Best Places in the World for Visa and Retiree Benefits in 2024

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In all of the countries listed below, you’ll encounter a reasonable cost of living, an attainable residency program, and special discounts designed to support those in their "third age."

Think lower property tax; discounted medications and hospital visits; affordable travel and leisure activities; and even priority queuing. Instead of counting pennies in retirement, you can count the savings you make on everyday items like your groceries, a movie ticket, and even a flight back to the US or Canada.

This category recognizes the countries with reasonable visa processes. Places where obtaining a tourist visa is as simple as filling out a form, where travel within the country is as painless as buying a bus ticket; and where the process of becoming a resident (and, in some cases, even a citizen) is relatively straightforward, affordable, and stress-free.

While each country has unique laws and requirements, this category’s high scorers are all welcoming in terms of accepting expats, and many even have special retiree visas to encourage and facilitate a new life abroad.

5. Portugal

Portugal Visa and Benefits
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By Terry Coles

In all of the countries listed below, you’ll encounter a reasonable cost of living, an attainable residency program, and special discounts designed to support those in their "third age."

Think lower property tax; discounted medications and hospital visits; affordable travel and leisure activities; and even priority queuing. Instead of counting pennies in retirement, you can count the savings you make on everyday items like your groceries, a movie ticket, and even a flight back to the US or Canada.

This category recognizes the countries with reasonable visa processes. Places where obtaining a tourist visa is as simple as filling out a form, where travel within the country is as painless as buying a bus ticket; and where the process of becoming a resident (and, in some cases, even a citizen) is relatively straightforward, affordable, and stress-free.

While each country has unique laws and requirements, this category’s high scorers are all welcoming in terms of accepting expats, and many even have special retiree visas to encourage and facilitate a new life abroad.

Full Guide to Visa and Residency in Portugal Here.

4. Ecuador

Ecuador Visa and Benefits
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By Fiona Mitchell

Ecuador is rightly known for its kind culture and devotion to family, a national trait that many who relocate to this small South American country come to appreciate greatly. "There are so many things that make Ecuador an appealing choice for expats, but the number one reason I love it here is the people," says Teresa Durrant, an expat who relocated to Cuenca from San Diego, California, ten years ago. "There’s a warmth, openness, and civility that is unusual, but you see it everywhere. Family is everything, and respect for the elderly is a big part of that. We always get moved to the front of the lines, and we love it. People are always smiling… and gracious," adds Teresa.

Ecuadorians show a tremendous amount of deference toward those in their tercera edad (third age), and the thought of putting your elderly relatives into a care facility is abhorrent to most Ecuadorians. "That’s why you’ll normally find multiple generations of the same family living under one roof," says IL Ecuador contributor Fiona Mitchell. "It is expected and accepted, that you’ll be there for your older family members when they need you, and you see this in all aspects of life. From doctor’s appointments and business at the bank, to grocery shopping and trips to the local park, you’ll find seniors being happily accompanied by their younger relatives," she adds.

In terms of financial discounts, there are plenty of great savings to be found for retirees. Ecuador’s Civil Aviation Law stipulates that anyone over the age of 65 is entitled to 50% discounts on all airline tickets. This also applies to international flights, as long as they leave from and return to Ecuador—but it is worth noting that the discounts only apply to the actual flight fare, not the taxes, surcharges, and other fees typically tagged onto a ticket price. The discount amounts to about 30% off the overall cost of a flight, and it is generally recommended to book directly with the airline at one of their local offices or via a travel agent. "Another great perk of being a senior in Ecuador is that we can now afford to fly to and from the States in business class," says Teresa’s husband Billy, "thanks to the tercera edad discount we get on our tickets."

Reduced prices are also available for movie tickets and applied to many cultural events such as concerts and shows. If you buy property, your annual property tax will be calculated at a significantly lower rate if you are over the age of 65, and you can also receive discounts on utility, internet, and phone bills if they are registered in your name.

Public city buses are discounted 50% for those aged 65 and over, and entry to galleries and theater plays are discounted as well, plus many are free in the city of Cuenca as well as in other cities of Ecuador.

