Best Places to Retire in 2024: The Annual Global Retirement Index

Costa Rica is the Best Place to Retire in 2024
For the third time, the world’s #1 retirement destination is Costa Rica. |©iStock/Mlenny

If you’re considering retirement abroad, you need information, and you need lots of it. But more than that, you need guidance on how to interpret that information. That’s what we’re here for, and that’s why we’ve compiled the 2024 Annual Global Retirement Index: to help you with the exciting business of choosing where in the world will best suit your needs.

When it was first conceived, 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 2024.

More than 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?

What is the Annual Global Retirement Index?

The Retirement Index is 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.

Our index is informed by hundreds of opinions and real-life experiences—information—compiled by our trusted sources in the best retirement destinations across the globe. We think of it as a tool for you, our reader. A way for you to quickly compare and contrast your best options and begin to narrow down your choices.

We have our people out there pounding the pavement in attractive overseas communities we know you should consider. They’re reporting back to us with insights, and information about what’s really going on. They’re not beholden to relocation service providers or real estate agents or tourism boards or economic development organizations. They work for you.

In no way is our Global Retirement Index meant to be a scientific output. It’s designed to be a useful tool for people, constructed out of real-world, on-the-ground information interpreted through a lens of well-informed experience and opinion.

Our sources are living in the places where they’re gathering their intelligence. And we trust their judgment. If they say the healthcare is good, or that a meal for two in a nice restaurant costs $20, then we believe them.

Our intention with this index is that it be genuinely useful. We’re not looking for random input from random people around the world—you can get that with a simple internet search. Instead, we’re in the business of providing sound recommendations about a refreshingly limited number of options.

Beyond data—it offers, more importantly, information, opinions, perspective, and guidance.

What has their research revealed about the best retirement havens in 2024? Read on…

10. Colombia


By Michelle Thompson

It may seem like uncharted territory at first glance, but choosing to retire in Colombia means plenty of outdoor activities, nature preserves, festivals, and eco-tours. Over the centuries, Colombia’s Indigenous, European, and African cultures merged to create a rich, complex history and vibrant country. "I'm so impressed by the rich culture and history of Colombia. The historical sites are remarkable and can teach us so much about the country. In Cartagena, city tour guides will never shy away from telling the real stories behind the colonial architecture," says Michelle Thompson, a Canadian who picked Colombia as her first travel destination in 2018 and ended up staying.

Despite social challenges that arose from Colombia’s participation in the transatlantic slave trade before 1851, Afro-Colombian communities' contributions to music, dance, and culture are unmistakable. Colombia's history is also marked by Indigenous civilizations like the Muiscas and Tayronas, who had flourishing communities in the Andes and Caribbean regions before the Spanish conquistadors arrived at the turn of the 16th century. “Colombia is all those things: Indigenous, African, Spanish, each part coming together to teach us about the world through music, dances, storytelling, and built heritage.”

"Colombia has the sunny beaches, cool mountains, and Amazon rainforest, but it’s so much more. During my first visit in 2018, I met local fishermen, visited pristine natural parks, and reconnected with nature. My visit to Santander was equally impressive—the river rafting and hiking were unforgettable and thrilling.” Santander, in the central north of the country, is known for having rugged terrain, outdoor adventure sports, and charming colonial towns like Barichara and Villa de Leyva. Neighboring Boyacáis famous for its amazing Spanish-style homes with whitewashed walls and red-tiled roofs. Quindío, the coffee-growing region, is also a popular destination for retirees who want to live in picturesque landscapes.

The biggest benefit to retiring in Colombia is the affordability and ease of traveling from one region to another. Going off the beaten path in Colombia still requires caution, although the country has made significant strides in improving safety in the last 20 years. Nuqui and Chocó are located on the lesser-known Pacific Coast, known for its rainforests, biodiversity, and African heritage. The Amazonas are located in the southern part of Colombia and comprise a significant portion of the Amazon Rainforest. The city of Leticia is in the Amazon rainforest, near the Brazilian and Peruvian borders. Its biodiversity, Indigenous culture, and stunning rivers are impressive.

Islands like San Andrés, Baru, and Providencia offer stunning sandy beaches and diverse fauna. “The coast of Colombia is popular with tourists, and there isn’t a day where you won’t be asked by a vendor in Cartagena’s walled city to book a day trip to Baru Island. It’s touristy but worth the visit. If you prefer a more chill experience, take a bus up the coast to Taganga National Park, or fly to Bucaramanga and rent a car to drive across out-of-this-world mountains”.

For those more comfortable living in an urban setting, Bogotá has incredible street art and theaters that bring the city to life. The traffic can be chaotic, but there is a large expat community in the northern part of the city. Retirees with residency should get to know their neighbors and learn where to find the best deals and items without paying ‘gringo’ prices. Living in Colombia requires basic Spanish skills since most Colombians speak little to no English. “Colombian food is more flavorful by North American standards, and different versions of dishes can be found in every corner of the country.”

Major cities like Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena have well-developed medical systems and medicine clinics. Many preventive care professionals offer treatments like massage, acupuncture, and other alternative care for a third of the price in the U.S., and specialists can usually be seen quickly. “I needed to see a specialist and was able to connect virtually with one of the best OBGYNs in the country the next day. The quality of care I received afterward was better than I had experienced in Canada.”

According to the World Health Organization, Colombia’s healthcare system is comparable to those of the U.S. and Canada. There are still socioeconomic disparities, especially in rural areas. As a foreigner, you will find that even out-of-pocket medical expenses are affordable when compared to U.S. prices. Even without insurance (which is not recommended), you pay as little as $20 for a consultation with a specialist, and a cleaning at the dentist will cost you $60. Private insurance rates will depend on age, your plan, and any preexisting conditions.

The most obvious benefit to living in Colombia as a retiree is the cost of living. Although rent and food prices continue to rise globally, you can live comfortably in affluent neighborhoods for as little as $1,000 per month in Manizales, Bogota, and Pereira, and $1,500 to $2,000 in Medellin and Cartagena. To find the best rentals, walk through your preferred neighborhood and contact owners directly. “I’ve lived in Bogota and Cartagena. Both times, I lived on about $1,200 a month.”

Colombia has made several changes to its visa programs in the last five years. Under new visa standards, a foreign resident can get approved with a social security retirement income, rental income, or modest private pension worth about $900 a month. The digital nomad visa incentivizes remote workers who want to live in the country but are perhaps not ready for full retirement. Your Colombian visa will help you secure a bank account and Colombian ID, and is one of the most affordable in the world.

Most areas are safe, but some remote regions may be risky due to the potential for violence or criminal activities. Arauca region, located in the eastern part of the country, shares a border with Venezuela and has seen a lot of civil unrest in recent years. That said, Colombia is more than what the media portrays. “Colombians are resilient, optimistic, and welcoming people. Like any country, using common sense and doing your research can go a long way,” says Michelle.

9. France


By Tuula Rampont

If you’re looking for an easy living, stress-free retirement, look no further than beautiful France—one of Europe’s top gourmet destinations. If you think of France as a refined, highly cultured, and stylish country—complete with an unparalleled appreciation for fine wine and good food—you may be among many of the passionate travelers who flock to la belle France every year.

What you might not have considered is that the land of croissants and Camembert can be surprisingly affordable… and with the current state of inflation and rising housing prices in the US, it’s becoming more and more so every day.

