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The Pros, Cons, and Considerations of an International Retirement

Category: International Retirement

Updated July 24, 2019 — (originally published April 23, 2013) — Notes: This is Part 2 of a series about International Retirements. Part 1 provided our list of the “10 Best International Places to Retire“. 

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 have relied heavily on the member Comments made to Part 1 of this series , and we invite others with experience to join in with additional Comments to this one. 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!

Note that in this section and in the Cons we have chosen a representative comment from a member. Know that 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.

Questions only you can answer
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.”

Places and countries we didn’t list, that others thought we should have
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.”

India (Pondicherry)

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.

Bottom Line
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. Ecuador, Panama, etc. 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

Posted by Admin on April 23rd, 2013


  1. I have been living in Chiang Mai, Thailand for six months now. Warm weather, very inexpensive, great food, friendly smiling people, and I am preparing to to leave. There is so much good about this place that it has been difficult for me to finally admit that this is not the place I want to spend the rest of my life. I do not fit in. I will never ever learn to speak Thai. As good as everything else is I do not want to feel isolated from everyone else around me, so I have to move on.

    Others have lived here for decades and still do not speak Thai. They are more adaptive than I am. Things like this you will not know until you give it a try.

    Best of luck to all of us trying the expat life. I am not sure where I am going from here but I am certain of I do not want to return to my home country.

    by dpcjsr — April 24, 2013

  2. I have lived overseas. If you are not flexible, you won’t like living overseas. There are no McDonald’s, Taco Bells and Pizza joints all over the place. If you want to eat out, get acquainted first with restaurant. In Tahiti, Chinese restaurants can fill you up handily, while tourists areas will pick your pocket. Your appetite might go nuts with the outdoors, and you’ll be hungry all the time. Just like any where, if you are not comfortable with where you are, leave. Don’t push it. I loved Tangier, Morocco, because I had access to Gibraltar. Personally I do not care for anything south of the border. When I was with State Department, send me anywhere but south of the border, and that was years ago. Nothing has changed my mind since then other than seeing that things have gotten worse in some places. If you can’t handle humidity, do a search to check average humidity ranges. If higher than what you can handle, don’t go there bag and baggage. If you still insist on going somewhere, do your homework with both eyes open.

    by Edward — April 29, 2013

  3. Long term travel may be the better option – keeping somewhere to come home to in the states in case you don’t enjoy living overseas.

    by Oakmonte Village — April 30, 2013

  4. There is an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal about an American couple who decided to retire in Israel. You can get a very informative feel for what that is like from the article

    by Topretirements editor — May 20, 2013

  5. RE: moving aboard. I have lived and worked in several countries and have now reached the conclusion that I would not be happy living abroad on a permanent basis. There are many adjustments and cultural aspects to consider when making such a move and one never truly fits into a foreign culture, from my experience. As Americans, we are always thought of as fat cats by the locals and often targets of opportunities for them. I agree with Oakmonte Village that long term travel and a home in an affordable area of the USA is a much better option.

    by Marilyn — June 7, 2013

  6. Living abroad is not for everyone. My wife and I have advanced educations and had excellent jobs for the USA while living on the economy in Germany. We loved most everything about our life there .. but … even though I had studied German for four years and could get by 90% of the time with locals (white collar) thinking I was German (so I could practice my German) … still … trying to converse about issues with someone on technical items (computers, utilities), mechanical (car or HVAC) was just about impossible, as their ‘blue collar’ people didn’t know much English and I couldn’t explain our problems well enough in German. Small things like this, as much as we would never trade back our time overseas, made us crave a less frustrating lifestyle.

    by High Yield Consultant — June 8, 2013

  7. This NY Times article is an excellent primer on what you need to consider about health care insurance when retiring abroad. This insurance is usually expensive and you will probably be rated for it individually.

    by Admin — February 23, 2014

  8. Do you have any articles or information on Latin American countries where US citizens/military retirees gravitate towards. I am interested in Central and South America.
    Thank you