One of the greatest benefits of moving to Ecuador is that the country welcomes expats and doesn’t try to make the visa process difficult. It is one of the easiest countries in South America to obtain residency in.

There are many types of visas available to foreigners looking to reside in Ecuador, with the most common ones being the pensioner’s visa and the investor’s visa. These will allow you to gain temporary residency, and after 21 months, you will be eligible to apply for a permanent residency visa. The process is done entirely from within Ecuador, but obtaining certain documents from your home country is advisable before arriving in Ecuador.

"We started to gather our documents, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, pension benefits letter, etc., several months before we arrived in Ecuador," recalls Fiona. "Some of these also had to be apostilled—a special authentication carried out by the Secretary of State. We also started to correspond with an attorney in Cuenca, so that we could hit the ground running once we arrived in Ecuador, and could be sure that we had all the documents required."

For a pensioner visa, you need to prove a monthly income of $1350 per month, and an additional $250 per month for each family dependent. As well as bank statements, a pension benefits letter is required to attest that you will receive this income for the rest of your life. Many expats choose this visa because they have an income from Social Security in the US, which satisfies the visa income requirement. The other appealing advantage of this visa is that no capital is required upfront.

An investor’s visa currently requires an investment of $45,000 in either Ecuadorian real estate or a certificate of deposit at an Ecuadorian bank (CD). Many expats like this option since the CDs currently have extremely favorable interest rates of over 8%—however, be warned that withdrawing the principal is not always an easy task once the CD matures!

In terms of costs, facilitators and lawyers generally charge about $500 per person to assist with obtaining residency visas. On top of that, there are Ecuadorian government fees to pay, usually running from $300 to $500, as well as other small costs, such as obtaining police checks, getting documents legalized in your home country, and having documents notarized and translated in Ecuador. You could expect to pay between $1,100 and $1,500 to obtain a residency visa using local assistance, and less if you are able to navigate the system by yourself (difficult, but not impossible).

Full Guide to Visa and Residency in Ecuador Here.

3. Mexico

Mexico Visa and Benefits
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By Wendy Justice and Bel Woodhouse

Getting a Mexican visa is an easy and straightforward process, whether you want to stay for a few months or the rest of your life. This was a major reason why I chose to move here rather than to a different country which made it challenging, or even impossible, to stay long-term or obtain residency.

Mexico keeps the process simple, streamlined, and a lot faster than other countries. It doesn’t require a large fixed deposit or investment, notarized or apostilled documents, criminal or FBI background checks, medical exams, or any other difficult-to-satisfy requirements.

Tourists, or anyone else wanting to visit the country for a short time, can get a visa on arrival that can be valid for up to six months. But it has changed a little. Unlike in the past, the length of stay is not an automatic 180 days; the Immigration officer has some discretion on how many days you get. So if you want a guarantee that you can remain in the country for a full six months, apply for a visa from a Mexican consulate in your home country beforehand.

Another recent change impacts the practice of the “visa runs” or “border runs” that people make at the end of their initial tourist visas. It was a loophole many people took advantage of. Americans used to be able to just take a trip to a neighboring country—the U.S., Guatemala, or Belize, and return the same day with a new six-month Mexican visa. The government is discouraging this practice and has made the requirements for getting a long-term Mexican visa easier.

They want to be sure that foreigners living in Mexico are doing so legally and that the process of securing temporary or permanent residency is not too demanding. Plus, there are other benefits like big discounts for seniors, lower cost of transportation, and huge capital gains tax savings when selling property if legal residency is obtained.

So, let’s say you’ve been on a six-month scouting trip to find where you want to live in Mexico and want to stay longer. It’s not hard to get a temporary residency visa, which is valid for a period of six months to a maximum of four years. Or permanent residency which never expires.

The application process for either temporary or permanent residency begins at a Mexican consulate in your home country. The consulate will give you a list of their requirements and instruct you on which forms you’ll need to complete. Be prepared, all forms are in Spanish.

