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Moving Abroad: 10 Inexpensive Locales Where You Might Retire

Do you often dream of quitting your job, retiring, or ditching it all and moving to paradise?

Guess what? That dream or escape could be a reality. Recently I looked at some of the best places in the world where the cost of living is so affordable that you can quit your job, retire early and stop working. These are places that are considerably cheaper than in the U.S. — and where life is a whole less stressful.

The ex-pat magazine "International Living," which releases an Annual Global Retirement Index - a list of the top places to retire around the globe. And this list isn't just for retirees: It's also for people who want to live somewhere so cheap that they don't have to work. "This index is designed to be a cheat-sheet of sorts, to help point people toward the spots that might make the most sense for them overseas," says International Living's executive editor Jennifer Stevens.

On International Living's list of the World's Best Places to Retire, the editors ranked the destinations based on 13 categories, including cost of living, climate, healthcare and more. They also included a new category this year: opportunity. "We’ve added it because we know that many folks are interested in working remotely or starting something new in retirement," says Stevens. "So we consider the strength of the economy, how easy and reliable it is to connect online and how supportive local authorities are toward small businesses."

In addition to the data points, International Living takes into consideration the informed judgment and real-world experience of the magazine’s contributors and editors in the field, as well as that of additional in-country expats. "Macro-economic data that reflects the state of affairs across an entire country isn’t nearly as useful as the actual cost to rent an apartment that an expat would like in a safe area of a town or city we recommend," says Stevens. "And when we compare specific data like that across communities we recommend in different countries, a useful picture begins to emerge."

Here, Stevens gives the scoop on the top 10 cheapest places to live.  If you want more ideas of places to live, check out "Quit Your Job And Live In The Caribbean: 5 Cheapest Dream Islands."


Why: Panama topped the International Living Index this year. "Panama can make good sense," says Stevens. "The sun shines, it’s warm and it’s below the hurricane belt. It’s an easy place to go, as the currency is the U.S. dollar, the medical care is both low-cost and high-quality with lots of English-speaking doctors. The infrastructure is first rate — internet access is good, plus it’s easy to fly in and out and you can get pretty much anywhere in the world. And with its business-friendly, stable government, it's an all-around smart choice."

Another advantage: Panama is actively wooing foreigners with tax breaks and other incentives. "You won’t pay income tax on funds earned outside Panama," says Stevens. "And there are several good options when it comes to getting a visa — all of which are pretty easy to comply with. That includes, for instance, the Friendly Nations visa and the Pensionado — both of which provide residence without too many hoops to jump through. What’s more, real estate taxes are really low and some properties come with a tax exemption of five to 20 years."

Where To Move: There’s a lot of variety in Panama — from the big city to beaches to cooler rural highlands. "Panama City is vibrant and cosmopolitan — a real city — and you get a lot of bang for your buck," says Stevens. Panama also offers a variety of climates. Another good choice: Boquete, located up in the hills at about 3,500 feet. "The temperatures range from about 65 degrees at night to 86 degrees at high noon," says Stevens. "Boquete’s downtown area offers small-town charm with Swiss-style chalets and a variety of stores, restaurants and hotels." Panama has beach options, too — one of the best is Coronado, which is only an hour from the capital.

The Cost: Overall, the cost of living in Panama varies depending on where — and how — you live. According to Stevens, a couple could safely plan on a monthly budget of $2000 to $3,000 in Panama City - and less elsewhere. A single could shave about 20-30% off those numbers. "But again, it depends on lifestyle," says Stevens. "An expat who owns a home outright, and therefore doesn’t have housing expenses, could live very comfortably on less than $1,000 a month. Day-to-day expenses anywhere in Panama are low, as is the cost for medical care." According to International Living, you can find nice apartments in the San Francisco-Coco del Mar neighborhood near green, peaceful Parque Omar starting as low as $650 a month for a one-bedroom. (Pound the pavement locally and you’re likely to turn up even better deals.) Movie tickets are $6. A man’s haircut is $3. A popular “executive menu” for lunch — with a main, sides, dessert and a drink — typically goes for $7-$10. In Boquete, a four-bedroom home sells for under $250,000; you can rent a two-bedroom townhouse from $800 a month. In Coronado, you can buy a one-bedroom, ocean-view condo on a golf course for $189,000.