    (this question came in from Alvin – can anyone help?)

    by Admin — December 8, 2016

  9. The website has a neat tool at the top under the “location advisor” tab whereby you plug in your preferences and it spits our areas in countries that match your criteria. For my wife and I it spit out Placencia/Ambergris Key in Belize and the Algarve southern coastal area in Portugal partly due to our not wanting to learn a new language.

    by dan — December 9, 2016

  10. I have been retired in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico for 5 years.
    These have been very good years with many friends and little crime.
    Good healthcare, cultural actives exceeding anywhere else I have lived. NYC, Chicago, Denver, Boulder, Aspen, and the Lost Angels area in So. CA. As an artist in Mexico, I have had shows and sold work here.

    Do not believe everything you hear or read. The news has it all wrong. Bad stuff happens anywhere and there is more crime and shooting deaths happening in the USA then almost any where else in this world.

    I joke with the police here often and they laugh like crazy. I don’t remember ever having a good time with a man in blue back in the states. Guns pointed at me and other negative stories of police harassment back in the good old USA. If you protest against the government like me, you may get hit with a club or have a gun put to your head. I did & I am not a felon. I used to be a teacher and I have raised three good kids. All have degrees & jobs.

    Enjoy the states if you are there.. It is beautiful with many great people. Pax always enjoy.

    Know when to hold and learn to fold. It has been pretty much good for me here. Better than back in the USA… especially Ventura, CA. the worse city in the world on my list! Just relax a little , be smart, & enjoy your travels…

    by michael pedziwiatr — June 18, 2017

  11. Hi Michael:

    I have a friend who just moved to San Miguel de Allende and she absolutely loves it. She bought a house but keeps a small studio apartment here in Washington, DC. I hope to visit her this summer. I know that to get residency status in Mexico, one must prove they at least make $2,000 per month so that there is no dependence on the state. I was also surprised to learn that Mexico has universal healthcare, a two tiered system, at a reasonable price. Many of their doctors were trained right here in the USA and then went back to Mexico to open top notch clinics. I also learned the climate is like San Diego–perfect all the time. I am eager to see this utopia! Please share more information on restaurants and cost of living.

    by Jennifer — June 19, 2017

  12. Does anyone know where you can move internationally and get residency status on less than $1500 monthly ??

    by mary11 — June 20, 2017

  13. Jennifer…MANY ex-pats in San Miguel de Allende……and a few years ago this city was voted the best city in the world for lifestyle.

    As far as medical….many Americans still comeback to the US for their medical. Though they do have some US trained doctors in Mexico, policies and restrictions for doctors and medical procedures are not the same as in the US. To tell you the truth, however….I am not happy with medical care HERE in the US…..but still considered more chancy to have medical procedures performed in Mexico.

    by Roberta Bengtson — June 20, 2017

  14. Roberta,’
    I would respectfully disagree about having medical procedures here in the USA over Mexico. There are good and bad doctors in all nations. I am a former RN and lived in Cairo, Egypt for six years or so. I have heard from quite a few Ex-pats who give the dentists and doctors in San Miguel rave reviews and the prices are MUCH less than here. The USA is no longer #1 in the World as far as healthcare and Medical Tourism is often paid for by our Insurance companies in the US. In Mexico there are two tiers of healthcare, of course we would want the best of those. I would also check the doctors ratings there just as I would here. You, as the consumer, should drive your healthcare no matter where you live–doctors are not Gods only trained professionals with a skill set. Check consumer ratings and prices. Many, many Americans go over the border into Mexico for procedures and healthcare. They have had good results and I have met them. I live in Washington, DC and lots of my neighbors who went to Mexico for retirement had been with the State Dept. since they have also lived abroad, I do listen to them.

