“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, 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 2020. Almost 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.
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, 41 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 2020? Read on…
By Wendy Justice, IL Southeast Asia Correspondent
Vietnam has modern and progressive cities, ancient historic sites, uncrowded beaches, rugged mountains, and some of the friendliest, most welcoming people in the world. It is developing rapidly, with one of the strongest economies in Asia. This is bringing high-quality healthcare, good roads, and modern conveniences to a place that was one of the world’s most impoverished countries less than 30 years ago.
In urban areas, skyscrapers are popping up like dandelions, and motorbikes and automobiles outnumber cyclos and bicycles. Yet 1,000-year-old temples, ancient emperor’s tombs, and ornate century-old mansions left over from Vietnam’s lengthy occupation by the French, are constant reminders of a country rich in history and tradition.
Vietnam’s exceptionally low cost of living is a major incentive for living here. Wherever you are in Vietnam, you’ll find that the cost of living is low. Even in the most expensive cities—Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi—two people can live well for less than $1,500 per month. If you’re on a limited budget, you’ll find the entire country affordable; if you have a larger budget, you’ll be living a life of luxury for a fraction of what you would pay in the West.
After years working as a purchasing agent in New York, John Powell sold most of his belongings and moved to Hanoi, Vietnam’s historic French-influenced capital city, in 2014. He says, “I liked Hanoi for a number of reasons. I like that it’s a city. There’s lots of things to see and do; it has all the services I need, like good healthcare, and it’s a good base for travel.”
Altogether, John says that he budgets about $2,700 a month, but he says that the figure includes taking frequent trips abroad and living quite comfortably. “It would cost at least twice that to live the lifestyle I have now, back home,” he says. His utilities average about $120 a month, and he spends about $270 per month on groceries.
Vietnam is an easy place to live. English is widely spoken, and the local people are exceptionally friendly and welcoming. Making friends—both expats and Vietnamese—is easy. Life’s little luxuries are more than affordable in Vietnam. It’s not surprising that so many foreigners have chosen to retire here.
Situated right in the middle of Southeast Asia, Vietnam is also a convenient and well-used travel hub; a cheap launch pad to almost anywhere in the world. People based in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City have the choice of many airlines flying routes to such major destinations as Australia, the U.S., Europe, China, Russia, Turkey, India, and other parts of Southeast Asia.
By Tuula Rampont, IL France Correspondent
La vie Française. Imagine relaxing in the garden of your own French home, a pretty stone cottage set among orchards, vineyards, and flowery meadows. The sun is shining, there’s not a cloud in the sky. The only sound is the drone of honeybees and the blissful strains of one of Satie’s Gymnopédies playing in the background. You’ve just returned from the market, and now you’re savoring the thought of lunch. It’s such a perfect day, you decide to dine picnic-style, spread out over an old oak table under a shady canopy of trees.
Freshly baked baguettes, a ripe Camembert cheese, a tangy ratatouille of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant—and don’t forget to add those deliciously plump black olives straight from the stallholder’s barrel. Glass of chilled Chablis in hand, you sit happily planning your next day’s adventures.
France has all the ingredients we look for at International Living: good food, good wine, haute couture, a good climate, unspoiled countryside, glittering culture, excellent healthcare, colorful traditions and history, and, as a bonus, the glamour and sophistication of Paris—arguably the world’s most bewitching capital.
And France is more affordable than you may think. Although my electricity, cable TV, and water bills are similar to what I paid in the U.S., my other expenses have dropped significantly since moving to France. Outside of major cities like Paris and Lyon, rent is about a third of what I paid in California and so is my mortgage payment. For meals out, I can eat like a king (or queen in this case) for around $38—this includes a starter, main dish, and dessert. And since the French are careful about what they eat, you can be sure that you’re getting the best quality, freshest produce of the season.
A couple can live here for anywhere from $2,083 to $2,483 a month—and that includes rent and healthcare.
One of the best things about living in France is the excellent healthcare system. I can see any doctor in any city that I like, and changing doctors involves simply calling a new practitioner and setting up an appointment. Even without the universal coverage, which is guaranteed to all residents (expat and otherwise) after three months, healthcare prices are rock bottom compared to the U.S. Since the costs are fixed by the state, a standard visit to the doctor is $28 and a specialist visit will cost you $56. After your healthcare coverage kicks in, 70% of that cost is reimbursed. I go to the doctor as often as I like, even for a quick check-up, and that freedom and flexibility has greatly enhanced my quality of life and general health.
