Top Five Cities to Retire To

First-World cities packed with ultra-modern amenities, and ancient vineyard-shrouded hill towns close to tropical beaches and mountain valleys. Among the top retirement spots in the world this year, you’ll find great variety in the cultural offerings, climates and lifestyles. Each destination is desirable in its own way, but they all offer something increasingly hard to come by at home: A good quality of life for a reasonable price.

All of the cities in this article are worth considering. Each of these destinations has its own merits unique to the city and ranks among the top for overseas retirement today.

1. Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca is Ecuador’s third-largest city and has long been known for a rich intellectual, artistic, and philosophical tradition that matches its colonial architecture.

It is famous for its colorful festivals, distinctive food and breath-taking scenery. Because of its history and state of preservation, Cuenca is one of Ecuador’s three UNESCO World Heritage Trust sites.

Founded in 1557, Cuenca was not connected to the rest of Ecuador with a paved road until the early 1960s, a fact that helped preserve both its architecture and heritage. On the other hand Cuenca has developed rapidly since then and today has a strong infrastructure and efficient transportation system.

Cuenca’s growing expat community appreciates the city’s history as well as its modern side. The fastest growing city in Ecuador since 2000, the city boasts plenty of supermarkets and malls, great restaurants, handsome condominium projects, and comfortable suburbs.

“Our life in Ecuador is everything we hoped for,” says expat Mike Grimm, who arrived in Cuenca two-and-a-half years ago with his wife Patty. “We’re totally happy and plan to live here the rest of our lives.”

The cost of living in Cuenca is low. Here is a sample monthly budget for a couple in Cuenca:

Housing (rental of a luxury three-bedroom apartment) $450

Utilities (including, phone, water, electric, Internet, and DirecTV) $155

Maid (once a week) $60

Groceries $450

Maintenance and fuel for one car $140

Clothing $80

Entertainment (two people dining out six times a month) $200

Health care (four $30 visits to a doctor per year for two people, divided by 12 months) $20

Total per month $1,555

Cuenca has top notch hospitals, clinics and well-trained physicians. All residents are eligible to participate in the country’s Social Security health care system for incredibly low monthly premiums.

If all this isn’t enough, seniors who are residents qualify for half price entertainment and local transport, discounted airfares, and refunds of sales tax.

Ecuadorians have a lot of respect for older people and you can cut in line at the store. As Cuenca resident Leann Bogyo says, “I’ve been blessed to find such a beautiful place to live. Every day brings a new, exciting experience.”

2. Panama City, Panama

From the steely, spiky skyline of the city…to the beautiful, perfectly preserved, colonial quarter of Casco Viejo, there’s so much to love about Panama City.

It’s a city that rivals any in the U.S. or Europe for culture, atmosphere and amenities.

There are a host of high-speed Internet and cell coverage providers offering increasingly competitive plans. (IL Panama editor, Jessica Ramesch, says she pays about $25 a month for excellent Wi-Fi.)

And the city’s rapid development means there’s a hip, chic, cultured buzz to the place…one that’s incredibly infectious.

With it comes an art scene that’s beginning to explode. There are more plays, dances, art exhibits, and festivals than ever. From the Jazz Festival’s scholarship programs to the new International Film Festival, each new event is inspiring and encouraging a new generation of Panamanians.

On paper, Panama’s major draw is its Pensionado (pensioner) visa. Qualified pensioners get residence fairly quickly. And they are entitled to local retiree discounts…10% to 15% off consultations and medication…25% off at restaurants…and 50% off admission to movies, theaters, and such. Nearly every aspect of life comes with a discount.

But the expats here will tell you that’s not why they chose to live here. “The discounts are very nice,” they’ll say. “The health care is excellent,” they’ll admit.

With discounts or without the cost of living in Panama is quiet low. Here’s a sample monthly budget for two people:

Rental or mortgage on two-bedroom apartment in central Panama City: $700 to $1,500

Utilities with moderate air conditioning use (electricity, gas, water): $250

Supermarket items (food and household): $300 to $400

Maintenance and fuel for one small car: $200

Entertainment for two (movies twice a month and dinner four times a month): $150 to $200

Communication (phone, Internet, Cable TV): $60 to $100

Monthly total for a First-World lifestyle in the big city: approx. $1,660 to $2,650.

