Craving a touch of excitement when you leave the workplace for good?
Needing a place where retirement money will stretch a bit farther while still allowing you a piña colada on a sunny beach every now and then?
Or maybe you have a craving for some peace and quiet far away from the madding crowd, where you can paint landscapes or sketch ancient temples or even wander through jungles seeking strange species of animals or plants.
Well, look no further, because the kind folks at Live and Invest Overseas have come up with what they say are the 12 best countries in which to retire—if you’re determined not to stay in the good old U.S. of A.
Among the amenities boasted by these locations are those sunny beaches, skiing, restaurants in which to laze away the hours over exotic cuisine, and places where you can tend your own olive trees.
Here’s a look at this delectable dozen.
1. Algarve, Portugal
Not only is Algarve the top finisher among choice ex-U.S. retirement spots, it’s won Live and Invest Overseas’ top spot for the third year in a row.
What makes it so attractive?
Lots of things, including the “low cost of living, low cost of real estate, great weather, established expat community, user-friendly and low-cost retiree residency program” and the ability to get along in English rather than have to polish up one’s foreign language skills.
That cost of living runs 30 percent lower than anywhere else on the European continent, and a weak euro coupled with low real estate costs mean “a retired couple could live here comfortably on a budget of as little as $1,500 per month.”
2. Cayo, Belize
Both Central American and Caribbean in flavor, Cayo also offers English speakers lots of incentives—although infrastructure isn’t one of them, since it’s “most kindly referred to as ‘developing,’” according to LIO.
But if you’ve a mind to run a post-retirement business, you can do it here tax free—or, on the other hand, you can wander the rivers and the rainforest.
Just bear in mind that if you want more than the basics, your otherwise-low cost of living will go up substantially—since anything not grown or produced locally will cost you big time.
3. Medellín, Colombia
Yes, you read that correctly. Formerly the haven of drug kingpins, Medellín has undergone a renaissance that’s resulted in the title of Most Innovative City in 2012 from no less an authority than The Wall Street Journal.
It boasts literary and artistic delights and excellent medical care in a climate that requires neither heating nor air conditioning—thus keeping utility costs down.
A favorable exchange rate means that “[i]t’s possible today to enjoy a luxury-level retirement … on even a modest retirement budget.”
4. Pau, France
Pau, in the Basque region, offers more than just ambiance.
With spectacular scenery, culture, and cuisine that are unique to the region, and France’s health care—according to the World Health Organization, the best in the world—Pau offers retirees low-cost living that still provides sunny beaches on the Atlantic, surfing (think Biarritz) and the chance to visit Paris without crossing either a continent or an ocean.
5. Abruzzo, Italy
Picture the open-air markets at which you buy locally produced wines and fresh foods—or the restaurants that will tempt you to try all sorts of local specialties.
Couple that with a low cost of living, beaches for sunbathing and mountains for skiing, and it’s hard to envision a more delightful place to spend one’s retirement years.
LIO estimates that, even including rent, a couple could retire here on $2,000 a month or less.
6. George Town, Malaysia
If you want to venture really far afield, consider George Town, the capital of Penang in Malaysia.
Kind immigration laws, combined with a culture that can offer you exposure to Chinese and Indian neighborhoods as well as Malaysian, in a city that began its life as a British colonial outpost some two centuries ago, can provide enough variety to satisfy even the most adventurous retiree.
Food is both inexpensive and delicious, with average—not upscale—restaurants able to feed you well for $3 per person, and other costs are low as well, meaning retirees can enjoy the exotisme of their surroundings without going broke.
7. Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic
Caribbean beaches and a low cost of living mean that retirees can enjoy life here “even if your retirement nest egg is nothing more than a monthly Social Security check,” according to LIO.
If your resources amount to more than that, “island-hopping around the Caribbean could be your new retirement hobby from this convenient base.”
But you might not want to leave home once you get there; not only are the laws friendly to residents—offering local home financing, the ability to import household goods and a car tax free, and citizenship qualification (and thus a second passport), higher education costs are assessed in pesos for residents but dollars for nonresidents.
And establishing residency is easy.
8. Cuenca, Ecuador
This reasonably priced city will not only offer one of the lowest costs of living in the Americas, retirees will find that they can walk to many locations and perhaps be spared the expense of owning a car.
Add to that a temperate climate, inexpensive high-quality health care, cheap real estate and a Spanish colonial atmosphere, and you have an attractive option for retirement.
9. Chiang Mai, Thailand
If you yearn for beaches, mountains, and jungles, but also think you might want to be able to supplement your retirement income—or just want to involve yourself in your retirement home’s daily life—you should consider Chiang Mai.
Thailand offers a very low cost of living and is very friendly to foreigners, and Chiang Mai has excellent health care facilities and services, making it an easy choice as a retirement destination.
10. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
While it’s not as cheap as it once was, Puerto Vallarta still has a lot going for it—particularly beach living on the Pacific coast.
It’s actually more of a luxury destination, with golf, marinas and a cosmopolitan atmosphere—yet still more affordable than a comparable luxury destination elsewhere.
But be warned: Social Security alone won’t cut it here. Reasonable though it may be for a luxury retirement home, Puerto Vallarta will require you to have a budget that’s a bit bigger than that.
11. Granada, Nicaragua
Picture owning a Spanish colonial home with high ceilings and center courtyard for only $40,000.
That’s just one lure that Granada offers.
A walkable city that is both atmospheric and picturesque, Granada is kind to the pocketbook, with retiree couples able to enjoy local restaurants and other amenities on a budget of $1,200 per month.
If you have as little as $600 coming in each month, you can qualify for Nicaragua’s retiree residency visa program.
12. City Beaches, Panama
“City Beaches” is a stretch of Pacific coastline, made up of beach communities running from Chame to Playa Blanca, that takes its name from their proximity to the country’s capital, Panama City.
While Coronado is more accessible than other communities, it’s also less affordable; you have to pay for that accessibility.
But the other communities offer plenty of advantages, simply because they’re in Panama—where the U.S. dollar is the currency, offering no currency exchange issues for retirees, the health care is both affordable and up to international standards, and a gold-standard retiree residency visa program is available.