If you’re thinking about retiring in another country, you’ll want to take a look at the latest ranking of "The World’s Top Retirement Havens
" from International Living, a respected magazine and website. You might even want to enter International Living’s “Win Your Dream Retirement Overseas” competition, where the winner will get a free month soaking up life in this year’s No. 1 country: Ecuador.
While five of this year’s Top 10 “retirement havens” are in Latin America, only one European country made the cut. The winners, in descending order: Ecuador, Panama, Mexico, Malaysia, Colombia, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Spain, Thailand and Honduras.
To rank the countries, International Living focused on places offering the best value. “If you had $20,000 a month to retire on, you could live lavishly pretty much anywhere,” executive editor Jennifer Stevens says. But International Living wanted to find places where “you have a maid clean for you, have great health care, eat well, and enjoy the finer things in life, all for less than $2,000 a month.”
The winners were chosen based on scores in eight categories: The cost of real estate, special benefits for retirees, the overall cost of living, the ease of integration, entertainment and amenities, health care, retirement infrastructure and climate.
But the editors changed their methodology a bit this year. “We relied less on what are notoriously unreliable statistics and more on real-world experiences on the ground, on what we know to be true about a place — from our own editors, contributors, and friends living there full-time,” Stevens says.
Ecuador topped the list for the fourth time, scoring highly in every category and beating out all other countries in real estate and cost of living. In Ecuador, “A couple can live comfortably for less than $1,500 a month, including rent,” Stevens says. “A good meal out for two costs $25 or less — sometimes much less.” (No country is perfect, of course. Ecuador's wages are low and its president has closed or seized local TV stations and filed criminal libel charges against one of the country's newspapers.)
To enter the competition
to win a free month in the colonial university town of Cuenca, Ecuador, plus airfare and $1,500 of spending money (for you and a friend or spouse), you must be an American or Canadian of retirement age (or close to it) and agree to write about your experience. You’ll also need to post a video to YouTube explaining why you’d like to retire overseas and spend a month in Ecuador. You must submit an entry form by midnight Eastern time on March 15, 2012.
Keep in mind that retiring abroad has its share of challenges — international tax issues, local red tape, currency fluctuations and language barriers, to name a few. Ben Steverman of Bloomberg News wrote an excellent cautionary piece
that’s worth reading for anyone considering going global in retirement.
Before making the big move, do your homework. Look for online forums and “expat blogs,” Stevens says. Recent arrivals are often happy to answer questions and share insights.
And don’t settle in anywhere until you’ve tried out the location temporarily, by renting a place abroad for a month or two. You might even want to visit a few countries and spend time in each. “In the end, it’s often not logic that drives people’s decisions about where they retire, as much as the feel of a place,” she says.