A growing number of expats have discovered this secret, and the total number of French residence permits issued to Americans increased by 26% from 2021 to 2022. (source: European Commission) As housing costs are, on average, 34% less than those in the United States – and property taxes a tenth of what we pay back home— many retirees are looking to stake their US housing gains into a fuller, more enriching lifestyle.

“More and more Americans are paring back their lifestyles and taking advantage of the community-centered, social benefits you can find in France,” says Tuula Rampont, International Living’s France Correspondent. “You’ll definitely get a lot more bang for your buck than back home.”

This is especially true if you avoid the higher-priced housing markets along pockets of the French Riviera, Paris, and the center of sought-after cities like Lyon.

“I recently met a couple from Thousand Oakes, California who sold their home for a good price and took an early retirement,” says Rampont. “They moved to the Dordogne region in the southwest and are now integrated into the local expat group. Between gourmet lunches and exploring the local French villages and countryside, it’s a pretty enviable lifestyle.”

In these lower cost-of-living spots, the average monthly budget for France is around $2080 to $2680.

The Dordogne is one of the most desirable destinations for North Americans. It combines a rich historical legacy, witnessed by the majestic French castles that stand proud along the region’s romantic namesake—the Dordogne River. The restored medieval town of Sarlat-la-Caneda is the central retiree hub and boasts one of France's most beautiful farmers' markets. The town is also known for its cultural endeavors, hosting several music and arts festivals throughout the year.

While some areas in France have seen significant upticks in housing prices since the end of the pandemic, the Dordogne is one of the best value propositions in the country. Retirees can find two-bedroom, two-bath, 1500-square-foot furnished rentals for $860 a month. Two-bedroom, two-bath homes to purchase start at around $250,000, depending on the area. If you’re willing to do some renovation work, there are still houses to be had in the Dordogne for under $200,000.

Retirees can look to several spots in southeastern France for other areas that combine attractive real estate prices with ample access to social and cultural activities—plus a range of services in English.

While Saint Tropez and Cannes may raise some budget-conscious eyebrows, long-term rentals in Nice are on par - and sometimes lower - than comparable US cities. The median rent for a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment in this idyllic seaside city was €912 ($998) in 2023. Since Nice has a large metropolitan center, by French standards, there are many affordable apartments to purchase in secured residences outside the city center.

With an excellent transportation system that relies on buses and an efficient tramway, expats are welcome to leave their cars at home. A well-connected international airport is just a tram ride away, with high-speed trains running along the coast for day trips to coastal stunners like Villefranche-sur-Mer or escapes to Lyon and Paris. An international city full of cultural diversions, Nice has a large English-speaking community, which makes for a smooth transition to French life.

Pockets of inland Provence—the land of sunflowers, lavender fields, and chilled rosé—are also good bets for fine living on a budget. Cotignac, Carces, and Lorgues villages are favorite retirement destinations for French and Americans alike.

Besides the world-class cuisine, exquisite wine, and lower housing costs, one of the main reasons to retire in France is the ability to join their top-notch healthcare system. Retirees only need to obtain a long-stay visa—one of the easier European visas to acquire—and reside in the country for 180 days a year. After three months in France, with the long-stay visa in hand, North Americans can apply for healthcare and are issued a social security number and a healthcare card. There are no networks to join, age limits, or pre-existing condition restrictions. Everyone is welcome. You can go to any doctor, dentist, or specialist in any part of the country. From top-tier teaching hospitals in Paris, Lyon, and Marseille to your local village practitioner in the foothills of Burgundy wine country, French healthcare is full access.

Often cited in the top 10 healthcare systems in the world, very few find the need to search out private facilities, as the public system has rigorous controls and standards—all for incredibly low fees. A visit to the doctor is €25 ($27), a specialist visit costs €50 ($55), and teeth cleaning at the dentist comes in at €13 ($14). Once you’re enrolled in the system, you will receive a 70 to 80% discount on all fees— so that same doctor’s visit will cost you €7.50 out of pocket, or about $9.00

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of French healthcare is the approach to long-term illnesses. If you are diagnosed with cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and a host of other unfortunate ailments, your treatment is 100% covered for the duration of the illness. Patients only need to fill out a form given to them by their general practitioner to start treatment.

Adherents to French healthcare pay a small annual rate into the system. Due to a tax treaty with the United States, social security, pensions, and passive income cannot be taxed by the French government and don’t figure into the annual payment – a boon for retirees who are largely exempt from French taxes. On average, a couple with $36,000 of taxable income will pay roughly $1800 per year for access to the healthcare system.

From the snowcapped Alps to the rugged beaches of Corsica and the elegant rues (streets) of Bordeaux, France is a land of impressive natural beauty and refined living. Fortunately, for those seeking to take advantage of a gourmet lifestyle that also focuses on the well-being of its residents, la belle France is an accessible and surprisingly affordable retirement destination.

8. Malaysia


By Keith Hockton

Living in Malaysia offers a distinct and profound experience, a sentiment not expressed lightly. This Southeast Asian gem seamlessly intertwines affordability, cultural diversity, and awe-inspiring natural beauty, creating a lifestyle that has captured the attention of expatriates worldwide. Malaysia, with its unique blend of first-world amenities at a mere fraction of the cost, presents an intriguing prospect for those seeking a more relaxed, exotic existence away from the hustle and bustle of North America, Europe, or Australia.

“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,” says International Living’s Malaysia Correspondent Keith Hockton. “When we got back and did the sums, we realized that we could actually live in Malaysia and vacation back home, effectively reversing our situation and saving a heap of money. We started to make plans to do just that and moved to Penang in early 2010.

“The Malaysian people stand out as among the most hospitable in Asia, fostering a sense of warmth and community that remains unparalleled anywhere else in Asia. Daily interactions consistently reinforce my view, whether with service professionals in cafes, restaurants, and shops or casual encounters in bustling fruit and vegetable markets. This enduring warmth became a compelling factor in our decision to relocate here over 14 years ago, serving as a constant reminder of the privilege it is to be part of this welcoming community.”

Undoubtedly, one of the primary factors drawing expatriates to Malaysia is the substantially lower cost of living compared to their Western counterparts. Housing, transportation, food, and entertainment expenses are, on average, one-third to one-fifth of the costs incurred back home. This financial advantage allows you to maintain a comfortable lifestyle and allocate resources to other meaningful pursuits. For instance, renting a three-bedroom apartment on the beach in Penang can be as modest as $900 per month—an astonishing contrast to the prices prevalent in Western metropolitan areas.

Daily expenses, including groceries and dining out, are also notably more reasonable in Malaysia. The country boasts a diverse culinary scene, offering local and international cuisines at accessible prices. From vibrant street food stalls to upscale restaurants, the affordability factor ensures that individuals can savor a plethora of culinary delights without straining their financial resources. In comparison, it’s the value of the US dollar to the Malaysian dollar. Meaning that if a meal costs you $100 at home, that same meal here will cost you RM100 or $30 at home.

The street food scene in Malaysia is globally renowned and considered one of the finest, most vibrant, and integral aspects of the local culture, reflecting the rich multicultural heritage of the country. Malaysian street food, influenced by Malay, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous cuisines and European elements for the last 400 years, creates a diverse and tantalizing gastronomic paradise.

