When it comes to the perfect overseas retirement destination, there's no single country best suited for the needs of every retiree. What thrills the heart of one would-be expat might be irrelevant to another. Still, there are five standouts that just might tip the scales by providing the best overall benefits to Americans interested in retiring abroad:
While Panama enjoys the same low cost of living and extraordinary weather as most of Latin America, it has one benefit that overshadows most of the perks of its nearby competitors: The Pensionado visa program for expats.
(MORE: Retiring in Latin America is Easier Than You May Think)
Introduced in 1987, this attractive package provides an array of discounts, including 50 percent off entertainment, 25 to 30 percent off travel, 30 to 50 percent off hotels and even 10 to 20 percent off health care. (To qualify, you must have monthly income of at least $1,000 for life from a guaranteed source, such as a pension or annuity, or income of at least $750 per month and a $100,000 minimum investment in Panamanian real estate.)
Speaking of health care, the options available in Panama are surprisingly good, particularly in Panama City. The hospitals are new and modern; many doctors are English-speaking and U.S.-trained.
Development in Panama has been booming in recent years. You’ll now find many gated communities and luxury developments.
Ecuador is alluring largely for its affordable cost of living. A couple can easily get by in this South American country for as little as $1,200 per month without compromising their lifestyle. Rent can run just $500 per month, whether you’re in a cottage near the beach or a condo near the heart of a quaint colonial city.
Other inexpensive amenities include phone/cable/internet bundles for $50 per month and domestic help for $200 per month.
Ecuador also uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, eliminating any concerns with exchange rates.
Everything else about the nation, however, is uniquely its own. Ecuador is especially well-known for hosting international art and music events.
Costa Rica appears on this list mainly for its rich quality of life. With beautiful scenery, a year-round tropical climate, friendly locals and a well-established expat community, this Central America country delivers the opportunity for retirees to live "la pura vida" — the pure life.
You can choose from a variety of retirement living options in Costa Rica, ranging from a laid-back coastal existence in tiny Nosara to all the modern conveniences near the inland capital of San Jose.
Costa Rica also has an attractive pensioner's program. The country’s cost of living isn’t the lowest in Central America, but it’s still a fraction of what you’d pay in the U.S.
The nation’s excellent health care and many other benefits explain its long-standing reputation as one of the world's best places to retire.
Often touted as Asia's Panama, Malaysia has low living costs, retirement benefits and quality health care that are much like the country’s Central American competitors. It's also safer.
This nation in Southeast Asia, known for its phenomenal food, also extends options that are a bit more exotic that what you’d find in Latin America. Its forests, for example, are home to exotic species of monkeys and other animals.
Malaysia’s government has declared the nation to be on track to become a "first world" country by 2020, so additional airports will likely appear in the near future.
One of the greatest things about Nicaragua, a Central American country just to the north of Costa Rica and Panama, is that it's still relatively off the radar of many travelers and retirees. As the country continues to attract tourists and expats, its list of amenities is likely to keep growing.
Among the least expensive places to live in Latin America, Nicaragua is also one of the safest.
If you’re looking for first-world comforts, exciting culture and nature adventures, the colonial city of Granada is an ideal place to live. Other areas of Nicaragua offer all the conveniences retirees look for against the backdrop of beautiful natural wonders.
The secret of enjoying a wonderful retirement here won’t last long.