Costa Rica

Why: It's no wonder this country with the national motto "Pura Vida" (pure life) came in second place. “Costa Rica is a place where life is lived outdoors," says Stevens. "You can fish, golf, ride horses, surf, hike, dive and practice yoga. It’s warm and sunny, the markets are overflowing with fresh-grown fruits and vegetables. It's an easy, steady choice — a safe, long-standing democracy that’s been welcoming expats for generations. And it’s a place where your dollars stretch." There is also a thriving expat community, and thanks to the healthy living, many people report that they lose weight here without trying.

Where To Move: Costa Rica generally has a mild climate that ranges from warm beach areas to cooler mountain towns. One area that International Living recommends is the Central Valley, where there are plenty of homes on offer for less than $200,000 and where rents start at $500 a month. You'll also find good choices in the towns along the Pacific coast, including Tamarindo.

The Cost: According to Stevens, a monthly budget for a single would be $1,585-$2,960. A couple can live comfortably on $2,500 a month (or less). You can eat at a little local restaurant for just $4 or $5. A housekeeper will come and clean once a week for $50 a month and a visit to a physician will set you back $50 or less.


Why: “People often associate Mexico with a beach vacation — not incorrectly. But there’s so much more to this country," says Stevens. "It’s culturally rich and it’s gorgeous. Beyond those postcard-worthy beaches are colonial cities full of colorful homes, art, music and theater." It's no wonder so many Americans are already living in Mexico. "It’s not hard to fit in," says Stevens. "And good living comes cheap."

Where To Move: You’ll find Americans scattered all over Mexico, according to Stevens, but they gravitate to certain pockets. For a Caribbean beach, International Living recommends the Riviera Maya, the stretch of white-sand coast south of Cancun to Tulum. "Playa del Carmen, in particular, is on a tear — attracting lots of digital nomads and part-time snowbirds. It’s become a real, functional city (not just for tourists)," says Stevens. "Inland, you can’t beat the colonial cities like San Miguel de Allende or Guanajuato."

The Cost: A budget for a single in Mexico would range from $1,500-$2,250 a month, while a couple can live well here on $1,500-$3,000 a month. "And yes, those budget numbers would really apply anywhere in the country," says Stevens. Some expat areas like San Miguel de Allende are on the more expensive side, but it’s still affordable compared to prices in the U.S.


Why: According to International Living, Ecuador has an old-world charm that feels like something out of the 1950s. Add to that, clean living, friendly residents, great service and modern cities (Quito, Cuenca), and you've got the fourth best place on the list. Another perk: "You cannot beat the climate in Ecuador," says Stevens, who also points out that the sheer variety of what’s available makes it appealing. "There’s a spot for everybody," says Stevens. "Whether you crave a hot beach or a cool highland retreat, Ecuador has you covered. And it’s great-value living."

Where To Move: There are many pockets of expats living around the nation — in places like Cuenca and Vilcabamba, for instance.

The Cost: A budget range for a single in Ecuador would be $1,170-$1,275 a month. "And on that one could live comfortably anywhere in the country," says Stevens. A couple can enjoy a really high quality of life on as little as $1,620 a month. In Cuenca, rents start at about $400 a month. Along the coast in a place like Salinas, you’d pay $450 for a one-bedroom apartment near the beach or $700 for a water view.


Why: “Southeast Asia is full of surprises for Americans — and Malaysia is among the best of them," says Stevens. "Because it was a British colony, English is the unofficial first language, which makes it much easier to get settled and get around than many folks think." Another plus: home rentals cost a fraction of what you'd pay in the U.S.; public transportation is cheap, easy and efficient. It's also a great base for exploring the rest of Asia: Thailand, Bali, Cambodia and Vietnam are close by.

Where To Move: One spot International Living recommends is Penang. "Here you’ll find plenty of arts and culture, history and nature, beach and jungle," says Stevens. "And the healthcare is first rate. It’s a great destination for medical tourism.”

The Cost: A single could live comfortably in Penang for $1,000-$1,500 a month. A couple can live really well — even luxuriously — for $1,500-$2,500 a month. You'll have the best Asian cuisine, with restaurant meals for as little as $5.

Colombia (not favored by me)

Why: Now that its shady past is left to history, Colombia has become a haven for expats. The appeal? Access to affordable, world-class healthcare. An easier way of life. A warm and accepting population. And, of course, a cheap lifestyle.