One standout feature of Malaysian street food is its incredible variety. From savory to sweet, a plethora of dishes is served at bustling hawker centers, food stalls, and night markets across the country. This culinary diversity, coupled with regional specialties, transforms the experience into a delightful exploration of flavors, a feast for the senses. Malaysia embodies every essence of travel—and embracing the new and the unfamiliar is all part of the ride.

The country's multicultural influences permeate daily life, and it’s evident in Malaysia’s festivals, religious celebrations, and the culinary landscape. Malaysia's cultural tapestry is woven with threads from the Malays, the Chinese, the Indians, and indigenous groups, each contributing their unique traditions, languages, and customs. Keep in mind also that the Portuguese moved here in the 15th century, the Dutch in the 16th century, and the British in the 17th century. This cultural fusion tightly woven together is further highlighted by an average of 2.14 festivals per day!

Malaysia's strategic central location geographically offers easy access to neighboring Asian countries, making it an ideal hub for travelers and explorers. With a well-developed infrastructure, including rail, buses, and international airports, one can conveniently embark on weekend getaways or extended trips to nearby destinations such as Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Laos, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. One extended family who all live in Penang recently motorbiked from Malaysia all the way to China! Starting in Penang, they rode through Thailand, Myanmar, and India to reach their final destination in southwest China. Then they flew back. It’s that easy.

In addition to Malaysia’s cultural richness, it is renowned for its natural beauty. It’s blessed with breathtaking landscapes ranging from pristine beaches and tropical rainforests to majestic mountains and tranquil tea plantations. Malaysia's favorable climate, characterized by either hot and dry or hot and wet conditions, allows for a myriad of outdoor activities, including cycling, hiking, tennis, pickleball, scuba diving, and golf—to name but a few of the activities you can do here. “Just yesterday, I found out that there was a professional freebee league,” says Keith.

Moreover, Malaysia provides a high standard of healthcare and education, with a well-established healthcare system, particularly in Penang, Kuala Lumpur, and Kuching. Boasting modern facilities and highly skilled medical professionals, expatriates can immediately access quality medical services at a fraction of the cost compared to Western countries. Similarly, Malaysia offers a range of educational institutions, including reputable international schools and universities, providing excellent educational opportunities for expatriate families. It’s one of the most attractive draws for families as parents can live here with their children on an Educational Visa.

While Malaysia offers numerous advantages, it’s worth considering the tropical climate—think Florida all year round. That being said, these challenges are mitigated by the widespread use of English on the western side of Malaysia and the availability of navigational tools like Google Maps and Waze. However, all road signposts are in English as well as Malay, so even if your gadget fails, you’ll still know where you are.

Living in Malaysia provides a distinctive and enriching experience—harmoniously combining affordability, cultural diversity, natural beauty, and the genuine warmth of the Malaysian people. The lower cost of living, coupled with the country's cultural richness and its geographical proximity to other Asian countries, creates a uniquely compelling living environment. Quite simply, there is no other place quite like it.

Malaysia offers a genuinely enriching experience for those seeking a contemplative and vibrant lifestyle within a 24-hour reach of home—a key consideration in the global context of accessibility and connectivity. The Malaysian experience beckons those searching for a meaningful and immersive life unlike any other.

The World's Best Places to Retire in 2024

7. Greece

©iStock/Aleh Varanishcha
©iStock/Aleh Varanishcha

By Karen Lefebvre-Christou

Greece has perpetually been a dream vacation destination topping bucket lists across the world. The allure of its ancient history and famous archaeological ruins, sun-splashed islands, and fresh, healthy cuisine bring multitudes to Greece each year. It comes as no surprise that in the past few years, Greece has emerged as one of the preeminent retirement destinations for many.

Geographically, Greece offers something for everyone, boasting a richly diverse mainland and over 2000 islands (227 inhabited). Mountains cover 80% of the landscape throughout the country, and no part of Greece is further than 86 miles from the sea, affording sweeping views and easy access. The climate, mainly considered Mediterranean with warm, dry summers and wet, mild winters, actually contains micro-climates depending on geographical location. In the winter, northern cities boast sky resorts, while cities further south rarely see even a single flake of snow. Spring and fall do sneak in for a few weeks, bookending summer and winter with splashes of greens and bright wildflowers where eyes have grown used to dry, brown summers. The variety keeps the landscape morphing as rain douses the land.

Whether you prefer the bustle of a large city, or desire a village retreat, appealing options abound. The population of Greece hovers around 10 million, with 3 million living in Athens and just shy of 1 million in Thessaloniki. The Cretan city of Heraklion boasts 150,000, the largest city located on a Greek island.

Although the housing market varies dramatically depending on location and proximity to a city or the sea, prices still fall well below comparable properties in the US. Housing in Greece has been estimated to be as much as 75% lower than US prices. The cost of living in Greece hovers between 30% and 50% below the cost of living in the United States, keeping everyday expenses relatively low. These stats have retirees, digital nomads, and expats flocking to the sunny skies and blue seas of the Hellenic Republic. Add to that the Golden Visa program, which can still be obtained by spending €250,000 on a property in most of Greece, and you have an interesting mix of foreigners from all over the world looking for their own piece of paradise. There is also a Financially Independent Person (FIP) visa, which requires a fixed amount of income of at least $2,000 per month, plus 20% for your spouse.

Suellen Curkendall, who recently moved with her husband to the island of Syros, comments, “We chose Greece because it is one of the few countries with a Golden Visa option based on property rather than on making a large investment in a business. That plus the warmer winters sealed the deal.’’

Healthcare in Greece requires careful research to be sure you have the coverage and access you need. Quality doctors and hospital facilities abound, but these are concentrated in the more populated areas. Not every village or island has a hospital or specialists. In order to apply for a residence permit, you must prove that you have health insurance coverage in Greece. The wide range of companies and plans available are very reasonable compared to US health coverage costs. Out-of-pocket expenses are also reasonable compared to the US. For example, a visit to a general practitioner costs approximately $35, specialists $50, a dental cleaning $40, and an eye exam $60. Many people come from abroad for dental work and other procedures that would be prohibitively expensive in their home countries.

Greeks operate in a relationship-based society, preferring to conduct business and pleasure in person. Greek coffee culture mirrors that mindset, and many spend hours connecting over coffee, beer, or tsipouro (strong distilled spirit) in their favorite cafe - the more crowded, the better! It’s a very laidback, slower pace of life, allowing for personal connection and downtime. Outdoor living is highly valued, the cafe and restaurant tables and chairs remaining outside for alfresco enjoyment as long as possible, avoiding the “winter blues” that can take hold.

“We find Greeks genuinely friendly, and they have such a helpful attitude!” adds Suellen.

“Greece came out as the winner in our search for a European retirement destination due to the climate and proximity to the sea. We just didn’t have that back in the US, and look forward to longer temperate seasons where we can enjoy more outdoor activities.”

Greek cuisine, a long-time world favorite, has recently entered the spotlight due to the “blue zone” longevity lifestyle buzz. The Aegean Island of Ikaria is a blue zone location, and the Ikarian lifestyle extends to most parts of Greece. With diet as the cornerstone of blue zone longevity, this comes as no surprise. Rich in fresh vegetables and legumes with ample doses of olive oil, this diet is the mainstay all over the country, as are other blue zone longevity factors such as exercise as part of everyday activities, connecting with family and friends, rich traditions, and daily naps.

