10 Best Foreign Countries for Retirement: 2017

International Living ranked the top retirement destinations based on cost of living, health care and more

Where can retirees live and get the most bang for their buck?

International Living has released its annual Global Retirement Index for 2017.

Several locations on this year’s list have become more attractive thanks to a strong dollar, according to Eoin Bassett, International Living's editorial director.

Spain, Malta and Portugal have become “even more appealing" destinations heading into 2017 with the strength of the dollar against the euro, Bassett told ThinkAdvisor.

"This has increased the spending power of U.S. citizens in the 'Old World,'" he said.

ThinkAdvisor highlighted the 10 best from this year’s index, which ranked retirement destinations in the world in 10 categories: buying and renting property, benefits and discounts, visas and residence, cost of living, fitting in, entertainment and amenities, health care, healthy lifestyle, infrastructure and climate.

To do this, International Living uses an extensive network of editors, correspondents, contributors and contacts based around the world to amass information, data and insights.

While the rankings in the Annual Global Retirement Index are largely subjective, as much available hard data as possible also goes into analysis of each destination. Climate data, on-the-ground surveys of current pricing for groceries and day-to-day expenditures, local taxes, real estate prices, visa requirements, costs of specific medical procedures, and much more are all incorporated into index rankings.

The key aim of the Index is to help retirees find locations where their dollar goes further — where they can get the best bang for their buck in terms of real estate, cost of living and overall quality of life.

Looking at the overall scores on this year’s index, the top three retirement destinations on the index are separated by just three-tenths of a point. The winner this year has been a presence on the list for quite some time. 

(For last year’s rankings, check out 15 Best Foreign Countries for Retirement: 2016.)

Based on International Living’s months of research, these are the top 10 retirement destinations in 2017:

(Photos courtesy of International Living.)

10. Malta - Malta’s compact size doesn’t detract from the marvelous lifestyle it offers.

Final score: 81.7

  • Buying & renting score: 79
  • Benefits & discounts score: 71
  • Visas & residence score: 76
  • Cost of living score: 77
  • Fitting in score: 92
  • Entertainment & amenities score: 85
  • Health care score: 85
  • Healthy lifestyle score: 79
  • Infrastructure score: 90
  • Climate score: 83

For a Mediterranean island, the cost of living on Malta is remarkably reasonable. 

According to International Living correspondent Barbara Diggs, “A couple can live here comfortably for less than $2,700 per month. You can rent a two-bedroom apartment in Sliema, one of Malta’s most lively cities, for about $800 per month. Your rent could be as low as $600 per month in the countryside in Gozo. A pleasant dinner out can cost as little as $25 per person, including a glass of local wine.”

International Living also finds that health care is another major plus to retiring in Malta. The cost of private health insurance is far lower than in the U.S.

“Even if you have a basic hospitalization plan, prices are so low in Malta that you can cover the cost of doctor’s visits and medications out-of-pocket,” according to International Living. “For example, a general practitioner visit usually costs around $20 while a specialist may cost $65.”

9. Portugal - Portugal may have an Atlantic coastline, but its lifestyle is classic Mediterranean. 

Final score: 83.1

  • Buying & renting score: 84
  • Benefits & discounts score: 72
  • Visas & residence score: 76
  • Cost of living score: 82
  • Fitting in score: 85
  • Entertainment & amenities score: 80
  • Health care score: 84
  • Healthy lifestyle score: 90
  • Infrastructure score: 95
  • Climate score: 83

International Living cites Portugal’s low cost of living and real estate as some of the reasons for its growing popularity among retirees.

According to International Living Editor Glynna Prentice, “A couple can live well on as little as $1,700 a month, including rent, in many smaller cities, and from about $2,200 a month in Lisbon, the capital.”

While language may be a concern for those looking to retire in Portugal, International Living finds that English is widely spoken both among the large population of British expats and the Portuguese.

“So while it’s a good idea to learn some Portuguese if you plan to retire here, you can generally get by in English,” according to International Living. “And Portugal’s friendly locals help make life here extremely pleasant.”

8. Nicaragua - Constantly developing, Nicaragua has grown to become a great, low-cost retirement destination.

Final score: 83.6

  • Buying & renting score: 97
  • Benefits & discounts score: 69
  • Visas & residence score: 72
  • Cost of living score: 97
  • Fitting in score: 84
  • Entertainment & amenities score: 85
  • Health care score: 80
  • Healthy lifestyle score: 97
  • Infrastructure score: 73
  • Climate score: 82

Nicaragua has changed greatly over the last decade – for the better, according to International Living. Pockmarked roads have turned into smooth highways, and renewable energy windmills dot the southern countryside. 

