8 Great Places to Retire Abroad
Retiring abroad can offer a host of advantages over buying a
condo in Florida. Living expenses can be cheaper, cultural
experiences richer and the lifestyle more satisfying. But picking
the right place to retire for you can be tricky: Climate, cost of
living, ease of traveling to the U.S. and access to adequate
health care all need to be weighed.
We took those factors and others into account in making these
picks. As part of our research, we consulted three experts on
overseas retirement: Betsy Burlingame of
, Kathleen Peddicord of
and Jennifer Stevens of
. We also looked at
International Living's Global Retirement
, which ranks the 22 countries most popular with American
retirees on eight categories ranging from entertainment options
to infrastructure. Ecuador ranked highest overall on the index;
the Dominican Republic came in 22nd. We focused primarily on the
cost-of-living component of the index.
The hypothetical monthly budgets we provide for a retired
American couple include the cost of housing in a desirable
neighborhood and monthly living expenses such as food,
entertainment, utilities and local transportation. Actual costs
will vary widely. Buying a sprawling villa vs. renting a small
apartment will affect living expenses significantly, for example,
as will eating out nightly vs. preparing most meals at home. We
hope the hypothetical monthly budgets are useful as a starting
point for your planning.
Population: 2.4 million
Climate: Springlike year-round, the average temperature is a
pleasant 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Because the city is in the
mountains, nights can be cool and humidity isn't an issue.
Proximity to major airport: Jose Maria Cordova airport is
located 19 miles to the southeast of Medellin's city center, in
Rionegro. There are nonstop flights to Miami and Fort Lauderdale,
Access to health care: Five of the top hospitals in Latin
America are located in Medellin. Affordable, high-quality health
care has made the city a popular destination for medical tourism.
(Note: Medicare does not cover overseas medical care.)
Cost of living: Colombia tied for 16th (with the Dominican
Republic) out of 22 countries in the cost-of-living component of
International Living's Global Retirement Index. The top-ranked
nation has the lowest living costs, while the 22nd-ranked nation
has the highest. A retired American couple could live comfortably
on $1,500 a month in Medellin. A small apartment in the center of
the city costs about $75,000.
The draw: Much has changed in the 20 years since drug lord
Pablo Escobar was killed by Colombian soldiers here. Today,
Medellin is known more for its growing tourism industry and
architectural renaissance than cartel violence. Parks, libraries
and museums abound, thanks to a decade-long urban revitalization
effort that's earned international acclaim, and a modern metro
and tram system connects far-flung neighborhoods. Hometown artist
Fernando Botero's corpulent sculptures adorn many of the
European-influenced public spaces. Unlike other popular
retirement spots in Latin America, Medellin isn't overrun with
foreign expats, so real estate is still relatively affordable. On
a final note, while Colombia's second-largest city is vastly
safer than it was a decade ago, crime (including violent crime)
is much more prevalent than in the U.S. American retirees should
State Department warnings
on travel and safety.
Climate: Seasonal. Temperatures range from the mid 40s in
January and February to the low 80s in June and July.
Proximity to major airport: Dubrovnik Airport is about ten
miles from the city center in Cilipi. Expect to make one or two
connections (possibly in Zagreb and then in a major European
city) to reach the U.S.
Access to health care: General Hospital Dubrovnik, a
full-service hospital, is located in the center of the city.
Cost of living: An American couple could live comfortably on
$2,700 a month. Croatia wasn't ranked in the Global Retirement
The draw: Old World charm. Sandwiched between mountains and
sea, Dubrovnik's geography is breathtaking. Those in search of
culture, history, and architecture will find it in abundance in
this medieval walled old town, which is home to a 14th-century
monastery. Not only can retirees soak up all the history and
attend cultural events such as the Dubrovnik Film Festival, they
can also enjoy beaches and island-hop along the coast. A steady
influx of tourists means you'll find at least some English spoken
at shops and restaurants. Known as the "Pearl of the Adriatic,"
Dubrovnik is one of the pricier locales in Croatia, but it's
affordable compared with better-known Mediterranean hot
Climate: Mild and dry. Temperatures average in the 70s during
the day and fall into the low 60s at night. The mercury can climb
into the 90s, but that happens about as rarely as it rains.