Expat communities in Greece are easy to find, as are many cultural and recreational activities to participate in with local friends. I’ve found it extremely rewarding to get involved in community activities and events, making my life in Greece multi-dimensional and rich. Multiple venues exist for language learning, whether private or in public night schools. Trust me, your hard work will pay dividends of respect from and connection to Greek neighbors and friends. My free time is filled with activities ranging from hikes, live music events, theater productions, and poetry slams to Greek dance lessons, art exhibits, and volunteer work. Greeks are so friendly and welcoming that if you are interested in a particular activity, someone will more than likely facilitate your involvement.

Living in Greece can be challenging sometimes, but not one day has gone by since my arrival that I have regretted moving to Greece. Yes, there is a steep learning curve, and the bureaucracy can be mind-numbing, but with patience, persistence, and a smile on your face, doors open, and magic happens. Suppose you want a laidback lifestyle in southern Europe surrounded by breathtaking beauty, a healthy lifestyle, and remarkable hospitality. In that case, I recommend taking Greece off your bucket list and making it your new home.

6. Ecuador

©iStock/jon chica parada
©iStock/jon chica parada

By Fiona Mitchell

Whenever we tell people that we live in Ecuador, their first reaction is always, “Wow, that’s so cool!” quickly followed by, “Wait, where is that exactly?” It’s true that this small Andean nation is not internationally notable in the same way that its neighbors Peru and Colombia are, but a surprising number of expats are happy to call it home, and with good reason.

Ecuador lies directly on the Equator—hence its name—and is tucked into the northwestern corner of South America. While it’s not a large country (it’s the fourth smallest of the twelve on the continent), it packs a massive amount of diversity in terms of topography, climate, wildlife, and culture. While most international tourists are drawn by the astonishing biodiversity of the Galápagos Islands—part of Ecuador’s national territory—the country has so much more to offer.

There are many facets of living in Ecuador that attract expats to take the plunge and relocate here. The climate is one of the most commonly cited factors, especially among Americans who are used to suffering through climatological extremes and running up high utility bills for A/C and heating. In Ecuador, there are no seasons as we know them in the northern hemisphere—no sweltering summers or freezing cold winters. The country’s position on the Equator means that weather is pretty consistent year-round, with some times of year being rainier than others, and although it can be hot at sea level, the more elevation you gain, the cooler the temperatures become.

A large number of expats settle in the sierra (mountain highlands), at altitudes between 5,000 and 9,000 feet, where it’s typical to enjoy days in the high 60s to low 70s, and nights in the low 50s all year. The most popular expat enclaves in this part of Ecuador are Cotacachi, Quito, Cuenca, and Vilcabamba. And although the coast is considerably hotter, the Pacific Ocean breezes keep things from getting too sticky, so many expats also choose to reside in this part of the country. Cities such as Salinas and Manta are popular retiree destinations, as well as small fishing villages like San Clemente, and beach towns like Olón and Montañita.

The low cost of living throughout the country is also one of the main draws for expats, as is the fact that Ecuador uses the US dollar as its currency. It’s easy to rent a comfortable, spacious apartment or house for around $600 a month in many places; fresh produce from the markets is locally grown, delicious, and incredibly cheap; public transportation is ubiquitous and very affordable, as this is how the majority of Ecuadorians travel—a bus ride is 30 cents, and taxis typically run from $1.50 to $3 for most trips within a city; eating out is great value for money, especially if you frequent the places favored by locals—a $2.50 three-course lunch is typical fare; and most expats find that they can get by just fine without a car, which really cuts down a lot on your monthly expenses. A couple can get by very comfortably on $2,000 to $2,500 per month, with enough left over to spend on travel, while a single person may only need around $1,500.

The people in Ecuador are ethnically diverse—indigenous, mestizo, black, white—but one thing they all have in common is a warmth and friendliness evident in all aspects of life. Many expats comment on how welcome they feel, and Ecuadorians are well used to foreigners living in their country, so you won’t be stared at or made to feel uncomfortable. Family is highly valued, and on weekends, the parks, beaches, plazas, and restaurants around the country fill up with multi-generational families enjoying their free time together. Seniors are given a venerated place in society, too, and Ecuadorians take great pride in caring for their older family members. This respect is also reflected in the many perks and discounts afforded to seniors, from discounted transportation fares to having your own priority line at the bank and supermarket.

As many Americans struggle to afford healthcare in the U.S., expats living in Ecuador have found a modernized, affordable system with great accessibility and an impressive array of highly-trained surgeons and practitioners to choose from. The government-run system—known as IESS—runs at around $95 per month for a couple and covers most needs, but even the private sector is very affordable, with a visit to a GP generally costing $40 and an MRI scan about $250. Equipment is state-of-the-art in these private hospitals, and many doctors have done some training in the U.S. or Europe, so they speak English too.

Perhaps what surprises visitors to Ecuador most is the juxtaposition of the modern and the traditional. In rural, indigenous communities, it’s still common to see farmers plowing the fields with oxen and using hand-made tools. Yet, in the cities, you can eat at a Michelin-star French restaurant and enjoy high-speed fiber optic internet! Every modern convenience is available, yet it’s still possible to observe a more pastoral way of life. Cultural festivities abound, from reenactments of historic battles on horseback, to age-old indigenous ceremonies and lively religious parades showcasing traditional dancing and dress.

The Ecuadorian government also does a great job of protecting the country’s natural and historical wonders, with a total of 14 designated National Parks and five UNESCO World Heritage sites. Whether you prefer rugged Andean peaks, captivating colonial cities, endless Pacific beaches, mysterious Incan ruins, or steamy Amazonian rainforest, Ecuador has it all! And if you get tired of one environment, the country's compact size means it’s only a few hours’ drive to get to somewhere completely different. So, even if you couldn’t place it on a world map until now, it’s unsurprising that Ecuador consistently makes it into the top ten of the best places in the world to retire. Editor's Note: Caution on Ecuador Today (Early 2024) Ecuador remains a beautiful, friendly, good-value country where- for at least two decades now- it’s been possible to enjoy a high quality of life for relatively little. But the political situation there became volatile in January 2024 as the government began to take on drug cartels who’d been moving in. While reports from our contacts on the ground in the communities we recommend say, on balance, they still feel safe… we here at IL feel it prudent to issue a caution to folks considering Ecuador as a place to move it: It’s probably best to hold off heading there today and wait for things to calm down a bit. Again, the people of Ecuador are as lovely as they’ve ever been. And expats in places like Cuenca and Cotacachi report that they feel safe. But the situation is in flux, and so our guidance is to use caution and perhaps wait to see how things shake out before you pack your house up and move.

5. Spain


By Sally Pederson

Spain has consistently held its position among the top destinations for retirees, offering a unique blend of rich cultural experiences, favorable climates, and a high quality of life. As the allure of retirement in Spain continues to capture the attention of individuals seeking a fulfilling and leisurely lifestyle, various facets make this European gem an ideal retirement destination or new home for remote workers.

The climate in Spain is as diverse as its landscapes. Whether you prefer the mild temperatures of the Mediterranean coast or the sunny days of the Canary Islands, at 300 to 320 sunny days a year, it's one of the sunniest regions in Europe. The country's northwestern part is ideal for those who prefer cooler temperatures and greener landscapes. Additionally, for those who like winter and snow, you can still find it in parts of Spain. In the northern region, Spain borders France with the Pyrenees Mountains. Winter sports lovers can still enjoy their favorite activities without going far.