So if you’re considering retiring in Nicaragua, just know that each year the infrastructure improves, the chocolate and coffee wins global awards, there’s great health care, wonderful people, less stress, no traffic jams, and a couple on a budget can live here for $1,500 a month,” according to International Living.

According to International Living, it doesn’t take long to get your resident’s card, and it’s easy for expats to open businesses. Many find that when they open a business they make a U.S. profit, but in a country where their costs are a fraction of what they are back home, allowing for a superior lifestyle.

7. Spain - Spain offers some of the lowest-cost First-World living in Europe.

Final score: 84.8

  • Buying & renting score: 85
  • Benefits & discounts score: 71
  • Visas & residence score: 70
  • Cost of living score: 78
  • Fitting in score: 88
  • Entertainment & amenities score: 90
  • Health care score: 89
  • Healthy lifestyle score: 90
  • Infrastructure score: 98
  • Climate score: 89

Spain’s miles of beaches, the warm climate along its coasts, its low cost of living and real estate, and its relaxed, laidback lifestyle all help to make it a top retirement destination, according to International Living.

According to International Living, Spain offers some of the lowest-cost First-World living in Europe. 

International Living Editor Glynna Prentice says that: “In Spain, a couple can comfortably get by in smaller cities from as little as $1,900 a month, including rent. Small one- and two-bedroom apartments can be rented from as little as $500 a month, and can be bought from about $70,000.”

Daily living expenses, especially food, are also low-cost, International Living finds.

6. Malaysia - Malaysia’s modern cities, great health care and friendly people make it an ideal retirement haven.

Final score: 87

  • Buying & renting score: 89
  • Benefits & discounts score: 70
  • Visas & residence score: 85
  • Cost of living score: 87
  • Fitting in score: 93
  • Entertainment & amenities score: 95
  • Health care score: 97
  • Healthy lifestyle score: 92
  • Infrastructure score: 89
  • Climate score: 73

Malaysian cities are clean and modern, its public transport unrivaled, and its people the friendliest in Asia. And while other Asian countries offer great budget holidays, and some offer first-class vacations, Malaysia manages to cater extraordinarily well to both.

Malaysia is one of only three countries in Asia (Singapore and Hong Kong are the other two) where people can buy property freehold, and they don’t need to be living there to do it.

“When you arrive in the country you’ll be given a three-month visa, and if you decide to buy while you are here, you can,” according to International Living.

A low cost of living and excellent health care also help make Malaysia a great retirement haven.

“Malaysia has some of the best-trained doctors in Asia, and most have learned their profession in the U.S. or the U.K. They all speak English, too, which is a huge plus,” according to International Living Malaysia correspondent Keith Hockton.

5. Colombia - Expats are flocking to Colombia for its excellent health care, low cost of living and temperate climate.

Final score: 87.7

  • Buying & renting score: 89
  • Benefits & discounts score: 66
  • Visas & residence score: 79
  • Cost of living score: 93
  • Fitting in score: 85
  • Entertainment & amenities score: 94
  • Health care score: 94
  • Healthy lifestyle score: 95
  • Infrastructure score: 91
  • Climate score: 91

Colombia has excellent health care, a diverse and temperate climate, and is low cost, according to International Living.

This beautiful setting and exciting lifestyle also come at an affordable price.

According to International Living’s Colombia correspondent Nancy Kiernan, “An expat living in Medellín’s upscale El Poblado neighborhood pays about $1,250 a month to rent a three-bedroom high-rise apartment, however there is a very wide range of prices available throughout the city beginning around $500.”

Another plus, according to International Living, is that Columbia is close to home. It’s in the Eastern time zone and only a three-hour flight to Florida.

 

4. Costa Rica - An expat haven for over 30 years, Costa Rica is still as popular as ever with North Americans.

Final score: 87.9

  • Buying & renting score: 89
  • Benefits & discounts score: 78
  • Visas & residence score: 85
  • Cost of living score: 80
  • Fitting in score: 90
  • Entertainment & amenities score: 93
  • Health care score: 96
  • Healthy lifestyle score: 97
  • Infrastructure score: 87
  • Climate score: 84

Costa Rica has been hosting retirees and other expats for more than 30 years, according to International Living. And, because expats have been living here for so long, it’s an easy transition.

