“Where should I retire?” This is the question we hear most often at International Living, and every January we give you our most definitive answer in the form of our Annual Global Retirement Index.
When it was first conceived 29 years ago, our Retirement Index was our special way of coping with an embarrassment of riches. At that stage, IL had already spent over a decade exploring all manner of dream locales. The result was a huge and exciting variety of choice and opportunity. Fast-forward to 2019. Nearly three decades have gone by, during which our scouts have scoured every corner of the globe many times over. The result is a much bigger and ever-growing selection of outstanding destinations where you can live a healthier and happier life, spend a lot less money, and get a whole lot more.
But how do you choose? The Retirement Index is still the most comprehensive and in-depth survey of its kind. It’s the best way we know of to sift through the wealth of opportunity the world offers, bring some order, and help you pinpoint the best destination for you.
Annually we reflect on and refine our methodology. This year is no exception, and we’ve made some changes. The research and production of the Global Retirement Index is now an annual rite involving every single member of the International Living team. That team has grown to cover five continents, which means we’re bringing to the Index an ever-greater depth of knowledge.
A vast amount of hard data goes into the Index. It’s a distillation of every pertinent and measurable fact our scouts and experts can lay their hands on. And it reflects the experience of every expat who has contributed to International Living since the publication of our first issue, 40 years ago.
But don’t think of it as a mere number-crunching exercise. At its heart lies the good judgement of our far-flung editors and correspondents. We didn’t create this Index for it to be a purely objective resource. Yes, it is built on hard facts. But its power—its utility—lies in what we recommend you do with them. In other words, we bring our team’s good judgement to bear on the question: Where should I go? We share with you their measured opinions and recommendations. We don’t just tell you what the situation is on the ground—we help you figure out what it means for you.
Having moved overseas and immersed themselves in the destinations where they live and learned their lessons the hard way, our experts are ideally placed to compare, contrast, and bring nuanced insight to the most appealing retirement destinations in the world.
What has their research revealed about the best retirement havens in 2019? Read on…
By Glynna Prentice, IL Editor
Spain is one of Europeans’ favorite “beach destinations.” It offers First-World, Western European living standards, so there’s no question of having to “give up” anything in living here. In fact, you’ll gain a lot. Outside the tourist zones, you’ll need to know Spanish to get by. But there are plenty of beach areas with large, English-speaking expat communities.
Cool northern provinces like Navarre, Cantabria, Asturias, Galicia, and the Basque country offer forests, mountains, friendly locals, and food to die for. My favorites include little Vitoria-Gasteiz, capital of the Basque country, and Pamplona, in Navarre (although avoid the San Fermín festival, with its famous running of the bulls, in early July).
Because of the warm climate, many basic food items are inexpensive here—Spain produces a variety of fruits and vegetables both for domestic consumption and for export. In season—and Spain has a long growing season—many produce items cost around 60 cents a pound. In addition, many fruits and vegetables that are relatively gourmet items in North America—baby artichokes, cherimoya, and doughnut peaches, for example—are locally grown in Spain.
Following Spanish eating habits will also keep costs down. Lunch is the big meal of the day, and the lunch special, or menú del día, is a great bargain. For anywhere from $11 to $20, you’ll get two to three courses, plus a beverage (which can often be beer or wine). Make that your big meal out (or prepare it in your rental) and follow it with a light dinner or tapas.
With one of the lowest costs of living in Western Europe for around $2,500 a month, a couple can live comfortably in many parts of the country.
Traveling by rail in Spain is fast and efficient to large and medium-sized cities. I travel about Spain, discovering new haunts, revisiting old ones, and catching up with friends around the country.
Spain also has a surprising range of climates, from hot and dry in the south to cool and mild in the north. There’s skiing, too—not just in the north, in the Pyrenees, but down in the mountains of the south, as well.”
In terms of healthcare The World Health Organization ranks Spain as having one of the best healthcare systems in the world. The public system is widely used. But it also has great private healthcare, including 29 JCI-accredited facilities.
