Living Abroad on Social Security
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15 Countries Where You Can Live Comfortably on Social Security

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Living Abroad on Social Security
Alistair Berg/Getty Images

The Expat Retirement Plan

An increasing number of Americans are approaching retirement without nearly enough money saved and face either working during their golden years or living a bare-bones lifestyle. For many, the pandemic has eaten into savings and made retirement an even more unlikely prospect. 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. 

 

“All over the world, safe, welcoming, warm-weather, good-value communities exist where retirees can watch their lifestyles expand while they spend less than it would likely cost to stay home,” says Jennifer Stevens, executive editor at the magazine International Living. “From Portugal to Panama — all sorts of choices present themselves. And these are spots where a retiree could live a genuinely comfortable life, even on a Social Security check alone.” 

 

Here are the top 10 countries around the world to retire abroad as identified by International Living's Annual Global Retirement Index for 2022.


Related: No Pension. No 401k. How to Get by on Social Security


Mercosur Palace in Montevideo, Uruguay
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10. Uruguay

Uruguay debuts on the Global Retirement Index this year. The tiny country nestled between Argentina and Brazil is known for its high standard of living and natural beauty. 


Lively beach towns on the Atlantic Ocean give way to grasslands and cattle ranches. The capital, Montevideo, is the cosmopolitan home to 1.3 million and is known for its strong cultural scene (the city belongs to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network) and blend of colonial and modern architecture. The climate won’t be a shock, with four seasons and few extremes. It’s also one of the most stable countries in the region. “Uruguay is the most democratic country in Latin America,” says the report. “And in relative terms, it brags the largest middle class in the Western Hemisphere.” The country has most Western amenities, and is still relatively affordable. A two-bedroom apartment in a good neighborhood runs $500 to $700, and foreigners are permitted to own property outright. Most expats rely on a mutualista, a hospital membership, for health care, paying about $60 a month, plus small copays, for complete coverage.

 

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Tossa de Mar on the Costa Brava, Catalunya, Spain
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9. Spain

Spain and France swapped places on the current list, but Spain remains one of the more affordable places to live in Western Europe. For around $2,600 a month, a couple can live comfortably, albeit without a car, on one of the southern coasts and enjoy more than 300 sunny days a year. Expats pay far less than they would for American health care and receive high-level treatment. After five years, expats are eligible for public health care, which is a single-payer system. There are some hoops to jump through, particularly with visas, but there are different options depending on income and investment levels.


Related: 11 Ways to Fast-Track Your Retirement Savings if You've Been Procrastinating

Seniors taking a break in Paris relaxing on the Seine River
LeoPatrizi/istockphoto

8. France

As one of the most popular countries in Europe, (not to mention the capital of high fashion), it may seem counterintuitive that France would be a budget-friendly place to retire. But according to the annual Global Retirement Index, there’s a case to be made here. “France has all the ingredients we look for at International Living,” according to the annual report. “Good food, good wine, haute couture, a good climate, unspoiled countryside, glittering culture, excellent health care, colorful traditions and history, and, as a bonus, the glamour and sophistication of Paris — arguably the world’s most bewitching capital.” But let’s talk dollars and cents. While you’ll find the cost of things like electricity, cable TV, and water bills similar to the United States, other costs are far less, says International Living. Outside of Paris and the Alps, the report says, housing costs are about 34 percent lower than in the U.S. International Living recommends sunny Montpellier, the fastest-growing city in France, and the medieval town of Sarlat-la-Caneda, newly popular among North American retirees.

 

Related: Where People Retire the Youngest

Marsaxlokk Fishing Village, Malta
eli_asenova/istockphoto

7. Malta

If you’d prefer an ocean view blended with staggering amounts of history, Malta may be for you. Consisting of five tiny islands and nestled in the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and North Africa, this country still shows the marks of the Roman Empire, the Crusades, and the British Empire. International Living recommends the island of Gozo, an expat favorite home to grottoes, lagoons, and open space. Weather here can be tough, with hot, humid summers and cool, but still humid, winters. The country costs more than some of the others on this list, with homes running $200,000 to $300,000 and restaurant meals around $30. “For a Western European lifestyle with a beachy afterglow, Malta’s hard to beat,” the report says.

Ecuador
helovi/istockphoto

6. Ecuador

If variety is your thing, Ecuador may be the ideal choice. The country, located on the equator, offers warm weather on its coast year-round and a more temperate climate in the Andes foothills. In between these two locales, there’s also the Amazon basin, which offers yet another unique climate choice. Varied geography aside, Ecuador is incredibly affordable, like many of the options on this list. International Living reports that expats can own a home or a condo on the Pacific coast for around $150,000. Don’t want to buy? Rentals are equally affordable. A two-bedroom unit will run about $500 per month. Look to the Andean town of Cuenca for a thriving expat community and Spanish colonial flavor.

Colombia
Devasahayam Chandra Dhas/istockphoto

5. Colombia

How does spring-like weather all year-round sound for a retirement destination? That’s just one of the reasons Colombia gets high marks on International Living’s Global Index. The country has a growing expat community made up of those who have discovered Colombia’s secret — that you can live a First World quality of life in this country. Additional highlights include Colombia being the second most biodiverse country in the world and the ease of establishing residency. Obtaining a retirement visa simply requires proving that you have at least $750 in monthly income from Social Security or $2,500 in annual income from a private pension or 401(k). Applicants who meet those parameters are eligible for a three-year visa. Dependents, including same-sex spouses, can be added to the same visa. Two people can live here for around $2,000 per month, depending on where you settle, the type of lifestyle you’re seeking, and health-care needs.