Financial requirements will vary somewhat from one consulate to the next; at this time, the Mexican consulate in McAllen, Texas, seems to have the lowest threshold. Aside from the fees imposed to obtain your temporary or permanent residency card, your biggest expense will probably be making the required two copies of six to 12 months of bank statements.

Residente Temporal, or temporary residency visas have lower financial requirements than the permanent residency option. You’ll need to provide proof of monthly income of $4,150 over the past six months or a savings or investment account balance of $69,166 per month over the past year. It’s also possible to qualify for a temporary resident visa if you invest at least $293,000 in a business. If you invest at least $200,000, you’ll be eligible for a permanent residency visa and a fast-track to citizenship.

Financial requirements are higher when applying for the Residente Permanente, permanent residency. You’ll need to provide proof of a monthly income of $6,916 over the past six months or a savings balance of at least $276,667 every month for the past year. Permanent residency never expires and is the first step towards Mexican citizenship.

Immigration agents either in the U.S, or in Mexico are happy to assist with the application process for a fee of around $250 to $400 (varies depending on agent), and you can start your application in the U.S, then have it finalized quickly, oftentimes within a day upon arrival in Mexico. But if you know enough Spanish or have a Spanish-speaking friend who can help with the translation, you can save some money and do it yourself.

The process will go smoothly if you make sure to take all of your required documentation to the consulate on the date of your appointment. You’ll be interviewed by a Consular Officer, who will verify your eligibility and ask you a few questions about why you want to move to Mexico.

Please note that if you are applying with a family member, each applicant will need a separate appointment and will need to bring proof of income and eligibility. Also, you’ll need one set of original bank statements or a letter from Social Security as well as a full set of copies. Not having copies is the biggest mistake made during the application process.

Once approved, pay the $53 fee at the consulate and receive your special Canje visa, which is valid for up to 180 days.

Upon arrival in Mexico, you’ll need to report to a Department of Immigration office within 30 days of arriving and before the Canje visa expires (180 days). It can be time-consuming to get an appointment with Immigration, so allow plenty of time since once you’re in Mexico, you’ll only have a month to obtain your visa.

For the Immigration Office, bring all your paperwork to the appointment, including proof of your address in Mexico. The price for a one-year temporary residency card is $5,328 pesos ($314); the fee for permanent residency is $6,495 pesos ($383).

Once you become a permanent resident (no longer available for temporary residents), you’ll have the same rights as any Mexican citizen with the exception of being able to vote or purchase certain property near the coast (though there are legal options for that, as well).

As a legal resident, you’ll be eligible to apply for one of Mexico’s two public health plans: INSABI, which is free and offers basic care, or IMSS, which covers most medical conditions and medications. IMMS rates are based on age, ranging from around $483 to $1,160 per year.

Legal permanent residents, age 60 or above, receive wonderful benefits through the INAPAM senior discount plan. Mexico’s low prices are even lower (oftentimes halved) when you show your INAPAM card at many pharmacies, restaurants, clothing shops, hospitals, clinics, and laboratories. It also gives significant discounts on utilities, property taxes, airlines, and long-distance buses. In many urban areas, seniors with permanent residency are also eligible for a discount card to use on public transportation which can cut the price in half.

Mexico’s visas and benefits show that foreigners are genuinely welcome. The government has policies that benefit foreign residents, and the Mexican people are some of the warmest and friendliest on Earth.

Full Guide to Visa and Residency in Mexico Here.

2. Costa Rica

Costa Rica Visa and Benefits
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By Bekah Bottone

Getting your visa or residency is a straightforward process in Costa Rica. Additions in immigration, such as Law 9996, allow people to import household items and vehicles tax-free. And only needing a $150,000 investment for residency makes the situation accessible for many expats.

"Moving into your golden years in Costa Rica has benefits," shares IL Correspondent Bekah Bottone. "The favorable climate allows residents to be active outdoors all year long. Generally, families tend to live together longer than they do in the US. It is common for children to live at home until they marry, and families often care for elderly members in their homes.