“Coming from Canada, I spent many years enduring the long cold winters—I always hated them,” says Sally Pederson, International Living’s Spain Correspondent. “After living in Costa Rica for four years, I relocated to Spain to enjoy some changes in the weather, but I never want to be in Canada for winter or anywhere else in the world that is cold. My definition of cold has increased significantly over the past decade since leaving Canada; it used to be -10C was getting cold, but now +10C has me pulling on a jumper!”

The cost of living is another factor for people moving to Spain—expenses are significantly lower in many areas than in North America. However, for those with deep pockets, there is also plenty available. A comfortable lifestyle can be sustained with a monthly budget ranging from $2,000 to $3,000. However, the cardinal rule of real estate holds true: location matters. In major hubs like Madrid or Barcelona, the cost of living can escalate, particularly in terms of accommodation. Renting a one-bedroom apartment in these bustling cities may consume nearly half of your monthly pension. Conversely, selecting regions such as Valencia and Andalucia will be less expensive.

The allure of Spain as an economical retirement destination extends beyond housing costs. The freshness and affordability of food contribute significantly to a lower overall cost of living. Enjoying the renowned Mediterranean diet, comprising an array of fruits and vegetables, becomes a budget-friendly affair, often at a fraction of the cost compared to the United States. Restaurant meals also come at surprisingly reasonable prices, with a three-course lunch available throughout Spain for $16 to $20. Notably, the local dining culture does not incorporate tipping, further enhancing the cost-effectiveness of dining out. A glass of wine or a beer typically costs around $3.50.

Spain boasts a robust healthcare system that consistently ranks among the best globally. As a retired expatriate in Spain, your initial access to healthcare will likely be through the country's private healthcare system. Spain's public and private healthcare systems are highly regarded, meeting stringent European and American standards. For expatriates utilizing non-lucrative visas or the "golden visa," the first-year requirement mandates purchasing private health insurance. The private healthcare options are more convenient, efficient, and surprisingly affordable compared to U.S. standards. Private medical insurance costs can start as low as $100 per month, and several reputable providers throughout Spain exist.

Upon completing five years of residency, expatriates automatically attain permanent resident status and access Spain's public healthcare system. While this transition typically occurs after five years, in specific communities and with different visas, eligibility for the public system may be granted after just one year of residency.

So, you may be wondering how to get residency in Spain. Spain has implemented various policies and programs to make retirement living more attractive for expatriates. For instance, the "golden visa" program facilitates residency for non-EU retirees who invest in Spanish real estate. This initiative encourages foreign retirees to make Spain their home, contributing to local economies while enjoying the benefits of Spanish living.

The non-lucrative visa is a straightforward visa option designed for individuals with the financial means to reside in Spain without generating local income. Applicants for the non-lucrative visa must demonstrate a documented income derived from self-employment, pensions, or investments in their bank account. The application process necessitates proof of private health insurance coverage in Spain, a clean criminal record verified through fingerprints, and a statement from a medical professional.

Retiring in Spain opens the door to a wealth of cultural and historical treasures, with the most significant cities, Madrid and Barcelona, standing as thriving centers of art, music, theater, and world-class museums. In Valencia, medieval and post-modern architecture coalesce, while San Sebastian boasts a cultural hub with film festivals against a backdrop of dramatic landscapes. Andalucia beckons with some of the continent's finest beaches and the authentic allure of flamenco culture. Meanwhile, the iconic Alhambra graces Granada, a medieval gem.

Immersing oneself in Spain's rich cultural tapestry means embracing a retirement filled with history, art, and gastronomy. The "manana" culture, synonymous with a laid-back lifestyle, encourages retirees to relish each moment. Whether strolling through medieval towns or savoring delectable tapas, retirees in Spain have the opportunity to craft a retirement filled with enriching experiences.

As Spain maintains its position as one of the best places to retire, it's evident that the country offers a harmonious blend of affordability, excellent healthcare, diverse climates, and a rich cultural tapestry. For those seeking a retirement destination that provides a high quality of life coupled with a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, Spain stands as a timeless haven where every day feels like a new adventure. Embracing the spirit of la buena vida (the good life), retirees in Spain find a perfect balance between relaxation and exploration, making their golden years truly golden on the Iberian Peninsula.

4. Panama


By Jessica Ramesch

“Do you still love Panama?” he asked. I was at a small gathering last night, talking to a neighbor about my travels. “Yes. Now more than ever, really.” I said. We were in my building’s rooftop social area, sharing appetizers, potluck-style, and listening to our friend Pete play the guitar and sing. It was a hot day, but a spirited breeze worked its mischief, lifting napkins, paper plates, and bits of rum baba... and cooling sweaty brows. Sunset gifted us pink ice cream clouds that floated deliciously over tropical fiesta-blues and greens…. As I looked around me, taking in the warm Panamanian Pacific and the golf course beckoning beyond, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly lucky. I love being home just as much as I love traveling. I fall for nearly every country I visit. (I adore Mexico and Argentina… am newly interested in Uruguay… ) But Panama… Panama is my rock. When I consider my travels throughout the country and abroad… what I’ve read in the US and global news… the turmoil of the past few years (and the silver linings)… all of life’s little foibles and pleasures… I am more grateful than ever for Panama.

Life is good here. People are chill. Even during times of great uncertainty—the global financial crisis, the pandemic, and the driest, hottest year all come to mind—in fact, especially during times of great uncertainty… Panama is where I’d rather be. It’s boringly stable, comfortable, and convenient. It’s number one in Latin America for its environmental performance and sustainability. (Panama is one of only a few carbon-neutral countries on the planet.) It’s the wealthiest country in Latin America by PPP… it’s had the fastest-growing economy in the region for years… and it’s known as the Hub of the Americas because of its incredible international airport, home to Central America’s best airline.

Panama is perfect… for me… but it isn’t without its problems. Like any country, Panama has its issues. There are inefficiencies in government, the judiciary, and trash collection… to name a few. While very modern, with high-speed internet across the country and countless services online… it is also, in many ways, still developing. (As is every single country in Latin America.)

But there’s no other place on earth that offers so much with so little inconvenience:

A mild sunny tropical climate, Pacific and Caribbean beaches and islands, and zero hurricanes

Proximity to the U.S. and Canada (we’re about a three-hour flight from Miami)

A strong dollarized economy (Panama adopted the USD over a hundred years ago)

Affordable quality healthcare

No foreign income tax

Low property taxes

And more…

Panama keeps rising to the top… in fact, it has topped this index more times than any other country.

Where I live, in the beach town of Coronado, daytime temperatures average around 86 F, with evenings around 76 F. I like the warm, humid air—but if you’re looking for cooler climes, Panama has several attractive regions at elevations of 2,000 to 4,000 feet. The most popular—and with good reason—is Boquete. It’s a green and flower-filled mountain town where the weather is springlike, year-round. It gets 100+ inches of rain a year (you can’t have rainforests without rain), but much of that falls during the wet season from August through November. And most mornings are sunny, regardless.

Panama isn’t the cheapest country in Latin America, but I wanted a place that was modern and comfortable. Here, I’m able to live a life that feels luxurious.

In late 2021, I found my little slice of paradise, and dubbed it Casa Surya, after the sun god. (An appropriate name, given that we get more than 300 sunny mornings a year.) About 1,130 square feet in size, it’s an apartment in a beautifully designed tower… and I got it for $155,000. A two-bedroom would probably have cost me at least $169,000, but I wanted to downsize and save money, so I opted for the one-bedroom.