In 2016, Carol Jean Lonsdale and her husband, Scott, swapped a fast-paced life in the U.S. for a much slower one in Brittany.
“We wanted more culture and more access to the rest of Europe, to be able to get in the car and be somewhere completely different in a few hours,” says Carol. “Plus, housing is more affordable here, and healthcare too.”
They found that the French lifestyle matched their priorities better than life in the U.S. had. “The U.S. is just frenetic and so busy. People work long hours, they don’t take holidays, and it’s all about making money. We were just sick of it. We wanted to go somewhere saner and more stable, a place which appreciates more things to life than how much money you can bring in or what school you can send your kids to,” she says.
“In France there’s such a great amount of care taken with how well things are managed, maintained, and appreciated… And did we mention the wine?”
If good healthcare, a relaxed lifestyle, and all the modern comforts you enjoy at home are among your top priorities, then France should be on your radar.
By Marsha Scarbrough, IL Spain Correspondent
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 may need to know a little Spanish to get by, but there are plenty of beach areas with large, English-speaking expat communities. In my experience, Spanish people are friendly, helpful, and curious about other cultures. I have made many wonderful Spanish friends.
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, a couple can live comfortably in many parts of the country for around $2,500 a month.
Traveling by rail in Spain is fast, comfortable, and efficient to large and medium-sized cities. The bus system goes everywhere inexpensively. The ride-sharing websites blablacar.es and amovens.com are popular alternatives for inexpensive travel. Weekend getaways to visit friends or explore new destinations are affordable and practical.
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. Cool northern provinces like Navarre, Cantabria, Asturias, Galicia, and the Basque country offer forests, mountains, stunning coastline, and food to die for.
Michele and Stanton Cohen believe they struck lifestyle gold in their retirement. They moved to Girona over three years ago from Yuma, Arizona.
The city’s Mediterranean climate, proximity to Barcelona’s international airport, and relaxed lifestyle are the factors most compelling to outsiders. It is also affordable—leaving more money in their pockets.
“Food is less expensive,” says Michele. “Imagine going out for a 3-course meal and paying less than $30.” Lower food costs also allow for more frequent opportunities to dine out.
“We often go out for breakfast and meet friends for coffee or drinks at least twice a week,” Michele explains. “We eat lunch at a restaurant at least weekly.”
After working at a hospital in Arizona, Michele also has good things to say about Girona’s medical infrastructure.
“Medical and dental care are excellent,” says Michele. “The prices are about one-third of U.S. medical costs, if your insurance doesn’t cover it.”
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 private healthcare is excellent and affordable, including 29 JCI-accredited facilities.
Spain openly embraces alternative lifestyles. Civil unions are recognized by law. Same-sex marriages have been legal since 2005. Madrid boasts the biggest Pride parade in Europe as well as the LGBT-friendly neighborhood of Chueca.
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 realized 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 to Penang 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 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 care 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 more than 878 islands to choose from here. Both my wife and I hike a lot; so living near the Penang Botanic Gardens is a bonus. With year-round good weather, the temperature in Malaysia averages 82 F, there are over 60 hiking trails for us to explore. 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 two pools.
There are direct flights to the rest of Asia from Penang’s International Airport, which makes getting away for a weekend easy. Penang to Bangkok in Thailand takes just one-and-a-half hours and can cost as little as $43 roundtrip.
By Donna Stiteler, IL Cuenca 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 or a condo with great views in the Andes for less than $150,000. Rentals are plentiful and affordable too with a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo available in downtown Cuenca for $500.
A couple can live here for anywhere from $1,650 to $1,825 a month, depending on location and lifestyle.
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.
There’s a tight knit active expat community and many activities to get involved in—day trips to nearby towns, card games, dinner clubs, trivia, art classes, hikes in the Cajas, and long lunches with friends. Every day I get up and have a choice of what I’d like to do. Living in Ecuador has given me the retirement I could only have dreamed about if I had stayed in the U.S.
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.
Wayne Bustle and his wife, Mary, arrived in Quito, the country’s capital, on February 15, 2015 and have never looked back. They selected Quito after spending a year looking at 13 different countries and eventually settling on Ecuador.
“So many reasons attracted us to Quito. We are at about 9,000 feet and the weather hardly varies from between 68 F and 72 F year-round, with no snow or extreme heat nor humidity. The people are very welcoming and friendly and they treat senior citizens as special people with lots of benefits. Half price on all airline tickets is but one example.
