The 15 Best Islands in the World to Retire On - International Living

The 15 Best Islands in the World to Retire On

Picture yourself lying on a deserted beach sipping your favorite cocktail and enjoying the ocean breeze. No computer…no telephone…no stress. Sound tempting?

Folks often dream of retiring to an island in search of romance, fun, and adventure—and these days you don’t have to be a millionaire to enjoy all that island living offers.

Here we’ve hand-picked 15 islands, scattered around the globe that make for an affordable retirement. All are locales where you can find privacy, peace, a simpler way of life, and strong communities.

#1 Malta

Malta Island

At only 122 square miles, the tiny island nation of Malta has something for everyone— from ancient walled cities and breathtaking coastal trails to countryside farmhouses and charming restaurants.

Home to a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the islands—with over 155 miles of coastline—benefit from warm weather year-round.

Here, the English-speaking population—a legacy of British colonization—makes it easy for North Americans to adjust to life.

For centuries, Malta has been a sought-after destination and Valletta, Malta’s capital city—the European Capital of Culture 2018—is an especially desirable location with rolling hills reminiscent of San Francisco.

Dollars can go surprisingly far here, with couples living comfortably on $2,600 per month.

#2 Mallorca, Spain


Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands, the autonomous Spanish region just off the coast of the Iberian Peninsula. You’ll find evidence of its long history in the Gothic cathedral of the capital city, Palma, and the hilltop castles in the mountainous countryside, as well as Arab structures built before the Reconquest. You’ll also find Roman ruins—evidence of its importance as an outpost of that empire.

The whole coastline of this 1,405-square-mile island is ringed with marinas and harbor and natural rock-lined coves offering privacy. It’s the perfect place to weigh anchor in the western Mediterranean—and the year-round mild climate helps there too.

Here, a couple can live well from $2,500 a month, depending on lifestyle.

#3 Penang, Malaysia

Penang Island Malaysia

The island of Penang, off the coast of Malaysia, has been a firm favorite among savvy expats for decades. A former outpost of the British Empire, Penang’s English-speaking populace makes it easy for North American expats to fit in. Not only are people friendly and helpful but retirees can talk to them in English.

Here, the lifestyle is First World—it’s possible to trade-up. A couple can live well on a monthly budget of between $1,500 and $2,500 a month. It’s a luxury life on an affordable budget with all the comforts and conveniences of home.

Known as a foodie haven, Penang’s largest city, George Town, is home to eclectic architecture, a vibrant art scene, and the best street food in the world.

Penang is situated almost smack in the middle of Southeast Asia, which makes traveling to places like Bali, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia a breeze. In a few hours, you could be on the white-sand beaches of the Philippines or climbing through the golden temples of Myanmar. And Australia and New Zealand are only a few hours from here too.

#4 Ambergris Caye, Belize

Ambergris Caye Island Belize

Belize’s largest island, Ambergris Caye, is surrounded by stunning turquoise seascapes. This Caribbean island is a center for ocean sports during the day and for socializing at night.

Ambergris and the small nearby islands are not overly developed, which means they’ve maintained a laidback vibe. San Pedro is the major population hub on Ambergris.

Moving to Belize is easy—it’s the only country in Central America with English as its main language and here, the U.S. currency is accepted, credit cards are widely used, and well-known U.S. brands are available too.

Both of Belize’s domestic airlines—Tropic Air and Maya Island Air—have frequent flights to the island from Belize City so getting to there is easy. Ambergris can also be reached by water taxi.

For between $2,950 to $3,150 per month, a couple can enjoy a comfortable retirement in Ambergris Caye, including rent. If you own your own home on the island outright, then expats report it’s possible for a couple to live quite comfortably on less than $2,000 a month.

#5 Ireland


A land full of poetry and song on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, the island of Ireland is extremely alluring. It’s a place where, despite modernity, its people have time to talk.

In Ireland, you don’t have to make a hard choice between seascapes and mountains, between tranquil lake lands or verdant river valleys. Ireland has them all.

In most towns and villages, you’re never too far from the ocean…from golden beaches swept clean by rolling Atlantic waves…the views of mysterious smaller islands shimmering offshore…and quaint harbor towns with their hand-painted shop fronts and color-washed cottages.

