March 26, 2013 — Note: This is Part 1 of a 2 part series on international places to retire. Part 2 is “The Pros, Cons, and Considerations of an International Retirement“.
Our friend Dennis asked us recently where we thought the best place to retire was – internationally. The question took us by surprise, partly because it came from a man who has traveled the world extensively, and who also has a home in Costa Rica – wouldn’t Dennis have a better grip here than us? The question got us thinking and looking back through our past Blog articles – just what do we think are the best places to retire internationally?
It turns out that, although we have written many articles about international retirements, most of them have to do with the issue of whether or not to retire abroad, rather than where to do it (see end of article for references). You will note that our list is quite different than what you might see from the usual providers of “best international places to retire”, especially those aggressively promoted by International Living. We can’t figure out what is so great about retirement in Latin America, other than perhaps the cost of living – so our list is much more Euro-centric. Call us conventional, but we like: stable governments; low crime rates; the ability to mix with ordinary people; great food, wine, and culture; and 1st world dependability and bureaucracies.
Caveats – Things you need to consider
As with all retirement decisions, this is a highly personal one. Assuming you have made a careful decision to retire abroad, here are some of the factors that might influence your own choice of where to make that stand:
- Your finances
- Ability with foreign languages (and which ones)
- Love of a particular country or culture
- Amount of adventure you seek (including crime rates, desire to experience other cultures)
- Live in a gated compound, or not
- Ability to cope with 2nd and 3rd world bureaucracies
Our Top 10 Places to Live Internationally
This a highly subjective list. There are doubtless cheaper places to retire, and perhaps more beautiful. The choices on this list reflect those of a hypothetical person/couple with: low to medium ability in a foreign language, preference for Europe to Latin America or Asia, low to medium amount of adventure and flexibility, limited desire to live in a gated compound, low tolerance for bureaucracies where bribes and capriciousness rule. Note that it might not be possible for U.S. citizens to live full-time in some of these countries because of visa restrictions; you would have to live somewhere else for part of the year. Finally, our recommendations are more country than city-specific – there are many towns in most of these countries that would be great for retirement.
1. Ireland. We love Ireland, the land of many of our ancestors. We speak the language, more or less (excepting Gaelic), and the people and their names seem so familiar. In fact, the names on gravestones made us feel like we were in our old parish graveyard. Killarney on the Ring of Kerry is a small city with many amenities including restaurants, a very walkable downtown, and some world class golf courses. It would make for a great place to retire where there would be plenty to do.
There are countless small villages both on the coast and in the countryside that would also make great places to retire. Towns in the west like Lahinch, Doolin, Waterville, Tralee, Dingle, and Ballybunion are charming with many pubs and restaurants, small shops, and quiet neighborhoods. The towns we mention will be quite familiar to golfers; some of the world’s great public golf courses are located in these towns. (Photo: Cliffs of Moher on Ireland’s west coast). Galway is another town that people mention for retirement.
Ireland, the so called “Celtic Tiger”, was tamed a bit with the spectacular economic collapse that started in 2007. The silver lining of the collapse is that real estate prices are much more realistic than they were during the run-up. It is relatively easy for Americans to reside here if you, your parents, or your grandparents were born here. Even if that is not your case, you can probably also qualify for a “permission to remain” residency if you can prove you can support yourself.
2. France. This Gallic nation has been described as the best example of a country where you get what you pay for: the museums, culture, food, wine, atmosphere and health care are all excellent. While living in Paris is extremely expensive, it is possible to buy a small apartment for $200,000 or so in the countryside or small town. The Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France is along the Mediterranean and has a host of great towns to live in. Montpelier is a small city with many nice places to live, Nimes has Roman ruins, and Perpignan would be a great place to retire. Elsewhere in Provence are towns like Arles, Nice, and Avignon and countless other charming towns.
See “The Dream of France” from AARP. You will need to brush up on your high school french essential to fit in and really enjoy the life here.
3. Coast of Spain. Spain has long been popular with Europeans seeking a warmer place to winter and retire. Its sun-baked coast between cosmopolitan and exciting Barcelona and Gilbraltar is filled with cities and towns that might make an easy retirement. Like the rest of Europe, the food and wine is spectacular and the beaches are warm in winter. Almeria is an ancient town popular with tourists for its many sights, including the nearby Cabo de Gata Natural Park. Like in Ireland, the global financial crisis has not been kind to Spain. That’s bad news for the locals, good news for outsiders coming in.
4. Italy. Lucca or the Abbuzzo region of Italy could be great places to retire. It is hard not to be enthusiastic about Lucca. This charming little town in Tuscany about 50 miles west of Florence has become a popular retirement spot for British, French, and German retirees. The old walled city has a population of only 7,500 and is by far the most interesting part of town. It has spectacular squares, shops, restaurants, and churches. It is not inexpensive, but the setting and lifestyle are wonderful.