Spain is one of the most tolerant places I know of for those with alternative lifestyles. Civil unions, as well as marriage, are recognized by law. And same-sex marriages have been legal there since 2005. And as a single woman, I’ve always felt safe there. It’s a late-night culture, so people are out and about at all hours.
By Rachel Devlin, IL Chiang Mai Correspondent
Southeast Asia offers some of the world’s most attractive retirement programs, astounding geographic and cultural diversity, and climates to suit all tastes, ranging from hot beach resorts to cool highland hill stations. You’ll find sophisticated cities, ultra-modern, affordable healthcare, and luxury accommodation for a fraction of North American prices.
Nestled between Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, Thailand enjoys the warm-water coastlines of both the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. This is a country that has never been colonized by any Western or European countries, so Thai culture is untouched, rich, and ancient. What’s more, it’s ideal for expat living.
My husband, Mick, and I retired in Chiang Mai two years ago, and we even brought our 16-year-old son along for the adventure of a lifetime. We sold our house and cars and set off for a better life. And we found it.
Rentals here can be as little as $400 per month for a modern studio apartment. Utility bills are also significantly cheaper. Imagine paying a monthly water bill that is only $32.
“I order most of my shopping online and get it delivered for free, and that includes cleaning products. It generally costs $45 every two weeks. Sometimes I go to the local market and spend $4 on armfuls of fresh fruit and veggies,” says Raelene Haines.
Thailand generally has a tropical humid climate. No cold winters here. Perfect for people who like swimming and sunshine. Arthritis sufferers find great relief in this climate.
There are many modern private hospitals in Thailand. Doctors practice with current medical knowledge and general practitioner visits can cost as little as $10.
For expats with a wandering spirit, travel within the country is inexpensive. A flight of two hours can take you from one end of the country to the other for as little as $100 round trip. Float freely in a long-tail boat or go swimming at beaches from Hollywood movies. Then, within a few hours, you can be in the northern Thai jungle, drinking a cocktail in an infinity pool overlooking rice paddies and ancient temples.
As a home base, Thailand is well situated. On average, it only takes an hour-and-a-half to fly to anywhere in Southeast Asia.
If you worry about finding friends in Thailand, have no fear. Expat communities are alive and busy. You will find meet-ups taking place regularly, and lots of local interest groups. If you want to maintain an active lifestyle by joining a gym, hiking, or biking, or if you prefer to dive into history and art, it’s all here. There are hundreds of Facebook pages dedicated to expat interest groups, so finding your tribe is not difficult. The most enjoyable parts of Thai culture revolve around the idea of sanook (meaning “fun”). Whatever you find yourself doing, you are encouraged to make it fun and enjoy every minute.
By Steve LePoidevin, IL Peru Correspondent
While 95% of people who visit Peru do so to explore Machu Picchu, many have discovered an ideal retirement destination, with miles of beaches, delicious cuisine, and some of the lowest costs anywhere when it comes to enjoying a high-quality lifestyle.
My wife Nancy and I moved here just over two years ago, and we love the 300 days of sunshine a year and the highly affordable lifestyle. The cost of living is one of the cheapest anywhere with rents starting as low as $150 per month and filling three-course lunches starting at $2.50, including a drink.
Other than the upscale neighborhoods in Lima, Peru is a very inexpensive place to live. A couple can easily live on a budget of less than $2,000 a month in most regions of the country. Although we choose to spend more (think $2,000 to $2,400 a month).
We love to eat, and Peru has great food wherever you go. From the cevicherias of Huanchaco to the picanterias of Arequipa, you can find a wide variety of inexpensive dishes based on diverse ingredients from the sea, mountains, and jungles of the country.
Fresh fruits and veggies are available year-round at low cost. We pick up enough for $5 at the local market in our home town of Huanchaco to last us a few days.
