South America fits the bill for many expats when it comes to looking for the perfect retirement haven. In many countries in the region, you’ll enjoy a relaxed lifestyle, established expat communities, friendly, welcoming natives, good healthcare, and an ideal climate.
But one of the main concerns of expats is what it will cost them to live overseas. This is where South America comes out on top. In the towns and cities featured below, you to live out your dream retirement, and only rely on your Social Security to fund it.
Click on the map for details about the great-value communities we recommend in each country.
Great-Value Communities in South America
Located at the tip of South America, Colombia is where the Pacific and the Caribbean collide with the Andes and the Amazon. It’s a country that is more beautiful, dramatic, and diverse than nearly any other. It offers sparkling colonial cities in the highlands and world-famous resorts along the Caribbean.
What’s more, Colombia boasts beautiful areas where the cost of living is low. Expats report that their monthly costs are a third of what they were paying at home.
But Colombia has a lot more to offer than just low costs. Expats who live here can also take full advantage of inexpensive properties, great healthcare and a colorful and rich culture. You can find sophisticated cities, colonial towns, spring-like weather high in the Andes, steamy tropics, or the “perfect” weather in between… Unless you’ve got your heart set on snow, you’re almost certain to find your ideal spot in Colombia.
Nestled in the valley between the western and central ranges of the Andes Mountains is Colombia’s second largest city, Medellín. Blessed with perfect year-round spring-like weather, excellent healthcare, and First-World infrastructure, it is attracting more and more expats who want to have a great quality of life.
The city has a very cosmopolitan feel. It is filled with museums, art galleries, concert venues, restaurants, and places to whet your whistle. There are also more than 30 universities, which add even more cultural events. And although there are nearly three million inhabitants, the city really feels more like a lot of neighborhoods connected to each other by parks and green spaces.
International Living Colombia Correspondent Nancy Kiernan lives in Medellin. She says that, working with a monthly budget of about $2,200, a couple can afford a comfortable life there. That budget takes into account a three-bedroom apartment in one of the most sought-after areas of the city, at $1,250 a month, monthly utility bills of just over $100, and even a twice weekly maid service coming in at $120.
Expats in Medellín can also indulge in a dinner for two at delicious restaurants for around $25, go to the movies at $5 per person, get great haircuts at $18, and enjoy 75-minute massages that only costs $30.
Located on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast in the department of Magdalena, Santa Marta is quickly becoming a sought-after destination. With an average daytime high of 90 F and an evening low of 75 F, the warm, tropical climate is a magnet for those wanting an outdoor, ocean-focused lifestyle. The greater Santa Marta area offers history, beautiful white-sand beaches, water activities, ecotourism, trendy restaurants, and a growing nightlife.
Restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and bakeries surround the plaza. The sounds of salsa, vallenato, and classic rock all blend together and make it difficult to keep your feet still. From Thursday to Saturday night the park is a mecca for those wanting to sample the eclectic cuisine, watch street performers, or purchase crafts from street vendors.
The cost of renting varies depending on how close you are to the water, but you can find very nice apartments in the $500 to $650 range. Fresh seafood is abundant and inexpensive. A kilo of shrimp at the local fish market is only $5. If you prefer to eat out, a meal for two at an upscale restaurant will run to about $30, and you can find great food at smaller eateries for $5. Monthly utilities are about $150, mostly due to the need for air conditioning.
With a population of 500,000 residents, Santa Marta is significantly smaller than the major cities of Medellín and Bogotá, but there are shopping malls, large grocery stores, several hospitals, and everything else you need for daily life.
The city of Guadalajara de Buga—Buga for short—basks in the warm sun of Valle del Cauca. Founded in 1555, Buga is one of the nation’s oldest cities. It’s surrounded by lush fields of cotton, sugar cane, soybeans, and corn, but doesn’t have the look or feel of a farm community. A tapestry of colonial- and Republican-era homes and commercial buildings dominate Buga’s downtown, and at the edge of the historic district, an enormous pink brick cathedral rises into the heavens.
This city of 115,000 people loves art and music. While mom-and-pop restaurants in other towns and cities adorn their walls with weathered posters or dime store paintings, Buga residents love original artwork. You’ll see art of all types—paintings, drawings, sculptures, and photographs—everywhere you go.