The English-speaking populace coupled with an inclusive culture makes the Emerald Isle an easy place to fit in. It’s easy to get to and it makes for a convenient jumping-off point from which to explore Europe.

On a budget of around $2,800 a month, a retired couple could live quite comfortably in the Land of a Thousand Welcomes.

#6 Roatan, Honduras

Roatan, Honduras

Long a sleepy emerald escape in the western Caribbean, Roatan has quietly graduated from secret divers’ getaway to livable island haven. Just 50 square miles, this dollop of sand off Honduras’ northern coast is long and skinny, fringed by a reef rich with sea life and garnished by white sand beaches.

Although Honduras is Spanish-speaking, Roatán is largely English speaking thanks to a long colonial relationship with the United Kingdom.

A mountainous jungly interior gives way to white-sand beaches, and rocky coves, interspersed with pleasant and colorful traditional fishing villages. The island is most famous as a diving destination and retirement haven in the western Caribbean. The Mesoamerican Reef just offshore provides the world-class scuba and snorkeling Roatán is best known for.

And it’s the affordable Caribbean. A couple could live well on $2,000 to $2,500 a month.

#7 Isla Mujeres, Mexico


With temperatures in the mid-80s F, habitually warm Caribbean waters on all sides, and a perpetual sea breeze accompanied by the trills of soaring seabirds, Mexico’s Isla Mujeres maintains a loyal complement of full-time residents and seasonal snowbirds. It’s no longer a hidden gem, but rather has grown into a mature destination where expats can enjoy an affordable island retirement in casual, Caribbean comfort.

Clear, azure waters and white-sand beaches are never far away in Isla Mujeres, about eight miles from Cancún in Mexico. This relaxed island is a world away from its more tourist-developed neighbor—golf carts are preferred to cars as the main means of transport, here.

And the cost of living is far lower than a similar lifestyle would cost back in the States. A couple can live a very nice life on Isla Mujeres for $2,500-$3,000 a month, including rent.

#8 Isla Colon, Panama


One of the best-kept secrets in the Caribbean may well be Panama’s tropical archipelagos. Close to the border with Costa Rica, Bocas del Toro is a group of nine main islands and a few hundred smaller cayos and islets, dotting calm turquoise waters.

Bocas Del Toro is also a perfect place to test drive the dream Caribbean lifestyle. The expat community is welcoming, it’s organized, and it gives back. A couple can live here on as little as $1,400 a month, renting a simple, cozy, island-style home.

The main center is Bocas Town—a seaside town of brightly painted buildings with many on stilts over the water on the large island of Isla Colon. Here, the water is the main focus—fishing, water sports, and whale watching are just some of the popular pastimes for locals.

#9 Bali

things to do in bali

Surrounded by turquoise waters, the island of Bali is one of the most visited places in Indonesia. When you consider the archipelago consists of over 17,500 islands, that’s saying something. With so many beaches encompassing the coastline and with lush mountain ranges throughout its center, Bali has lured many an expat to a tropical life.

Floating in aquamarine waters, Bali’s interior is filled with intense green rice paddies and lush jungle—a place expats enjoy life’s little luxuries at a fraction of the cost at home and where spas are part of the lifestyle.

Bali is only eight degrees south of the equator, so you can count on most days being between 78 to 89 F with 75% humidity. The mountainous regions get some slightly cooler temperatures and the monsoon season is from October to April. But even the rainy season has plenty of sunny days.

A couple can live well in most towns on Bali for $1,900.

#10 Koh Samui, Thailand

Koh Samui Thailand

Lying about 425 miles south of the country's capital, Bangkok, Koh Samui has become one of the most coveted expat destinations in Thailand. Although only 13 miles wide and over 15 miles long, the island is Thailand’s second largest island after Phuket.

Koh Samui boasts world-class beaches tucked away in secluded bays…expansive inland jungles teeming with exotic birds, butterflies, and monkeys…magnificent cascading waterfalls and inland natural pools…and an almost countless choice of great spots to sit down, relax, and watch the spectacular sunsets over the Gulf of Thailand.