Spectacular Macho Pichu, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley of the Incas have always been major attractions for tourists, but more expats are now heading to this area for long-term stays and retirement. Nights are cool, but midday highs can reach the 70s F for much of the year.
We spent our first year in the southern metropolis of Arequipa and discovered that it has a lot going for it. Less than a two-hour drive from the coast, it is easy to escape to the nearby popular beaches during the peak summer months of January and February. And the food is to die for. Arequipa is renowned for its range of high-quality restaurants, wonderful traditional cuisine, and centuries-old colonial center.
The capital city of Lima is home to the largest number of expats. They enjoy some of the best restaurants in the world, a large variety of art galleries and museums, a vibrant theatre scene, and the easily accessible international airport. And for anyone breaking into Peru’s business world, Lima is the place to see and be seen.
Surfers enjoy the year-round waves at seaside towns such as Huanchaco. Located only 15 minutes from Trujillo, the second-largest city in the country, it offers the best of both worlds. Huanchaco has maintained its small fishing town charm despite the annual increase in tourist numbers.
There is not a lot of English in Peru so it is almost a necessity to learn Spanish to fit in in most communities unless you only want to socialize with other expats. But the people are friendly, family-oriented, and more than accepting of outsiders. Putting a little effort into learning the language goes a long way in making new friends.
And, when you are ready for a quick getaway, there are daily scheduled flights to the bordering countries of Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile. If you are looking for a country with an inexpensive lifestyle, friendly people, and great food, Peru is worth a look.
By Tricia Pimental, IL Portugal Correspondent
I’ve lived in Portugal for five years, and as IL Portugal Correspondent, I have shared a lot about what makes this country great. Others agree. “It’s the people,” says expat Molly Ashby, who bought an apartment in Lisbon five years ago. “They’re mellow and very receptive to foreigners.”
It’s true. Locals generally make a sincere effort to make visitors and expats feel welcome. Of course it helps if you speak at least a little Portuguese, but in urban areas like Porto and Lisbon and the multi-national expat region of the Algarve, English works just fine.
Another reason is the affordable lifestyle. Portugal is the second least expensive country in Europe, after Bulgaria. My husband Keith and I find we spend about a third of what we did to live in the States. For example, a simple lunch of soup, main course, beverage, dessert, and coffee runs about $10. You can live a comfortable, although not extravagant, lifestyle for about $2,500 a month.
If you choose to live in Porto in the north, Lisbon, or in the expat beach havens of Cascais or the Algarve, you probably want to bump that up to $3,000. You can, however, keep that lower figure simply by moving 20 minutes away from a city center. Enjoy urban amenities, then head back to the ‘burbs and lower rent.
Rated the fourth-safest country in the world in the 2018 Global Peace Index, Portugal is not only secure, but beautiful. “Portugal is a phenomenal place to call home,” says expat Mike Sager. “Being from Southern California (with near-perfect weather), I had no desire to shovel snow or cook during the summer for the rest of my life.
“I love the lowered level of stress in day-to-day things. You walk through neighborhoods, and on every corner will be a little store or restaurant/bar, and folks will just be hanging out having a cold beer or shot of espresso. The elders are telling stories and the kids are playing soccer across the street. Picturesque and peaceful comes to mind.”
If Portugal’s attributes have convinced you to give it a try, here’s a tip: Begin your test drive in the capital. Lisbon is easy to reach, with direct flights from major cities around the world. English is widely spoken, and comprehensive train, bus, tram, and taxi offerings make it unnecessary to own a vehicle. The city is a cultural cornucopia, with museums and historical sites like St. George Castle and the nearby Palace of Queluz.
By Nancy Kiernan, IL Colombia Correspondent
Perfect spring-like weather all year was the first thing that drew me to retire to Medellín, Colombia. I had lived my whole life in the northeast, and I never wanted to see or shovel snow again. While not exactly pioneers, my husband and I are two of the growing number of expats who have discovered that they can live a First-World quality of life in a country that’s only now showing up on fellow retirees’ radar.
Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, so you can easily find a climate and environment that suits your taste. If you want hot and tropical, consider retiring to the lovely Caribbean coastal cities of Santa Marta or Cartagena, where crystal-clear water laps against warm, sandy beaches. For those who prefer more temperate climates, then I suggest my adopted mountain city of Medellín, or anywhere in the “coffee triangle” of Pereira, Armenia, and Manizales, where you are surrounded by lush, green mountain scenery.
Getting a retirement visa to live in Colombia is also quite easy. All you need to do is prove at least $750 annual income from Social Security or $2,500 annual income from a private pension or 401K and you are eligible to obtain a visa that is good for three years. Once they arrive, retirees are discovering they can stretch their retirement dollars.
Your cost of living will depend on which part of the country you choose to live and what type of lifestyle you want to have regarding dining out and entertainment. I live in El Poblado, one of the most upscale neighborhoods of Medellin and don’t really scrimp. My cost of living is 60% less than it was when I lived in a small city in Maine in the U.S. Just the fact that I don´t have to pay heating or cooling costs has saved me about $3,400 per year alone.
As we all reach retirement age, access to high quality but affordable healthcare becomes a front-and-center issue. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks Colombia’s health system at #22 in the world, far better than Canada at #30 and the U.S. at #37. As a retired healthcare executive from the U.S., I know quality healthcare when I see it. The high-tech, world-class care I receive in Colombia does not cost “an arm and a leg.” My premium for public health insurance is only $75 per month, and my co-pay for lab tests, prescription medications, and other services is only $4.
The dark days of Colombia’s past are gone, and it has been transformed into a country that is thriving. One of the best things about the country are the warm, welcoming Colombian people. Don’t let a lack of Spanish keep you from trying out life here. As the expression goes, “You don’t meet a Colombian…you meet the entire family!” Here you’ll always feel part of the community.
By Keith Hockton, IL Malaysia Correspondent
My wife, Lisa, and I vacationed in Malaysia in 2008 and at that stage we were taking at least two holidays a year somewhere in Asia. When we got back and did the sums we realised that we could actually live in Malaysia and vacation back home, effectively reversing our situation and saving a heap of money into the bargain. We started to make plans to do just that and moved here to live in early 2010.
Idyllic beaches, islands that seduce the senses, and some of the most pristine ancient rainforests in Southeast Asia—this is Malaysia. And these are just some reasons why I call it home.
Malaysian law is based on the British system and all road signs are in both English and Malay, which makes driving around easy. The unofficial first language of the country is English, so you don’t have to learn another language here if you don’t want to.
A family of six can dine out in a good local Chinese restaurant (10 courses) for less than $5.70 per person, including beer. A men’s haircut costs just $2.16. In Penang, a couple can live comfortably on $1,800 a month, including rent.
As for healthcare, when you compare surgery prices between the U.S. and Malaysia, the benefits are obvious. Just the other day I decided on a whim to have a medical.
I’d never had one done before and as I had a free morning I decided just to pop in to the Lam Wah Eee Hospital. I was already registered and found myself sitting outside a GP’s office not five minutes after arriving. Within an hour I’d had I’d been examined by a doctor, had an ECG and blood and urine tests done, and I was on my way home. The total cost of the visit was just $43. The doctor who had examined me called me later that afternoon with the results. It’s this level of service that makes medical in Malaysia not only an attractive option but also a non-scary one. It’s all so easy.
The other attractive thing for us is the outdoor lifestyle. If white-sand beaches are your dream, you have here more than 878 islands to choose from. Both my wife, and I hike a lot; so living near the Penang Botanic Gardens is a bonus. With all year-round good weather, the temperature in Malaysia averages 82 F, there are over 60 hiking trails for us to choose from. We are also members of The Penang Sports Club and The Penang Swimming Club. The swimming club is five-star facility that offers a 50-meter outdoor saltwater pool, a state of the art gym, the best library on the island, a scuba and sailing section, and a number of restaurants that are heavily discounted for members.