Getting residence is a straightforward process in Costa Rica. For retirees, the pensionado program requires an income of $1,000 per month from Social Security, a pension, disability or another similar source. That covers the applicant and a dependent spouse.

Another major benefit of Costa Rica is the lower cost of living.

“For between $2,000 and $3,000 per month, a retired couple can live well and cover all expenses without scrimping,” says International Living’s Latin America editor Jason Holland. “For example, you can fill your fridge with fresh produce from farmers’ markets for about $35 per week … property taxes are just 0.25% of the home’s assessed value … a decent meal at a local restaurant will run you $5 per plate … and rents start at $400 per month for fully furnished condos or homes in nice areas.”

3. Ecuador - Excellent weather, affordable living and great retiree benefits make Ecuador hard to beat.

Final score: 90.7

  • Buying & renting score: 97
  • Benefits & discounts score: 99
  • Visas & residence score: 82
  • Cost of living score: 83
  • Fitting in score: 89
  • Entertainment & amenities score: 89
  • Health care score: 87
  • Healthy lifestyle score: 92
  • Infrastructure score: 89

Climate score: 100

Ecuador has been at the top of International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index for a long time.

Ecuador comes out on top for its affordability and availability of real estate to rent or buy, which can mean significant long-term savings for anyone making Ecuador their permanent or semi-permanent residence, according to International Living.

The country also offers great retiree benefits.

“Over-65s get discounts on flights originating in Ecuador, as well as up to 50% off entry to movies and sporting events,” International Living reports. “Discounts are also available on public transport (50%) and utilities, with the option of a free landline if you purchase a property.”

Also, once you get here you won’t have any problems getting to know your neighbors.

According to International Living Senior Editor Dan Prescher, “Thanks to growing expat communities in several of Ecuador’s most popular destinations, fitting in once you arrive is remarkably easy, and the infrastructure in those destinations ranks near the top as well.”

2. Panama - With cosmopolitan cities, pristine beaches and verdant highlands, Panama has a lot to offer, including its famed pensionado (retirement) program, which is one of the best in the world.

Final score: 90.8

  • Buying & renting score: 87
  • Benefits & discounts score: 100
  • Visas & residence score: 96
  • Cost of living score: 82
  • Fitting in score: 90
  • Entertainment & amenities score: 93
  • Health care score: 89
  • Healthy lifestyle score: 93
  • Infrastructure score: 89
  • Climate score: 89

International Living describes Panama as modern, comfortable and tolerant. The ease of living often draws retirees here, according to International Living.

As International Living Panama Editor Jessica Ramesch explains, “With top-notch cellular and internet connections, Panama offers a user-friendly and familiar environment you may not have expected to find in the warm, sunny tropics. It’s a big reason why Panama regularly scores so highly in International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index.”

In terms of retiree benefits, Panama’spensionado program makes it easy for foreign retirees to obtain residence, as well as offers a wide range of discounts. According to International Living, a resident pensionado can save 10% to 50% on travel, health care, hotels and restaurants.

1. Mexico - One million U.S. expats are already living the dream in Mexico, International Living’s top retirement haven in 2017. The cost of living is great — expats report living well for as little as $1,200 a month — and has gotten even better with the weakening of the peso against the dollar in recent years.

Final score: 90.9

  • Buying & renting score: 94
  • Benefits & discounts score: 88
  • Visas & residence score: 91
  • Cost of living score: 89
  • Fitting in score: 91
  • Entertainment & amenities score: 97
  • Health care score: 91
  • Healthy lifestyle score: 88
  • Infrastructure score: 90
  • Climate score: 90

For the past 14 years, Mexico has consistently ranked in International Living’s top 10 retirement destinations on the planet. And this year — for the fifth time — it takes the top spot once again.

According to International Living, Mexico offers arguably the easiest transition to expat life: low cost, conveniently close, friendly locals and plenty of expats.

The cost of living also offers extraordinary value — expats report living well for as little as $1,200 a month. And with favorable currency rates, right now the U.S. dollar buys nearly 50% more than it did just a few short years ago.

According to International Living’s Latin America Editor Jason Holland, who lives on the Riviera Maya, there are first-rate hospitals throughout Mexico.

“Even paying cash at private facilities costs a fraction of what it would in the U.S. Most doctors have received at least part of their training in the U.S. or Europe … and many speak English,” according to Holland.

For retirees worried about fitting in, International Living reports that English is widely spoken in popular expat spots like Lake Chapala and the Riviera Maya.

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