10 best countries to retire where you can live large and save big

Where do you want to retire? A tropical beach? Exotic mountain hideaway? Culture-filled city?

Many seek a foreign land where they can get more bang for their retirement bucks and live among friendly people.

One person’s dream paradise could be your nightmare, says Jackie Flynn, publisher of International Living magazine. So the magazine’s editors weighed and ranked various criteria including cost of living, retiree discounts, buying and investing, health care, fitting in, climate and more to come up with its annual top 10 list of retirement havens.

“This is a qualitative assessment based on real-world data gathered on the ground,” Flynn says.

Here are highlights from this year’s report, which is available in full for free here in exchange for your email address.

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10 best countries to retire

10: Peru

Best known as a destination for adventure-seeking tourists and the home of mountaintop Inca citadel Machu Picchu, Peru offers one of the most attractive costs of living in Latin America, International Living says.

With rents starting as low as $150 per month and three-course lunches at a local picanteria for less than $3, including a drink, a monthly budget of $1,000 to $1,200 is plenty in many parts of the country.

The country has a widespread temperate climate, so most areas require no heating or air conditioning. Fresh fruits and veggies are available year round at low cost. You can choose from sun-baked coastal cities, the spectacular Andean highlands or even the Amazon jungle. Arequipa and Cusco are two of expats’ most popular towns.

9: Spain

With beaches, mountains, fabulous cities, colorful festivals and sunshine almost everywhere, Spain remains one of the most popular European countries for those looking to retire overseas.

Day-to-day expenses can be very low, says International Living Editor Glynna Prentice. “A couple can live well in many destinations for as little as about $2,200 a month — even less if they own their home.”

In season, many high-quality fruits and vegetables sell for about 85 cents a kilo (2.2 pounds) or less. Fixed-price lunch specials with two filling courses, plus beverage and sometimes dessert, generally run about $10 to $17.50.

Costa del Sol (“Coast of the Sun”), a 100-mile stretch along Spain’s southern Mediterranean coast, is blessed with some of the best summers and beaches, but even the more northern reaches of the country, such as Catalonia and parts of the northwest coast, provide T-shirt-and-shorts weather late into the year.

8: Nicaragua

Everything is cheaper in Nicaragua, rated the best value destination in the Americas by International Living.

“I went from a ‘no retirement ever’ scenario in the U.S. to living in an ocean-view home with no financial worries just by moving here,” says Bonnie Hayman, International Living’s Nicaragua correspondent.

Many couples live comfortably on $1,200 a month; spend $2,000 and you’re living in high style, Hayman says.

She says great places to retire in the country include the historic colonial city of Granada and the picturesque seaside village of San Juan del Sur.

7: Portugal

Lying quietly in the shadow of boisterous Spain, Portugal offers a sliver of coastline and an interior that can take you back centuries, International Living says. Ancient buildings look worn and lived-in while quiet, cobbled lanes wind through seaside villages.

The low cost of living is also a big draw. A couple can easily live in a comfortable Lisbon suburb apartment, without a car but with a moderate budget for entertainment, in addition to necessities, for $1,500 a month. For example, a lunch for two at an inexpensive restaurant can run $16; a round-trip public transportation ticket, $3.25; a monthly travel pass, under $40 a month; a one-bedroom rental in town, around $690, and outside the city center, $450; utilities average about $110 a month; and internet usage, about $27 a month.

The Lisbon area, including the seaside towns of Cascais and Estoril, is a favorite with expats. Cozy Porto, with a mild, moist climate like the U.S. Pacific Northwest, attracts expats who prefer cool weather and city amenities. The Algarve, the country’s warmest and southernmost region, sports numerous golf courses and sunny beaches and attracts many British expats, so English is widely spoken.

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6: Colombia

Moving beyond its out-of-date reputation as a haven for cocaine kingpins and drug cartels, Colombia is the hottest new destination in Latin America, International Living claims.

Low living costs lure many expats to the sophisticated country where the Pacific and the Caribbean collide with the Andes and the Amazon.

“I live in Medellín for 60 percent less than I did back in Maine,” says Nancy Kiernan, International Living’s Colombia correspondent. Expect to spend at least $1,300 a month for two people if you own your property or $2,200 a month if you’re renting an apartment.