Apartment rentals here are good value and you can choose between sea and mountain views. In Batu Ferringhi, a nice beach suburb, you can rent a three-bedroom, apartment with sea views for as little as $403 per month. The complex has a good gym, 24-hour security, secure parking, tennis courts and at least two pools to choose from.
There are direct flights to the rest of Asia from Penang’s International Airport, which makes getting away for a weekend very easy. Penang to Bangkok in Thailand takes just one and a half hours and can cost as little as $43 return.
By Jim Santos, IL Coastal Ecuador Correspondent
For me, the number one thing about Ecuador is that it offers so many different types of places to live; you can have warm weather year-round on the coast, a more temperate climate in the Andes, small village life, big-city conveniences, and everything in between.
Quite simply, some of the best weather on the planet can be found in Ecuador. The unique combination of its position on the equator, the cooling sea breezes from the Humboldt Current, the Andes mountain range, and the Amazon basin have conspired to create a variety of climates. There are beaches that are warm year-round but rarely muggy (and are too close to the equator to ever have hurricanes or tropical storms), and places in the hills where you do not need a heating or cooling system. Lush, green hills and fertile valleys are the norm in Ecuador.
While I appreciate the natural beauty and the mix of indigenous, Incan, and Spanish culture, one of my favorite benefits is the affordable lifestyle. There are few places where living is as affordable in Ecuador. There is something for everyone, regardless of your budget. Consider that you can own a home on a Pacific Coast beach for less than $150,000. Not enough is said about property taxes either—my 2,000 square foot oceanfront condo has a tax bill of less than $300 per year—not per month, per year. Rentals and opportunities to buy in the interior are plentiful and affordable.
Since the land produces excellent food, mostly with year-round growing seasons, prices at local mercados are so low, it is difficult to carry more than $15 worth of fruits and vegetables. Household help is available for $10 to $20 per day, and services like pedicures and haircuts are just a few dollars. No need for heating and cooling bills in most of the country, and you can live most places without a car, paying 30 cents or less for buses, and $2 to $5 for cab rides.
Ecuador is a little unique, in that there are not just a couple of expat communities. There are over a dozen places spread all across the country where you can find North Americans enjoying the laidback lifestyle. Even in areas with few expats, like Loja for example, the Ecuadorians make it very easy to feel welcome and at home.
Mike Herron and his wife arrived in Cuenca in 2015. While excited, they were apprehensive, as well. This was uncharted territory for both of them. Not only were they embarking on a different life, they were doing it in a different country where neither of them spoke the language.
Now, three years later and with the advantage of hindsight, they say that, other than getting married, it was the best decision they ever made. They say the most important part of their new lives is the meaningful relationships they’ve developed with expats and Ecuadorians alike.
“People take the time to connect and get to know one another. It’s common to sit and talk with someone, even someone we are meeting for the first time, over a breakfast or lunch that can last two hours or more. When we walk down the street, it’s not unusual to stop and spend 15 to 20 minutes chatting with someone we know, or even with someone we’ve just met while walking,” says Mike.
By Don Murray, IL Riviera Maya Correspondent
My wife Diane and I moved to Cancún in 2014. We wanted to retire somewhere close to high-quality healthcare and stunning Caribbean beaches—Mexico was the obvious choice. The country has something for everyone: beautiful, warm oceans, crystal-clear tropical lakes, fertile farmlands, temperate-but-majestic mountains, starkly gorgeous deserts, small towns, or sophisticated cities.
Whether your dream retreat is a graceful colonial home with lavish gardens, a simple beachfront bungalow where you can prop up your feet and watch the tide roll in, or a clifftop villa with sunset views and cool, steady breezes, you are likely to find your dream home in Mexico.