“Life is simple and pleasant. People still greet you on the street. In restaurants, when people walk past your table, they wish you a pleasant meal. If you look in distress, people will stop to assist you should you need help. When I think back on my own life, the Ecuadorian lifestyle reminds me of the simple life of the 1950s when I grew up.”
Whether you want to live, vacation, retire, or simply relax in Ecuador, you’ll find the perfect combination of climate, culture, and affordability to make your dreams come true.
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, I’m one 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 Cartegena, 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.
“I took a bus to Medellín on Christmas Eve 2012, didn’t know anybody, didn’t speak very good Spanish either. I had a hotel room in Poblado for one night and I didn’t know a soul,” says William Edwards, of the moment when he decided to move to Colombia for good.
The friendly nature of the locals in Medellín has made William’s experience a rich one and, despite living in a big city, he believes “it has the vibe of a smaller, friendly town, that makes you feel part of a community and mentally it’s better for you too. It makes you feel like you are at home.”
While William’s “love at first sight” affair with Medellín was the determining factor in his decision to relocate here, the low cost of living was an added bonus.
“That’s one of the things that’s nice about Colombia, the cost of living is not too high. By-and-large things are much cheaper here. You can go out and have a nice breakfast or lunch for $4, and you can have a nice dinner for $8.”
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 Medellín. 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.
A couple can live here for anywhere from $1,030 to $2,720 a month, depending on location, lifestyle, and healthcare needs.
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 number 22 in the world, far better than Canada at number 30 and the U.S. at number 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-payment 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 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 favorable 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. Until very recently, Mexico had offered two national healthcare plans for residents. However, with the election of the new president in 2019, a new national healthcare system is in process. The one most popular with expats is being replaced by a new, more inclusive plan with no restrictions for participation. All expats with residency visas may participate. The President announced in April of 2019 that this new and improved program would take two years to roll out and while full details are not yet available, he explained that his new program would be fully inclusive for all, much like Canada. 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.
When Alan Caplan first visited the Pacific coast beach town of Bucerías in 1992, it was a sleepy, quiet seaside village. He and his late wife Lynn fell in love with the beautiful beaches, the warm and friendly locals, and the laidback energy. Twenty-six years later, while Bucerías has changed, his love for it has not.
“When we first came to Bucerías it was a quaint village. It’s grown so much since then, but I love it even more. There are now great restaurants, coffee shops, and bakeries; businesses are booming, which makes everyone happy. The locals are so welcoming. I learned to speak Spanish and I’ve been embraced here in ways I never imagined. I’m an honorary ‘abuelito’ to my friends’ grandchildren, and that means so much to me,” Alan explains.
“Life here is simple. I have time to putter around my house and garden. I cook, I eat at amazing restaurants, and I take beach walks. My friends, they’re all happy too, so we don’t sit around complaining about aches and pains. We laugh and have fun, and enjoy life. Positivity keeps us all young. Bucerías is a great place to live. Even with all the development, it has maintained a warm, laidback atmosphere,” says Alan.
3. 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.
The country 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.
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.
A couple can live a comfortable, but not necessarily extravagant life here for around $2,000 a month.
One of the things you hear 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 easy to make friends since many folks move not knowing anyone and are often looking to forge new friendships.
Pura Vida is a common Costa Rican phrase. Although it translates to “pure life,” this definition merely scratches the surface of a phrase deeply woven into Costa Rican culture, and used to convey anything from “hello” and “goodbye,” to “great news,” and countless declarations in between.
“People think Pura Vida is an overused term,” says expat Graham Swindell. “But when you understand it you see why it’s used so commonly.
“For me, it alludes to a quality of life that is missing where I came from. If I could sum it up in one word it would be ‘appreciation.’ It’s easy to lose appreciation for things when living in the U.S.,” he says.
“Here, there’s more time to actually stop and smell the roses. There’s time to talk to people, and I find that very grounding. Combine that with great waves, an amazing climate, and a culture that places family, friends, and a relaxed quality of life above all, then it’s easy to see why so many people come here for a week, and end up staying for a decade, or even a lifetime.”
Costa Rica also has an outdoor loving culture—with activities from fishing, golfing, and horseback riding to hiking, diving, and 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. 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. Pedasí is on the tip of the Azuero Peninsula in the province of Los Santos on the Pacific Ocean. Expat Jim Gault who lives in here says: “Rents in Pedasí during high season (December through April) can cost more than $750 a month, as demand drives up the prices. But, Pedasí 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 here.”
