When planning your retirement overseas, many factors come into play. Low costs, real estate, and healthcare are some of the main concerns…but what about being able to mix well with the community or make friends with the locals? If you can integrate easily in your new surroundings it will help to ensure that you feel safe, secure, and—most importantly—at home in your new home.
Do the locals speak English or do you speak the local language? Do expats feel welcome and involved in the new community? Are there groups and clubs available to join?
IL’s recently published Annual Global Retirement Index takes all these aspects into account when rating and ranking its top retirement destinations. Because the sense of “fitting in” is so important when looking for an overseas retirement destination, it has been given its own category. Below are the six countries that came out on top:
In a three-way tie for third place we have Belize. Belize is a gorgeous, welcoming country with one foot planted in the Caribbean, and the other in Central America. In Belize you can pick from locations and lifestyles, from a laidback seaside lifestyle on the coast, or on a caye (island), or at the foothills of the Maya Mountains, in an inland village, or remotely, surrounded by lush rainforest.
Expats find it easy to adapt in Belize because there’s no language barrier. English is the primary language so, it’s easy to meet people, Belizeans and expats alike – and to fit in. Belizeans are inherently easy going, good-natured, and helpful. From day one you’ll be able to converse with the majority of Belizeans.
As Belize is a British Commonwealth country, the laws and regulations are similar to those of Canada and the U.S. You won’t need a translator to read and understand legal documents.
There are five well-established areas of Belize where expats live. Corozal, Ambergris Caye, the Cayo, Caye Caulker, and the Placencia Peninsula all have established expat communities. Each offers a bit different lifestyle and cost of living.
Ambergris Caye is a wildly popular tourist island, with an active community of expats. Some live on the south side of the island, others in San Pedro Town or on the rapidly developing north island. They congregate in hot spots such as Wine de Vine, Marbucks, the Truck Stop or Crazy Canuck’s. There are plenty of singles on the island and an active LGBT community
Corozal is a quiet Belizean family town, on the northern border. This area is home to a large, active community of Canadian and American expats. There are several restaurants and bars which serve as favorite expat hot spots. Most expats in the Corozal District are actively engaged in volunteer activities or organize art fairs and dances, providing additional opportunities to mix.
Caye Caulker is smaller version of Ambergris Caye. With its spectacular sea and reef view, Caye Caulker is also a tourist hot spot, but things move much slower here. The village is small, so you’ll quickly get to know expats who live on the island fulltime. Many own and operate a B&B, cafes, or art galleries.
The Cayo is an eco-tourism haven. Cayo expats tend to be spread out here, since many prefer to be surrounded by nature. Some live in San Ignacio Town or Santa Elena, others in nearby sleepy villages such as Cristo Rey and Bullet Tree.
There are many options for socializing in the Cayo. On Saturday mornings, the country’s largest open market is held in San Ignacio town. It’s a perfect place for weekly shopping where you will meet new and old friends. There are also plenty of volunteer options in the Cayo and singles and LGBTs are welcome in this region.
Placencia has only 3000 residents. A good portion of the expats are snowbirds. But you’ll find a community of fulltime expats, as well.
Laura Diffendal lives in Placencia, and she says “I wanted to live someplace that felt tropical and exotic, Placencia feels warm, safe, and welcoming”
It’s easy to meet new friends in Belize by joining one of the many groups where expats and locals congregate. Or, attend a church…take part in athletic activities…or join one of the many volunteer organization. Before you know it, you’ll be invited to more parties, dinners and events than you could possibly attend.
Malaysia is like two countries in one, joined by the South China Sea. A former British colony, the multicultural peninsula (mainland Malaysia) boasts Malay, Chinese, European, Arab and Indian influences, while Borneo (east Malaysia) hosts a wild jungle of clouded leopards, pygmy elephants, granite peaks and remote tribes.
The sultans, pirates, and English rubber planters of the Victorian era, have long since gone, but the country remains as colorful and as beautiful as ever. Beyond the lofty skyscrapers of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, its dramatic canvas is embroidered with tropical beaches, lush green mountains, dense rainforests, and vivid tea plantations.
