March 21, 2018 — Note: This is an updated version of Part 1 of a 2 part series on international places to retire. Part 2 is “The Pros, Cons, and Considerations of an International Retirement“.
A few years ago our friend Dennis asked us 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.
Our Top 10 Places to Live Internationally
Our list is focused on great places to retire, and not necessarily on the cheapest places to retire. Although some of our picks are very affordable we also put an emphasis on stable government, low crime rates, the ability to mix with ordinary people, interesting places to live, culture, and 1st world dependability. The choices on this list might be suitable for a hypothetical person/couple with: low to medium ability in a foreign language, at least medium level of adventure and flexibility, limited desire to live in a gated compound, and medium tolerance for bureaucracies and bribes. 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.
1. 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.
2. Panama. The home of the famous canal between the oceans has much appeal for the expatriate retirement. For one, many Americans already live there, many of them in active communities or developments that will 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 anelevation of 3,200′ is not quite as tropical and a popular retirement spot to consider.
3. 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. 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 real estate market was devastated but has come back since. 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.
4. 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. Many small towns have had population losses and thus the real estate market has opened up a bit there. 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.
5. 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.
6. Italy. Lucca is just one town in Italy that could be a great place 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 very beautiful and charming. 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.
7. Portugal. In addition to its warm climate, Portugal’s other advantage is that it less expensive than almost any other place in western Europe. There is an extensive coastline on the Atlantic. It might be easier to retire here as a non-EU resident than many other places.
A Golden Residency Permit is available to individuals who can make certain investments or have a high enough net worth. The Algarve is a region with at least 16 municipalities on the southeast coast famous for its beaches and rugged cliffs.
8. 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. Very vertical (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 Wellington, Aukland, 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.
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 a few years ago; 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.
Before you move – things to consider
Moving abroad is a huge decision, and highly personal one. Many countries where you might want to live are very restrictive; you probably cannot get permission to retire there full-time. Citizens of the European Union have been able to move freely within the Union, but Brexit has called some of that into question. Before you decide to retire abroad, here are some of the factors you need to consider.
– Your finances
– Ability or interest in learning a 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
– Distance from friends and family
– Medical resources
– Whether you live in a country permanently or just for part of the year (not possible to live in many countries permanently)
For further reading
You can use our Mini-State and Country Retirement Guides to find out about these and other countries.
Community Directories will help you find lists of towns and communities within most of these countries.
“Part 2: The Pros, Cons, and Considerations of an International Retirement”
“10 Questions to Ask Before You Retire Abroad
A Move to Ireland: A Texas Couple Moves to County Sligo
Mexican Retirement Gone Bad
Taking Baby Steps to a Mexican Retirement
Our 2013 article generated a wide range of comments (118 in fact) which are worth reading. Below is a sampling from that article – please add your Comments below.
Cotacachi, Ecuador is where my husband and I have purchased a condo for our retirement. Right now we only spend winters there but are looking forward to more time there soon. The American dollars is the currency, electricity is the same so no plug converters needed and the people are welcoming. It’slike living in Mayberry, RFD. More North Americans all the time, including single women who can’t survive on paltry Soc. Sec. payments. Safe, small town.?by Priscilla Purinton —
—- Sorry crew, but anywhere south of the Rod Grande and north of Brazil, and Chile should be suspect in consideration of services and safety. Danger is directly proportional to poverty and we yanks have no idea as to the degree of poverty that exists in these country’s.
—-I’ve been subscribing to a newsletter called “Live and Invest in Overseas” and it’s quite interesting how many American ex-pats have been moving to places like Belize, or Cuenca, Ecuador, etc. Would be a “huge” move, but when I read about the places in the newsletter and see the pictures, it sure can make me want to move there. A friend of a friend is moving from Redding, CA to Cuenca, Ecuador and I’ll be interested to hear how she likes it once she has been there a while.?I just read a lot about Medellin, Colombia and the pictures that are on the internet look fantastic. I’m subscribed to a website about retiring to a place that is cheap and nice. Sure is tempting, but I don’t know how I would move all my things and car down there. The company that has the website (the one I’m subscribed to) is going to have a conference down there in May for about $1,000 or less so that anyone who is interested in maybe moving down there can personally see what it is like. Looks pretty good to me.by Ursula —
— Everything that’s been said about using caution before moving to a 3rd world country is is true, but I could say the same of a New Yorker moving to Texas (or vice versa). It may be the same langurage but wildly different cultures. I’ve lived in VA/CO/CA/Thailand and Brazil. Now I’m retired and planning on renting someplace I’ve never been to for 6 months, then I’ll probably move again. One day I may find the “prfect” place (if it exists), but until then I think moving and renting will suit me just fine.by John
—I’m a Texan who has lived in England for the past 11 years. Living overseas has its charms, but aside from personal safety and the cost of living, as retirees we must also consider access to health care. Not only cost but in terms of desirability. Europe generally has good health care provided you are granted access to it. I would recommend France without reserve but only if you’re willing to become fairly fluent in the language. Generally they are the least likely folks to want to speak English. Spain is a good second choice but beware of areas being too remote.by JaneHakes —
—I live in Chiang Mai, Thailand for the past 8 years and will probably live here the rest of my life.:grin:?by Joseph — March 27, 2013 | Edit This?
