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The Best Places to Retire Abroad in 2020

See what these two lists say and do your own homework

By Richard Eisenberg

Thinking of retiring abroad in 2020? Have you seen these headlines in recent months? “Death Toll in Chile Protests Since October Rises to 27,” “Nicaragua Has a Simple Message for Protesters: Don’t,” “Thousands Flee to Shore as Australia Fires Turn Skies Blood Red," “Hong Kong Protesters Return to Streets as New Year Begins,” “Strike Bites French Economy” and “Seven Days of Unrest and Counting: Thousands Stream Into Ecuador’s Capital.”

Best Places to Retire Abroad
Lisbon, Portugal  |  Credit: @sashapritchard via Twenty20

On the face of it, the news about these protests, strikes and fires might seem enough to keep you firmly planted in the United States for retirement (we never have such problems here, right?). But the truth is, no place in the world is immune from altercations or natural disasters. So, if you are considering retiring abroad, keep that in mind. Better yet, do your homework to learn about the pros and cons of potential locations.

One way to start is by poring through the Best Places to Retire Around the World lists just out from International Living (The World’s Best Places to Retire in 2020, which ranks 24 countries) and Live and Invest Overseas (World’s Top 10 Retirement Destinations for 2020), the two colossals on the subject. Both crunch numbers for key factors ranging from cost of living to health care to climate, though they often come up with different places.

"If a correspondent feels a place is not safe or secure, they'll tell us."

For 2020, however, both lists cite Portugal as No. 1; Live and Invest Overseas lists cities or regions, so its winner is actually the Algarve area of Portugal, for the fifth year running — and it’s now tied with Mazatlán, Mexico.

Another way to prepare for retirement abroad is to read stories with advice about such relocations; Next Avenue has published a bunch, and they’re noted at the end of this post.

Dan Prescher, an International Living editor who lives with his wife Suzan Haskins in Merida, Mexico, notes that his publication’s reporters around the world factor in safety when producing their annual rankings. “If a correspondent feels a place is not safe or secure, they’ll tell us,” he says.

So, protests aside, International Living believes its Top 10 places to retire abroad for 2020 — five in Latin America and Mexico; three in Europe and two in Asia — are safe for American expats. Two of them weren’t in its Top 10 in 2019: France and Vietnam (they’ve replaced Peru and Thailand).

The International Living Top 10 for 2020

1. Portugal

2. Panama

3. Costa Rica

4. Mexico

5. Colombia

6. Ecuador

7. Malaysia

8. Spain

9. France

10. Vietnam

The Live and Invest Overseas Top 10 for 2020

The Live and Invest Overseas Top 10 list for 2020 (five in Latin America and Mexico, four in Europe and one in Asia):

1. Algarve, Portugal

2. Mazatlán, Mexico

3. Cuenca, Ecuador

4. Valletta, Malta

5. Città Sant’ Angelo, Italy

6. Ambergris Caye, Belize

7. San Ignacio, Belize

8. Bled, Slovenia

9. Medellin, Colombia

10. Chiang Mai, Thailand

"Many of the new destinations are not well-known and not yet on the mainstream radar," says Kathleen Peddicord, author and publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, about her list.

Why Portugal Is No. 1


One reason Portugal rose to the top of the International Living list this year is that this ranking organization changed the way it scored countries for climate. “Countries with a range of climates were given more weight than just ones that are warm all-year-round,” says Prescher.

Portugal also “doesn’t seem to be going through the flips and twists that a lot of European economies have been going through," Prescher adds. “It’s incredibly affordable and not a basket case.” Portugal received the best International Living score for Housing, Health Care and Climate of all 24 countries ranked.

International Living’s Portugal correspondent, Tricia Pimental, says Portugal is the second least expensive country in Europe, after Bulgaria. Pimental and her husband spend about a third of what they did in the United States, adding that you can live a comfortable lifestyle in Portugal for about $2,500 a month. By contrast, International Living’s report says a couple can live in Mexico for $1,500 to $3,000 a month, depending on location.

Retiring in Panama

Panama, No. 2 on International Living’s list for 2020, frequently ranks at or near the top of its annual list. This year, it had the top scores in the categories of Retiree Benefits & Discounts, Visas & Residence and Opportunity (how well the local authorities support small business, whether it’s easy to work remotely and whether there’s a strong economy).

“Panama made residency a lot easier to get,” says Prescher, who describes the country as “a very cosmopolitan place” and with “a government as stable as governments in the Americas get.”

He adds: “They’ve standardized the amount needed for a retirement visa and an investment visa. It used to be a lot more complicated and costlier.” U.S. expats can get the “Friends of Panama” visa by having at least $5,000 in a Panama bank account, and either buying real estate, starting a business or getting a job in the country.

Retiring in France

France’s appearance on International Living’s Top 10 for 2020 may surprise you, considering the high cost of living in places like Paris and Lyon. Truth is, the country only scored a 66 out of 100 in the Cost of Living category.

“Yes, France can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be,” says Prescher. “You can live in the countryside very easily.” International Living’s France correspondent, Tulla Rampont, writes in her Best Places to Retire report that “outside of major cities like Paris and Lyon, rent is about a third of what I paid in California and so is my mortgage payment.” She manages an English-language school in Toulon, in the south of France.

Prescher offers a word to the wise about retiring to Mexico: “Health care is in flux there right now,” he says. “The country has plans to combine private health care and public health care so everyone has access to the same, affordable health care.” But no one knows when that will happen.

Retiring in Mexico

That said, according to the new book about boomer retirement in Mexico, The Fun Side of the Wall  by Travis Scott Luther, more than a million U.S. citizens currently live in Mexico and the country is the No. 1 nation for American expats. The most popular cities for them: Tijuana; San Miguel de Allende; Mexicali, Ensenada and Chapala. And, Luther notes, Puerto Vallarta, Merida and Tulum are growing fast as expat hotspots.

Luther writes that Americans considering retiring in Mexico need to prepare themselves for a slower pace of life, which has its pros and cons.

“A leisurely life may sound great when you decide to bury your watch in the sand and just lay on the beach until you feel like going home, but it might not be so great when you are waiting for someone to come repair your broken shower,” Luther says in the book.

Also, Luther notes, “for almost all Mexico boomers [from the U.S.], working in Mexico is impossible. Even if they wanted to pursue meaningful employment, they would be locked out due to residency or tax and benefit restrictions.”

Next Avenue Stories on Retiring Abroad

And for more advice about retiring abroad, check out these five Next Avenue articles:

Nuts and Bolts of Preparing to Retire Abroad

Want to Retire Abroad?” Answers to 14 FAQs

Is Retiring Abroad Right for You?"

How to Choose Your Ideal Place to Retire Abroad

4 Myths About Retiring Abroad"

Photograph of Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the former Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and former Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of "How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis" and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Read More
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