There are several lists of safe and cheap countries for retirees. Some prioritize cost of living (important for those of us on a budget), and some emphasize safety.
If Budget is the Primary Concern
In 2018, International Living (IL) came up with a list of the 10 best places to retire. These appear to fairly cheap countries compared to the U.S.
First, Costa Rica
According to the IL article, you can rent a furnished 2-bedroom home in Costa Rica for $500 a month. The national health care system (Caja) is available to expat residents for less than $100/month. The article claims that a retired couple can live comfortably for $2,500 a month. Expats can qualify as residents if they can prove at least $1,000 a month in income from a pension, Social Security, or similar sources. See “Requirements to Retire Abroad” in this post.
I have traveled to Mexico several times. While I’m not a Latina, my brown skin has allowed me to blend in and not be targeted as a tourist. Although I do not speak much Spanish, I have found always found English speakers to assist me. (Google Translate is also an option!) If your only income is Social Security or a pension, you can live a decent life in Mexico. If you’re over 60 and are a legal resident, the public system is free. I noted that a couple could live here for $1,500 to $3,000 a month, including rent and healthcare. Furthermore, if you have a residence visa, you can sign up for Mexico’s public healthcare, which costs a few hundred dollars a year. About a million North Americans live in Mexico.
I spent several weeks touring Panama alone in 2005. I loved the country, although some places more than others (yes to Boquete, no to Bocas del Tora). Panama uses the U.S. dollar as currency (called the Panamanian Balboa). While Panama City itself is somewhat expensive, expats outside of the city can live well on $1,500 a month. Utilities are low (electric around $40 a month, water and trash around $10-$25 a month). IL notes that expats spend 40% to 75% less on health care than they did back in the U.S.
See this article about 9 countries where you can use the US dollar.
Several of my acquaintances have retired to Ecuador. What interests me about this country is the climate. If I could, I would live in 70-degree weather year round. In Ecuador, there are places like Cotacachi, in the Andes, that could fit the bill. It doesn’t hurt that Ecuador also uses the U.S. dollar as currency.
Another possible relocation destination is Malaysia. It is multi-cultural – Malay, Chinese, Indian, European, and American. English is widely spoken. According to the IL article, a couple can live in Kuala Lumpur for $1,500 to $2,500 a month, including rent. In Penang, you can rent a 2000+ square foot apartment for around $700 a month. However, I have not yet visited Malaysia, so a scouting trip is in order.
I guess Colombia has finally shed its dark past-? According to the article, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked the quality of healthcare in Colombia #22 out of the 191 countries it reviewed. That surpasses Canada (#30) and the U.S. (#37). Monthly rent ranges from $300 in small towns to $1,500+ for a penthouse or a home.
Rated the third-safest country in the world in the 2017 Global Peace Index, Portugal has been on my radar for a while. It is the most affordable European country. According to the article, a simple lunch of soup, main course, beverage, dessert, and coffee runs about $10, taxis start is about $4, utilities for a 2-3-bedroom apartment average $100 a month, and rent (for a 4-bedroom house outside of Lisbon) is about $1,000 a month. I plan to visit Portugal in early 2019.
Eighth, Nicaragua (but maybe no longer)
I noted that a couple renting in Nicaragua and enjoying meals out several times per week could easily live well on $1,500 per month, and often for much less. However, Nicaragua is currently undergoing a period of transition. Although it’s on their list, IL does not recommend Nicaragua at present.
I visited the Barcelona-area for a few days in 2015. I enjoyed spending time with the Spanish people I met, and never felt unsafe. The countryside was beautiful! However, I did not care much for the Spanish cuisine. I also did not find it to be particularly inexpensive.
Macho Pichu, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley of the Incas have always been tourist attractions and now expats are retiring here. While nights are cool, daytime temperatures can reach the 70s F for much of the year. A two-bedroom apartment rents for as low as $250 per month. Here is an article on the top 5 cities in Peru.
Click here for requirements to retire abroad.
Safety is the Primary Concern
The following list is based on the “Global Peace Index (GIP)” report released by “The Institute for Economics and Peace.” I found the list here. These countries are probably very safe, but cheap…??
- New Zealand – my favorite country in the world
- Portugal (again)
- Czech Republic
What is notable about this list, the USA did not crack the top 10! What also stands out to me is that the countries listed (with the exceptions of New Zealand and Canada) are not particularly ethnically diverse. Finally, the threshold for a retiree on a budget to move to any of the listed countries is … problematic. These countries appear unaffordable for a single retiree on a budget.
Another article from Forbes sets out The Best Places to Retire Abroad in 2019. The article states that it arrived at its list by looking at a variety of factors such as healthcare, cost of living, tax issues, ease of gaining residency, outdoor and cultural amenities, climate, safety, local hospitality, prevalence of English, political stability and ease of travel return to the U.S. It noted that some inviting countries, (Canada, the U.K., etc.) are too difficult for Americans to retire and are not on the list.
The article has an infogram summarizing its findings for each country.
A country not mentioned on the above lists is Chile. I have never thought about it as a potential retirement haven until my brother mentioned it. According to Investopedia,
“Santiago – Chile’s capital and largest city – is popular with expats looking for an upscale, cosmopolitan lifestyle. The city blends the old with the new, and cobblestone streets with colonial architecture can be found next to modern structures throughout the city. Other popular cities include La Serena, one of the country’s most widely visited seaside destinations; Pucón, Chile’s adventure tourism capital on the shores of Lake Villarrica; and Valparaíso, a quirky city known for its bohemian, artsy vibe and maze of cobblestone alleys.”
Investopedia indicates you could retire fairly frugally in Chile ($600/month), a more realistic budget is $1,500-$2,000/month. Read more: How Much Money Do You Need to Retire in Chile?
What about your US-Based Home?
A reader from Bankrate.com emailed me and suggested I link to an article discussing how retirees could use Airbnb to their advantage. First, by renting your home on Airbnb or VRBO, you can earn extra income. As I mentioned in my post about part-time jobs, I am seriously considering doing this. Keeping your US-based home while living abroad might be a great middle ground while you test the waters. If you decide overseas life isn’t your cup of tea, you can return to your home in the US.
Second, because many retirees experience loneliness, hosting an Airbnb/VRBO gives you an opportunity to meet new people from around the world. I love this, as I am a bit of an extrovert and love learning about new cultures. Who knows, you may make new friends who inspire you to visit their homelands?
The Bankrate article also explains some considerations to protect yourself when hosting.