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 Chiriquí 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 have 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.
By Tricia Pimental, IL Portugal Correspondent
It’s hardly surprising that Portugal topped the 2020 Annual Global Retirement Index. From north to south, from the Atlantic west to the Spanish east, this country’s gracious people, bustling capital, brilliant sun, tantalizing beaches, and verdant valleys are more appealing than ever to a growing number of people.
Steeped in history and culture, it has a pleasant climate year-round in most regions, as well as an extremely affordable cost of living. Whether you are looking for surfing beaches or ancient ruins, fine museums or hiking paths, a place to windsurf or to polish your golf game, you will find it in Portugal.
After living here for more than seven years, I’ve been asked many times “Why Portugal?” My response is often to enumerate factors like affordable lifestyle—which includes quality professional healthcare, temperate climate, high safety rating, and excellent food and wine.
But truthfully, for me the number one reason is more ephemeral: it’s the overarching sense of well-being we experience here. The country’s natural geographical beauty blends with its architecture of various eras, dating back millennia, to evoke a sense of permanence and timeless tradition. When you add to that the kindness and gentility of the Portuguese people, it is a winning combination.
Others tend to agree. “Perhaps the nicest thing about Portugal is the friendly people, who go out of their way to make you feel welcome,” says IL contributor Kevin Casey.
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, the country’s capital of Lisbon, or in the expat beach havens of Cascais or the Algarve, you probably want to bump that up to $3,000. However, you can keep that figure lower simply by moving 20 minutes away from a city center. Enjoy urban amenities, and then head back to the ‘burbs and lower rent.
Rated the third-safest country in the world in the 2019 Global Peace Index, Portugal is not only secure, but beautiful. “I have absolutely no regrets about moving here,” says U.S. expat Jacira Paolino. “I do know it can be scary picking up and moving to another country. I only really had one friend here when I came—someone I’ve only known socially for a few years, but I’ve made new friends and continue to meet new and intriguing people,” Jacira says.
“In the U.S., I worked long hours and was usually so tired when I finished, all I wanted was to walk my dogs, eat, and sleep. Here, it is a time-honored tradition to have a coffee with a friend, or dinner, or listen to music, get a drink, or go dancing. People actually live here, and get together with family and friends. They go to the beach in the summer, to a jazz club, to any of many amazing restaurants.”
So if you’re looking for a safe, friendly European haven, with cosmopolitan cities and many beach towns, internationally acclaimed (and affordable) healthcare, and the lowest cost of living in Western Europe, you’ll find all that and more in Portugal.
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.
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 24 countries. You can filter countries by the following groupings; Overview, Financial, Lifestyle and Governance and within each category sort scores by ascending or descending order.
|Country||Housing||Benefits/Discounts||Visa/Residence||Fitting in/Ents||Development||Climate||Healthcare||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 24 countries in the index across 10 categories:
- Housing: 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, how well renters are protected by the law, whether expats can get a mortgage locally 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.
- Benefits & Discounts: In some countries, you as a retiree can get discounts on lots of things, from to electricity and public transport. The beneﬁts and discounts retirees can get in the country, simply because they’ve passed a certain age, 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 budget. Whether it’s the cost of a liter of milk or a bottle of beer, a dental cleaning or a hip operation, a haircut or a fancy meal out…it’s all factored in.
- Fitting in and Entertainment: 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? Does it have lots of museums, gigs, and exhibitions? Are there lots of outdoor activities? This category looks at all of these things.
- Healthcare: Is the healthcare up to the standard you’re used to? We ask our correspondents if they have access to private hospitals of the highest, JCI-accredited, standard. We also ask if they can easily access an English-speaking doctor, because even the best care is of limited use if you can’t understand what’s being discussed. Can you get common medications for things like asthma and diabetes? And do you need a prescription to get a reﬁll? And, even though private health insurance costs less overseas, we’ve also asked if expats can enroll in local low-cost (or even free) national health programs. All-in, it gives us a picture of how your healthcare needs will be met by whichever of the destinations you choose.
- Development: You wouldn’t want to live anywhere where the parks are vandalized, or where the sanitation is poor, or the standard of living is low. You’ll want to live in a place where the water is clean, the healthcare system is well funded, and people have a decent standard of living. You’ll also want quality roads and well maintained public areas. 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. We also rate each country according to how varied the climate is, because not everyone likes the same type of weather, and it’s good to have a choice.
- 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.