Camara de Lobos - Madeira
Juergen Sack/istockphoto

4. Portugal

“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,” according to International Living's index. Beyond those glowing broad strokes, one of the most important specifics to keep in mind about Portugal is that it’s very affordable. It’s the second cheapest country in Europe, behind Bulgaria, according to the annual report. A lunch out will cost about $10, and total monthly living expenses come in at around $2,500 for a comfortable lifestyle. Need still more reason to consider Portugal? It’s also rated the third safest country in the world by the 2019 Global Peace Index. To seal the deal, the government offers free Portuguese classes for immigrants.

Sierra Gorda Queretaro
arturogi/istockphoto

3. Mexico

Our neighbor to the south offers something for everyone. There are plenty of charming beach communities, picturesque mountain towns, and cosmopolitan cities. “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,” according to the annual report. The cost of living is also incredibly low. Two people can live here for $1,500 to $3,000 per month, a figure that varies depending on location. That price tag includes the cost of rent and health care. It’s relatively easy to become a permanent resident, with an income requirement of just $2,700.

Waterfall in tropical rainforest
OGphoto/istockphoto

2. Costa Rica

A country that continues to be famous for its ecotourism and tropical climate, Costa Rica is also a popular place to retire. In addition to the balmy climate, Costa Rica features such admirable attractions as low cost of living, budget real estate, and affordable medical care. Two people can live comfortably — “but not extravagantly,” the report says — on $2,000 to $2,500 a month. Once residency is established, you pay between 7% and 11% of your reported monthly income to use the socialized medicine program. Added bonus: Costa Rica also has a stable democracy. It’s often referred to as the Switzerland of Central America. It has no military, and that budget has gone into education and health quality, leading to a better standard of living for all.

Panama city skyline
helovi/istockphoto

1. Panama

Who said the Panama Canal is this country's main attraction? A modern country that’s only a short plane ride from the United States, Panama topped International Living's 2019 and 2020 Global Retirement Index.  “Modern, convenient, and close to the U.S. — not to mention sunny, warm, and welcoming,” according to the 2022 report. “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.” Need still more reason to go? In the capital, Panama City, it’s possible to rent an ocean-view condo for just $1,500 a month. Panama City is also the only First World city in Central America.

Southern Cambodia
jackmalipan/istockphoto

Cambodia

If none of the places on the International Living's 2022 index strike your fancy, the good news is there are still plenty of other options, including Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A location highly recommended by International Living, the Pearl of Asia has much to offer, including an incredibly low cost of living, vibrant markets and a notable food scene. “Attracted by its beauty, the warm and welcoming nature of its people, and its supreme affordability, retirees living in Phnom Penh can afford indulgences out of reach at home, including staff like a housekeeper or gardener,” says International Living. A couple can get by comfortably here on as little as $2,000 per month.

Italy
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Italy

While Italy as a whole is lovely, it’s not all affordable. The experts at International Living specifically recommend Modena, which is about 80 miles north of the famed city of Florence. “This city is one of the most underrated in Italy — a well-to-do city without being stuffy or over-priced,” says Valerie Schneider, International Living’s Italy correspondent. “Maybe it’s the sparkling wines produced here that gives Modena a bubbly demeanor, or maybe the light-hearted pastels of the buildings. Whatever it is, the ambiance of this city of 175,000 residents is pleasant and somewhat reminiscent of Florence with Renaissance influence.” A couple can live comfortably in Modena for a mere $1,617 per month, a figure that includes rent.

Belize
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Belize

The seaside town of Placencia is International Living’s top recommendation in Belize for retirees. The community, flanked by the Caribbean Sea and a freshwater lagoon, offers gorgeous scenery to say the least. There are also views of the Maya mountain chain. And did we mention the palm tree-lined beaches here? All of this gorgeous scenery comes with a very affordable cost of living at just under $2,500 per month, an estimate that includes a two-bedroom apartment and utilities.

Bali
AsianDream/istockphoto

Bali

Bali may be a legendary vacation destination, but it’s also becoming an expat hotspot. In particular, International Living recommends Canggu, which is pronounced “changoo.” A tiny village about 9 miles north of the resort of Kuta, this once under-the-radar locale is now the place to be. “Driving into the region of Canggu evokes a country feel. The traffic thins, the crazed pace of the southern tourist areas is left behind and there is a definite change to the urban sprawl. Fields of rice, banana plantations, and old-style warungs (small local eateries) line the roadsides. Local homes are dotted among the new villas and boutique hotels that are popping up. Despite the changing scenery, Canggu retains an undiscovered surfing town sort of feel,” International Living says. The area offers a relaxed lifestyle for retirees yet is not too far from bigger town amenities. Also, worth noting, the international airport is just an hour away. As for the cost of living, it’s about $1,266 per month for two people.

Thailand
FredFroese/istockphoto

Thailand

One last recommendation from International Living: Chiang Mai, Thailand. Apparently a growing number of expats are settling on Thailand in general thanks to its outstanding health care, good food, rich culture, and affordable living. Chiang Mai in particular has developed a reputation of being a good choice for both retirees and jet-setting digital nomads. “The chance to live an opulent, resort lifestyle is at your fingertips,” says Rachel Devlin, an International Living contributor. “You’ll find the top resorts offering gym memberships to local expats — they’re a bargain. For just over $500 a year, you can have a membership to the Rati Lanna Resort & Spa. Getting fit and healthy has never been so easy and so competitively priced.” And for the golf fanatics, Chiang Mai offers the ability to golf the days away without spending a fortune. The cost of living here is about $1,164 a month for two people.

 

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