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 and other expats?
It’s important to feel comfortable in your new home abroad. Of course, part of the adventure—and the attraction—of retiring to a new country is discovering new customs, new foods, new people. But at the same time, settling in can be a challenge. And in some places, it’s simply easier to do than in others.
This ‘Fitting in and Entertainment’ category of our Annual Global Retirement Index 2021 points to the locations where it’s easiest to get comfortable quickly, make friends, and connect in the community.
There’s no one-size-fits-all destination, of course, but expats say that when you can buy some familiar items at the grocery store, plug into an established group of expats who already know the ropes, maybe see a movie in English, easily make friends with locals, find people who speak English…all those sorts of things help to make life in a new place more comfortable, faster.
The countries that rank the highest in the Fitting-in and Entertainment category of International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index 2021 are….
Ireland takes the fifth spot in the Fitting-in and Entertainment category of the Annual Global Retirement Index this year, scoring 86 out of 100. Known as the Land of a Thousand Welcomes, it not surprising to see Ireland scores highly.
Why move to Ireland when many other countries seem to offer more in terms of inexpensive living, easy lifestyle, warmer climates, and so on.
“Ireland has everything you could want and more,” says IL contributor John Morris. “An equable climate, never too hot or too cold, it is geographically quite small so you can drive anywhere in a day, and probably back too. This means that everywhere is easily accessible; whether it be the rugged beauty of County Cork, the award-winning beaches of Kerry, or the majestic Cliffs of Moher at the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
“If it’s a sport you want, everything is close by: football, rugby, swimming, fishing, boating, and more championship golf courses than you can shake a club at.
“Or perhaps you want the city life: theatres, cinemas, Michelin-star restaurants, coffee shops, world-class shopping, and pubs. In Ireland – the home of Guinness and other premier brews—pubs often provide live, foot-tapping music, good wholesome food, and something else too, something not found anywhere else in the world.”
Famous for both its welcome and for its energetic nightlife, the Emerald Isle is an English-speaking European nation, so you can get involved in the everyday life of the people around you without feeling you’re in an expat ghetto.
“Here in Ireland, we have craic (pronounced crack). This term rightly conjures up images of fun, partying, great gossip, and wild entertainment. But it means much more than that; the Irish poet W.B. Yeats said, “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.” Which accurately sums up the warm and welcoming attitude of the Irish towards their fellow man. And this could be you!”
#4 Portugal (tie)
Long an under-the-radar destination, today Portugal’s low costs, historic towns, warm weather, and varied landscapes are attracting North Americans in increasing numbers.
With miles of coastline, beach lovers can enjoy water sports like surfing, bodyboarding, windsurfing, fishing, swimming, and sunbathing. For those that prefer to stay inland, there are trails that offer hiking, biking, jogging, and walking. Explore medieval towns, castles, palaces, Roman ruins, churches, and forts. Museum-goers will love the wide variety of museums found here. Many of which offer discounts to those over age 65.
“Fitting in here has been far easier than other countries where we have lived or visited,” says Terry Coles, IL Portugal Correspondent. “Europeans come in all colors, shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and speak many languages. And because there is such a large population of English speakers from the United Kingdom here, the Portuguese are accustomed to hearing English spoken.
“The first time we looked at a house to rent here in Portugal, we were greeted with double cheeked kisses by a short, chubby, older woman wearing a house dress. Although we had never met before and she spoke no English, she welcomed us with open arms. As we looked around her house, my husband Clyde and I had an immediate feeling that we were home. This is where we were meant to be.
“This is typical of how foreigners are treated in Portugal. The people are warm and wonderful, always willing to lend a hand or offer fresh vegetables and fruits from their garden.
“Portugal has a great infrastructure with perfectly paved roads, crystal, clear water to drink, shopping malls galore, and English is spoken by many. Some television shows that were originally broadcast in the U.S. in English, are shown here with subtitles. Movie theaters offer first-run films, shown in their original language, usually English with Portuguese subtitles. The price of a movie is about $7 for a regular ticket and $4.50 for a senior citizen.
“Supermarkets feature an array of fresh fruits and vegetables, including organics. Larger supermarkets include bio sections for specialty items like gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, fat, and sugar-free. Chinese stores, similar to U.S. department stores, offer everything from clothing to nuts and bolts at discount prices. Whatever we cannot find at one of these stores can be purchased online and delivered to our door.”
Picturesque Malta is anchored almost in the center of the Mediterranean Sea, 60 miles from the Italian island of Sicily. Malta is known for its warm and sunny climate, peaceful lifestyle, and rich cultural offerings—a coveted destination for centuries.
Malta takes third place with 90 points in the Fitting-in and Entertainment category of this year’s Annual Global Retirement Index.