    by Jennifer — June 21, 2017

  15. Hi – how far is any watet from San Miguel? Lakes, ocean etc. Also, how’s the humidity and bugs?

    by Michael — June 22, 2017

  16. I hear the humidity is very low and that since San Miguel is in the mountains that the temperatures are fairly pleasant–much like San Diego. It is 400 miles to the nearest beach.

    by Jennifer — June 23, 2017

  17. I’m looking forward to hearing your first hand impressions of the area if you are able to visit this summer, Jennifer. It sounds like a really great place.

    by Tessa — June 24, 2017

  18. Tessa, I am eager to see it first hand and will report back when I do. It does sound lovely.

    by Jennifer — June 24, 2017

  19. Reading all these posts about San Miguel has me interested. Have traveled a lot in Mexico and loved it but of course visiting a place and living there can be very different. The question I have is about healthcare: Do you buy medical insurance in Mexico since Medicare isn’t accepted there? If so, can anyone advise on how to get a cost estimate? Thanks!

    by Karen — June 27, 2017

  20. Hello Jennifer……thanks you for your response. I am well aware that physicians are not Gods..and one should research thoroughly whenever selecting a professional for medical or dental reasons.

    Medical may be better in areas like San Miguel…as there are so many ex-pats there……however I wonder if the better physicians are available to most people. In Costa Rica,for example, there are many good physicians…but they are difficult to get appointments with.

    I, also, have known several people to go to Mexico for medical services…none have had good results. I can only share
    what I have experienced and information I have gathered.

    I do know that several people I know in Mexico have gone to INDIA for hip replacements.

    Unfortunately, very true that the US no longer leads in medicine, and I am often very disappointed and frustrated by the medical services that I get here in the US. It seems like it is often too much to ask to get care that is acceptable…yet I am aware of no other country with possibly the exception on some of the European nations where excellent care may be readily available.

    I, too, have lived abroad and I have been in the travel industry for the past thirty years. While it is true that many counties have improved as far as medical facilities etc…and some are trying to develop medical tourism…it very much depends on what your specific needs are. Many diagnostic aids etc…readily available in the US may still be lacking in many foreign countries.

    Still very reluctant to have medical procedures in Mexico…as ex-pats I know living there still come back tot he US for medical.

    It is a problem… medical facilities are still very much a concern of mine in searching for a retirement location right here in the US.

    by Roberta Bengtson — August 25, 2017

  21. Good to hear from you Roberta. Since I was trained as an registered nurse and worked in surgery, internal medicine and oncology, I attempt use my knowledge as to what to look for and know the questions to ask. I have dealt with top notch docs from all over the world–many more compassionate than here in the USA and they earn much less income in their home countries. Canada has very good health care and I have heard good results from a business woman who lives in Arizona who could not afford health insurance. She went to Mexico, near Guadalajara and got a specialist to do a hysterectomy in a private clinic that serves upper class Mexican citizens, yet was more affordable than anything she could get here. In that clinic, the doctor stayed with her in her room for the first two nights post-op, she was attended to by well trained registered nurses, she was served fruit juice, freshly squeezed each day, from a variety of fruit, had wonderful meals and had a fantastic outcome.

    Many people just accept status quo, but one must be vigilant. I have heard of no bad outcomes from my friends in Mexico (does not mean it does not happen). My friend in San Miguel chose to renew her tourist visa last year–before her residency became permanent–she did have cataract surgery here in Washington DC–simply because she was here in Washington DC and knew the doctor was excellent.

    I myself do not trust traditional medicine–I have seen too many bad outcomes right here in the USA. I think we have to eat well, cut out the junk and take control of our bodies. Exercise, walk, do yoga, swim…anything to avoid going to a traditional physicians office and then being subjected to big pharma and drugs with horrible side effects.