Proximity to major airport: It's about two hours by car or
three hours by bus to Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International
Airport in Guayaquil, Equador's largest city. From there, you can
fly nonstop to the U.S.
Access to health care: Just 20 minutes away by car are several
clinics in La Libertad and Santa Elena. There's even a local
doctor in Salinas, popular among expats, who makes house calls.
The charge: $30 per visit. Retirees will find top-notch hospitals
two hours away in Guayaquil.
Cost of living: Ecuador came in fourth -- and number one for
Latin America -- on the Global Retirement Index for lowest cost
of living. A retired American couple could live well on $1,500 a
The draw: Miami living without Miami prices. Jutting out into
the Pacific, Salinas is Ecuador's largest coastal resort town,
with great oceanfront condos, open markets and upscale
restaurants. A jetty, home to the Salinas Yacht Club, separates
trendy San Lorenzo Beach from the quieter Chipipe Beach. Retirees
can live a high-end beach lifestyle on the cheap; this is one of
the least-expensive beach resorts in Latin America. That explains
the growing expat community. The $1,500-a-month budget for an
American couple includes dinner out most nights.
George Town, Malaysia
Climate: Hot and humid. The average temperature is a muggy 80
degrees year round. Located in northwest Malaysia, George Town
gets its fair share of rain, particularly in April and
Proximity to major airport: Penang International Airport is 11
miles south of George Town. At least one flight connection is
required to reach the U.S.
Access to health care: Foreigners routinely travel to Malaysia
for affordable, quality medical and dental services. There are
several hospitals and clinics in and around George Town.
Cost of living: Malaysia came in third, behind only Thailand
and the Philippines, in the Global Retirement Index in terms of
lowest living costs. An American couple can get along extremely
well on $1,500 a month.
The draw: British colonialism on the cheap. Over the past
decade 19,488 foreigners, including 815 North Americans, have
taken advantage of a program called Malaysia My Second Home,
which offers retirement incentives such as long-term residency
status and breaks on car imports and purchases. Applicants must
meet strict financial requirements. But there is a charm and
bustle to George Town, the capital of the Malaysian state of
Penang. A Unesco World Heritage site, Malaysia's oldest city is
known for its rich history but also for its street food and
intriguing architecture. It's populated mainly by ethnic Chinese,
but English is spoken, thanks to the country's historical tie to
Climate: Mild year-round. Typical temperatures range from the
mid 50s in winter to the high 70s in summer. July and August are
the warmest months; January, the coolest.
Proximity to major airport: Bilbao Airport is located about
seven miles north of the city center, or about 15 minutes by
taxi. There are connecting flights to the U.S.
Access to health care: Bilbao has modern hospitals and
clinics. There are numerous pharmacies, including some that are
open 24 hours a day.
Cost of living: Spain isn't cheap, but it's cheaper since the
real-estate market went bust. The nation tied for 12th place,
alongside Brazil and Honduras, on the Global Retirement Index for
lowest cost of living. An American couple could live comfortably
on $3,500 a month.
The draw: Bilbao, located in the Basque region of northern
Spain, is surrounded by forests and mountains. France and the
Pyrenees lie due east. Bilbao is one of Spain's biggest cities
and has undergone an urban rejuvenation. It's home to the
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which with its titanium panels and
striking architecture that draw tourists from around the world.
There's an efficient, cheap public transportation system, along
with miles of parks. The beach is less than an hour away. Bilbao
is a draw for foodies as well as art lovers, thanks to the
plethora of restaurants serving everything from traditional
Basque dishes to innovative cuisine, such as molecular
gastronomy. Whether ordering dinner or asking for directions, a
little Spanish goes a long way, though many locals tied to the
tourist trade will speak English.