—- Anyone thinking of retiring in New Zealand should start by checking the strict immigration rules related to age.by Ron
— My wife and I have been very happy in the Philippines now for nearly 7 years. Moving here was a great decision. If for some reason we had to move, Thailand (where I lived several years in the past) would would be my next choice.Asia is not the choice for a great many Americans, which is fine with me … I took a look at many popular US places, ike “Adult Communities” in Florida and they left me cold. I can spend the whole day without one depressing discussion regarding the ills of Medicare or who is in the White House or what Congress is or isn’t doing. Suits me fine.by Dave Starr —
— Roberto – I’m retired also,and I’ve learned a few things myself. never underestimate anyone or anything. There a good number of us who have been around, and I can say unequivocally that there are places where “gringos” are readily accepted and places where they are targets. I am well aware of anti-Americanism, it was part of my “job” so to speak. Having said this “etal”, there are places where we Americans are welcome, will remain so, because they are accepted into, even integrated into the society/culture. If one accepts these people and adapt to their culture etc, there is no problem. Blend in, be a part of, do not set oneself aside, much less “above” the population. It’s most often arrogance and the ignorance that goes with it that alienates.by Jeff
— @ Mark P Good questions. First of all, I feel I enjoy excellent care here. I have several good doctors, had a double cataract/lenes replacement operation done a couple years ago for less than 1/4th the cost in the USA, see a specialist when I want to for about $9.00. That’s not my co-pay, that’s the whole pay at his office in our local hospital. I also have something not many Americans back in the USA have .. my doctor’s cell phone number in my phone, along with his receptionist’s. When I need to see the doc, I text the receptionist, she puts my name on the list and texts me back when I am 10 or 15 minutes away from the doc being ready for me. Great service from great people.?The negative for some folks is, as you may know, Medicare does not pay overseas so the only way I have access to Medicare is to go back to the US .. something I doubt I’ll ever do.?I have medical insurance from the US military (I’m a retiree) and it does cover me here, so if my bills get high enough, I can submit for reimbursement through them. Or, I can buy commercial health insurance from Blue Cross Philippines which is very cost competitive with anything available in the USA.?Regarding humidity? Well some day’s it’s sticky, someday’s it’s dry as the dickens, same as any other sub-tropical areas like, say, Florida. Frankly, the worst places I have ever been bothered by humidity in my career which spanned the globe is Washington DC and Tokyo,Japan, both farther north in the temperate zone. Meanwhile I look at the weather cams in US cites where I used to live almost every night (morning back there) and chuckle as I watch the little worker bees shiver and slip and slide on their morning commute. I’ll tkae humidity over snow any day in my life.?Let me know if there is anything else I can help you with.by Dave Starr —
— I don’t know who wrote this article but he dosen’t know very much so don’t take this for real !!?i retired 10 years ago and i have been to lots of places and none of the good ones was mentioned !!?by hriley — April 1, 2013 | Edit This?
—On needs to be aware that there are many companies selling the wonders of Latin America and they are doing so for profit and without regard to your well-being whatsoever. Simple fact (“Small Arms 2012”-Univ of Geneva): Latin America is 6x more violent than the rest of the world. As an American you can easily become the target for a plethora of crimes for which there isn’t ample space here to describe. Do research and avoid Internet hucksters. Consider Europe.by JimyP —
— I have read some of the comments left by those seeking a new and exciting place to spend their retirement. I have been living in Costa Rica for the past 4 years and have traveled to Guatamala, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, and Nicaragua. I went to see Cuenca and was frightened. Sure, people live there. Happy Gringos, I expect. But on my first day, a young man told me how he had been robbed at gunpoint coming from the beach. They took his Blackberry and his cash. The next morning at breakfast I met an elder man and his wife whose portable Mac computers (2) had been stolen on the bus. That same day, when I went to a shop selling indigenous crafts, the owner told me to “put your camera away, the boys in the streets with knives will take them from you.” The next day two missionary ladies told me how they had had earrings, jewelry, and a purse stolen from them. Now, I had just spent a month in Peru and never had this experience. Likely I will not go back without an armed guard or an Ecuadorian friend. Too bad, I am a photographer, but travel solo.by John
— We live in Ecuador, if you want to be robbed this is the place to come!by Tom —
— Dave you forget to mention that in the Philippines there is no 911 and traffic won’t yield and give ways to ambulance. Yes it’s true that there is an easy access to good doctors as long as you have money. Even if your in the ER they will let you buy your IVY. My point is you can’t go to a hospital if your not loaded with money. In the US hospital would save you first before they will let you pay but not in the Philippines. Also, unlike in the US you could check out with account balance and you could pay through installment but again not in the Philippines. Let’s say your total bills is $1000.00 for five days confinement in the hospital. Your doctor gives you the release order but you can’t come up for the total amount for that day. You cannot get out and of course every day extension of your stay in the hospital is additional to your bills because they will charge you for the room. You need a prayer too that you won’t be a victim of malpractice. Literally you could sue but in the Philippines? goodluck for that.by Helen C.