As for seniors, they enjoy privileges from the Ciudadano de Oro or Golden Citizen card from the CCSS Social Security (Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social). With this card, seniors enjoy free bus rides and get preferential treatment when waiting in line, like at the bank. It offers 2% to 20% discounts on items, including over-the-counter medications, groceries, eyeglasses, and clothing. The program also provides free online courses (in Spanish)—what a great way to meet new people.

Even without legal residency, some community restaurants, like Dragonfly in Tamarindo, offer a "local night" cash discount to townspeople of all ages—where food and drinks can be as much as 30% off regular prices. Cash discounts are relatively common, in general, for tours, small hotels, hostels, markets, and in stores. It never hurts to ask for the local price when paid in cash.

Time and time again, people boast about leading healthier lives after moving to Costa Rica. "Perhaps the year-round tropical weather beckons one to enjoy the outdoors and learn a new hobby or sport, from hiking and biking to yoga, surfing, and pickleball. Nearly every community has something to offer anyone eager to engage in fitness," says IL contributor Kathleen Evens.

It isn’t surprising for those who understand the power of a Blue Zone, the healing energy in Nicoya. "There may be something deeper to the health benefits of Costa Rica than meets the eye. Between activities, healthy food, and a strong social community, the benefits of Costa Rica can be enjoyed by expats of all ages," shares Kathleen.

Group one tourists, including those from the US and Canada, do not require a visa to enter Costa Rica as tourists. Immigration stamps your passport upon entry. This stamp can give you up to 180 days of legal visitor status. However, at this time, your driver’s license will only be valid for 90 days. Additionally, you must provide proof of an onward ticket within those 180 days. If your stay is beyond that, you can leave the country via land or air and then re-enter to renew your tourist visa.

Check out the one-year digital nomad visa if you work remotely and want to sample the Costa Rican lifestyle without a long-term commitment. It is renewable for a second year if the primary holder spends at least 180 days in the country during the first year.

This digital nomad visa offers significant benefits over the typical tourist visa. For example, this visa holder can open a bank account in Costa Rica (which is often challenging before residency approval). It also allows the individual to drive using their foreign license for the entire term. Equipment necessary for your job can be imported tax-free. Family members can also take advantage of these benefits.

For the digital nomad visa, you must show proof of an average monthly income of at least $3,000 from abroad. A family needs a combined average monthly income of $4,000. You also need medical insurance that covers everyone for the entire year in Costa Rica.

However, if you plan to live in Costa Rica long-term, it is best to apply for residency. Costa Rica has made it so nearly anyone with the means can apply for one of the three most popular programs for retirees and expats:

Pensionado Program: This requires proof that you have at least $1,000 monthly income through a life-long pension from a recognized source.

Rentista Program: This was designed for people without fixed retirement income. It requires proof of a $2,500 monthly income for at least two years. Typically, you will make a $60,000 deposit in a Costa Rican bank approved by immigration authorities.

Inversionista Program: A qualifying investment includes buying a home (including a vacation rental) or business or investing in other government-approved ventures. The new minimum investment was recently lowered to $150,000 to attract retirees after the financial devastation of the pandemic.

It is possible to go through the residency process on your own. However, we recommend hiring a reputable Costa Rican residency attorney to guide you through the potential minefields, especially if you don’t speak Spanish or understand the system—which can be daunting! Bekah Bottone, IL’s Costa Rica Correspondent, uses Themis Legal for her legal matters.

Many people head to Costa Rica, hoping to improve their quality of life. Costa Rica may add the vibrancy you want in your everyday life, allowing you to embrace the pura vida lifestyle.

Full Guide to Visa and Residency in Costa Rica Here.

1. Panama

Panama-Visa.jpg
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By Jessica Ramesch

Caribbean island, cosmopolitan city, or cool mountain haven? Everyone has a dream… though, like many, I believed mine was out of reach. Oceanview homes in warm, tropical locales were for movie sets or the uber-rich. Or so I thought…

Then, I discovered Panama. A place so welcoming, that you can easily test-drive it for six months or become a resident and stay as long as you like… the choice is yours.