The cost of living is notoriously low. In fact, there are many places in the country where a wonderful life can be had for the price of one monthly Social Security check and this improves even more when you figure the normally favourable exchange rate from dollars to pesos. (A couple can live here for anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 a month, depending on location—and that includes rent and healthcare.)
I didn’t even realize the host of other benefits that I’d enjoy living in Mexico. Once residency is granted, you can sign up for a national healthcare plan. Mexico offers two national healthcare plans for residents. The one most popular with expats is the Seguro Popular program where annual costs may be only a few hundred dollars for full coverage. If you’re over the age of 60, you may also receive your national senior discount card which opens the door to many discounts on goods and services, often ranging from 10% to 20%.
Because of its geographic diversity, you can also choose your favorite climate: from warm and dry to warm and sultry to spring-like temperatures all year in the Colonial Highlands.
Generally, however, the entire country is warm and mild with small amounts of snow falling only on the highest peaks. A light sweater will add some comfort on the few chilly evenings.
But at heart, what I and most other expats love most about Mexico is the vibrant life and culture. And it’s quite easy to fit in. Popular expat destinations include the Lake Chapala area and San Miguel de Allende as well as most coastal retreats. These areas are brimming with expats who can make a newcomer feel welcome.
“I have lived in and visited many wonderful places in my life. But only two that were magical to me, where I felt an immediate feeling that I belonged there,” says expat Paula Nunes. “San Francisco in the late 1960s. And San Miguel de Allende in 2012.”
“Almost every time you go out, you meet people,” she says. “It’s really easy. People give out cards with their name, email, and phone number. I spend a lot of time with people born here, and it’s great. They’re wonderful. I’m trying to learn Spanish, and my Mexican friends are good about correcting me.”
Paula has lived full-time in San Miguel since April 2016. She bought her home—a two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom house with two covered outdoor terraces—in the neighborhood of Colonia San Rafael, three years ago.
“When I bought, the dollar wasn’t as strong as it is now. It was at 15 pesos to the dollar,” says Paula. “It was less than $120,000.”
With its friendly locals, world-class restaurant and cultural scene, and its low cost of living, San Miguel has been an expat favorite for decades. And Paula doesn’t see herself leaving anytime soon.
2. Costa Rica
By Kathleen Evans, IL Coastal Costa Rica Correspondent
Costa Rica attracts visitors with its tropical climate; low cost of living; top-notch, affordable medical care; bargain real estate; and natural beauty.
Costa Rica has a stable democracy and a peace-loving culture. They abolished their army in 1948 and pledged that budget to education and healthcare. Often called the “Switzerland of Central America” it is known for its safety, neutrality and good banking system—especially compared to many other countries in the region. The current government is progressive and LGBT rights are respected.
One of the things you hear very often from expats is how warm and welcoming the Ticos (Costa Ricans) are. 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.
Nicole Rangel from Texas says “From the moment we stepped off the plane in September 2017 with our five suitcases ready to move to Costa Rica with our two elementary age children, I felt the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders. The community is so supportive of each other and the locals. I pinch myself often because of how lucky my kids are.”
Once you have acquired your residency, you pay between 7% and 11% or your reported monthly income, and the socialized medicine program is available to you. You can also blend public healthcare with a private policy. The country has three JCI accredited hospitals and numerous private clinics. More doctors are also taking the U.S. retired military insurance called Tricare Overseas.
Costa Rica also has an outdoor loving culture – with activities from fishing to golfing to horseback riding to hiking to diving to yoga. Plus, there are less processed foods, and more healthy choices with an abundance of locally grown fruits, vegetables, organic eggs and endless seafood. Most of the people I know who have moved to Costa Rica have shed unwanted weight, are taking less prescription drugs and overall feel better.
And, with a dozen microclimates, there is someplace for everyone to fit your personal weather preferences. Many people love the temperate “eternal spring” climate of San Jose, the capital and all the surrounding Central Valley. Or the dry, hot beaches of Guanacaste, or the lush, green landscape of the jungles in the south.