Samui, one of an archipelago of 80 smaller islands, has a warm and mostly crystal-clear sea, with lots of opportunities for kayaking, sailing, and boating. It is also fast becoming a golfer’s paradise.

The island makes a great destination for anyone looking for a dream retirement by the sea. You can live well here on a budget of $2,000-$2,500 a month.

#11 Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

Las Terrenas Dominican Republic

If you love the idea of a fusion of Europe and the Caribbean then head for the northeast Samaná peninsula and check out Las Terrenas, which was originally the place of choice of the French. There you will find amazing beaches, fabulous food ranging from lobster on the beach to upscale restaurants, French bakeries and supermarkets, and a perfect expat lifestyle.

Las Terrenas is a little piece of paradise. It boasts 19 miles of walkable, public beach, palm trees, warm breezes, and stars so bright it feels like you could pluck them from the sky.

A couple can live in this tropical paradise for around $2,000 a month, although most choose to spend closer to $3,000 a month.

#12 Crete, Greece


Crete, the biggest island in Greece and the 88th largest in the world, is an ideal choice for anyone who wants to experience Greek island living. Geographically, it is about the size of Delaware in the U.S., and with a population of over 630,000, the island is active and lively all year round largely because of local industry and agriculture.

Crete makes an excellent retirement choice for many reasons. While it offers many of the attractions that go with island living, including world-class beaches, seaside tavernas, and a relaxed vibe, it also has an effective, functional medical infrastructure.

Getting adequate medical care on an island is often a major challenge, but in Crete, because of its size, you have access to good care without having to leave the island.

The cost of living in Crete largely follows the cost of living in mainland Greece and because Crete is so big, you’ll have lots of housing options.

A couple can live here on as little as $1,800 a month.

#13 Cozumel, Mexico


If you’ve ever imagined yourself lazing on a tropical island, cold drink in hand, and wriggling your toes in the warm, clear aquamarine waters of the Caribbean Sea, the island of Cozumel in Mexico could be perfect for you.

Just 12 miles off the coast of Playa del Carmen, along Mexico’s famed Riviera Maya, Cozumel is a well-established, world class vacation destination. Especially known for its warm, tropical water, snorkelers and scuba divers from across the globe enjoy exploring the island’s reef, teeming with aquatic life.

Cozumel offers good value for dollars spent, even when it comes to housing. However, it can be hard to find an apartment as the market is geared toward short-term vacation stays.

A couple can enjoy a comfortable retirement here, including rent, for less than $1,900 a month.

#14 Caye Caulker, Belize


Caye Caulker, a five-mile-long island off the coast of mainland Belize, is a charming Caribbean island where “go slow” is the motto. This island is known for its stunning seascapes, diverse water sports, eco-tours, and friendly community.

It takes only 30 minutes by water taxi to reach Caye Caulker from its big sister Ambergris Caye. While it is much smaller, with less than 2,000 residents compared to Ambergris’ 20,000, it’s just as beautiful on this island and the pace is much slower.

The island’s lifestyle is simple, laidback, and close to the sea. It’s a desirable spot for expats who enjoy outdoor activities, especially those that are water-related. The gorgeous setting provides abundant inspiration for artists, photographers, and writers, as well as those who appreciate nature at its finest.

Most expats can live comfortably on this island for $1,500 to $2,000 a month.

#15 Phu Quoc, Vietnam


Though it’s only about the size of Chicago, with barely 100,000 full-time residents, Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s largest island. It’s a lovely place for adventurous retirees. Over half of the island is protected parks and reserves. Over 20 beaches dot the coastline, with many more on the 27 nearby islands that make up the Phu Quoc Archipelago.

About 200 expats live on the island; the majority of them stay in Duong Dong, the commercial center of Phu Quoc with a population of roughly 20,000.

Phu Quoc offers everything needed in a retirement haven. The island is full of natural beauty, with mountains, trails through lush jungle forests, coral reefs, and intriguing beaches. A leisurely drive around the circumference of the island takes about a day, but discovering its many hidden gems could take years.

A couple can live here on as little as $1,210 a month.

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