It’s spectacular—both the room and master bath are spacious and get a lot of light. My modest balcony makes me happy. I can access it from the living room and the bedroom, and it overlooks the ocean, the golf course, and a beautiful mountain.

I keep a very close eye on my yearly expenses, and my monthly budget for this year is $2,890. That includes all my living expenses… everything from car and health insurance to utilities and community/building fees… but also a ton of extras. Like the $100 a month, I put in my rainy-day fund and subscriptions to publications, streaming services, Google, and Microsoft… small fees for banking and my local credit card… spa days, and doctor’s visits… Acuvue contact lenses, Navarro Correas wine from Argentina, and plenty of local seafood.

I eat well, do lots of fun stuff, and have a deep sense of security and well-being.

I’m also just a 45-minute drive from two singular mountain havens. I can be on the beach in the morning and hiking the cool, misty mountains that same afternoon. I’ve been to the Pearl Islands—frequented by a former U.S. president—many times. (The round-trip ferry ticket is $98, and one of my Panamanian friends has a lovely apartment on the island… just another common perk here… ¡Gracias, Panamá!)

I’m just 65 miles from the cosmopolitan capital—the city that made me fall in love with Panama in the first place. Every new visitor marvels at the skyline… the great restaurants, theaters, and parks… not to mention the upscale hospitals… Central America’s only metro rail… and Casco Viejo, a fascinating, picture-perfect historic district with world-class nightlife.

I enjoy visiting the city—I’m driving in tomorrow morning for brunch and an afternoon of shopping—but I don’t have to go there for much. Coronado is one of several hub towns across the country with nice supermarkets, banks, home improvement stores… it’s got everything I need.

And it’s home to an active, welcoming expat community. I made friends so quickly, I haven’t felt lonely once. That’s typical in all of the communities that have drawn expats to this country.

Panama’s government will make you feel welcome, too. The Pensionado visa makes it a cinch to move here if you have a monthly pension of at least $1,000. Or you can qualify for the Friendly Nations visa by buying a home for $200,000 (or just park that amount in a local account, no need to buy anything).

If you just want to test the waters, stay for up to six months (if you’re from the US or Canada, you don’t need a visa). Want to work remotely from here for a year? Stay for up to 18 months on the new temporary telework visa.

No matter who you are or what part of the world you’re in, I think we can all agree on one thing: The past few years have been kind of crazy. All kinds of crazy, really. Collectively, we’ve lived through “interesting times” of the sort that come along once every few decades… and that forces us to stop and take stock of our lives.

I’m incredibly grateful that I got to spend those years in Panama. It’s here that I found my place in the sun. It’s also where I’d choose to weather any metaphorical storm. (And no matter who you are or what part of the world you’re in, storms are bound to come along from time to time. Choose your safe harbor wisely… and weather it well.)

3. Mexico

©iStock/Jonathan Ross
©iStock/Jonathan Ross

By Bel Woodhouse

Mexico, specifically the Mexican Caribbean, has been my home for nearly six years now. Originally, it was only supposed to be one year before moving on to Europe, but as soon as I took one look at the gorgeous crystal-clear waters and smiling, friendly locals, I was home.

The Riviera Maya region, where my island home of Cozumel lays nestled off the coast of Playa del Carmen, is the crowning jewel of Mexico’s tourism industry, so we have everything you could want, need, or dream about.

Stunning natural beauty—check. A high percentage of English-speaking locals—check. A thriving, happy expat community—check. A warm, friendly culture—check. The list goes on and on…

Mexico is a top-rated country to retire to for many reasons. Lifestyle, culture, warmth of its people, and affordability without losing luxury. Yes, that’s right, I said luxury. Because the cost of living is lower, you can afford a little more luxury in your life, and Mexico has plenty on offer. Here’s a couple of examples.

Wine is one of the great loves of my life, so let me share this little secret with you. Mexico’s wine industry is one of the best in the world. This year, the Cenzontle Blanco 2019 took out the best wine in the world (in that class) during a blind tasting by 320 judges from around the world at the 2023 Concours Mondial de Bruxelles (CMB) in Europe. In fact, 85 Mexican wines won medals, so you don’t need to go to France or Italy to enjoy sensational wine. It’s right here in Mexico.

Food is the other great love of my life. For a foodie like me, I’ve found everything here fresh, delicious, and very well-priced. I’m talking street food through to top restaurants with a la carte menus. The gastronomy scene in most major tourist spots, which coincidentally also tend to be expat havens, is where you’ll find five-star-rated chefs specializing in just about every cuisine from around the world. Chefs like world-renowned Jonathon Gómez Luna, who has restaurants in Cancún, up north in Valle de Guadalupe (wine country), and in Playa del Carmen. It’s no joke; he trained in not one but two of the world’s Top 50 Restaurants.

So, if you thought Mexico was lacking in any way then prepared to be pleasantly surprised. It’s not all tequila shots on the beach sitting in a swing seat overlooking the ocean. Well, not unless you want it to be.

Beaches are great, but there is something for everyone. If you are a mountains and hiking kind of person, there are several beautiful places to call home, like Lake Chapala or San Miguel de Allende in the central parts of Mexico. Both have large expat communities living in heritage cities full of Spanish colonial architecture and a more culture-filled lifestyle. Lake Chapala has the largest and oldest expat community, while San Miguel de Allende is famous for its art, culture, and creative vibe.

Every environment can be found in Mexico. There are beautiful deserts, green rolling hills, volcanos, national parks, laid-back beach towns, and thriving metropolis cities. So, however you envision your retirement, you’ll find it in Mexico.

The great news is that property prices are a lot lower, too. With beachside condos, houses, villas, or a little house in the jungle all being affordable options depending on your lifestyle choice and budget.

Even in major hotspots like the Riviera Maya, you can pick up a brand-new condo in the low $200,000’s. Lower if you move away from the beach. It’s the same on the other side of the country in beach destinations like Baja or Puerto Vallarta. Just moving a little away from the beach in Puerto Vallarta, you will still have a beach view as you move up the mountain behind, but prices drop, so it’s worth a scouting trip to talk to other expats and find out the best places to buy.

Another great thing about Mexico is the low cost of healthcare. Even top specialists are very affordable. Let me share my own personal experience.

At the beginning of the year, I had a bicycle accident and was rushed to the E.R of the best hospital here on Cozumel. An entire day in the E.R, plus an orthopedic surgeon, two E.R nurses, x-rays, drugs, my own specialist anesthetist (needed because I have blood clotting issues), along with the bedside procedure to put my arm back in place, and the whole day being fussed over in the E.R cost me a mere $5,500 pesos. That’s $320.

All staff were English-speaking, very attentive, professional, and with the latest medical machines and gizmos. So, as you can see, healthcare and emergency care in Mexico are affordable for every budget.

Funnily enough, the most commented-about thing I hear from other expats is how they don’t need as many medications anymore. Due to the warmer weather, healthier lifestyle, cleaner eating, and reduced stress, most expats are healthier than they’ve been in years. When your dollar stretches a lot further, it means you can enjoy life to its fullest. I do.

