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Retirement Planning > Social Security

6 Countries Cheap Enough to Live Off Social Security

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Looking for a place to retire with little more than a Social Security check?

ThinkAdvisor looked at the cost of living scores from International Living’s 2016 Annual Global Retirement Index and found that these six countries are the most affordable places to retire.

 “If you’re living on $3,000 in the United States and if you could have [the same standard of living] and move somewhere and have it cost $1,500 a month – you’ve just doubled your money,” Dan Prescher, a senior editor at, told ThinkAdvisor via phone from his home in Ecuador. Adding, “And there are a lot of places like that around the world.”

For example, Southeast Asia in general is very affordable, Prescher said.

“Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia are all very affordable from a [U.S.] point of view,” he said. “The cost of living is just a lot less.”

How much retirees spend is all dependent on what lifestyle they want to live, though. Some retirees choose to live much more simply and cheaply, while those that live more extravagantly will have higher costs of living.

“It’s all relative,” Prescher told ThinkAdvisor. “These are pretty general numbers based on what people living there tell us, economic factors that we can get, and what expats tell us they’re living on.”

International Living’s scores are based on the informed judgment and real-world experience of in-country expats, in addition to hard data, including the cost of real estate and medical procedures. The publication uses its extensive network of editors, correspondents, contributors and contacts based around the world to amass the information, data and insights it uses for the annual global retirement index.

Prescher stressed that there is more to take into consideration than just cost of living.

“It’s not just about a place where you can live cheap,” he said. “You want to pick a place that you love and intrigues you and you want to learn more about. If it has everything you want and it’s affordable, that is icing on the cake.”

Prescher said retirees should write down all the things they can’t live without before determining their retirement location.

“If you can’t live without a bowling alley [or] Italian roasted red pepers, make sure wherever you’re going has those things,” he said.

Or, he added, if retirees want to never drive a car, they’ll need to go somewhere with public transportation. In addition, if retirees have health problems, they’ll want to pick a location that’s close to a main metropolitan area with great health care.

However, if affordability is high on retirees’ list, then these six places are worth taking a look at:

Dancers perform at a festival in Pujili, Ecuador. (Photo: AP)

6. Ecuador

Cost of living score: 90

Cost of living for two people: $1,500 to $1,700 per month

A lifestyle that would cost $5,000 a month in Nebraska or $9,000 a month in New York would only cost retirees about $1,595 or less per month in Ecuador, according to International Living.

Prescher and his wife currently live in Ecuador for about $1,500 a month, he said. When the pair lived in Omaha, Nebraska, they would often pay $250 to $300 a month for heating and air-conditioning. In Ecuador, the climate requires neither.

They also own their own condo, which helps keep costs low.

“Our only carrying cost is about $60 per year in property taxes,” he told ThinkAdvisor.

According to International Living, a rental of a luxury three-bedroom, unfurnished apartment in Cuenca would cost around $500 a month.

Antigua, Guatemala

5. Guatemala

Cost of living score: 91

Cost of living for two people: $1,500 per month

According to International Living, a couple can comfortably call Guatemala home for $1,500 a month or less. 

While Guatemala is not as developed as other places in Central America, such as Panama or Costa Rica, International Living says the warm weather and cheap, farm-fresh produce make it easy to enjoy a healthy retirement year round.

Rents within the city limits run anywhere from $200 a month for a small one-bedroom apartment to $700 a month for a fully furnished, restored colonial house, according to International Living.

Land is also very affordable, according to expats who live in Guatemala.

Lots large enough to build a home along the river could cost about $7,000, whereas properties on higher ground could cost between $30,000 and $40,000.

Modern Square in Medellin, Colombia.

4. Colombia

Cost of living score: 92

Cost of living for two people: $1,200 to $1,700 per month

Expats have told International Living that the daily cost of living in Columbia is significantly lower than in most U.S. cities.

A total month of groceries for a couple can cost less than $100. For couples that eat out, lunch costs $3 to $5 and a three-course dinner typically costs $10 to $20.

International Living says couples who are renting an unfurnished apartment should expect to pay around $1,700 per month or less. Depending on the size of apartment, rents can range from $800 to as low as $430. For retirees that own their own property, living in Colombia will cost even less.

Inca trail in Cuzco, Peru. (Photo: AP)

3. Peru

Cost of living score: 95

Cost of living for two people: $1,000 to $1,200 a month

Another affordable option is Peru, a South American expat haven on the rise. International Living finds that expat couples can live comfortably in Peru for $1,000 to $1,200 a month.

According to International Living’s David Hammond, Peru is the most affordable country in Latin America.

“Of all the many places I’ve visited in Latin America, Peru has by far the most affordable cost of living,” Hammond told the publication.  “A couple can live in a city that has it all for $1,000, including rent.”

According to International Living, renting a two- or three-bedroom apartment with a terrace in Peru can cost around $335 a month, not including utilities like water ($10), electricity (around $27), and cable and internet ($50 combined).

Meanwhile, expats say groceries at the local supermarket will cost around $100 a month and eating out will cost between $5 and $15 for anything from Japanese sushi to Spanish tapas.

Granada Square in Nicaragua.

2. Nicaragua

Cost of living score: 98

Cost of living for two people: $1,200 per month

Coming in second place, with a cost of living score of 98, Nicaragua is also among the most affordable countries.

According to International Living, a retired couple can live a great retirement for $1,200 a month. This includes renting within a short walk of stunning Pacific beaches for only $400 a month and eating out for less than $10 per dish.

The cost of living is 60% lower than in the U.S., according to International Living data from 2013.

Bayon Temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

1. Cambodia

Cost of living score: 100

Cost of living for two people: $1,000 to $1,500 per month

Of all the countries in the 2016 Annual Global Retirement Index, Cambodia had the lowest cost of living. Most expats can live comfortably on a budget of around $1,200 to $1,500 a month, according to International Living.

According to expats that live in Cambodia, apartment rentals in nice areas are available for $350 a month or as little as $120 a month. Food is also very cheap. A restaurant meal can cost $2.50 to $15.

A new report about retiring in Cambodia explores how San Diego native Tom Richter lives comfortably on his  Social Security check.

“My check from Social Security comes to just over $1,000 per month,” Richter told International Living. “But in Phnom Penh that’s a sizable amount, considering the average local salary is around $150 to $200 per month.”

While the cost of living is low, Prescher told ThinkAdvisor that language can be a barrier for expats, as well as the distance from the U.S.

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