The World’s Best Places to Retire in 2019

By the Staff of International Living Australia

After 12 months of on-the-ground research, scouting trips and insider interviews, the 2019 International Living Australia Global Retirement Rankings are complete. It’s the ultimate tool in your search for a dream overseas retirement destination and here’s where you can get your hands on it…

The International Living Australia Global Retirement Rankings is now in its second year, but it’s grounded in decades of expat know-how, experience and guidance from our far-flung, tight-knit community of correspondents, contributors and editors.

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 Global Retirement Rankings key aim is to help you find locations where your dollar goes further, where you can get the very best value when it comes to 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 are International Living Australia magazine 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 2019.

#7 Portugal

Cascais, Portugal.

When asked why she retired to Portugal, expat Annette Ford Rio answers with a smile, “The decision was more or less made for me. My husband, Jose, is Portuguese. He wanted to get back to his roots and I rather like being married to him.”

Of course, the couple’s decision wasn’t entirely based on romance. There were financial and social motivators too. “Back home the economic forecast didn’t look good for a soon-to-be-retired couple and the pace of life there was rushed. For us, peaceful Portugal was the likely choice. We’ve never looked back.”

Portugal’s low cost of living is a major draw for expats. “We’re never surprised by costs, other than to realise how richly we can live on our retirement income, it’s beyond all of our expectations,” says Annette.

Areas like the resort town of Cascais—where Annette and Jose call home—and the capital, Lisbon require a monthly budget of roughly $3,000 to $3,800 but move a half-hour away to a suburb and that figure drops to around $2,500.

The great value for money you find here was also a big draw for IL Portugal Correspondent, Tricia Pimental.

She and her husband, Keith, explored all over Europe in their hunt for the perfect retirement destination and as soon as they set foot in Portugal, a land of cobblestoned villages, castles and breath-taking beaches, they knew they were home.

The couple also discovered that the process of getting both a long-term visa and subsequent residence application was simple enough—and inexpensive—in Portugal.

“IL wisely recommends renting before buying in a foreign country,” says Tricia. “We took this advice. We rented close to the northern border with Spain. Then, moving toward the centre, we tasted truly rural Portugal, surrounded by olive trees, vineyards, blackberry bushes and flocks of sheep.

“Next, we made a transition to the Lisbon district, close to surfing meccas. It was at this point—after about three years of living in Portugal—that we arranged to have our personal belongings, which were still in storage back home, shipped to us.

Portugal’s coastline is dotted with hidden, golden-sand coves.

“That dramatic step made us feel surer than ever that we were here to stay. A year later, we began to seriously search for property. Today we own our own home—a five-bedroom house with mountain views—and a little land where we have fruit trees and a small vineyard, in the heart of the country, in the Beira Baixa region, because we found our money stretched much further here than in trendy beach communities, the capital of Lisbon or the “second city” of Porto.

“We’re now able to apply for citizenship. The good news? We found a great lawyer to help us. The not so good news? Now that so many others are also discovering the charms of Portugal, the expected wait time has gone from about six months to a year-and-a-half. But there’s more good news: There’s no better place to spend that time than Portugal.”

#6 Italy

Italy’s lush rolling fields and romantic hilltop towns have long lured travellers.

It’s no great surprise that Italy has topped the list of European havens on our 2019 Global Retirement Rankings. It offers an alluring lifestyle and conjures thoughts of balmy evenings, sipping chilled wine in moonlit palazzos. And, happily, if you know where to look, that dream lifestyle can be achieved even on a modest budget.

Italian food, culture and lifestyle had long been a passion for Valerie Fortney-Schneider and her husband, Bryan—as indeed it is for may of us—but they weren’t sure that their budget would stretch to cover expat life in this Old World gem. But, as IL Italy Correspondent Valerie now knows, if you pick the right spot, life in Italy is surprisingly affordable.

“We live in the southern region of Basilicata,” says Valerie. “Our small 300-year old casa in the cobbled pedestrian lanes of our village cost just €30,000 ($47,200). It’s small but has a gorgeous view and a terrace for dining outside.

“Daily life is cheap too: my morning ritual cappuccino costs only $1.60, while Bryan’s rich jolt of espresso is just $1. A kilo of pasta is less than $1 while our bread, a half-kilo loaf, is less than $2 and lasts us two to three days. A bag full of fresh fruits and vegetables, most of which are grown right here in our region, sets me back about $4.50…and the lady who I buy it from throws in the odori—parsley, basil and a stalk or two of celery—for free. Even better, all our neighbours have country plots where they grow an abundance and are eager to share.

“The price of petrol can make us gasp, but our compact car is fuel efficient. We lowered our car insurance by almost 40% simply by switching from expat-based insurance to an Italian company. Our biggest expenditure is electricity, which is high because our heating is electric. Our annual average comes out to about $125 per month. For healthcare coverage we pay $500 a year to be on the national healthcare system. That includes free doctor visits and prescriptions are either free or low cost because they’re subsidised. Hospitalisation is also free.”