Travel again, and get lost in the heritage, culture, and warm community of the Mexican people around you. It’s my favorite thing about living in Mexico. The Mexican culture revolves around family and friends. They are extremely polite, and it’s common to hear que la vía bien, which is a little blessing, meaning safe travels, they say when you are leaving. The old ladies and gentlemen who pack groceries at my local supermarket say this to me daily with a warm smile every time I go through the checkout. It’s lovely.

Far from lazy, most Mexicans I know work six days a week, which is why their only day off is usually spent with family. Enjoying good food and quality time with the people they love. So, when you live here and are lucky enough to be included in their circle of friends, you will enjoy the warmth of its people and many an amazing meal surrounded with laughter and most likely an abuela’s (grandmother’s) hugs.

2. Portugal


By Terry Coles

Sitting in an advanced Portuguese language class our professora asked the question, “Why did you move to Portugal?” For us, Portugal is one of the easiest European countries for North Americans to move to. The visa process is straightforward, and there is no need to take the driver’s test in the local language, as in other countries. Instead, it’s a simple exchange of your present driver’s license for a Portuguese one. Healthcare in Portugal is some of the best in the world at affordable prices, and many of the locals, especially the younger generation speak English.

Others in our class expressed their love of the Portuguese people, some of the nicest and most genuine in the world, the natural beauty of the country, the mild, year-round climate, and easy access to the rest of Europe.

What Portugal lacks in size, it makes up for in diversity. From lively cities to quaint medieval villages, this tiny gem of a country has something for almost everyone. Let’s have a look at some of the reasons why so many retire here.

Lisbon, Portugal’s buzzing capital city, is an energetic mix of museums, concerts, restaurants, historic, tiled homes, and old-world charm. Since the city is built on seven hills, it’s best to hop aboard one of the iconic yellow trams or other forms of public transport to help you get around. Home to Portugal’s main airport, Lisbon sees its share of tourists, so English is commonly spoken.

Nearby, the town of Cascais has long been a popular expat haven where friends meet up at local cafes to sip wine, go for hikes along the coast, or join together for yoga.

One hour north of Lisbon is the Silver Coast, which has charming smaller towns like Caldas da Rainha, Nazaré, and Aveiro. Here, coastal villages meet rolling hills covered with farmland or grazing sheep.

Further north is the second largest city in the country, Porto. Famed for its port wine-making region and terraced vineyards along the Douro River, its colorful riverfront area is a popular hangout for locals and expats alike. With another one of the country’s major airports, Porto sees its share of tourists, so English speakers are easy to find.

South of Lisbon is the Alentejo region, including Beja and Évora. Springtime, the country's largest and most rural region, brings fields of fragrant wildflowers that blossom around stately cork oaks, and olive groves. Outside of Évora, less English is spoken, so expats who settle here would need to know some Portuguese.

In the south is the Algarve, boasting some of the best weather in all of Europe. Towns like Tavira and Lagos offer a mix of old-world charm with cobbled lanes and modern conveniences. There is never a shortage of English spoken almost anywhere in the Algarve because of the influx of summer tourists from the UK and the rest of the world.

Mild winter temperatures with little rain make the Algarve the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Winter is the ideal time to enjoy the quietness of the coast and admire the craggy, rock formations that accentuate the turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Most expats retire to Portugal nicely on about $3,000 a month, depending on lifestyle and whether they own or rent. Property near the coast comes with a higher price tag and brings summer tourists, just like anywhere else in the world. For a more authentic vibe, head inland, where rural villages lay in the shadow of castle ruins, surrounded by lush, emerald, green rolling hills.

“We love the quality of life, the slower pace, and the amazing friends we have met,” says Michael Jones, a US expat living in Portugal.

For most Americans, the biggest savings comes with healthcare in Portugal, yet you don’t have to sacrifice quality. In fact, Portugal continually comes in at #12 according to the World Health Organization’s ranking. Residents in Portugal have access to both the public and the private healthcare system. The public system is free to join and covers all ages. Small copays do apply when seeing a doctor or being hospitalized up to a certain age, and then it’s free.

Most expats carry private health insurance, a requirement of the resident visa, and prefer to use the low-cost private healthcare system, since it’s more like what they are accustomed to in the US.

Many hospitals and clinics in Portugal are proud to display the Joint Commission International gold seal of approval, a recognition that says they are one of the best in the world.

“Just imagine spending six days in a private hospital, in a private room, with daily medication and testing, for a total cost of €1,400 ($1,500). And this was before we submitted the bill to our insurance company,” says Terry Coles, IL contributor. “After our insurance reimbursement, our final cost was around €250 ($272). And the cost to carry private health insurance for couples in their 60’s with pre-existing conditions is around €450 ($491) per month.

According to the Global Peace Index, Portugal continually ranks as one of the safest countries in the world. The crime rate is low, gun violence is unheard of, and even elderly residents live without cars, walking around after dark without fear.

“I feel perfectly safe walking alone at night from Quarteira to Vilamoura on the beach,” says Priscilla, a 78-year-old American expat.

Portugal honors its elderly population with discounts on some public transport, and tourist venues. Those with mobility issues are also welcome to move to the head of the line in grocery stores.

Infrastructure in Portugal is equal to that found anywhere in the US or Canada, with fresh, drinkable water from the tap, reliable electricity, and high-speed, fiber optic internet. This makes it easy to keep in touch with friends and family back home or even to work online.

Portugal’s highway system is one of the finest in Europe, easy to navigate with ample rest stops along the way for snacks, restrooms, or for charging electric car motors.

Nearly 800,000 foreigners call Portugal home, but only about 7,000 are from the US. Living here it’s easy to make friends from around the globe.

“It’s hard to believe that we could retire in our 50s on my small firefighter pension,” says Clyde Coles. “Not only that, but we were able to save enough money to travel, and now live full-time in Portugal.”

1. Costa Rica


By Bekah Bottone

That pura vida vibe makes Costa Rica the perfect home away from home. Maybe it's the pristine tropical beaches, the eternal spring-like weather in the Central Valley, the fact it (Nicoya to be exact) is home to one of the world's Blue Zones, the volcanic energy coursing through its ground, the rich biodiversity of its flora and fauna, the stunning turquoise waterfalls, or that Costa Rica has been ranked as one of the happiest countries.

This Central American gem is not only a hotspot for retirees these days but also for single digital nomads and even families looking to escape the rat race. For many, it’s a dream to relocate to this tropical haven, where everyday life coexists with nature. You may see sloths climbing up trees with their babies in tow or howler monkeys swinging from branch to branch in your backyard.  It’s no surprise why Costa Rica tops IL's Annual Global Retirement Index in 2024; it boosts an affordable cost of living, top-quality healthcare options, and natural beauty.

Bekah Bottone, IL’s Costa Rica Correspondent, shares how Costa Rica captured her heart, "Ticos are such caring and helpful people. Although you don't need to speak Spanish to adjust to life in many areas of Costa Rica, such as the coast in Guanacaste, speaking the language allows you to integrate with the local culture and people, which was how I first fell in love with this Central American country in 1997."  

People appreciate the stability Costa Rica offers in an increasingly divided world. Lauded as the Switzerland of Central America, Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948, shifting funding toward healthcare and education. It’s internationally recognized for its environmental commitment; a quarter of its land is protected as national parks and wildlife refuges. Additionally, it has recently been operating 98% on renewable energy.  