— Never had a problem in Ecuador. Should be higher on the list. Its safe, cheap, uses the dollar and has great topography. Ecuador is number one in my book. by Luna —
— Indonesia, such as Bali or Bandung are not in the list???..the writer might have not visited Indonesia.by Yudho —
— Don’t come to Honduras. Besides being deemed the murder capitol of the world. There are missing sewer covers, blackwater and potholes on several streete. Beggars won’t leave you alone and everyone erlse will consider you wealthy if you are visiting here. Corruption and crime are ways of life for many.by Ron Gamble
— What happened to Roatan? A few years back every top ten places to retire out of the the U.S. had Roatan, Honduras on it. I know Carnival recently bought a big chunk of it so their cruise ships can port there now. I would think this would add to security but did it also make the cost of living go way up. I was stationed in Honduras in 2000 and absolutely fell in love with the Bay Islands. Does anyone have any feedback?by Matt
–The absolute jewel of Costa Rica is the Little Switzerland area, famed for its mountains, waterfalls and gorgeous views. Turrialba is the main town. Google either “Little Switzerland, Costa Rica” or “Turrialba”. YouTube also has some videos. by David Rushton
— Really? Mexico? the place you go to get killed. It is not safe there. Have you checked Vanuatu? They speak english, and the Cost of Living is excellent. And they allow you to go there to retire. Tax rate of 0%?by mark —
— I have been living in Costa Rica for 2 years and love it! I live in the Turrialba area (Little Switzerland) close to both San Jose and the beach but without the humid weather and crowded city. For me, this area is perfect. Do locals see me as a “Gringa”? Maybe, but, after all, I am a “Gringa”. I am however treated fairly. Perhaps because I ask questions and price shop… just like I did while living in the states.?by Shelly — April 1, 2013 | Edit This?
— All things considered the Philippines! Low cost of living, nice culture and awesome traditions year-round, great places all over, good cuisine, friendly and hospitable people, English-speaking, fun activities 24/7!by Bonjie Mart —
— I have been to the Philippines 24 different times in the last 14 years. That is the place to go. Tagolog is the national language, but English is the official language. Some 70 differnt languages and/or dialects are spoken there. When you drive by an elementary school you will hear first graders (and kindergarden kids) singing english nursery rhymes. Of all the asiand, James Michener in his book Hawaii, said the Filipinos were the ones best trusted and have the most love for Americans and other ex pats. Very friendly people. Cheap living – rents, taxis etc.by Tommy 2013
— There are places where Americans, (and Europeans), are targets, period. There are places in the US where we are targets also. Any place where there are poor, mostly lawless, people, anyone with apparent cash or valuables will have a problem. On the other hand, When Manual Noriega was showing himself in Panama, the indigenous population protected, hid, and otherwise cared for Americans who lived there. The same can be said of parts of Nicaragua when Daniel Ortega was showing off. I would not move to parts of Ecuador, Nicaragua, Honduras, or San Salvador anymore than I would retire to Detroit or L.A. Panama, Belize, and English speaking country, or Costa Rica are on my list. Becoming part of the indigenous population does not mean one has to live in a hut with a thatched roof off some jungle path surrounded by howler monkeys either.?by Jeff —
— Why not Portugal, Madeira island, Azores ??don’t understand some of the criteria used. Aorry.by Expat —
— Hi.. great article. I have been seriously thinking of retiring in The Dominican Republic. Does anybody have any information that I may look into? I was there on business last year, and I saw somo serious possibilities.by JOE LOPEZ —
— Admittedly, I think lists like this are foolish because they encourage Americans to settle into boring overseas expat communities and limit their interactions with locals. However, I think fear mongers are even more foolish — and dangerous.?I’ve visited over 60 countries in my life. Born and raised in the Midwest, I’ve lived overseas for at least 6 months and for up to 2 years in each of the following countries: UK, Singapore, Malaysia, China, and India. I’ve been to 5 of the poorest countries on earth; I wouldn’t recommend them to the average American, but I did’t have any problems there. And I even spent a month last year in Mexico and have to agree with the writer — in places like Baja, you have nothing to fear.?The only crime I’ve ever suffered was back home in the US. If you’re smart, open minded to the bigger world, and not an offensive stereotypical hawkish lout, you’re not going to have any problems going overseas. You don’t have to be afraid. And you don’t have to go where every other white American goes. The world is big. Have some guts and get out there. And go sooner than later — because your dollar won’t always be worth what it is now. by David —
(There are just too many comments to post here, but if you are interested in the subject go to the original article are skim through them all