“The Maltese are friendly, helpful, and welcoming,” says IL contributor Mary Charlebois. “Over the centuries, Malta has been conquered by twelve nations. Each left behind their language, food, religion, knowledge, and traditions; as a result, The Maltese are open and accepting of all cultures, nationalities, races, creeds, and economic status.”
“Life in Malta is easy going. Family life is central, and the community spirit is strong. Don’t be surprised when someone you’ve just met invites you to their home for a cold drink, or to join a table of locals in a sidewalk café.
“Malta is a sociable place with deep cultural roots. Art, music, food, history, village bands, sports, walking groups, Nature lovers, expats, even American car lovers have clubs, associations, festivals, celebrations, presentations, classes, and more.
Find a group that shares one of your interests and join. You’ll be involved in your community and something you love and fitting-in like a local before you know it.”
#2 Costa Rica
When researching the possibility of moving abroad, the top drivers for people are typically a lower cost-of-living, access to affordable healthcare, and better weather, among others. However, it is also important to consider how easy it is to fit in. When you leave your social circles of family and friends back home, chances are you won’t know anyone. Therefore, it comes as a relief to understand that Costa Rica an easy place for expats to fit in.
“There are several factors working in your favor when searching for your “tribe” when you initially move to Costa Rica,” says Kathleen Evans, IL Costa Rica Correspondent.
“There have been North American and European expat pioneers to Costa Rica for the last several decades, paving the way for retirees and those seeking a new adventure abroad. Over 27,800 North Americans have obtained their legal residency in Costa Rica and easily another estimated 27,000 are part-timers, vacation homeowners, or investors. This community makes life for new arrivals easy for meeting new friends and finding a number of activities. These folks have been through the adjustment period and, for the most part, will be very helpful.
“Of course, it is not just the expats who will be great resources. Costa Ricans or Ticos are known for their warm and welcoming personalities. It is part of the Pura Vida culture. So, don’t be surprised when your new neighbors invite you to their child’s birthday party or when they surround your car when it breaks down in order to help you fix it. They are simply lovely people that way. Plus, it never hurts to have an interpreter friend if your command of the Spanish language is challenged.
“If you shop at the local stores and markets, it is easy to meet the vendors and owners who will make time to chat with you. Every sizable town and city hosts a weekly feria or farmer’s market. This is always a great opportunity to stock up on produce, sundries, bread, etc., but also to socialize with your local community. It is a much a social event as a shopping trip.”
You can find social groups, such as Expat.com and Internations who host meet-up events, and a number of regional Facebook groups for keeping updated and asking questions. Membership in ARCR (Association of Residents Costa Rica) is a great resource for navigating life in Costa Rica including lists of reputable lawyers and real estate agents in your area, as well as insurance recommendations. You can join these now, before ever setting foot in the country.
Mexico claims top rankings in the Fitting in and Entertainment category of this year’s Annual Global Retirement Index, scoring 94 points.
Retirees and other expats have been settling in Mexico for 60 years or more. There is a long history of Americans and Canadians traveling to the country, or living there full or part-time, including many snowbirds. This all means that Mexican people are used to having foreigners around and that things are “set up,” so to speak, for new arrivals.
Other factors at play here are that the United States and Mexico share a very long border, the two countries are huge trading partners, and the proximity means that people have gone back and for centuries, along with their culture, language, traditions, food, and more. Americans know a lot about Mexican culture and vice-versa. You’ll find many familiar brands, products, and stores in Mexico, everything from Home Depot to Skippy Peanut Butter.
Finally, due to the influence of tourism and the fact that many Mexicans have lived in worked in the U.S., means that there are a lot of English speakers in the country, from doctors to shopkeepers, especially in popular tourist destinations. So if you don’t speak much or any Spanish, you won’t be totally lost.
“The large and welcoming expat community make it an easy transition,” says Jason Holland, IL Roving Latin America Editor.
“There are an estimated 1 million expats from the United States and more than a half-million from Canada living in Mexico full or part-time, with plenty of people from other parts of the globe too. They come from different parts of their respective countries, have different backgrounds… there are families, retirees, businesspeople… yet, everybody pretty much gets along. And when you move to Mexico it’s easy to integrate yourself in not just the local culture but also the expat community.
“These communities are very active. There are happy hours, Saturday morning breakfasts, sports leagues for pickleball and tennis, card games, book clubs, hiking clubs, volunteer work… no shortage of things to do and places to meet new friends. And that’s just the start. Go to any expat hotspot, and you’ll find hangouts and a whole host of activities to take part in.
“Expats come from all parts of the U.S. and Canada and all parts of the globe. Different backgrounds, careers, political persuasion—everybody pretty much gets along in Mexico”