Updated January, 2020 — (originally published April 23, 2013) — Note: This is Part 7 of our “Retirement 101” series.
You have probably seen articles on the Internet that promise an international retirement as your ticket to paradise. A place that includes maids and gardeners at your beck and call, cheap but glorious real estate, doctor house calls for $10, perfect warm weather – all of which is available on a Social Security income. While that vision might be possible, we read many reports of ex-patriots who regret their move abroad. In fact, retiring to a different country for reasons of economics might be precisely the wrong reason to do so.
This article will attempt to present a balanced view of the pros and cons of an international retirement. We list at the beginning some good reasons for choosing an expat retirement, as well as some not to retire abroad. Then we list many personal pros and cons cited by our Members. Finally, in addition to the countries in our “Best International Places to Retire” article, we’ve included a list of expat retirement countries suggested by our Members.
Note that for every person who has had a bad experience with a particular country or issue, there is usually someone else with an opposite point of view. Which leads us to our standard advice – before you make any decision about where you live in retirement – visit the location for an extended stay and see for yourself!
Reasons for an expatriate retirement:
You love living in a very different environment and experiencing different cultures.
You speak a foreign language or are willing to learn one
You have experience living in a foreign country, not just vacationing there
You have a need to stretch your dollars
You have a high tolerance for managing obstacles.
Reasons against an expatriate retirement:
You need to be close to friends and family
You have unusual medical needs that require specialists or ready access
You are not interested in foreign languages or cultures
Saving money is the main reason you want live abroad
Part 2: Pros and Cons (reader comments)
In this Pros and Cons section we have chosen a representative comment from a member. Know that for every positive there is almost always someone else who disagrees!
Live on a Social Security income. From Priscilla: “(Ecuador is great) for single women who can’t survive on paltry Soc. Sec. payments
Improved lifestyle. Thanks mostly to a strong dollar and choosing an interesting place to live, many retirees experience a richer and more interesting lifestyle abroad than they could have in the U.S., Canada, or Europe.
Inexpensive and good healthcare. JaneH: “Europe generally has good health care provided you are granted access to it”. Dave: ” I have several good doctors, had a double cataract/lens 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.”
Inexpensive domestic help. The advantages of having inexpensive staff to help with domestic chores is often touted as an advantage of an international retirement.
Interesting experiences. Many members comment about the happy and interesting exchanges they have with their new neighbors.
Warm weather. Mexico, Central America, South America, and much of Asia has better and warmer weather than the northeast or midwest U.S.
Corruption and crime. Paul: “Danger is directly proportional to poverty and we Yanks have no idea as to the degree of poverty that exists in these countries”.
Stability: Unfortunately not every country has the political stability available in the U.S. Some countries might have a solid government, then a new election puts a leader in place who completely changes the environment. If things go south, you don’t want to be owning property there.
Service and bureaucratic nightmares. Particularly in South and Central America, we have heard many tales of waiting for a year to have a phone line installed, or having to pay off the building inspector to get work done.
Immigration problems. Ron: “Anyone thinking of retiring in New Zealand should start by checking the strict immigration rules related to age.” Holly: “I love that Ireland was first on the list but, as with most countries – you cannot just pack a suitcase, get on a plane and show up at Dublin Airport and tell them you’re here to retire! We lived in Scotland during our early married years and would LOVE to go back there but the UK has strict rules about emigration and the fact that you have to have a certain amount of money deposited in UK banks”.
Being the target. Several said in comments that they felt North Americans were viewed as targets and not friends in various countries. On the other hand, others said that expats who make efforts to learn the language and interact with locals tend to be accepted.
Far from family and friends. Depending on where you move, you might not get many visitors from home – and your return trips will be expensive and time consuming.
Inexpensive and plentiful healthcare. Doug: ” spent 2 years in Mexico near Lake Chapala…..nice spot, local folks are friendly….but the problem, is medical care….sure, the Doctors are excellent, but they have little or no experience with older people…”.
Moving for economic reasons. Spending your retirement in a new country is a huge lifestyle change. Almost everything is different – from the food, language, customs, climate, and more. So if only moved because retirement is cheaper there, you might soon find out that that the negatives of all these other factors greatly outweigh the benefit of saving a lot of money.
What will the healthcare system be like? Will you have ready access to it? How much will it cost, and what is the quality. Will doctors be familiar with your complaints?
Can you be part of the community, or will you stick out? Do you want to live in an expat colony, or would you rather have a home in a normal neighborhood? Is the country welcoming to foreigners? Do you want to make an effort to assimilate, or are you looking for a little America abroad?
Various. What is the situation for that particular country for security, crime, immigration laws, cost of living, infrastructure and amenities?
Do you have family and friends that you will miss? Glenn: “Unless you have no sibling/children/grandchildren you will want to to visit family and the commute from half-way around the world costs time and $$$.”.
Taxes and fees. Some countries impose heavy taxes that mostly affect foreigners; for example a hefty tax on the sale of your home.
Overpromises. JimyP: “One 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.”
Part 3: Places and countries that members thought should be included:
Philippines. There were multiple positive mentions of this country citing its weather, cost of living, and friendly people. There were also some negative comments. Representative comment from Bonjie: “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”
Madeira and the Azures.
Thailand. Warm weather, great beaches, friendly people.
Ghana and West Africa. Anthony: “Ghana West Africa the best place on earth God created almost at the Centre of the world with Gold almost everywhere, diamonds, bauxite, manganese, 12 hours of Sun, chocolate galore, best democracy in Africa, friendly industrious people, great talents in many area, peace loving people.”
Greece. George: “I think Greece the best place by far”.
Sri Lanka (Negumbo). JohnH: “Has a visa program for pensioners. Affordable , modern health care is available. With my modest teacher pension and social security we would be comfortable and able to afford just about anything we would need in either place.”
Vanuatu (cluster of 80 South Pacific Islands). Mitch: “consider Vanuatu, a cluster of 80 South Pacific islands, great climate, friendly people, little or no crime, no income tax, no CGT, no inheritance tax, no property taxes. Low cost of living and housing “.
Chile. Best place to live in South America. Has a strong economy, stable government.
Places to avoid
Belize and the Honduras were mentioned by several people as places to avoid. Likewise some of the countries on our top 10 list had their detractors (and supporters). Those included Mexico (too dangerous), Costa Rica (no bargain), and Croatia (corruption and crime). We recommend you read the actual Comments to our “Top 10 International Places to Retire” to get more perspective.
The next time you read an article or get an email about some incredible international place to retire – stop. Think about the factors discussed here. A country might be retirement paradise – but there are 2 sides to every story. Make sure you know both.
Comments? This is the fun part for us, when you share your experiences and opinions. Please let the rest of us know what you think about these pros and cons, as well as the commentary and suggestions on other international places to retire.
For further reading:
Topretirements Country Guides to Retirement Abroad