THE EXPAT RETIREMENT PLAN
An increasing number of Americans are approaching retirement without nearly enough saved and face either working during their golden years or living a bare-bones lifestyle. But that doesn't have to be the case. Retiring abroad can be a budget-friendly alternative, particularly for those seeking to get by primarily on Social Security. "More and more Americans are figuring that out. They're looking to the best-value retirement havens overseas and finding safe, easy-to-fit-into, beautiful, welcoming, good-value communities where, on a modest budget, they can, in fact, live large," said Jennifer Stevens, executive editor of International Living. Here are the top countries around the world to do that, as identified by International Living's Annual Global Retirement Index, as well as suggestions from similar studies and globetrotters living the expat lifestyle.
Who said the Panama Canal is this country's main attraction? This modern country, which is only a short plane ride from the United States, topped International Living's 2019 Global Retirement Index. There's a variety of reasons for its leading ranking, among them the currency used here is the U.S. dollar, taxes are low, there's a significant English-speaking population and in the country's capital, Panama City, an ocean-view condo rents for as little as $1,500 per month. The only first-world city in Central America, yet a single person can get by here on about $2,600 per month, a figure that includes rent, groceries, utilities, and entertainment.
A country that has repeatedly nabbed a top spot in International Living's Annual Global Retirement Index, Cambodia has a cost of living that's among the lowest in the world. In fact, the country made the publication's recent list of "5 Best Spots to Retire on $30,000 a Year." A single retiree can get by in Cambodia on about $1,150 per month. As an added bonus, despite how cheap it is to live here, the standard of living is very high.
As surprising as it may seem, Spain also made International Living's list of best places to retire abroad. According to the Global Retirement Index, the country has one of the lowest costs of living in Western Europe. For around $2,500 a month, a couple can live comfortably in many parts of the EU country. Additional perks of retiring here include first-world, Western European living standards and many areas with large English-speaking expat communities.
A country where expats are truly made to feel welcome, according to International Living, Portugal offers an affordable lifestyle. In fact, Mafra, Portugal, where a couple can live well on a monthly budget of $2,034, made the publication's list of "5 Best Spots to Retire on $30,000 a Year." Portugal as a whole is the second-least expensive country in Europe, after Bulgaria. Not only is the living cheap, the country is very safe. It was rated the fourth-safest country in the world in the 2018 Global Peace Index.
Southeast Asia seems to have it all, according to International Living. It offers a range of climates, from hot beach communities to cooler highland escapes, as well as cosmopolitan cities and affordable healthcare. Studio apartment rentals can be as little as $400 per month with utility bills around $32. And for warm-weather lovers, the good news is there is no winter here.
Cuenca, Ecuador, made International Living's list of top places to retire on $30,000 a year. The country's third-largest city, Cuenca is known for its rich intellectual, artistic, and philosophical traditions, and colonial architecture. It's possible for a couple to enjoy a wonderful retirement here for about $1,680 per month. The climate is also temperate, and there are many activities to keep busy.
There is far more to Peru than the famed mountaintop ruins of Machu Picchu. The South American country offers miles of beaches, outstanding cuisine, and among the lowest costs anywhere when it comes to enjoying a quality lifestyle during retirement. Rent can be as little as $150 per month, while a three-course lunch only costs about $2.50 and that includes a drink. A couple can easily get by on a budget of less than $2,000 a month in the majority of the country (excluding pricier neighborhoods in Lima). Think of the 300 days of sunshine annually here as icing on the cake.
A country famous for its ecotourism and tropical climate, Costa Rica as it turns out is also a great place to retire thanks to such factors as a low cost of living and budget real estate. The country's Central Valley, where a single person can live for between $1,500 and $1,800 a month, was among International Living's five best spots to retire on $30,000 a year. Healthcare is also affordable. Once residency is established, you pay between 7 percent and 11 percent or your reported monthly income to use the socialized medicine program. In 1948, Costa Rica abolished its army and reallocated that money for education and healthcare.
