Cost of Living Overseas: Live Well from $1,000 a Month

Retirement in the States is getting more expensive all the time. But in the right places overseas…you can upgrade your lifestyle and live better than you could at home for a small fraction of the price. We asked our editors from around the world to send in their monthly budgets. The budgets below include essentials like rent, health care, groceries and utilities. Price is only one factor the editors consider.

But it’s a persuasive one… particularly when paired with other attractions that range from good weather to pretty beaches to solid infrastructure. Below are the 5 cheapest countries in the world to retire comfortably today. They’re all safe, and they all have more than just good-value to recommend them. In each of these countries, a couple can live well on $1,000 to $2,130 a month.

Nicaragua: A couple can live well on $995 a month

Nicaragua is one of the most beautiful countries in the Americas. It boasts a dramatic Pacific coastline; long, gentle Caribbean beaches; and volcanoes and freshwater lakes that dot the hilly inland. Colonial cities like Granada and León offer visitors a taste of days gone by. And Managua is rapidly becoming a real First-World city with top-notch theaters and a range of international restaurants. Nicaragua’s lower cost of living does not mean you have to sacrifice the quality of life you have been accustomed to in the U.S. or Canada. In fact, you will probably be able to live in Nicaragua with even more luxuries than you are accustomed to, simply because the prices are so economical.

Here’s a sample monthly budget for two people:

Electricity (without air-conditioning): $45

Water: $20

Propane gas (tank for cooking): $20

Groceries: $200

Entertainment: $100 (or the sky’s the limit)

Rent: $450

Health insurance: $100

Maid (three times a week): $60

Total: $995

Cost of living in Malaysia: $1,076 a month

The cost of living in Malaysia is very affordable. A couple can easily live on just over $1,000 a month. A budget of $2,000 will have you living in luxury. An entire bagful of fresh fruit, including mangoes, bananas, apples, oranges, and pineapples costs just $4. High-speed Internet is reliable and costs $30 a month, and the premier cable TV package for $40 includes favorites like HBO, CNN, and the BBC. And a couple can eat out well for less than $10. Go to night bazaars, and you can dine for much less than that: chicken-and-rice meals are often only $1.

Sample monthly budget for a couple living in Malaysia:

Rent: $500

Electricity: $100

Water: $10

Cell phone: $10

Gas: $4

Internet: $30

TV: $40

Maid (four hours a week): $15

Transportation: $34 for gas

Health insurance: $33

Dining out/Entertainment (alcohol not included): $300

Monthly total: $1,076

Monthly cost of living in Ecuador: $1,415

In Ecuador, not only can you retire on little money, you can also live very well. It’s easy to retire on less than $17,000 per year, and this figure is based on a very comfortable lifestyle. Many foreign residents have their main home in the city, and also have a country home, a beach property, or even property in another country…a feat that would be impossible on a comparable budget in the U.S.

Additionally, this low cost of living allows retirees to increase their travel, take up new hobbies and generally enjoy a better quality of life. Ecuador offers something for everyone, and at prices unheard of in North America and Europe. Here is a sample budget for a couple living very well in Cuenca. The expenses are, of course, approximate. We’ve erred on the side of extra spending to come up with a budget that allows for a pretty luxurious lifestyle…for less than $20,000 a year for two people.

Sample monthly budget for a couple in Ecuador:

Rent (for a luxury two-bedroom apartment): $500

Utilities (including, phone, Internet, and CATV): $150

Maid (twice a week): $60

Groceries: $300

Maintenance and fuel for one car: $140

Clothing: $70

Entertainment: $175

Health care (four $30 visits to a doctor per year for two people, divided by 12 months): $20

That’s a total of $1,415 per month.

Cost of living in Panama: $1,865

Panama offers a very comfortable retirement solution, in part because the nation is much more developed than most visitors expect. Many are shocked by the modernity of Panama and the clusters of skyscrapers that define Panama City’s skyline. All of the amenities one could wish for are readily available. By moving to Panama, you will enjoy the benefits of a developing economy where you can still take a taxi across town for a buck or two, get your haircut for a couple of dollars, or enjoy dinner for two with a bottle of wine at one of the finest restaurants in Panama City for a mere $30. No matter what your taste or budget, you’ll find that Panama offers plenty of quality options.

Here’s a sample monthly budget for two people:

Rent: $800

Electricity: $100

Water: $15

Gas for cooking, water heaters, dryer, etc.: $15

Groceries: $400

Entertainment: $200

Phone/Internet/Cable: $60

Transportation (taxi or fuel/maintenance on one small car, low to moderate use): $100

Full time maid : $175

Monthly total: $1,865

Live well in Mexico for $2,129 a month

Everyone seems to agree: the quality of your life improves in Mexico. Things take longer…so you’ll need to learn to slow down. Goods and services cost less…so you can afford the kinds of luxuries only the very wealthy enjoy up north—like a maid, a cook, and a gardener. And in Mexico you have the good fortune of giving up very little when you make your move. You’re heading to a near neighbor where you can get Internet, cable TV, and all the other comforts you’re used to…

Here’s a sample monthly budget for two people in Mexico:

Rent (two-bedroom home): $800

Utilities (electricity, gas, water, phone, cable TV, Internet): $220

Groceries: $300

Entertainment: $250

Health care (two people on IMSS insurance, plus $70 per month for incidentals): $112

Maid: Three times a week: $210

Gardener: Once a week: $87

Incidentals: $150

Monthly total: $2,129

Everyone’s lifestyle requirements are different. You could live on less…or spend more, depending on your lifestyle.

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