Popular expat enclaves include Kuala Lumpur, the heart and capital of Malaysia, Malacca City, Malaysia’s historic city and George Town, Penang’s bohemian capital. Ipoh, Malaysia’s tin mining capital, Kuching, its waterfront city, and Kota Kinabalu, the gateway to the Kota Kinabalu National Park, the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Reserve and the mighty Mount Kinabalu. One of Southeast Asia’s most popular UNESCO-listed mountains, and the highest in Malaysia.
Penang has the largest expat community in Malaysia, and as the bohemian capital of Malaysia, is totally LGBT friendly IL Malaysia Correspondent Keith Hockton says ”The locals across the length and breadth of Malaysia are welcoming and funny…the Malay’s have a great sense of humor. Having local friends is one of the best things about living here”
The colonial club scene in Malaysia is vibrant. And if you are a tennis player The Penang Sports Club has more grass tennis courts than any other club in Malaysia. If you are into sailing and scuba diving then The Penang Swimming Club is the place for you.
Shopping wise everything that you can buy at home you can buy here. The stores all carry your favorite brands, from peanut butter to jams, and from wine to world-class whiskies.
Despite being part of Honduras—the Bay Islands, about 40 miles offshore in the beautiful, blue Caribbean—are worlds apart.
While the mainland is Spanish speaking; the islands are English speaking due to its unique colonial history. That makes it easier for American and Canadian expats to navigate daily life, and the friendly islanders help in that regard too.
IL Roving Latin America Editor Jason Holland says “The Bay Islands are the ultimate in the laidback tropical lifestyle.”
Roatán is the largest of the island group and where the majority of the population lives. It has plenty of conveniences, like highspeed internet, stores with imported foods and other items from back home, and modern—although somewhat limited—medical care, which makes for a relatively easy transition.
Roatán was first on the radar for scuba diver’s decades ago, and that activity is still one of the major focuses of life on the island. If you’re a diver or snorkeler, you’ll be in heaven—with plenty of friends joining you to explore the undersea wonders at the Mesoamerican Reef (the world’s second largest reef) just offshore.
But, if you’re not into watersports and you’d rather just gather with friends on one of the many white-sand beaches for an impromptu party or cook out, you’ll be in good company. Long-time expats know about the “secret” local beaches on more remote parts of the island not frequented by tourists.
The expat community on Roatán is large and active and very welcoming to newcomers. There are plenty of get-togethers (the annual pirate party is always a big hit), clubs, volunteer work with animal rescues and groups helping impoverished school kids, sports leagues, and more. You can get involved in the community in many ways.
One of the can’t-miss activities on Roatan is watching sunset from one of the famed beach bars like Sundowners in West End. Happy hour is when people of all walks of life gather for fun, live music, and $1 beers…raising a glass and toasting their new life in paradise as the sun dips below the horizon.
Placing joint second in the fitting in category in our Global Retirement Index is Malta. The Mediterranean island nation of Malta is renowned for being one of Europe’s sunniest places. Alluring coastal vistas, historic sites, and welcoming locals combine to make Malta an inviting place to consider retiring.
Situated between Sicily and Africa, this tiny European Union country has been coveted by different civilizations throughout history. Since Malta was part of the British Empire for more than 150 years, both English and Maltese are official languages. You’ll find that residency applications, rental documents, and internet contracts are bilingual. Online English-language newspapers will keep you up to date with Maltese happenings. The prevalence of English makes shopping, small talk with locals, and even medical appointments a breeze.
“There’s something to be said about the health benefits of living in a place that offers 3,000 days of sun, friendly locals, dynamic cultural events, and a large, welcoming expat community,” says IL Correspondent Barbara Diggs.
While most Maltese speak English well, you’ll win them over if you try learning a few Maltese phrases. Maltese has Arabic roots, but it’s written in a Latin script and includes a smattering of Italian and English words.
The people of Malta are generally easy-going, friendly, and passionate about sharing details of their culture. While you’re out and about, you’ll meet resident’s eager to chat about their village’s annual festa—a saint’s day festival filled with parades, fireworks, and delicious food. They might even invite you to their home to share a traditional meal, including grilled fish or perhaps bigilla, a tasty dip made from broad beans.
