The Top 10 Places to Retire Abroad Right Now
One new list says look south; another picks a region in Europe
It’s that time of year when magazines and TV news shows serve up their “New Year, New You!” reinvention advice. But how about New Year, New Country? If you’re contemplating retiring abroad, you’ll want to know the Top 10 places just recommended by International Living and Live and Invest Overseas, two experts on the subject.
Their choices are starkly different.
International Living (IL) ranks Panama as No. 1 and its Top 10 tilts toward countries in Central America and South America.
Live and Invest Overseas, which selects cities and regions rather than countries, cites the beachy, peachy Algarve region of Portugal as No. 1 (Portugal was the highest ranked European nation on the IL list, at No. 7). The Live and Invest Top 10 leans Pisa-style: European. I’d venture to say many of the Live and Invest Overseas places are ones you don’t know and maybe don’t know how to pronounce; I confess that was the case for me.
Let me tell you which places each of the retiring abroad experts picked and why:
The International Living Top 10 for 2019
- Costa Rica
The Live and Invest Overseas Top 10 for 2019
- The Algarve, Portugal
- Annecy, France
- Bled, Slovenia
- Canggu, Bali
- Cascais, Portugal
- Città Sant’Angelo, Italy
- Cuenca, Ecuador
- Da Lat, Vietnam
- Da Nang, Vietnam
- Fortaleza, Brazil
Inside the International Living Retire Abroad List
To compile its list, International Living gathered data for 25 countries in 13 categories, from climate to cost of living to health care. The goal: finding safe, good-value destinations where a retired couple can live on about $1,800 or less a month. This year’s ranking — IL’s 28 — included a new category: Opportunity.
“That’s a reflection of the fact that a lot of people at retirement age just aren’t retiring anymore,” said Dan Prescher, an International Living editor based in Ecuador. “They may have something they’ve always wanted to do or want to supplement their income. So business opportunities are now high on everyone’s radar.”
Panama, in Central America, scored quite well in the Opportunity category, as it did in six others. “Panama is a great place to do business,” said Prescher. “It’s a world center of commerce. The infrastructure is good. If you want to start your own business, it’s an easy place to do it.” The economy there is booming and taxes are low, too.
Panama — which is IL's No. 1 for the 10 time — also nabbed the highest score for the ability of Americans to get visas (the program is called the Pensionado) and for the category of benefits and discounts for expat retirees. According to International Living, expat retirees get 25 percent off the cost of electricity and phone bills and pay half price for entertainment. Plus the nation's affordable health care comes with an additional 20 percent discount for expat retirees who typically pay about $3,000 a year for coverage (about one-fifth what they would in the U.S.) with a $250 deductible.
Two other winning features for Panama expat retirees, according to International Living: 1) the weather is warm, but the country is outside the hurricane belt and 2) the currency is the U.S. dollar.
Prescher suggests Americans considering retiring abroad keep an eye on No. 3, Mexico, this year. “There’s a new president,” Prescher noted.
Mexico achieved high scores in five categories and was tied with Thailand (new to the Top 10) for the best in the Top 10 in the category of entertainment and amenities. Other pluses for Mexico: English is widely spoken in expat centers; it’s easy to get there from the U.S. and, International Living’s report notes, the country “offers some of the best weather in the world.”
No. 9 Thailand, Prescher noted, “is amazingly affordable,” “a beautiful country” and stable, quiet and exotic.” International Living says a modern studio apartment there can rent for as little as $400 a month. Growing numbers of expats are retiring to Thailand, according to International Living. “A lot of those are Australians,” said Prescher, which means English is “not an unfamiliar language.”
Inside the Live and Invest Overseas Retire Abroad List
Live and Invest Overseas changed its methodology this year, too. In the past, its list tended to be subjective — reflecting the personal views of founder Kathleen Peddicord and her team of globetrotting correspondents. Not this time.
For the 2019 ranking, Editor in Chief Kaitlin Kalashian and her colleagues graded 21 destinations (including 10 new ones) in Latin America, Europe and Asia on 14 criteria. Unlike International Living, Live and Invest Overseas does not look at job prospects or the ability to start a business.
Panama wasn’t one of the places Live and Invest Overseas rated this year. “We thought: ‘We’ve covered many Panama cities and towns there in earlier indexes. Let’s try out a new part of Panama this year (the Azuero coast). Unfortunately, it didn’t make the cut,” said Peddicord. “It got an honorable mention.”
Live and Invest Overseas’ updated methodology had a big impact on which places rose to the Top 10 for 2019; eight were new to the winner’s circle.
“Normally, we end up with more destinations in Latin America because it’s accessible and it can be sunny, warm and affordable — prime criteria for Americans going to another country,” said Peddicord. “But this year, our Top 10 list is very Europe-heavy. That’s because Europe right now is a relative bargain and the dollar remains very strong. You can take a certain level of comfort and convenience for granted in Europe and right now you can afford it.”
Bargain time in places like Portugal, France and Italy likely won’t last, though. “We see a window of opportunity for Americans interested in this type of adventure, but not the developing world, at this time of their life,” said Peddicord.
A prime reason the Portugal’s southernmost region outflanked last year’s winner, Lisbon, which is located about 170 miles north? Its lower cost of living.
Three other pluses for the Algarve, according to Live and Invest Overseas: safety; terrific year-round weather (3,000 hours of sunshine annually) and areas where you can get by on English alone. A retired couple can live on the Algarve coast on as little as $1,700 a month, says Live and Invest Overseas; International Living calls Portugal’s cost of living is the lowest in Western Europe.
The Live and Invest Overseas editors are keen on Portugal, in general, for expat retirees because of its Golden Visa program for “easy residency.”
And here’s a peek into the three runners-up in the Live and Invest Overseas Top 10 for 2019:
Annecy, France (new this year): This French tourist destination is “right next to well-known Alpine ski reports,” said Kalashian. “It’s an amazing city for architecture and culture. It’s not a ski town for the sake of being a ski town.” One caveat: “Most people have decent English, but it is still France, so they’re less inclined to not speak their own language,” said Kalashian.
Bled, Slovenia (called by Live and Invest Overseas a safe, four-season, “picturesque mountain town,” in a country that’s east of Italy, south of Austria and north of Croatia): “It’s so unknown and undervalued within the context of Europe,” said Kalashian. “I don’t think you’ll ever see a place more aptly described as looking like a fairy tale. It’s like the Disney set from Frozen, and the summer is just as beautiful without the snow.” Bled, known for its legendary hot springs with healing properties, is the biggest destination for Slovenian tourists in the country, which means it has excellent roads and infrastructure. English is widely spoken.
Canggu, Bali (pronounced chang-gu) A Live and Invest Overseas correspondent calls this residential Indonesian coastal resort village “the Brooklyn of Bali,” because it’s so trendy and hip. “It’s a great place for digital nomads,” said Kalashian. English is spoken here, too.
One Tip Before Retiring Abroad
Before moving to any foreign country in retirement, though, take a tip from expat Marc Miller — the Careerpivot.com creator who recently moved with his wife from Austin, Texas to Ajijic, Mexico.
“Find an expat online community where you can ask questions,” said Miller. “Many potential expats do not ask enough questions and make assumptions that are flatly incorrect. You can get almost every question answered through these communities.”