By Jessica Ramesch, IL Panama Editor
Modern, convenient, and close to the U.S.—not to mention sunny, warm, and welcoming. It’s hardly surprising that Panama topped the 2019 Annual Global Retirement Index. Panama is warm and tropical, but completely outside the hurricane belt. The currency is the U.S. dollar. The tax burden is low. And there’s a large English-speaking population—including a cadre of excellent doctors.
Panama City is a destination for exciting food, beer, jazz, film, golf, tennis, and much more. The lush mountain towns of Panama rank among the best retirement destinations in the world. Our livable, clean, and uncrowded beaches include the popular beach hub of Coronado, the lesser-known gem that is the Pedasí region, and a Caribbean paradise—there is no other word for it—called Bocas del Toro.
The capital of Panama, Panama City, is a cosmopolitan city where you can rent an ocean-view condo for as little as $1,500 a month. It’s also the only First World city in Central America. We’re relatively close to the U.S. and Canada (Miami is about three hours away by plane).
I’m able to live as a single in Panama City on about $2,600 a month, including rent, groceries, utilities, and entertainment. I pay zero income tax here, as revenue earned in other countries is exempt. And you’ll never run out of things to do here. What few people know is that this is also a cultural capital. Panama City is home to active, vibrant communities from all over the world, and every art form is celebrated here.
Leave Panama City and costs are even more affordable. Pedasi, is on the tip of the Azuero Peninsula in the province of Los Santos on the Pacific Ocean. Expat Jim Gault who lives in Pedasi, says “Rents in Pedasi during high season (December through April) can cost more than $750 a month, as demand drives up the prices. But, Pedasi does give you the choice of living on a small budget by making use of the local fresh produce, freshly caught fish of the day, and eating out at typical Panama fondas, you can live well on less on Pedasi.”
One area where Panama excels for retirees is the benefits and discounts it offers. The country’s famed Pensionado Program is one of the best retiree programs in the world today and it’s open to everyone. The program entitles pension-holding retirees to a long list of discounts…and I’m talking across the board. From medical expenses to entertainment, retirees in Panama can seriously stretch their dollars. Like 25% off airline tickets, 25% off your monthly energy bills and up to 50% off hotel stays. IL Chiriqui Correspondent Nanette Witmer says, “Many people don’t realize that Panama’s famous Pensionado discounts are by law given to all who qualify by age—expat or Panamanian. When women reach the age of 55 and men 60, they can automatically start using the benefits that the Pensionado provides. By showing your residency card you are entitled to discounts.”
Nanette adds, “Healthcare in Panama is good and affordable for minor problems. Most clinics charge a nominal fee of between $20 and $60 for an office visit. Hospitals in larger cities are all of the state-of-the-art equipment and specialists can be found in any field. Doctors in Panama work one on one, no medical assistants or other staff. You deal directly with the doctor and most prescription drugs are cheaper than in North America.”
A country with surprisingly varied landscapes, Panama is so much more than its modern, cosmopolitan capital city. There are mountain towns boasting cool climates, pine-covered hills, and sweet, Swiss-style cottages framed with bright bursts of bougainvillea. And of course, there are beaches galore, from the white sand gems of the Caribbean, to the many popular and easily accessible beaches of the Pacific.
The table below presents an overview of the top 10 countries in our Annual Global Retirement Index, in order of highest to lowest. Use the previous and next buttons to view all 25 countries. You can filter countries by the following groupings; Financial, Health, Lifestyle and Governance and within each category sort scores by ascending or descending order.
|Country||Buying & Investing||Renting||Benefits & Discounts||Visa & Residence||Fitting in||Ent. & Amenities||Healthcare||Healthy Lifestyle||Development||Climate||Governance||Opportunity||Cost of Living||FINAL SCORES|
How We Compile The Annual Global Retirement Index
Each year, we use our ever-expanding network of editors, correspondents, and contributors all over the world to give us the on-the-ground information and recommendations we need to put our index together. This year, we talked to more people than ever before and gathered massive amounts of information to decide on the best retirement destinations.