A week’s worth of locally grown fruits and vegetables runs about $10; an average taxi ride is about $4; a bus ride, 60 cents; and an above-ground Metro system ride, 80 cents.

Santa Marta, on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, is a magnet for those wanting an outdoor, ocean-focused lifestyle where the average daytime high is 90 degrees Fahrenheit; evening lows, an average of 75 degrees.

For cooler weather, Salento, Pereira and Manizales make up Colombia’s Coffee Triangle and are nestled in the Andes mountains.

5: Malaysia

Influences from across Asia and beyond have melded together to create an extraordinary and affordable cross-cultural melting pot of customs, dress, architecture and cuisine in Malaysia, says International Magazine.

Beyond lofty skyscrapers of the hip capital, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s dramatic canvas is embroidered with tropical beaches, mountains, dense rainforest and vividly green tea plantations.

“A couple can live in Penang comfortably for $1,450 a month, including rent,” says Keith Hockton, International Living’s Malaysia correspondent. He and wife Lisa live in a $700-a-month three-bedroom, two-bathroom, 2,195-square-foot apartment in what he calls Penang’s up-market consulate suburb of Pulau Tikus.

4: Ecuador

For retirees who have weather particulars atop their wish lists, Ecuador can’t be beat, says International Living.

Facing the Pacific Ocean, lying directly on the equator in the northwestern corner of South America, and filled with mountainous terrain, Ecuador offers almost any climate you like simply by moving up or down in altitude.

Ecuador’s most popular expat havens are Cuenca, Quito, Cotacachi and Salinas.

With a monthly budget of less than $1,500 a month, International Living’s Coastal Ecuador correspondent Jim Santos and his wife, Rita, live in Salinas, a beach town.

“Living in Salinas has had a big impact on our health,” Santos says. “Here in Salinas the weather is great and there are lots of opportunity to be outdoors. We enjoy fresh, healthy foods too. My wife and I have both lost weight and feel better than we have in years.”

3: Panama

While most famous for its canal, Panama draws retirees for its ease of living, says International Living, which describes the country as modern, comfortable and tolerant.

Influenced by interactions with people from Spain, France, Israel, Lebanon, the U.S., China, India, the Antilles and elsewhere, Panamanians are accustomed to and welcoming of foreigners.

Panama offers diverse settings such as a sleepy mountain town like Santa Fe, a tropical beach filled with the calls of parrots and toucans as in Coronado, or the culture-rich capital of Panama City.

Panama’s cost of living affords you the opportunity to pamper yourself, not just subsist. A couple can live on as little as $1,000 a month, although expats in Panama City’s more upscale areas say you need at least $2,500 a month to live well, particularly if you plan to rent.

Panama’s Pensionado Program makes it easy for foreign retirees to obtain residence while granting members access to discounts of 10 to 50 percent on travel, health care, hotels, restaurants and more.

2: Mexico

Home to more North American expats than any other country in the world, Mexico offers a diverse geography, with everything from white-sand beaches to dry deserts and high-mountain colonial cities.

Low prices, an advantageous dollar-peso exchange rate, friendly people and a laid-back lifestyle are big draws, says International Living.

“Many couples live a very comfortable life for $1,500 to $2,000 a month, all inclusive,” says Don Murray, International Living’s Riviera Maya correspondent, noting that life along Mexico’s Pacific, Gulf or Caribbean coastlines costs more than life inland.

Regions vary in climate, customs, expenses, attire and food, but as a rule, Mexico is a modern country with paved roads, modern hospitals, a stable electrical grid and functioning internet.

1: Costa Rica

A safe and stable country with no army, Costa Rica has welcomed foreigners with open arms for three decades, says International Living.

Its unofficial national motto, Pura Vida — heard everywhere and loosely translated as “Life Is Good” — permeates Costa Rica’s stress-free, relaxed existence.

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

Also attracting expats are excellent health care, modern telecommunications, beautiful tropical beaches on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, rainforests, lush valleys and cool mountains as well as theaters, art galleries and fine dining.

More than 20,000 American expats live in Costa Rica, many in well-established expat communities.

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