Americans increasingly are turning to overseas destinations in their search for affordable places to live in retirement. The prospect of living comfortably for less and seeing more of the world pushes many to consider becoming expats, yielding some unexpected (and welcome) benefits. There are, of course, several key factors to consider before making the move abroad, including language, safety, and contact with loved ones back in the U.S.For many nearing or in retirement, cost of living is often a top concern. With that in mind, here are some of the cheapest and most appealing international retirement locales, spanning the globe. To compile this list, Cheapism consulted the top destinations in the 2016 Global Retirement Index from International Living. We looked especially at cost of living and housing in the highest-scoring locales. The other categories included in the index, with 100 as the top score, are benefits and discounts, visas and residence, "fitting in," entertainment and amenities, health care, healthy lifestyle, infrastructure, and climate.
14 Affordable Countries for Americans to Retire Overseas
Panama certainly presents an excellent choice for budget-friendly retirement. Health care, perfectly mild weather, and affordable lifestyle -- all are noteworthy, but according to International Living, it's stress-free living that makes Panama so appealing. The site's Panama editor mentions the quaint city of Santa Fe as a particular gem, with a low cost of living and lovely surroundings of waterfalls, mountainscapes, and wildflowers. The Global Retirement Index ranks Panama first overall, with a final score of 93.5. Cost of living is ranked 89, while buying and renting (housing) rates 86. Panama earns 100 in benefits and discounts, visas and residence, and entertainment and amenities.
Colombia is a modern country that's becoming increasingly popular as a prime retiree destination, according to International Living. An inviting cultural scene, warm weather (not much seasonal change), and a diverse natural landscape, with more than 50 national parks, along with beaches, jungles, deserts, and fruit-bearing trees, make for an ideal retirement venue. With inexpensive properties and a low cost of living, many Americans can live an upscale lifestyle without being "USA-rich." Colombia scores high 80s and 90s in almost every category, achieving a total score of 87.7 -- good enough for sixth place. ¡Vaya a Colombia!
If cheap housing and food prices and a tropical climate are priorities, Thailand is the place. Americans of average means can really live it up in this inviting country. The city of Chiang Mai is considered particularly appealing for retirement, due to its variety of cuisine, top-notch hospitals, cheap medical care, and vibrant Thai architecture and culture. On International Living's retirement index, Thailand earns a score of 90 in cost of living and housing, while entertainment and amenities rank 96, for an overall score of 84.8 (seventh place).
With ratings of 82 in housing and cost of living, and high 80s and 90s in several other categories, Spain (83.6 overall and ranked ninth overall) might be an unexpected but attractive international destination for retirees on tight budgets. Bankrate has singled out the eastern, coastal city of Valencia -- home of paella, a traditional rice and meat dish. It's a buyer's market, with plenty of affordable apartments, villas, and houses, and rentals are going for low prices, too. Retirees have access to excellent, cheap health care, open-air food markets with inexpensive wares, and easy, affordable getaways in neighboring European nations.
Belize makes it easy for expats to attain residency status via its Qualified Retired Persons program, according to AARP, just one reason this tiny nation is especially appealing for Americans in retirement. Belize boasts gorgeous white beaches on the Caribbean Sea, intriguing jungles, ancient Mayan ruins, spectacular wildlife reserves, and plenty of aquatic sport opportunities. It's also the only nation in Central America where English is the official language, though many locals also speak Spanish and Belizean Creole. Modest couples could live on about $1,500 or less a month. Belize earned a 98 in the "fitting in" category in International Living's retirement index, and achieved an overall score of 79.6 (with 74 in housing and 78 in cost of living).
Like Thailand, Malaysia is a place where Americans' retirement savings can go a long way. Malaysia's fifth on the International Living's index, with scores of 94 and 90 in housing and cost of living, respectively. It also earns a 94 in health care and a 100 in entertainment and amenities. The website Malaysia My Second Home cites other key reasons to retire in Malaysia, including political/economic stability, low crime, inexpensive food, wide-ranging sports, plentiful retail shops, and good infrastructure. International Living praises the city of Penang for similar reasons, as well as a vibrant street culture and cheap prices for health care, fresh produce, and internet and cable.
With an International Living rating of 98 in cost of living and 96 in renting and buying housing, Nicaragua definitely deserves consideration for a cheap retirement destination. In the smallish town of Granada, retirees can expect monthly costs of about $1,000 to $1,500 for a couple and will find a thriving expatriate community, according to Eileen Peddicord, publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, writing in The Huffington Post. Swimming and boating are big local activities on Lake Nicaragua, and ocean beaches are a close bus ride. The nearby airport of Managua can get American retirees back to U.S. soil in two hours. International Living echoes the suggestion of Granada and adds the town of San Juan del Sur, both of which attract loads of American retirees. The country earns a near-perfect 97 for healthy lifestyle in International Living's retirement index and 84.2 overall.