Where To Move: “If you like the weather in Colorado in the summer, you’d love Medellin," says Stevens. "It’s spring-like year-round, with few bugs, and it’s green, green, green. What’s more, it’s a sophisticated city with great restaurants and theater and museums." According to Stevens, there are other spots worthy of attention like Pereira, Armenia and Manizales, the towns of the so-called Coffee Triangle. "You are surrounded by lush, green mountain scenery and the cost of living is even lower," says Stevens.

The Cost: "Of course, it depends on how lavishly you want to live," says Stevens. "Medellin offers real luxury at bargain prices." A budget for a single in Medellin would range from $1,200-$1,600 a month. A couple could also live well here — in the nicest neighborhood in town — for about $2,191 and that would include a housekeeper twice a week, dinners out, rent on a three-bedroom apartment and more. In the Coffee Triangle, prices are about 20% lower than in Medellin, according to Stevens. A typical local meal costs $2-$3 for a plate of rice, an arepa (cornbread roll), a soup or stew, salad and chicken or pork. Upscale restaurant dishes are still under $10. At the market, a pound of avocados will set you back $1.50, a pound of chicken breast, $3. A six-pack of a local beer like Club Colombia is about $3.


Why: In Portugal, the day-to-day living is slow-paced, the locals are exceptionally welcoming, the healthcare is good. "And it’s undeniably beautiful — from historical sites to the beaches of the Algarve,” says Stevens. “Our International Living correspondent in Portugal reports that she and her husband spend about a third what they did to live in the States. You can see how that might be possible when a simple lunch of soup, main course, beverage, dessert, and coffee runs about $10.

"Where To Move: "About 21 miles northwest of Lisbon and 15 minutes from world-class surfing beaches in Ericeira, Mafra is the proud possessor of one of the country’s largest national palaces," says Stevens. "The town is a low-key place of white-washed houses trimmed in yellow and blue, lining narrow cobbled streets with many cafés and bars.”

The Cost: A budget for a single in Portugal would be about $2,034 in the town of Mafra, for instance, and a bit more in Lisbon. A couple can live a comfortable, relaxed lifestyle for about $2,500 a month.


Why: "This is a place that is just peeking onto the expat-retiree radar, but it’s definitely worth your attention if value-for-money is a priority for you," says Stevens. “Peru offer so much beyond Machu Picchu — miles of beaches, delicious cuisine and some of the lowest prices anywhere for a high-quality lifestyle."

Where To Move: "Lima is a city with many parks, panoramic sea views and a foodie culture that’s world renowned," says Stevens. A nice apartment in Miraflores (an upscale district of Lima) starts at $800 a month. "But it’s not just Lima that’s worth attention," says Stevens. "Arequipa, the 'white city' is a walkable, colonial city with lots of galleries, restaurants, shops and cafes." In Arequipa, three-bedroom apartment rentals in the most desirable neighborhoods near the historic quarter start at $400 a month. Another spot worth looking at: the beach town of Huanchaco. "Here temps hover in the low- to mid-70s year-round," says Stevens. "Rentals start at $350 a month." Throughout Peru, utility costs are also reasonable: electricity costs $50-$60 per month, water is $10 per month and internet/cable TV is $70. For meals, plan on paying $2-$3 for a local meal, $10 for something in a high-end or international restaurant.

The Cost: A single can live comfortably in Peru on $1,146 a month, though on a budget of closer to $2,000 a month in Lima would allow plenty of funds for eating out and enjoying all the city has to offer. A couple can easily live well here on less than $2,000 a month pretty much anywhere in the country, more so in Lima. Rents start as low as $150. You can have a three-course lunch with a drink for $2.50.


Why: "Thailand is a place where you really can’t get bored," says Stevens. "It offers up lively beach communities, frenetic big cities, university towns full of things to do — and all of it to be had for pennies on the dollar." And it’s so centrally located in the region, it’s easy, quick, and affordable to fly anywhere nearby, which makes it a great jumping off point for exploring Southeast Asia.

