I’m always curious to see the latest best places in the world to retire rankings from expat experts. But I have to tell you: Some of the Top 10 spots on the new 2016 Retire Overseas Annual Index, from Live and Invest Overseas, made my head spin like a globe.
No. 2, Valletta, Malta? (Could you find it on a map?) No. 5, Ljubljana, Slovenia? (Could you spell it? Pronounce it?) No. 6, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia? (Same questions; pardon my provincialism.)
I suppose part of the fun of dreaming about far-flung places to retire is learning about ones that are unfamiliar. On that score, the Live and Invest Overseas folks have a winning list. And it’s worth noting that this year’s No. 1 place, the scenic beachfront region of Algarve, Portugal, often shows up on great places to retire lists. (It was No. 1 on Live and Invest Overseas’ 2015 and 2014 lists, too.)
Sometimes, places bubble up because they become more affordable. That’s one reason why four European spots and two Mexican areas made the 2016 Top 10.
Below is the Top 10 list, followed by an explanation of how the creators came up with it; you can read about each place in the slideshow at the bottom. You’ll note that four in the Top 10 are in Europe, three are in North America and the Caribbean (two of those are in Mexico); two others are in Central America (both in Belize) and one’s in Asia. And nearly all are not just peachy, according to Live and Invest Overseas, but beachy.
No. 1: Algarve, Portugal
No. 2: Valletta, Malta
No. 3: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
No. 4: Cayo, Belize
No. 5: Ljubljana, Slovenia (pronounced LOO-blee-ah-na)
No. 6: Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia (pronounced Ko-tah Kin-a-BA-lu)
No. 7: Playa del Carmen, Mexico
No. 8: Crete, Greece
No. 9: Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic
No. 10: Ambergris Caye, Belize
The way author, entrepreneur and international retirement expert Kathleen Peddicord and her Live and Invest Overseas team come up with their annual ranking is part objective, part subjective. They gather local data in 12 categories (from climate to taxes to health care to cost of living to entertainment to existing expat community), weighted equally, and get on-the-ground opinions from correspondents; this year’s list has 21 winners overall.
“Algarve and Valletta check all the boxes,” says Lief Simon, the Live and Invest Overseas real estate editor who’s also Peddicord’s husband.
Why Algarve and Valletta Are Tops
Peddicord says Algarve has “everything the would-be retiree could want — great weather, an established and welcoming expat community, top-notch health care, an extremely affordable cost of living (a retired couple could live comfortably on as little as $1,400 per month), undervalued and bargain-priced property buys, including right on the ocean, a great deal of English spoken thanks to the longstanding British presence, First World infrastructure and easy access both from the United States to and from all Europe.”
Valletta, Malta, according to Live and Invest Overseas is “quintessential Mediterranean Europe — from its weather and food to its history and culture.”
Sometimes, places bubble up on the Live and Invest Overseas list in a given year because they’ve become more affordable. That’s one reason why four European spots — and two Mexican areas — made the 2016 Top 10.
“The strong dollar is helping from a budget perspective. That helped bring Europe back into the mix,” says Simon. “People think, ‘I can’t afford to retire there, but the Euro has been about a buck ten for the last year or so, which is much more affordable than if it was a buck sixty.”
In fact, Simon says, the current currency exchange rate is so favorable to Americans, you might want to “buy a retirement home in Europe now. Then your real estate costs are locked in and you can create a buffer should the currency go against you.”
Why Places Drop Off the List
Sometimes, popular expat spots don’t make the cut because they’ve grown expensive. It’s why Cuenca, Ecuador isn’t on the 2016 list, for example.
And sometimes, tweaks in the methodology either boost or nick potential retirement locales around the world.
I wondered, though, how the new list could be so different from the one Live and Invest Overseas published in January 2016, where Medellin, Colombia; Pau, France; Abruzzo, Italy; George Town, Malaysia and Chiang Mai, Thailand were in the Top 10, but the current list’s Valletta, Ljubljana, Kota Kinabalu, Playa del Carmen, Crete and Ambergris Caye were not.
Peddicord’s explanation: The January list consisted of her personal picks; the new list, which is described in great detail in a Live and Invest Overseas 211-page report, comes from her data crunchers and correspondents.
“This is much more data intensive,” Peddicord notes. “We invest months of research and have dozens of editors and researchers involved.”
One thing to keep in mind, says Simon: “No place anywhere is perfect.” Even some of this year’s Top 10 places scored low in certain categories. Valletta, the report notes, has poor air quality; the two Belize communities get D’s for health care and Kota Kinabalu scores a D+ for infrastructure.
And, of course, the factors that matter to you in choosing a place to retire might not match with what the number crunchers looked at. With those caveats, happy retirement home hunting!