Malta has long been a favorite spot for American retirees. Indeed, this archipelago of five islands in the Mediterranean Sea would make a lovely home abroad. Malta ranks in the top 10 on International Living's retirement index, with ratings of 83 and 80 in cost of living and housing, respectively, with an overall score of 82.8. Particular appeals for Americans: gorgeous beaches, plentiful sunshine, a high standard of health care, low taxes, historic sites to explore, low crime -- the list goes on. Also, Malta is conveniently located for easy trips to explore the surrounding regions of Europe and North Africa, as well as gorgeous neighboring islands such as Sicily and Corsica. English is spoken by most inhabitants, and is one of two official state languages.
Guatemala's Lake Atitlan region has lots to offer Americans who don't have a fortune to spend on retirement, according to Bankrate. The deepest lake in Central America, Lake Atitlan is surrounded by volcanoes and villages entrenched in ancient Mayan traditions. The weather is agreeable, with daily temperatures hovering in the 60- to 80-degree range year-round, and housing (even lakefront) runs cheap, as does great food. Services are also affordable, with daily rates for housekeeping ranging from $4 to $10, while a personal nurse costs $15 to $20. Guatemala gets high scores for cost of living (91) and housing (82), and earned an overall score of 77.2 on the Global Retirement Index.
Ecuador is a popular spot for retirement. Live and Invest Overseas sings the praises of the city of Cuenca (in the south central highlands, known for historical architecture and Incan history), citing the low cost of real estate, walkability, burgeoning expat community, and cheap but reliable health care. Known for perfect weather, friendly denizens, and affordability, Ecuador makes it easy for U.S. retirees to attain residency and uses the U.S. dollar as its currency. For those in search of greener locales, International Living encourages retirees to check out Vilcabamba, a village in the southern Loja Province. Both affordable and attractive, the area is a draw for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts drawn to the nearby national park. Ecuador scores 100 in buying and renting, 99 in benefits and discounts, 100 in climate (no surprise there), 95 in healthy lifestyle, and 90 in cost of living, among other stellar scores, making it No. 2 overall with an average of 92.4.
Alhough Panama ranks número uno on International Living's retirement index, some argue that Portugal is a better destination. The publisher of Live and Invest Overseas compares the city of Lagos to Panama City and surmises that Portugal wins out in utility costs (no heating or cooling necessary), food and wine, and especially for its walking culture. Ranked among the top 10 destinations for retirees in International Living's ranking, with a score of 82.9 overall, Portugal is worth a second look. It scored 85 for cost of living and 82 for housing.
Ranking fourth overall in International Living's index is exciting, diverse Costa Rica. It scores 98 in healthy lifestyle, 86 in cost of living, and 88 in housing, and also achieved great scores in entertainment, health care, and fitting in, earning an overall 88.4. The climate and environmental conditions prompt many residents to grow their own vegetables and fruits, or buy them cheaply from local farmers. Slightly small than West Virginia, the tiny nation of Costa Rica boasts Pacific and Caribbean beaches, lush rainforests, mountains, and valleys, each with individualized climates -- something for everyone, and plenty of opportunity to explore. For many, paradise awaits.
For many retiring Americans, heading to Mexico makes a lot of financial sense. It ranks third overall, after only Panama and Ecuador, with an overall score of 89.3, with similarly high scores for housing and cost of living, according to International Living's rankings. Mexico also scores 90-plus in several other key categories. Retiring in Mexico is convenient, with flights back to the U.S. both affordable and quick. Expats love the beaches as well the cheap, delicious cuisine, shopping, and historical attractions. International Living particularly praises the city of Campeche, on the Yucatán Peninsula, as a retirement mecca where Americans can get by on about $1,400 a month.
France and cheap don't usually appear side-by-side, but it is possible to move to France on a reasonable budget in retirement. France gets lower rankings than others on the list for cost of living and housing (57 and 63, respectively) but earns an 80 overall. Other considerations, such as entertainment, benefits and discounts, visas/residence, and health care, help boost its score, making it 13th overall in International Living's global rankings. Location is key to keeping costs in check when moving to France. Expat Exchange recommends Dordogne, Brittany, Uzes, Languedoc, and Pezenas as particularly affordable destinations. Live and Invest Overseas also points to the Basque region (near the Spanish border) as a particularly healthy and beautiful area for a couple to retire for as little as $2,000 a month. France offers plenty of options for cheap travel throughout Europe, including rail passes, discount airlines, buses, and car rental through Auto Europe.