Where To Move: "There are all sorts of expat enclaves throughout Thailand — lots in Bangkok, of course, which is a big and frenetic city — too much for some folks who prefer a slower pace and smaller community," says Stevens. "They find both in places like Chiang Mai, which is in the north. It’s full of gold-gilded temples, winding back streets, and food markets that stock weird and wonderful spices and vegetables." Thailand boasts gorgeous beaches, too. "Those on Hua Hin are picture-perfect and the cost of living is much lower than you’d expect," says Stevens.

The Cost: A budget for a single would be from $952-$1,153 a month. "You might need a bit more in Bangkok, but otherwise, that would serve you anywhere in the country," says Stevens. Rentals here can be as little as $400 per month for a modern studio apartment. "The medical care here is world-class and costs a small fraction of what it does in the States — $10 for a general-practitioner visit," says Stevens. In Hua Hin, rents go from $500 for something small off the beach up to $1,500 a month for a larger place with a view.


Why: “Spain is one of Europe’s favorite beach destinations — and with reason," says Stevens. "There the sun shines, the beaches are golden and because the standard of living is high, it’s a really comfortable place to settle in." The World Health Organization ranks Spain’s healthcare system as one of the best in the world. "It’s a foodie paradise, and because so much is grown locally, it’s inexpensive to eat well both at home and in restaurants," says Stevens.

Where To Move:
"You have your pick of arts-rich cities, tidy white-washed villages, laid back beach towns," says Stevens. "Small Spanish cities like Jerez in southern Spain are full of culture and still affordable to live."

The Cost: "Really anywhere in Spain, a single could live comfortably on $2,000 — or less," says Stevens. A couple can live for around $2,500 a month.

Health Care Options for Americans Wanting to Retire Overseas

Americans now considering retirement overseas should review the health care in the country of interest when they are thinking about relocating.

The most health care friendly countries offer universal health care - while others do not. Some allow non-citizens to participate in the universal system. Some do not.

Also, in some countries, the standard of health care is not as high as it is in other countries. This deficiency in the standard of care could apply in general, or it could apply to localized areas of the population. For example, in some countries there is a large discrepancy between good and bad hospitals.

If you have the money, often care is of a very high standard. The opposite is also true, unfortunately.If you are considering a move and you or a family member has a serious health condition, you will need as much information as possible about the health care system in the country you are considering moving to.  

To help you with your research, we have compiled data based on the World Health Organization’s World Health Rankings (2000) and other sources of information and have provided an overview of 21 expat destinations around the world. 