    My husband was a surgeon an MD/P.H.d and was also a professor. He was shocked at the influences of the drug companies and hated battling the insurance companies. He saw that the right food was a good start towards good health and that alternative medicine was nothing to be afraid of. In Europe most of this is common knowledge. Since I have lived in Egypt and Europe as well as here in the USA. I have learned that we are brainwashed here and that we need to be open to other options for maximum health. I am ashamed that for a long time I had a superior attitude as a nurse that our way in the USA was the only way—it is not.

    by Jennifer — August 26, 2017

  22. Roberta,
    I, too, lived and worked overseas for an Aid org. Since aid isn’t needed in “First World” countries, I was in Central America, and later in South Africa. I had surgeries in both a knee and a hysterectomy. Both were successful. Minor complications with the knee and none with the hysterectomy.

    To Jennifer, In South Africa I found the medicine and recommendations more advanced than the USA. After taking a course of antibiotics I was told to take a course of probiotics to replace the gut bacteria that I had just killed with the antibiotics. I have yet to get this advice along with a non-Rx script of what to buy. Even now and I use a recognized university health system, no such recommendations.

    by shumidog — August 27, 2017

  23. Shumidog,

    As a surgical coordinator nurse with a large practice in Washington, DC, we did tell people to take probiotics after bowel resections and other surgical procedures if they were on any antibiotics. My surgeons had been trained in the USA, but three of the five had lived abroad and two had been in the armed services and had travelled with their careers internationally. You are probably right, and I am not surprised that more health care professionals do not recommend probiotics. The gut reflects the general health of the body and so it is really best to get it rebalanced ASAP. Yogurt, by the way is NOT the recommends method as it does not have nearly enough cultures to replace a gut that has been wiped clean. You can certainly eat yogurt, and it may help, but you need over the counter oral probiotics to do the job and replace the good bacteria needed for digestion and proper, normal elimination.

    by Jennifer — August 27, 2017

  24. We find Colombia medical and dental care superior and much less expensive than here. So much so it is cheaper to fly there, pay for hotel for a week and meals, the services and meds than to have it done here. Here lasik with super companyinsurance discount $1800 (versus regular $3800) is $300 in ultramodern facility for the same 20 sec. computer process. American meds run 1/6 – 1/10 the cost as CVS. Doctors will come to your home or hotel not running a cattle like operation with no personal attention of more than 6 minutes even with your “primary care” doctor you may not even see then only treating you for what they are seeing this week not diagnosing you and letting you take the time and pay for the visits and expensive tests and meds which may not be appropriate and require you to pay for follow-up visits tests and meds. until they get it right. My Effient went to $425 a month with good insurance versus $60 over the counter there in Bogota.

    Here my doctor went from 3600 patients and frustration not having time to give personal attention really helping people to now a boutique plan I pay $1500 a year for and he only has 650 patients and he knows of us each individually and no waiting auditorium or lines – immediate access for a minimum 30 minutes and not pill pushing but a personally tailored health pan. I even have his cell number for 24/7 access. It is a bargain rather than the shoddy care and needless expenses of conventional dollar chasing doctors.

    by RIchard Plocica — July 26, 2019

  25. Richard, Medical Tourism has been a very popular way to go for some time. Anyone who cares to can view the WHO (World Health Organizations) list and see that the USA is not the best in the world in healthcare as we have been led to believe. Being a former nurse this was a hard realization for me. I lived abroad as well and have seen it in action and would gladly travel in a non emergency situation to have health care elsewhere and my insurance would also pay for it. Many carriers do–check your health insurance policies. Why? Because it saves them money. I met two Americans on a flight home from Germany who had been to Romania for dental care and they paid very little for two crowns and dental cleanings, one person needed a root canal. All was done with NO anesthesia and the outcome was great and they were raving about how good their dental care was. For the cost of the trip and the dentist, they came out ahead of what they would be charged here in the USA.

    As of 2019, we here in the USA rank 37 in the world and Canada ranks 30! Columbia ranks 22. France ranks #1. Below is the link for reference for 2019.

    by Jennifer — July 27, 2019

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