Finding a cool spot to while away the afternoon has defined the Buga lifestyle. In the mornings, residents throw open their doors and windows to let the fresh air in, and in the afternoon, they head to the ice cream parlor or Parque Cabal, Buga’s main plaza. Old folks gather to reminisce and children chase squirrels and feed three-foot-long iguanas that hang out in the park’s trees.
A laidback lifestyle and bohemian charm make Buga an attractive place to retire. But what makes it perfect is its low cost of living. International Living Colombia Correspondent Nancy Kiernan reports that rent prices in the city are usually around $450 a month, while a meal out in one of Buga’s many restaurants will set you back between $10 and $15.
Located four hours south of Medellín, the mountain city of Manizales sits like a jewel atop a crown. Often referred to as the “San Francisco of Colombia” for its steep hills, Manizales is the capital of the Caldas department and in many ways the quintessential Coffee Triangle city. Rich green carpets of coffee fields surround the city, making the coffee culture always within reach.
Around 450,000 people live in Manizales, which is home to six universities, including the University of Caldas and satellite campus of National University. Manizales’ sense of style seems rooted in its history and unique culture. It’s a well-developed city, where the lifestyle is genteel and sincere politeness rules.
Cost of living here is also incredibly low. International Living Colombia Correspondent Nancy Kiernan says that for about $975 a month a couple can live comfortably in Manizales’s trendy Milan district. A meal at a restaurant can set you back around $3 and a taxi across town as little as $2. Two- and three-bedroom apartments in Manizales’ most popular neighborhoods start at $375 per month. Comparable apartments in working class neighborhoods rent for under $200 a month. If you prefer to live in the countryside, you can rent a two-bedroom home for as little as $250 per month. Expats also report that for a single person, monthly grocery bills are about $60, and utilities run to $135 a month.
Manizales offers the best of urban living, surrounded by spectacular natural environments. And with an abundance of cultural festivals year-round, life here is always exciting.
To learn more about Colombia, click here.
Ecuador has been one of International Living’s favorite locations for overseas retirement for many years because of the high quality of life it offers expats.
In the major cities like Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca, you can enjoy all of the Western conveniences you are accustomed to. New cars abound, including several brands made in Ecuadorian factories. Everyone has cell phones, and internet connections are just as common. World-class restaurants serve excellent meals, yet you’ll be hard pressed to pay more than $50 for a dinner for two, drinks included. According to International Living Cuenca Correspondent Edd Staton, a monthly budget of $1,800 will allow “for a very comfortable lifestyle for two people.”
From snow-capped volcanoes to dense Amazon jungle to sun-drenched Pacific beaches to the famous Galápagos Islands, Ecuador offers something for everyone. Whether you want to live, invest, vacation, retire, or simply relax in Ecuador, you’ll find the perfect combination of climate, culture, and affordability to help make your dreams come true here.
Cuenca has long been known for a rich intellectual, artistic, and philosophical tradition that matches its colonial architecture. It is famous for colorful festivals, distinctive food, and breathtaking scenery. Because of its history and state of preservation, Cuenca is one of Ecuador’s five UNESCO World Heritage sites (the others include Quito and the Galapagos Islands).
To many Ecuadorians and travelers alike, Cuenca represents the best in city life in Ecuador. It’s smaller than Quito, with fewer of the typical big-city problems, but is still big enough (with a metropolitan population of more than 500,000) to have many of the cultural and infrastructure conveniences that most foreigners appreciate.
Founded in 1557, Cuenca was not connected to the rest of Ecuador by a paved road until the early 1960s, a fact that helped preserve both its architecture and its heritage. On the other hand, Cuenca has developed rapidly since then and today has a strong infrastructure and efficient transportation system. Cuenca boasts plenty of supermarkets and malls, great restaurants, handsome condominium projects, and comfortable suburbs.
International Living Cuenca Correspondent Edd Staton has lived here for five years and says that, if you watch your budget, a single person can get by in Cuenca on less than $1,000 a month, while a couple can live comfortably on $1,680 per month. “That includes a modern spacious home, dining out often, a weekly maid, and lots of other perks,” Edd says. Monthly rents in Cuenca usually run somewhere between $450 and $600 for a two-bedroom apartment.
If you’re looking for a rich cultural life with a mix of historic and modern, Cuenca should be on your radar.