There are many English speakers here, the U.S. dollar is the currency, and the country is outside the hurricane belt. All these are pluses.

3. Penang, Malaysia

“Go back to New York to live? Never!” says 65-year-old Lorna Taylor. “We moved to Malaysia because of the weather, the golf and the low prices; our costs are now a third to a quarter of what they were in the U.S. We even have a maid come in and clean four times a week. We couldn’t do that in New York. No, we’ll never leave Penang.”

English is the unofficial first language in Malaysia and lots of expats reside in Penang and numerous organizations here can help you get settled and integrated. Penang is also a medical center of excellence. Not only is the health care great but it’s among the world’s cheapest. And prescriptions here cost a fifth of what you pay at home.

Penang is famous for its food and well known throughout Asia for its medical tourism. The cost of visiting a hospital here for a minor procedure is one tenth of what we would pay back home and their expertise is second-to-none.

The locals are friendly, relaxed and it’s an easy place to live. The expat community is large and extremely active. Alliance Francais shows a free world movie every Friday night, the Irish Association members golf every week and the International Women’s Association seems to sponsor some activity daily.

The cost of living in Penang is quiet low. Here’s a sample monthly budget for two people:

Rent: $500 to $950

Electricity: $100

Water: $1

Cell Phone: $10

Gas: $3

Internet: $30

Cable TV: $50

Maid Service (four times a week): $60

Transport: $50

Health Insurance: $33 to $50

Entertainment: $300

Monthly total: $1137 to $1,604.


4. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

San Miguel de Allende is arguably the best-known Spanish-colonial town in Mexico…and for good reason. It’s beautiful (and beautifully-preserved), it has great shopping for arts and crafts, fine dining, plenty of English-speaking locals, a huge expat community, and it’s relatively easy to reach.

Even better, it’s very affordable.You can find homes and condos in the 1,000- to 2,000-square-foot range, within an easy walk of the center, starting at around $200,000.

And daily living expenses are moderate. Supermarkets and traditional markets offer economical eating when you can cook at home. San Miguel has both, including big supermarket chains like Mega Comercial.

Health care in Mexico is good to excellent. Across the board, health care—including doctor’s visits, hospital stays, lab tests, and devices—costs a quarter to a half of what you’d pay in the U.S.

Here’s a sample monthly budget for two people:

Housing (rental of a two-bedroom home): $900

Utilities (electricity, gas, water, phone, cable TV, Internet):  $200 to $220

Groceries: $400

Entertainment (dining out and other activities): $250

Private Health care (prices vary):  $300

Maid (Three times a week): $200

Gardener (once a week): $100

Incidentals: $150

Monthly Total: $2,500 to $2,520

5. Escazú, Costa Rica

Escazú, a suburb of San José, is home t one of the top private hospitals in the country, CIMA, as well as the best shopping mall in the country.

It is seven miles southwest of the capital and has modern shopping malls, movie theaters with the latest releases, and gourmet markets with imported favorites like Spanish cheese and American beer easily available. Every Saturday there is a traditional feria, or farmers’ market, on the main street by the town square.

Homes made of adobe still line the streets. Escazú’s past comes most alive during El Dia del Boyero, or Oxcart Drivers’ Day, which is on the second Sunday in March every year. It’s a celebration of not just the town’s agricultural heritage, but also the entire country’s. The focus is the oxcarts, known as carretas that hauled crops from farm to market and served as general cargo vehicles before motorized transport.

Here are some average monthly expenses for living in Escazú, Costa Rica:

Apartment (large, luxurious):  $1,500

Electricity (house):  $130

Water/sewage (apartment):  $8

Telephone:  $13

Cable TV:  $30

High-speed Internet (ADSL):  $40

Maid/gardener:  $4 per hour/$400 a month full-time

Monthly Total: $2, 121

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