As our Italy Correspondent, Valerie’s explored the length and breadth of this fascinating country, including the port town of Cesenatico in the Emilia Romagna region.

Brisbane native Debra Kolkka has also been seduced by the many charms of Italian life and, along with her husband, Jim, lives part-time in the Tuscan spa Town of Bagni di Lucca.

“Once Italy gets under your skin it’s difficult to ignore the call,” says Debra. “The country has enchanted me since I first visited in 1972, and so, in 2003—when life finally allowed—Jim and I bought a home here (a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with heavenly views up and down the valley that cost us €90,000 ($141,725) so could we spend part of every year savouring Italian life.

“Bagni di Lucca is in north west Tuscany and offers easy access to so many things we love. Lucca is close, Florence is an east day trip, we can ski 40 minutes away, the gorgeous Versilia Coast is an hour away and the village itself is delightful. Italy is also centrally placed in Europe making it simple to visit other countries. We have driven to France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Spain. Italy is a fabulous place to retire.”

#5 Cambodia

Cambodia’s resort town of Kep is a popular choice among the country’s expats.

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 a International Living Australia Global Retirement Rankings rrived 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.”

Even in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, living the high life won’t break the bank.

“My apartment takes up the entire first floor of a modern townhouse. 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.

“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.”

#4 Bali

Uluwatu, Bali.

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, who spends 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.”

Shirley 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,” she says. “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 offers great value rentals, especially if you’re settling in for a long stay.

For IL Bali Correspondent, Josephine Brierley, a long-held dream of one day retiring in Bali was one herself and husband couldn’t wait to make a reality.

“We’d been visiting Bali since 2004 and like many other Australians, it was a dream of ours to live here. While holidaying here and living here are two very different things, it’s been the best move we’ve ever made,” says Josephine.

Sanur, on the south-eastern tip of Bali, a 30-minute drive from the airport, was always our choice when holidaying, so it was a no-brainer when we decided to move here permanently. One of the earliest beach resort towns in Bali, it doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of Kuta or Legian. Quite the opposite in fact, traffic is slow and traditional Bali life continues here at a gentle pace.”

The resort town of Sanur is now home to Josephine.

“Our home is now a quaint, two-bedroom villa in the west of Sanur. The swimming pool gets used often, even in the midst of winter. We rent our home for around $1,100 a month, our electricity costs are around $200 a quarter and water bills are non-existent.

“Bali might seem a complex island to live in, but once you’ve got the inside track on the do’s and don’ts, it’s heaps easier. And once you are settled, it really is more than worth the effort. Our new life here is virtually stress-free.”

#3 Vietnam

Marble Mountain, Da Nang, Vietnam.

In recent years, Vietnam has grown into a hotspot for expats and you’ll now find them living throughout the country. Their presence has created a unique blend of cultures and an exciting fusion of Eastern and Western foods and traditions have blossomed.

The Vietnamese people are kind and welcoming and the value for money here can’t be beat. Vietnam topped our Retirement Rankings when it came to the cot of living category, achieving a perfect score of 100.

And when it comes to the lifestyle you want, you’ll be sure to find your perfect piece of paradise here. For starters, Vietnam boasts some 3,260-kilometres of coastline, making it a beach lover’s paradise.

Vietnam’s beaches are breath-taking.

The beach resort of Nha Trang on Vietnam’s south-central coast is home to around 420,000 souls, many of them expats lured here by the gorgeous golden-sand beaches, picturesque bay, great restaurant scene and super-low cost of living.

“I moved here mainly to live somewhere with a change of culture and a lower cost of living,” says Sunshine Coast native Samantha Cherry. “Nha Trang has the best of both worlds. You can live cheaply but still access Western things if the need arises. My husband and I budget about $1,200 per month and we are living very well.”

Nha Trang plays host to an active expat community.

Another coastal option is the modern, progressive city of Da Nang, which lies halfway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It’s not only home to a thriving expat community but also a clean, beautiful beach that stretches all the way to the historic town of Hoi An, 30 kilometres to the south.

Sydney native Gary Stapleton is living well here for just $1,100 per month. He says, “I live in a three-bedroom furnished house with a kitchen, a washing machine and an air-conditioner in An Thuong District, less than a kilometre from the beach. My rent is just $470. I pay about $90 per month for all my utilities, the remainder is for food, clothing and entertainment.”

Expat Erin Scholnick-Lee also loves Da Nang’s great-value, easy-going lifestyle. She says, “I didn’t realise how easy Da Nang would be—how easy it is to get around, to buy food, to go to the beach—things that make it so liveable.”