Cotacachi has become one of Ecuador’s most active expat communities in recent years, as many foreigners have chosen to locate here. It’s a small, mostly indigenous town with a strong sense of community.
It is also a fabulous place to improve your health. The moderate climate with little variation throughout the year means that nearly every fruit and vegetable can be grown within a hundred miles. Not only is healthy produce readily available, but it’s also very affordable. With avocados priced at three for a dollar, lettuce at 25 cents, and six plump carrots for 50 cents, there is no monetary reason not to eat right.
According to our International Living Ecuador editors, “a couple can easily live on $1,200 to $1,800 a month here.” Housing will be your biggest expense, but it can still be quite affordable. Two-bedroom furnished condos in a gated community right in town are renting for around $550 per month. This price can be even lower if you opt for an unfurnished unit near the center of the town.
With the lack of severe temperature fluxes you’ll find that heating and air conditioning aren’t necessary, which saves on your utilities costs. Average electric costs for a household run between $15 and $20 per month. Monthly bills for water and propane gas usually come in at around $5 each. A package of cable TV, internet, and landline phone service can be had for around $100 per month.
If you want to enjoy good weather, clean air, great scenery, and a rich indigenous culture, then retirement in Cotacachi could fit the bill.
Salinas is a fully-fledged beach resort—among Ecuadorians, it’s probably the country’s best-known resort. This is the place for those who like having all the necessary amenities at their doorsteps: modern condominium buildings (which line much of Salinas’s miles-long beach), restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and discos.
The beach here is wide, sandy, and clean, bordered by the blue, calm Pacific waters. To the left, the sun is gleaming off a few dozen motor yachts and sailboats parked in the marina. To the right, the curving shoreline stretches for miles into the distance, with scores of modern, tall buildings mixed with old-fashioned apartments and seaside restaurants.
Despite the flurry of activity in Salinas, it may be one of the world’s least-expensive beach resorts. A steak or seafood dinner in a trendy restaurant will set you back just $5 or $6. Or chow down on fish or shrimp, cooked any way you like, at the local Mercado (market)—more than you can eat for about $2.50.
According to International Living Coastal Ecuador Correspondent Jim Santos, “it is possible for two people to live very well in Salinas for $1,500 a month or less.” Rentals close to the beach will usually cost around $350 to $450 a month, and monthly utility costs will average at about $200. Many expats in Salinas also choose not to own a car, as taxi fares usually cost between $2 to $3, and a bus to any point on the peninsula is 30 cents.
So if you’re looking for an upscale beach lifestyle at an affordable price, then Salinas might be the perfect destination for you.
Loja is best known for its cleanliness and its attractive parks, rivers, and churches. About a third the size of Cuenca, Loja feels like a small U.S. Midwestern city. It is located in one of Ecuador’s southernmost provinces that borders Peru.
Loja is called “the most overlooked city in Ecuador,” and even most Ecuadorians haven’t been there, despite the fact that it is one of the country’s oldest and most historic cities. With about 185,000 people, Loja is smaller than Cuenca. The colonial center is tidy, and there is an abundance of shady plazas and parks to while away the hours.
According to International Living Correspondent Jim Santos, expat couples report being able to live very well on a budget of $1,000 a month, which includes renting a modern, furnished, three-bedroom, two-bathroom condo for $450. But if that seems like an excessive amount of space, there are also two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartments available for $350. On the flip-side, a couple could live a more lavish lifestyle, such as eating out most nights of the week, and still get by on a monthly budget of $1,500.
Expats in Loja are also made feel very welcome in their new home, with many remarking on the kindness and friendliness of the locals. So if you’re looking for an affordable, friendly, cultured city, you won’t go far wrong in Loja.
Quito is a world-class metropolis with happy surprises tucked in so many corners. Often referred to as the most beautiful big city in South America for its location in the palm of a valley cupped between towering Andean peaks, Quito has so many parks and plazas, it’s hard to pick a favorite.
The 14,000-acre Parque Metropolitano, bordering the city’s Bellavista neighborhood, is the largest urban park in South America. Hiking here, in the maze of forested paths, is a nature lover’s delight—the air smells of eucalyptus and pine, and from atop the eastern ridge, the views of Quito to the west, and to the east, the valley and volcanoes beyond is something you’ll not soon forget. On a clear summer day in Quito, you’ll see the snow-topped Antisana, Cotopaxi, and Cayambe volcanoes looming over the city.