The Abbruzzo region, a bit more affordable than Lucca or Rome, is about 50 miles east of Rome and extends to the Adriatic coast. L’Aquila is the capital of the region and would make a nice retirement base. The region has many protected hill towns of great beauty and charm. Did we mention Italian food or ambiance? To fit in here you had best learn Italian, and get used to a Latin pace.
5. Costa Rica. Ask just about any knowledge international person what is the safest and most stable country in Latin America or Central America and you will probably be told – Costa Rica. This country in Central America above Panama is famed for having no army, a stable government and economy, and being in the vanguard of eco-tourism. Many expatriates from all over the world have retired here, although housing prices can be high. San Jose is the largest city and is located in the center. Limon is on the north (Caribbean) coast while Santa Cruz and San Isidro are on the south (Pacific) coast. Little towns like Tambor can make for an interesting retirement. Infrastructure is still a work in progress in Costa Rica, exacerbated by its hilly terrain. Most highways are not good. Also on the downside for Costa Rica, prices have gone up – you pay for the added security and confidence. See our Retirement Guide to Costa Rica.
6. Croatia. This is an offbeat choice, one hard to imagine 20 years ago. But the Dalmatian Coast is coming into its own since the civil wars of recent history ended. The residents are flourishing and construction is everywhere. Prices are affordable. The scenery and beauty of towns like Pula, Split, and Dubrovnick are breathtaking – ancient walled Roman cities on the Adriatic that lie beneath towering mountains. Montenegro, situated just below Croatia, is a tiny new country loved by expatriates. Speaking negatively, you would be in on the ground floor – and hoping that peace and prosperity continue. Photo below is from the walls above Dubrovnik.
7. New Zealand. Anyone who has seen “The Hobbit” film series, or seen a slide show from a friend who visited here, understands the beautiful appeal of New Zealand. Tall (990 miles) and narrow (widest part 250 miles), it is made up of 2 big islands and many smaller ones. It is situated southeast of Australia and below Fiji. The people are friendly and love the outdoors – hiking, fishing, skiing, climbing, golf, gardening, are popular and first rate. There are a multitude of parks – both national and city. The biggest cities are Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Hamilton. But there are many smaller towns that would make for a great retirement. On the downside – if you move to New Zealand, one of the last places on earth to be settled, you will be very far from whence you came.
8. Panama. The home of the famous canal between the oceans has much appeal for the expatriate retirement. For one, it has many Americans there already, many of them living in active communities or developments that feel familiar. It is a stable country with no currency risk, since it uses American greenbacks. There is a big coastline with plenty of beaches, and of course it is warm all year round. Boquete, a lush resort with a cooler elevation of 3,200 is a popular retirement spot to consider.
9. Mexico. Mexico has several virtues for retirement. For a big starter, the cost of living is lower than north of the Rio Grande. Medical care is first rate and inexpensive – doctors even make house calls. Many of the stores are familiar, and much English is spoken. There are many towns away from the border that are considered safe, and those include the World Heritage site San Miguel de Allende, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, Lake Chapala. Although just about everyone in North America is familiar with the horrendous drug-related violence in northern Mexico near the U.S. border, there are parts of Mexico where you can feel safe. Your editor was on the lower Baja Peninsua 2 years ago and from a security standpoint it felt like we were in a part of the USA.
10. Ecuador, especially Cuenca. Cuenca is already a favorite place for many people to retire. This World Heritage Site was founded in 1557 and sits in the mountains at 8,000′, surrounded by 4 rivers. There are old cathedrals and an inviting wilderness to to explore. Salinas is another town that has been recommended for retirement. Many people come to Cuenca for the low cost of living, where a decent income from Social Security can support a nice lifestyle. Although there are parts of Ecuador that a lot of North Americans would not feel at home in, Cuenca is expatriate friendly.
We hear many good things about retirement in Uruguay. The country is stable politically and economically, it has beautiful beaches, and the dollar or euro goes far.
For further reading
You can use our Directory to find lists of towns and communities within most of these countries. Note that we will be expanding our international city reviews in the coming months – suggestions and your experiences are encouraged.
“Part 2: The Pros, Cons, and Considerations of an International Retirement”
See “10 Questions to Ask Before You Retire Abroad
Our Mini-Retirement Guides to 50 States and Many Countries
A Move to Ireland: A Texas Couple Moves to County Sligo
Mexican Retirement Gone Bad
Taking Baby Steps to a Mexican Retirement
Do you have experience with retiring abroad that you can share? Or have you been thinking about moving overseas for one reason or other? Please share your experiences, hopes, and ruminations in the Comments section below.