This tiny powerhouse has been opening its arms to foreigners since long before the Panama Canal opened for business in 1914. People have come here from the US and Canada, France and Spain, Lebanon and Israel, China and India, and from all over Africa and the Caribbean.

If you’d like to join their ranks, there are several residency programs to choose from. The most famous, of course, is the Pensionado visa. Simply put, it’s the world’s best residence program, offering a quick, pain-free road to a new life in the tropics. You are welcome to apply if you have a verifiable pension of at least $1,000 a month (or $1,250 between you and your spouse).

The country created its Pensioner Program to ensure that retired Panamanians could continue to live active, socially-integrated lives. To that end, the Pensionado law lays out a wide array of discounts. And it allows all resident retirees—not just citizens—to make use of them.

The discounts run the gamut, helping retired expats save on everything from travel and entertainment to healthcare and dining out. And these discounts are available to any legal resident of retirement age (currently 55+ for women and 60+ for men). Imagine how much you could save with:

  • 50% off movies, theaters, concerts, and sporting events anywhere in the country. That means you pay just $3.50 on a $7 movie ticket.
  • 25-30% off bus, boat, plane, and train fares. Book a round-trip ferry from Panama City to the island idyll of Contadora, currently about $98, for less than $70.
  • 30-50% off hotel stays and 15-25% off meals at restaurants… in Panama, you’ll see people of all generations traveling, going out, and partying together.
  • 15-20% off hospital bills, prescription medicines, medical consultations, and professional and technical services… no insurance needed. With excellent English-speaking doctors, technologically advanced hospitals, and well-stocked pharmacies, Panama is an incredibl3e healthcare haven

If you’re looking for permanent residence… in a country where foreigners have almost all the same rights as locals… then this program just may be for you.

Get started by contacting a Panamanian attorney six months before you plan to travel to Panama to apply. Any good attorney will send you an easy-to-follow checklist and be available to answer questions along the way. Once you apply, you can stay in Panama if you choose.

You don’t need a pension to move to Panama…

If you don’t have a pension, there’s no need to worry. Panama isn’t just for retirees. The Friendly Nations Visa, for example, was created for professionals and entrepreneurs from countries that "maintain friendly, professional, economic, and investment relationships" with Panama.

Thankfully, Panama is "friends" with dozens of countries, including the US and Canada. You can qualify for this program by investing $200,000 in real estate, opening a three-year fixed-term deposit account in a bank in Panama, or showing evidence that you require permanent residency for work purposes.

Finally, if you’d simply like to test-drive life in Panama, you have two options:

No Visa Visit: If you are from the US or Canada, you don’t need a visa to spend up to six months in Panama. Though the law here stipulates that visits should be no more than 90 days, immigration officials have long been granting 180-day stays. If during that time you decide you’d like to apply for permanent residence, you can file and stay in-country while your application is being processed (usually about six months). Just make sure to bring the required documents with you.

Temporary Test-Drive: Panama’s Temporary Telework Visa targets digital nomads or remote workers. You can stay in Panama on this temporary visa for nine months or extend it once for a total of 18 months. The main requirements include proof of medical insurance and proof of income from a foreign source—at minimum $3,000 a month for a single applicant, or $4,000 a month for families.

Panama has a history of welcoming foreigners… but more importantly, it is a country known for keeping its promises. Once you obtain residence, you needn’t worry about losing it in the future, when laws change. So if you’re wondering whether Panama is a safe bet… whether you’re thinking of retiring here or perhaps just relocating for a year… the answer is yes.

Because it is a bet. No matter which country you choose. You’re betting that the government won’t change the terms of your residence after you’ve invested both your time and your money.

You’re also betting that the country will remain stable… and not just politically. You’re betting on the banks and the real estate market. You’re betting on civil liberties and the police force. On telecommunications… power and water… all the things that make life comfortable and keep us safe.

Fortunately, Panama’s track record speaks for itself.

Full Guide to Visa and Residency in Panama Here.

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