In Quito, it’s possible for a couple to live comfortably on $1,850 a month. If you buy your own house or condo upfront you’ll save on monthly rent payment, but even so rentals can be quite affordable. A furnished one-bedroom apartment in the Financial District can cost as little as $400 per month.
Eating out and entertainment is affordable as well. For example, dinner at a high-end Indian restaurant in the Mariscal District of Quito will cost less than two-thirds what it would at a similar establishment in the U.S. But many low budget options abound as well. A lunch complete with soup, salad, rice, potatoes, chicken, and juice can be had at any number of diners for $3.
To learn more about Ecuador, click here.
Peru is so much more than just mystical Macchu Picchu—the land of the Incas has lots to offer and is oozing with culture and adventure.
From the ancient Incan cities to the depths of the Amazon rainforest; from over 1,500 miles of undeveloped sandy coastline to the jagged peaks of the Andes, this diverse, exciting and historic country will keep you busy for as long as you have a sense of adventure. And you’ll be able to enjoy one of the lowest costs of living in Latin America, with property prices to match.
International Living Correspondent David Hammond says “several single expats I met in the cities of Cusco and Arequipa report living comfortably on $500 to $600 a month. That includes everything—all rent and utilities, WiFi service at home, eating out regularly, and a local pre-pay cell phone. Expat couples can live comfortably in Peru for $1,000 to $1,200 a month, including everything.”
What’s more, you’re just a hop away from over a thousand miles of beautiful Pacific coastline. Peru’s indigenous heritage is strong and unparalleled in our hemisphere and—for the adventurous expat—will make for years of exciting travel. The present-day Andean culture is fascinating, and will add a rich layer to the expat’s everyday life.
Arequipa is set against a backdrop of three volcanoes, two active and one inactive. Isolated from the rest of the country for centuries, many locals feel that they are Arequipeño first, Peruvian second. Set in a high-altitude sierra, Arequipa enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year, with only a bit of rain in January and February. And aside from colder months in June and July, temperatures are in the low to mid-70s F year-round during the day, dipping into the 60s F and high 50s F at night. Perfect for a day at the park or sitting at a café watching the world go by with a coffee…or a hoppy craft beer, brewed right in town, in the company of local beer aficionados.
Arequipa is a tourist stop, although it receives fewer visitors than Peru’s better-known attractions, such as the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu. You get to enjoy the benefits of a tourist hot-spot, like nice restaurants, without all the noise and hassle that goes with one. Or the cost. And outside the historic area, you have a bustling, modern metropolis with shopping malls and large supermarkets with imported items—the best of the Old and New Worlds.
And one of the biggest benefits of a life here is its affordable cost of living. According to International Living Correspondent David Hammond, a couple can live in Arequipa for $1,000 a month, including rent. Many single expats live on much less.
Arequipa is also known for its sublime regional cuisine, full of colorful vegetables and copious amounts of spice. And with meals available for $5 or less, it’s very easy to try everything the local menu has to offer.
Cusco, the old capital of the Inca Empire and later a major city of the Spanish colony, is a place that breathes history. The colonial quarter, surrounding the showpiece Plaza de Armas, is full of narrow cobblestone streets, cathedrals and churches, quiet courtyards, and vibrant plazas. It’s a booming city of 500,000 people, with red-brick homes and apartment buildings extending to the edges of the valley and up into the surrounding hills.
This was the center of Inca life, and it still is to this day for their descendants. The city is teeming with heritage and history, from its narrow lanes with uneven pavements, buildings built on Inca ruins, and indigenous dress on display by everyday residents.
International Living Correspondent David Hammond says that single expats here report living comfortably on $500 to $600 a month, while couples are happily surviving on around $1,000. That includes everything—all rent and utilities, WiFi service at home, eating out regularly, and a local pre-pay cell phone.
A modern, two-bedroom apartment will set you back $400 a month, while a month’s worth of groceries will rack up to $100. Eating out has the added benefit of not only being cheap, but delicious as well, with $5 to $15 getting you a feast of anything from Japanese sushi to Spanish tapas.
To learn more about retiring to Peru, click here.
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