A country that's just begun to register on the radar of those retiring abroad, Colombia offers spring-like weather year-round, a first-world quality of life and it is the second-most biodiverse country in the world (meaning you can find a climate and environment here for every taste). Obtaining a retirement visa to live in the country merely requires proving at least $750 annual Social Security income or $2,500 annual income from private pension or 401(k). The inexpensive cost of living is also noteworthy. "I've spent three years on and off living in Medellin, Colombia, on a $1,200 or so per month budget," says Ryan Shauers, author of "Big Travel, Small Budget: How to Travel More, Spend Less, and See the World." The World Health Organization ranks Colombia's health system 22nd in the world, higher than Canada at 30 and the U.S. at 37.
The picturesque beaches and islands are just some of the notable attractions for retirees in Malaysia. The country's unofficial first language is English, so communication doesn't pose any challenges. (The road signs are also in English, making getting around also easy.) As for the cost of living, two people can live comfortably on just $1,800 per month. A further example of how cheap it is here: A man's haircut is only about $2.
Our neighbor to the south, Mexico offers something for everyone. There are plenty of charming beach communities, picturesque mountain towns, and cosmopolitan cities. The cost of living is also incredibly low. A couple can get by here from between $1,500 and $3,000 per month depending on where you choose to live, and that price includes both rent and healthcare. Once you establish residence, you can sign up for a national healthcare plan. Those over 60 are also eligible for a national senior discount card, which provides 10 percent to 20 percent off on goods and services.
Vietnam made the Live and Invest Overseas list of best places to retire, and its community of Da Lat in particular is named as one of the leading choices. A couple's basic budget can be less than $1,000 per month here, according to the publication. Dinner at a local restaurant will cost you just $1 to $4, while a Coke is a mere 50 cents. Another incredibly affordable option is Hoi An, Vietnam, says Kashlee Kucheran, a full-time traveler and creator of Travel Off Path, who is currently living in the community. "I see an expanding expat community here, which keeps growing annually because of the low cost of living in Hoi An," said Kucheran. "You can rent a one-bedroom house for as low as $200 per month. A three- to four-bedroom house will cost around $600 a month."
A country that's been featured on a variety of top retirement destinations lists, Malta offers one of the best healthcare systems in the world. (The first hospital here was opened in 1372 by the Knights Templar.) Foreign residents are required to have private medical insurance here, but premiums are lower in Malta than in the U.S. and house calls, which are still available, cost only around $15, according to Live and Invest Overseas. A two-bedroom apartment in Valletta, Malta is about $915.
We're not talking about all of Italy with this example, but according to Live and Invest Overseas, the region of Abruzzo is overlooked and undervalued, making it a good choice. The publication says the cost of living is as much 30 percent to 70 percent cheaper than such famed tourist hotspots as Tuscany or Umbria. It's possible for a couple to live in Abruzzo for about $1,400 per month, a figure that includes rent. Added benefits here? Wine, pasta, and friendly neighbors.
A rare Eastern European country making the top retirement destination lists, Hungary is becoming popular among both those who are saying goodbye to work as well as younger generations, such as millennials. A big part of the attraction here is the city of Budapest, one of the most metropolitan in Europe.
We're clearly not talking about the pricy city of Paris here. Retirees who would like to live in France during their golden years should set their sights on Saint-Chinian, a place where it's possible to live for about $2,100 per month, according to Live and Invest Overseas. Located in France's Languedoc region, Saint-Chinian is famous for producing red, white, and rose wines.
One last outside the box option, Egypt offers an affordable cost of living, says Dana Hooshmand, a globetrotter and creator of the site Discover Discomfort. "If you're willing to weather the craziness of Cairo, or if it's something that brings you joy, like it does us, Egypt is my recommendation," said Hooshmand. "Your total monthly expenses are less than $1,000 for two people. Rent is $300, all-inclusive, for a furnished apartment in a decent area with cafes and gyms nearby." Weekly groceries are around $50, Hooshmand said. And you can eat out daily for around $10. "Egypt is much safer than the media tells," added Hooshmand. "Egyptians are warm, and it's one of the most forward-thinking Muslim countries."