Expat DestinationWHO RankingCoverage for CitizensPublic Health Services Available to Expats?Insurance CoverageComments
Argentina 75 Universal Yes $300-$900 pesos per month according to the level and type of insurance Although private health insurance is not necessary, it is advisable.
Australia 32 All Australians over the age of 30 are encouraged to have private health insurance. Limited public health care is available to overseas visitors/expats from some countries. Expats who become citizens or permanent residents may be entitled to Medicare. From $12 AUD for basic coverage. The healthcare facilities that are available in Australia are world class.
Belgium 21 Mandatory socialized healthcare system. Yes. People working in Belgium pay mandatory contributions in the form of taxes. Private insurance is not needed but many expats do take additional coverage out. Private insurance is not necessary for individuals who pay healthcare contributions through their taxes.
Canada 30 Universal No. Medical insurance is required. From $50 to $70 per month for individual coverage, and up to $200 per month to cover up to two dependents. There are no private medical facilities in Canada.
China 144 Largely privatized (Currently undergoing reform) No. Although it is possible to pay for medical services as and well you use them, full healthcare insurance is advisable. Private insurance can cost as much as $1000 USD per month. All hospitals will accept private insurance.
France 1 Universal Yes. The majority of individuals who are legally residing in France are covered by the government health scheme, providing that they contribute to the system through tax payments. Supplemental private insurance is advised to cover the gap between what you pay, and what the government reimburses you for (approximately 70% of the cost), especially in regards to prescriptions, dental and eye care. Hospitals in France, public or private, treat all patients.
Germany 25 Health insurance required for all citizens EU and European Economic Area member states have transferable social security agreements between countries, and this includes health insurance. Public health insurance is available to anyone earning under €48,000 per annum. Private health insurance is available from around €150 a month. USA, Canada, and Australia have social security agreements with Germany allowing their citizens to make claims for benefits from their home country while working in Germany.
India 112 Universal State-run facilities that charge nominal fees are available; however, private coverage is highly advisable. Comprehensive local insurance plans cost about Rs 4,000 - 12,000 per person Consultations generally cost between Rs 200 - 800 for top specialists in world-class facilities
Japan 10 Health insurance required for all citizens Expats will need to subscribe to the Japan National Health Insurance (NHI), which is available to all residents, or private insurance (Japanese or an international plan), or both. You can expect to pay around $150 USD per month for private insurance. Expats who take the NHI will be required to pay 30% of any medical expenses they incur.
Netherlands 17 Health insurance required for all citizens Private coverage required Insurance policies average €110 per month No private insurance contributions are required for children under the age of 18
New Zealand 41 Universal Yes Supplemental private insurance is available for less than $200 a month for a family In addition to private medical insurance, there is the tax-payer funded ACC system, which is New Zealand's accident compensation scheme and it covers everyone, including visitors, for the cost of any treatment that is required as a result of an accident.
Russia 130 Public/private combination system All foreign citizens holding residency permits (vid na zhitelstvo) have the same right to free public healthcare as Russian citizens. Foreigners who are considered to be temporary residents, such as those with work permits or on business visas, may or may not have access to public health care depending on reciprocity agreements between Russia and the home country. Private insurance can cost anywhere between $700 USD per year for a basic policy that allows expats access to public clinics, to $2000 per year for access to private hospitals. Theoretically, 90 percent of Russian citizens have health insurance through the government, but the system is under funded.
Singapore 6 Public health insurance required for all citizens and permanent residents. Private coverage required. Permanent residents are entitled to access to the Medisave system. Private health insurance coverage varies from between $S3k and $S20k annually depending upon the level of coverage you require. The difference between private and government healthcare costs is quite small so the majority of expatriates choose private healthcare.
South Africa 175 Public/private combination system No Local health insurance or private health insurance is required. With many companies, you’ll need to be already signed on by age sixty to have any coverage into your old age.
South Korea 58 Universal National health service is available to all Koreans and foreign workers. Private insurance is not necessary but most expats do use it as it decreases the costs associated with a major health problem. For the majority of foreign workers, your employer will sponsor you for the National Health Insurance. Typically, you contribute 50% and the company meets you with the other 50%.
Spain 7 Universal All expats with a social security number are entitled to access to healthcare services. You do not need to buy health insurance if you are legally employed in Spain. Your employer is obligated to pay approximately thirty per cent of your salary into a health fund that covers you and all of your dependents. Private insurance is available from around 30 Euro per month. Universal healthcare does not cover dental.
Thailand 47 Basic care is provided to Thai nationals. No Private healthcare coverage is required. Outpatient care is generally regarded as being very affordable and therefore many expats do not take out additional insurance to cover these costs.
UAE 27 Expatriates with a residence visa must have a minimum amount of insurance coverage. If you don't have medical insurance, you must apply for a health card. The health card will only entitle you to low-cost medical care at government hospitals and clinics. Private healthcare coverage is required.
United Kingdom 18 Universal Once you are resident, the taxes you pay entail that you are entitled to public healthcare. As an expat with permission to live and work in the UK you will have access to free NHS if you are originally from the EU, Australia and New Zealand; all other non-British residents will have to pay for their health treatments for 12 months from the first registration with a local doctor (GP) Private health insurance is not needed if you qualify for the National Health Service, although some expats may wish to secure this if they require a higher level of care. You must register with a GP/Surgery within the catchment area of your residence in order to qualify for NHS care.
USA 37 Health insurance required. No Health Insurance plans are very expensive and have monthly premiums that cost $2000 upwards for a family. Insurance for dental and vision care are sold separately from medical insurance plans. If you are able to keep your insurance from your home country, that may be the best choice for the beginning as many expats have successfully done so and found it very convenient and cheaper than changing to a U.S. provider.
Vietnam 160 Universal No Private healthcare coverage is required. Expats should ensure that the health insurance that they purchase covers them for treatment outside Vietnam, because many expats, as well as the wealthier Vietnamese people, prefer to travel to Bangkok or Singapore for specialist treatment and medical emerWhen you are considering relocating to another country, there are many things to think about. If you or another family member has health care problems, you may have thought that relocating was out of the question. This conclusion does not have to be the case. However, detailed research into what health care services are available and their costs is necessary before you leave your home country.

Source: website is a great source of information for Americans wanting to now expatriate in retirement).

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