If city living is more your thing then the capital, Hanoi or the bustling cultural melting pot of Ho Chi Minh City should be top of your list. And, if you’re after spring-like weather and pine forests, believe it or not, you’ll find it in Vietnam too, in the cool-weather, mountain retreat of Da Lat.

This small city of about 400,000 people sits at an elevation of around 1,500 metres in the mountains of Vietnam’s Central Highlands. It’s surrounded by lofty peaks, pine-forested hills and fertile valleys earning it the nickname, “The City of Flowers”.

If you’re after a cool-weather retreat, then you need to take a closer look at Da Lat.

Da Lat has attracted an expat community of around 200 people. Though it’s a small group, they are very much a community. Get-togethers are scheduled at least once a week, usually more often, making Da Lat an easy place to meet people and make friends.

The cost of living in Da Lat is one of the lowest that you’ll find anywhere. Expat John Pearce, who moved here in 2014, rents a beautiful and modern four-level, two-bedroom house opposite a park. His rent is just $353 per month.

“I had heard how beautiful Da Lat was, so I came here to see it,” he says. “I loved the food and how inexpensive everything was. The people were friendly and the cool weather was perfect.”

#2 Malaysia

Malaysia’s retirement haven of Penang offers hiking trails, city living and beachside retreats.

Bang-for-buck, the quality of life in Malaysia puts it among the best retirement havens in the world (indeed, it claimed the spot in last year’s 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 love telling people about life in Penang, how much Malaysia has to offer retirees and what a game-changer an overseas move can be, not just for your wallet, but for every aspect of your life,” says IL Malaysia Correspondent, Keith Hockton, who lives on the island of Penang.

Penang, Malaysia.

“To say that our lives are more enjoyable here is an understatement. My wife Lisa and I are both in our mid-50s and free to enjoy our lifestyle as we like—at a fraction of the cost of living in Australia. Our apartment is 220-square-metres and costs just $900 a month. It has three bedrooms, a maid’s room which we use for storage, two parking bays, a swimming pool and a gym. The views to Penang Hill where I hike most days are what sold it to me, while Lisa liked that we are able to stroll to cafes and restaurants.”

Condo living in Malaysia is luxurious and affordable.

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 The Winner Is…

#1 Thailand

Koh Samui, Thailand.

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.

Krabi, Thailand.

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. Three years on, 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. “A few 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…”

For IL Thailand Correspondent Michael Cullen and his wife, Vivien, making the move to Thailand was a much a matter of the head as the heart.

“Cost of living was key to our decision-making, says Michael. “We live well here in Hua Hin for 70 per cent less than we did back home in Brisbane. We bought a very comfortable two-bedroom, two-bathroom villa with a pool, spa and small tropical garden for a very reasonable $140,000.”

The Thai royal resort of Hua Hin.

“Our utilities for the month are $100, our monthly food and grocery shopping comes in at $500 and we budget around $350 for eating out. This can go a long way when you can get tasty, fresh Thai meals for around $4 in local eateries. In more traditional cafes and restaurants main course dishes won’t cost more than $10. Eating out several times a week isn’t unusual for us these days—and all for less than one meal out back in Australia!

“Access to affordable, quality healthcare was also a non-negotiable for us and we knew we’d have no problems in this regard in Thailand. Hua Hin is home to two international standard hospitals offering excellent medical services and we’ve also discovered visits to local medical clinics to be extremely cost-effective. Seeing an English-speaking doctor for a consultation and receiving any required medication before you leave the clinic has typically set me back no more than $20.

“At the dentist, a six-month check-up and teeth clean runs us $40 each. Medical insurance, which we believe is essential, is equivalent to what we were paying back in Australia.

“There were a few other things we knew we’d need to feel comfortable in any overseas destination. A local population that was used to dealing with foreigners, had no issue with their presence and a good level of English-speakers was key for us. We were also on the lookout for an expat community that was welcoming and supportive. On all fronts, we have had no issues here in Thailand and have no regrets about our move. In fact, our new life in Thailand is better than we had ever hoped for.”

The 2019 International Living Australia Global Retirement Rankings: Final Scores

CountryOpportunityBuying & RentingBenefits & DiscountsVisas & ResidenceCost of LivingFitting inEnt. & AmenitiesHealthcareHealthy LifestyleInfrastructureClimateFINAL SCORES
Thailand8589689394951009996988591.1
Malaysia908668848789979497938688.3
Vietnam8783616710092948494878785.1
Bali858367789097957696798484.6
Cambodia878468879988907690807684.1
Italy878577827479828787848082.2
Portugal898186847771818084788381.2
Spain798274747580888593808281.1
France868080777070809387838581.0
Panama7975100927369758190728080.5
Costa Rica747780827468858795748079.6
Mexico767494827469888774748279.4
Colombia697768818867828590709078.8
Sri Lanka807967739178807889746677.7
Croatia647178657065816887807773.3

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