There are many expats to mingle with too. You’ll find retirees, corporate transfers, international students, and university faculty. Facebook expat groups and websites like Meetup and InterNations make it easy to connect for musical performances and wine tastings. Bird-watching events, dinners, and book clubs are also popular.
Because Malta and its sister-island, Gozo, are compact, distances to shopping and services are short. Bus connections are generally good and tickets are inexpensive, so getting a car is unnecessary. However, because parts of the country are densely populated, it is advisable to avoid travel during the rush hour. With diverse housing options available, you might choose to live in a modern high-rise apartment in Sliema, a charming “house of character” on the tranquil island of Gozo, or a historic townhouse in the capital city of Valletta.
Despite Malta’s modest population size (about 420,000 people), numerous shopping opportunities abound. You’ll find everything from family-owned boutiques and large Maltese supermarkets, to shopping malls and European-chain stores. This variety of commercial options means you won’t be without the comforts of home.
Dazzling beaches, bountiful seafood and, English-speaking locals aren’t the only things the Philippines has got going for it. Moving to another country can be stressful but choosing a place where fitting in is easy can make a big difference.
There are expats from all over the world already established in the Philippines. Whether you live in a condo in an ultra-modern high-rise or a small little bungalow in the mountains, you can find a home with all the amenities you need to make a comfortable transition. Almost everyone in the Philippines, especially in the bigger towns, speaks English. Communicating is simple which will make your move that much easier.
In most areas, there are expat clubs, Facebook groups, forums, happy hours, and even charity groups to join geared towards meeting new people. Expats often want to help others adjust to their new home because they’ve already done it and know just what you’re going through.
The locals are friendly. They love to stop and talk to foreigners, and you might find yourself in a 20-minute conversation about the Philippines when all you asked for was directions. Their willingness to stop and chat means making local friends will be easy.
The larger towns and cities have all the western conveniences of any big city in the world: international grocery stores, malls with the latest trends, movies theaters playing all the latest releases, and even casinos.
IL Correspondent Kirsten Raccuia says “Sure, part of moving to another country involves adapting to the local culture…but it doesn’t mean that you have to go without all of your favorite things. In the Philippines, you can have the best of both worlds, a local lifestyle with western amenities”
Ireland is a lush island with breathtaking landscapes nestled in the North Atlantic, renowned for its rich history and culture.
Despite the onset of modernity, the Irish still take time to talk, and they’re good at it—after all, it is called “the Land of a Thousand Welcomes.” So they will go out of their way to make you feel at home.
As a nation—but particularly in the countryside—Ireland takes a small-town approach to life. It is a country where it is still considered important to know and interact with your neighbors, be involved in your community, and to do your utmost to make sure that it is an easy and welcoming place to live for all its residents.
“We have family and friends in Mexico who are very welcoming and know how to party, but nobody we have ever met can beat the Irish for warm hearts,” says U.S. expat Michael Shepherd. “In Ireland, you learn not to ask directions to someplace you want to reach quickly, because anyone you ask wants to know your whole life history.”
Ireland is small, this means you can have your morning hike on a mountain trail and an afternoon on the beach or in a city museum. You can drive the length of the country in six hours or so—north to south. Less than four hours will take you from the famed Cliffs of Moher, on the west coast, to a vast stretch of sandy beach close to the capital, Dublin, on the eastern seaboard. This small island packs a lot. It’s one of the most geologically diverse regions of the world for its size. Ireland offers you the opportunity to climb into prehistoric tombs older than the pyramids, stand on top of Europe’s highest sea cliffs, drink cool black pints of Guinness in a real Irish pub and get to know the locals.
A great aspect of living in Ireland is that there is no need to learn a new language. While the native Irish language is still actively used, it is predominantly only heard in certain areas of the country, known as Gaeltachts. Throughout the rest of the country English is spoken and used in everyday life. Even the road signs are bilingual, just to make things that bit easier.
Finally, you’ll never have a problem meeting new people in Ireland. With local committees and volunteer organizations, it’s easy to get involved in your community. Social outings are also a big part of the native culture. Whether it’s a traditional seisiún (night of traditional Irish music) or just a few drinks in the local pub, the Irish people are always willing to meet up, chat, and enjoy the company of friends, old and new.
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