All these people were once in your shoes. All of them wondered if they could ﬁnd a better life abroad. Many of them were former International Living readers who took the plunge, and now want to share their love for their new home with the world. These are the people we draw upon to put together our index each year.
We rank and score each of the 25 countries in the index across 13 categories:
• Buying & Investing this looks at the value of real estate and how easy it is to buy or rent your dream home overseas. In this category, we assess things like the price of houses and condos in areas an expat retiree would like to live in, annual property tax, how much it costs to build, and if there are any restrictions on expats owning property. We also asked out correspondents whether there are good opportunities to invest in property as a means of earning a rental or capital return.
• Renting we asked our expat correspondents to give the price of a month’s rent on a range of properties in areas where a retiree would like to live. We also asked how easy it is to find a place to rent (both short- and long-term), and what sort of property a sample rent of $1,000 a month would provide.
• Benefits & Discounts in some countries, you as a retiree can get discounts on lots of things, from airfare and food to electricity and public transport. All the beneﬁts and discounts retirees can get in the country are factored into this category.
• Visas & Residence if you can’t legally and easily call a country home, it won’t be much good as a retirement spot. This category looks at things like how easy it is to get permanent residence and if there are any special residence options for retirees.
• Cost of Living a country has to be affordable to be a great retirement spot. It’s that simple. And to assess how affordable each country is, we got our experts on the ground to ﬁll out a comprehensive monthly budget. Everything from the cost of a liter of milk to a bottle of beer to a movie ticket was factored in.
• Fitting in isn’t just about making friends with locals and expats. It’s also about feeling at home. Can you pick up your favorite North American comforts when you need them? And how easy is it to adapt to the local culture? This category looks at all of these things.
• Entertainment & Amenities There’s a lot that factors into how interesting a place is. Does it have lots of museums, gigs, and exhibitions? Are there lots of outdoor activities? And can you catch a movie in English when you want to? Things like this factor into Entertainment & Amenities.
• Healthcare In this category, we put our experts to the test like never before. How much will you have to pay for things like laser eye surgery, a tooth crown, or a blood transfusion? Can you get common medications for things like asthma and diabetes? And do you need a prescription to get a reﬁll? When it comes to assessing healthcare, we factor in both quality and price to give you a fair and balanced view.
• Healthy Lifestyle Things like great weather and an abundance of fresh food all factor in to how healthy a lifestyle you can have in your overseas home.
• Development You wouldn’t want to live anywhere where you couldn’t stream your favorite movies, call home, or access reliable electricity. You’ll also want quality roads and an efficient public transport network. These are just some of the factors that feed into the Development category.
• Climate Moving abroad gives you the chance to escape from the extremes of weather back home. You can ﬁnd places overseas where the weather is just perfect for you. In this category, we rate the climate of each country, factoring in things like rainfall, temperature, and humidity.
• Governance The world can be scary and our fate uncertain. So knowing your new home respects personal freedom, keeps the bureaucracy to a minimum, and offers a stable and safe environment in which to enjoy retirement is a nice feeling. You’ll also appreciate an efficient banking system.
• Opportunity Retirement doesn’t need to be a grinding halt. Maybe you have a business project you’d like to try out, or perhaps you’ve thought about supplementing your income with some freelancing work or online employment. We’ve examined how well the local authorities support small business, whether it’s easy to work remotely, and whether there’s a strong economy in each country.
Although we’ve been more rigorous than ever in putting together our index, what makes a perfect retirement spot is ultimately subjective. It’s all down to you, and your gut reaction to a place. How do you measure the friendliness of the local people? How do you grade the comfort of a climate? A perfect retirement spot for one person could be far from perfect for another, no matter how well it scores on the index. And that’s why we always recommend renting in a place for a couple of months to give it a test try. Make sure it’s right for you before you commit to a permanent move.