When planning your retirement overseas, many factors come into play. Low costs, affordable real estate, and high-quality healthcare are some of the main concerns…but what about being able to mix well with the community or make friends with the locals? Can you pick up your favorite familiar comforts when you need them? How easy is it to adapt to the local culture?
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.
Our 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:
When it comes to an enjoyable, affordable lifestyle abroad, many expats agree—it’s hard to beat Thailand. With its tropical weather, delicious cuisine, and welcoming locals, “the Land of Smiles” is an expat dream, whether you choose laidback mountain living, a cosmopolitan life in the big city, or a peaceful escape by the sea.
In fact, Thailand remains one of the top-10 countries to retire abroad, receiving high scores over the past few years in our Annual Global Retirement Index—most notably for its top-notch healthcare, inexpensive housing, and friendly residents. These all combine to make it a great choice for retiring overseas.
Ernie Fawcett who has lived in Kanchanaburi, in west Thailand for over 10 years says “This town struck me. I made friends right off with some of the other expats and found people to be friendly. There’s a nice pace. Not too quiet and not too fast, either.
The city and, to a lesser extent, the province have a moderate but growing population of expats from all over the world.
#5 Costa Rica
Costa Rica is one of the most popular retirement havens in Central America. Expats have been flocking here for more than 30 years.
If you move to Costa Rica you won’t just be warmly welcomed by expats. Ticos, as Costa Ricans call themselves, are friendly and family-oriented, with a culture—though charming and unique—increasingly influenced by North America. So you’ll have a lot of common ground. Because everybody is so used to foreign neighbors, newcomers can quickly become a big part of local celebrations, festivals, and more. And although learning to speak Spanish is advised—it’s polite and helps you navigate your new world—many locals speak English, or at least enough for you to get by.
“One of the things you hear very often from expats is how warm and welcoming the ticos tend to be,” says IL Coastal Costa Rica Correspondent, Kathleen Evans.
“Overall, they are wonderful people eager to share the magic of their culture with foreigners. You will also find great communities of expats who will help you through the process of acclimating to new surroundings and language.
“I joined a girl’s dinner group and quickly bonded with women from all over the world. I found it very easy to make friends since many folks move not knowing anyone and are often looking to forge new friendships.”
Ticos have established in their country one of the world’s most stable democracies. Costa Rica dissolved its standing army in 1949 and the reallocated funds are spent on education, healthcare, and pensions.
Malta and Roatán, Honduras are both tied for third place on 93 points.
Malta is known for the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, warm and sunny climate, peaceful lifestyle and rich cultural offerings—a coveted destination for centuries.
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. And, the people of Malta are generally easy-going, friendly, and passionate about sharing details of their culture.
Valletta, Malta’s capital city, is an especially desirable location. It’s not just culture that is on offer, Valletta is also Malta’s social, political, and transportation hub and is the center of the island’s bus network.
“It makes it easy for residents in the city to explore the entire country and meet new people without the use of a car,” says IL Contributor, Shawn Mitchell. “Getting around is further aided by the fact that English is an official language in Malta, and the country has positioned itself as a destination for students of English seeking to mix their studies with a sun and sea vacation.
#3 Roatán, Honduras
The flawless and normally ripple-free Caribbean Sea surrounds the stunning, jagged and tropical jungle-covered landscape on this small island off the coast of Honduras. Known for its clear waters and reefs, Roatán is a divers paradise.
The warm climate–year-round temperatures are normally in the mid-80s F and attracts expats in their droves to the open-hearted, English-speaking island.
Everywhere on Roatán runs on island time. Nobody is in a rush. It’s relaxed and casual. Sandals and shorts are the uniform—even for nice dinners out
“We always planned to retire on an island,” says Angela Szuch about her and husband Mike’s decision to move to Roatán. “We started visiting about 20 years ago to dive. Mike and I moved with our son at the end of 2017. Now at college in the U.S., he completed his last year of high school online while living in Roatan.”
“We’ve joined the local chapter of the Rotary Club. One recent project was raising money to build bathrooms in some of the local schools. There’s a sizeable expat community here. The biggest adjustment is adapting to island time and realizing that mañana means not today. But I don’t mind the slower pace. It’s part of the charm says Angela.
Simple, English-speaking, easy-going, warm and friendly people—that’s how expats describe Belize. Bathing in the Caribbean waters, the Central American gem is in second place of our Fitting In category of the 2019 Retirement Index.
Belize is also full of a diverse mix of people—a multitude of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds live in harmony.
One of the most popular places in Belize with expats is Placencia Village, on the southern tip of the 16-mile Placencia Peninsula.
“Funky, artistic, warm, and friendly, it is still considered a remote fishing village,” says IL Belize Correspondent, Laura Diffendal who lives in Placencia. “It too looks picture perfect, with a tiny, pedestrian-only sidewalk, and only one main street in town.
“Although it counts only 1,500 full-time residents, it is frequently featured worldwide on travel programs.”
Canadian, Chris Applebe has been living full-time in Placencia for the last seven years.
“Life in Belize is simple,” says Chris. “Even though I work full-time, it feels like I’m on holiday. I no longer deal with many of the First-World hassles like traffic or crowds. People are also very friendly and easy-going, which makes everything seem easier.”
Ireland, takes top spot in the Fitting-in category of the 2019 Annual Global Retirement Index, scoring 98 out of 100. Known as the Land of a Thousand Welcomes, it is not surprising to see Ireland in pole position again this year.
Friends and family are an important part of Irish life and you’ll never be short of someone to share a drink with. In quiet countryside villages everybody knows their neighbors.
Ireland really is just like how folks imagine—green fields are hemmed with little stone walls, cheery farmers waving from tractors and narrow lanes are the haunt of stray sheep and stray cows. But you are never too far away from a beach, a fishing spot, a golf course, or a literary gathering.
It comes with a storybook landscape of castles, sheer cliffs, and swans gliding across looking-glass lakes. There are old-fashioned horse fairs, cozy pubs where fiddle music rings out into the night, and seaside towns with houses painted all shades of the paint-box. But it’s the people that make it distinct—full of song and dance.
Michelle Sanders who lives with her husband, Roger, in the city of Cork in Ireland’s picturesque southwest says “In Ireland, time is used to bond with family, build community, and care for yourself. There is time to sip tea with a neighbor, to chat with the postal delivery person, or to linger over a pint and a song in the local pub. It’s quaint and cute, but it’s also freeing.