own minimum purchase price.) And living in Malaysia means you have the perfect base for exploring Southeast Asia—itself the best region in the world for a part-time, adventuresome and comfortable roving retirement. Low-cost flights throughout the region mean a weekend in Vietnam or Borneo is easy, as is a trip home.
The country’s Malaysia My Second Home visa, allows you to live there for 10 years and when it expires is automatically renewable for an additional 10 years. And when you move to Malaysia you can import a car—and your household goods—duty free.