There are two healthcare systems within Costa Rica, public and private. The public one, La Caja, is available to legal residents without copays, pre-existing exclusions, or age disqualifications. However, once you are a resident (choose from the following options: pensionado, rentista, or inversionista), you must pay 13% -15% of your reported monthly income into this Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social healthcare system.   

"Blending both systems gives you the best of both worlds," shares Bekah Bottone. "For example, just last week, my private general practitioner gave prescriptions to my kids and me to get blood tests done in the public system. Then, I paid for an office visit, $44, to review the results together." Many residents also purchase private insurance policies through familiar insurance companies from English-speaking agents in Costa Rica. These policies are priced significantly less compared to U.S. prices.   

"Retirees who need special medical care should understand that access to the appropriate healthcare facilities will be their greatest limiting factor when choosing where they settle in Costa Rica," says Matt Rosensteele, who has lived and worked in Costa Rica since 2008. “Determine your healthcare needs and base your search on the areas where you have easy access to what you need.” 

The best medical facilities are in the capital. San Jose is home to three JCI-accredited private hospitals — the highest international accreditation for medical centers. And there are numerous private clinics throughout the country. In addition, the public system has over 29 hospitals and nearly 250 regional clinics, making it easy to find healthcare throughout the country.  

The high quality of healthcare in Costa Rica is one reason people are flocking here. "Many doctors and surgeons in San Jose have been trained in the U.S., and it is a fraction of the cost of what you pay back home," shares Jennifer Dixon, originally from Canada. "I have been impressed with how available doctors are to answer questions… it’s very different than in the U.S. and Canada." Most doctors share their cell phone numbers with their patients and reply to messages after office hours.   

Many agree that the climate in Costa Rica makes life better. The fascinating micro and macro climates that govern the country allow such diversity to thrive in a country the size of West Virginia. Elisa Maria Florez moved to Costa Rica from California in 2015 and has never regretted her decision. "My whole message is that Costa Rica is not a destination but a lifestyle. You can have a microclimate in your front yard and a different one in your backyard.” With its vast number of plant and tree species, birds, and wildlife, Costa Rica is paradise!  

Find the climate that best suits your needs. You may choose one of the contrasting conditions located around Lake Arenal. On the one side of the lake, in Tronadora, there is about 50% less rain than is experienced across the lake in the lively expat town of Nuevo Arenal. Beach life is often hot and humid, yet the Northern Pacific beaches in Guanacaste are also the driest areas in the country. Life in the mountains and the Central Valley is noticeably cooler than on the coasts, and people often enjoy the sunny days and cooler nights.  

Costa Rica is characterized by dry and wet seasons. The dry season, verano, or summer, spans from early December to April. The other season is invierno, winter, which lasts from May to November. Even in winter, Costa Rica boasts warm temperatures, so outdoor living is year-round. Connecting with nature and breathing in the fresh air is revitalizing and makes it easy to meet friends on the beach, in the mountains, or at the park.   

Terry Young, who has lived in San Francisco de Dos Rios (in the Central Valley) since retiring, is grateful for how life in Costa Rica has positively impacted his life. "The greatest change I have seen is my health. I have gotten off the eight prescriptions I took in the U.S. and have never felt healthier in recent memory. Fresher diet? Lack of stress? The exercise I get walking everywhere? Nature? I don't know exactly, but I am convinced I am adding years to my life."  

Another important thing to note is how Costa Rica offers incentives to help expats invest, sample life, or acquire residency. With the new digital nomad visa and an updated law to attract retirees, Costa Rica is an inviting place to enjoy your days. It's time to check out the buzz about Costa Rica for yourself. Mark your calendars for the International Living’s Fast Track Costa Rica Conference in San Jose this July 2024. We will see you there! 

How We Compiled the Index

For our 2024 Annual Global Retirement Index, we’ve used seven categories to carefully determine the best locations in the world for retirement.

Retirement Index Table 2024

Our focus is on the destinations that make sense for an overseas retirement—the established expat hubs with a track record for comfortable living. For instance, Roatán is the only place in Honduras we would consider in our ranking, while in Mexico there are easily a half-a-dozen hotspots we’ve homed in on. Each place is then assessed in the following ways:


This category looks first at the ease of buying and owning property as a foreigner, then the value you’ll receive as a homeowner. We consider factors like the price of housing in expat-friendly locations, and property taxes.

We also examine rental values. In many destinations, renting makes better financial sense than buying. We look at long-term leases, the cost of renting a two-bedroom, 900-square-foot furnished apartment in a mid-range area, and whether renters’ rights are well protected by law.

Visas and Benefits

A place isn’t much good as a retirement destination if you can’t live there easily. We begin with an analysis of available tourist visas: how fast/simple it is to obtain a tourist visa, the ease of exploring a country on a tourist visa, the length of a tourist visa, etc.

Just a few months ago, Costa Rica began issuing 180-day tourist visas as standard. That’s almost six months’ worth of hassle-free time in-country, and more than enough time to escape the ravages of the North American winter. For retirees who live overseas part-time, that’s plenty.

But we also investigate the legalities of extending a stay, the ease of becoming a permanent resident, and the availability of special retiree options. We additionally consider retiree benefits and discounts on healthcare, prescription medication, entertainment, eating out, travel, utilities, and local transport.

Cost of Living

Each of our contributors answers an extensive cost-of-living questionnaire, tailored to the needs and wants of an expat retiree, from the cost of rent and utilities to groceries to a flight home to visit family in North America. The lower the cost of living, the higher the score.

Affinity Rating

This one is where gut feeling comes in. We pride ourselves on being systematic in the way we put the Index together—but the truth is, retiring in a new destination involves the heart as well as the head. So, we ask our experts to rank our destinations according to whether they’d be happy to move there. What’s more, we ask you—our readers—where you would like to move.

For example, how easy will it be to make friends? We find out by evaluating the size and character of the expat community, the number of clubs and activities, and whether or not English is widely spoken. We also rate the range and variety of restaurants, the ease of finding an English-language movie, a concert, a world-class sporting event… essentially, the ability for you to have a thriving social life as an overseas retiree.


We assess healthcare based on both quality and cost. Many of the world’s best retirement destinations—and all of those included in the Index—you’ll find world-class care far cheaper than back home.

This year’s winner, Costa Rica, is more expensive than other destinations, but healthcare costs are still lower than you’d imagine. Debbie Crowley, a retiree who moved to Tamarindo in 2021, reports that she paid just $187 for an MRI scan at a nearby facility. She received her results in-hand there and then, and was able to hand-deliver them to her local doctor herself—saving time and expense while enjoying the personal, dignified treatment that seems ever rarer in North America.

Development and Governance

If the roads are good and clean, the public transport excellent, and the internet fast and reliable, then a place will rank highly. We additionally factor in whether your new home offers a stable political environment, well-maintained infrastructure, and an efficient banking system.


This is our "Goldilocks" category. For some folks the perfect climate is hot and humid, others want spring year round… So, how do we score somewhere like Roatán—a small Caribbean island with a tropical climate—next to, say, Ireland? Apples to oranges, right?

We score a destination based on how many different climate options it offers. Ecuador’s landscape ranges from permanent snowfields, to cool mountain retreats, to tropical rainforest, to arid coastal plains reminiscent of southern California.

Belize, by contrast, has tropical warmth year-round, but that’s all. For that reason, Ecuador scores higher than Belize. (That said, maybe you love tropical warmth year-round… If so, Belize might be just right for you.)

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