Population: Less than 10,000 (estimate)
Climate: Hot and dry year-round. The average temperature is 86
Proximity to major airport: Tocumen International Airport
serves Panama City, about an hour away from Coronado. There are
nonstop flights to the U.S.
Access to health care: The San Fernando Clinic, which is
affiliated with Panama City's San Fernando Hospital, is located
in Coronado. Other affordable and well-regarded hospitals in
Panama City are all about an hour's drive away.
Cost of living: Panama ranked seventh (in a tie with Portugal)
in the Global Retirement Index for lowest cost of living. A
retired American couple could live comfortably on $1,200 to
$1,300 a month.
The draw: Easy luxurious living for expats. Located on the
Pacific coast, not far from Panama's eponymous canal, Coronado,
once the playground of wealthy Panamanians, is now home to many
foreign retirees. English is widely spoken, and the U.S. dollar
is accepted everywhere. The Coronado Country Club offers beach
activities, fine accommodations and dining. U.S. retirees
continue to flock to Panama because of its top-notch health care,
dollar-based economy and a "pensionado" program that grants
residency and other perks to financially qualified retirees.
Climate: Rainy and cool. Temperatures range from the mid 40s
to the high 60s, with rainfall pretty much year-round.
Proximity to major airport: For nonstop flights to the U.S.,
the best bet is Dublin, three-and-a-half hours from Galway by bus
or three hours by train. A closer alternative is Shannon Airport,
which is about two hours from Galway by bus.
Access to health care: Galway University Hospitals runs two
local facilities, University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park
University Hospital, in the city.
Cost of living: Ireland came in 19th out of 22 countries
ranked on the Global Retirement Index for lowest cost of living.
Only France, Italy and New Zealand have higher living costs. An
American couple could live comfortably on $2,500 a month.
The draw: Bad luck of the Irish. Like Spain, Ireland has
experienced a crushing housing bust. The good luck, for retirees
at least, is that the dramatic drop in real estate prices has put
Ireland within reach for those who otherwise couldn't afford
retirement in Western Europe. Yes, the weather can be dreary, but
Galway's pluses outweigh that minus. The city, located on the
western coast of Ireland, is safe, welcoming and walkable.
English is universal, of course, and many of the foods and
traditions will be familiar to Americans. Expats will find
beautiful beaches, verdant countryside and the cobblestone
streets of a city center filled with restaurants, bars and shops.
Galway is also known for its festivals, which celebrate
everything from oysters to horse racing.
Climate: Always mild. The high elevation keeps the city's
average temperature at around 60 degrees. Summers are rainy, and
winters are dry.
Proximity to major airport: Nonstop flights to the U.S. are
available from international airports in Puebla (an hour away
from Tlaxcala) and Mexico City (about two hours away).
Access to health care: There are multiple medical facilities
within the city, and major hospitals can be found in Puebla and
Cost of living: Mexico ranked tenth in the Global Retirement
Index for lowest cost of living. An American couple could live
modestly on $1,500 a month and very comfortably on $2,500.
The draw: Undiscovered Mexico. Located in the mountains about
two hours from Mexico City and an hour from Puebla, Tlaxcala has
a much slower pace of life than its bustling neighbors. And
unlike some other parts of Mexico, Tlaxcala hasn't been besieged
by drug-related violence. The city retains its historical charm
thanks to brightly painted colonial-era buildings. An
architectural highlight is the large, tree-studded Plaza de la
Constitucion, which features fountains, statues, 28 archways and
colorful murals narrating the history of the state. Volcanoes dot
the horizon, including Malintzin, one of the tallest in Mexico.
While Tlaxcala attracts tourists, it hasn't been overrun by
expats. That keeps prices in check but also means you'll find far
fewer fellow American retirees as you would in, say, San Miguel
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