When considering the idea of retiring to another country, two factors are most important: how much money you have to live on in retirement and the kind of lifestyle you would enjoy best.
Perhaps you dream of the lapping Caribbean Sea just beyond your doorstep or the sound of the crashing Pacific surf outside your bedroom window. Maybe your ideal retirement lifestyle would be a country town, where wildflowers cover the hillsides and the temperatures are pleasant year-round. Or, perhaps, you wouldn’t be happy in a place where you couldn’t dine out three nights a week and enjoy regular visits to the theater, museums, galleries, and cafes.
Once you know the kind of retirement lifestyle you want, you need to select a place that suits your budget. Consider these recommendations for beach, city, and country retreats suitable for every budget.
Top Beach Choices
Bigger budget ($2,500/month): Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, offers a full-amenity Pacific coast retirement option, like the best of southern coastal California, at half the cost or less. This isn’t developing world living, but near-luxury living in a charming town. In addition, this region boasts the beautiful Bay of Banderas (where Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor showed the world how to fall in love), marinas, golf courses, shopping, and fine dining. Puerto Vallarta is also easily accessible from North America and home to an established expat community.
Medium budget ($1,700/month): Costa de Oro, Uruguay
Uruguay is a jewel of South America. Costa de Oro is emerging as a top retirement haven with many world-famous beaches along its Gold Coast. Farther along this coast are far less known choices, which are often overlooked and ignored. In these prime beach locations, life continues as it has for decades. This is a region left back in time.
Here you'll find some of the best seaside values available in any first world setting, including 30 miles of uninterrupted golden sands, gentle sweeping coves, and uncrowded beaches. There are options for full-time retirement living on the water, and small, friendly communities with shady, tree-lined streets and stately homes.
These are towns where you can enjoy going out to eat, find excellent shopping, and meet up with a handful of fellow North Americans from time to time. Most places have drinkable water, high-speed Internet, and generally first world infrastructure. Uruguay in general offers a peaceful, laid-back culture, and an appealing distance from the world's troubles. Uruguay is also a place where expats can obtain residency easily and even a second passport.
Smaller budget ($1,300/month): San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Relatively undeveloped and rough around the edges, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, isn’t for everyone. This quintessential beachcomber town on the beautiful bay of the same name can be a great Pacific coast choice if your retirement budget is small. Nicaragua is one of the world’s most affordable retirement havens. Its Pacific coast, in particular those sandy stretches around San Juan del Sur, is known for serving up some of the world’s best surfing waves. The emerging San Juan del Sur expat community is warm and welcoming.
Top City Choices
Bigger budget ($3,000/month): Paris, France
If you like city life, you’ll love Paris. This is the world’s most beautiful, most romantic, most alluring, and most walkable city. It offers every manner of diversion and distraction you could imagine along with some of the world’s best museums, art galleries, restaurants, theater, architecture, parks, gardens, and shopping. The really good news is that it’s not necessarily as expensive a place to live as you might imagine. Some of the best things in this city are free or nearly so, such as long walks along the Seine, long afternoons in the Luxembourg or Tuileries gardens, and long respites savoring a coffee at one of the city’s many outdoor cafes. Even the more practical requirements of life can be affordable, including monthly phone, cable, and Internet packages for as little as $50 and a Metro ticket to take you anywhere in the city costs less than $2.
Medium budget ($2,000/month): Medellin, Colombia
If you can’t afford Paris but want that kind of cosmopolitan lifestyle, consider Medellin, Colombia. No, of course, this isn’t Paris, but Medellin has an appeal that I find irresistible. It also has great restaurants, great museums, pretty parks, well-tended gardens, outdoor cafes, and festivals, including an impressive Festival of Lights to celebrate the season this time of year. In addition, this city of springtime and flowers has great weather year-round, something even Paris doesn’t offer.
Smaller budget ($1,300/month): Cuenca, Ecuador
Colonial Cuenca, Ecuador, could be said to offer the best quality of city life for the money. At just over 400,000 people, Cuenca seems like the perfect size. It's small enough so that you always see someone you know when walking around town. People know and remember you, so you feel at home and part of the community.
At the same time, Cuenca is not so small that it doesn't have all the services you need. It's a provincial capital, meaning you have the state and municipal offices at your convenience, as well as fine-dining restaurants, theater, orchestra, and plenty of festivals and celebrations. The colonial architecture, Andean markets, and heritage of the city make you feel that you're really experiencing another country and a rich culture. Public transportation is great, both within the city and between cities. The city buses are plentiful and inexpensive. Taxis cost about $1.50, and a four-hour ride to Guayaquil, for example, is about $8.
Top Country Choices
Bigger budget ($3,000/month): County Kerry, Ireland
County Kerry is the best of romantic, postcard Ireland, with its patchwork fields, stony walls, mystical forts, and craggy caves. This region of Ireland is all about the great outdoors, with opportunities for hiking, mountain climbing, kayaking, sailing, or just strolling the national parks. Plus, on these southern shores of the Iveragh Peninsula, you’ll find white sand and, beyond, the wide Atlantic horizon.
This is a part of the country that has managed to avoid major development. You won’t find freeways or any Golden Arches as you wind your way around these craggy peninsulas. Iveragh is one of the most stunning parts of Ireland. If you’re drawn to a more traditional way of life, surrounded by nature at its best, the area is hard to beat. And, with the collapse of this country’s property market, this is the best time in a generation to be thinking about settling down here.
Medium budget ($1,600/month): Abruzzo, Italy
It’s hard to think of a lovelier corner of Italy than Abruzzo. Its beaches are golden, and the sea rolls out from them like a giant bolt of turquoise silk. Eagles swoop down from craggy eyries, wild peonies and gentians color the alpine meadows, and the region stitches together seascapes with lush mountain valleys. You can have the best of all worlds here: a beach and a hillside. In spring, it’s possible to combine a morning on the Apennine ski slopes with an afternoon at the beach. How many places in the world is that possible?
There is no over-crowding or heavy industry. Hiding away down Abruzzo’s curvy roads are castles, vineyards, and villages made of stone and memory. Life in this part of the world hasn’t changed that much over the years, and coming here is like wandering into a gentler, kinder yesterday with little or no crime and neighbors who watch out for each other.
And perhaps the best thing about the sparsely populated Abruzzo is its affordable cost of living. In some villages in this part of Italy, habitable village houses are on the market for as little as 28,000 euro. At current exchange rates, that’s $36,400. This isn’t Tuscany.
Smaller budget ($1,300/month): El Retiro, Colombia
El Retiro is an undiscovered colonial mountain town in Colombia, about an hour outside Medellin. The hillsides look down from all sides, giving the town a safe, cozy feel. The appeal is the traditionally laid out Spanish-colonial town, with the plaza and centuries-old white church at its center. This is an escape to a simpler time. Still, you can find everything you'd need for a pleasant, comfortable life here. And what you can’t get in El Retiro, you can find an hour’s drive down the mountain in Medellin.
Home to about 6,000 people and four beautiful churches, El Retiro has managed to remain a world apart. The setting, the square, and the ambiance are reminiscent of Cafayete, Argentina, but you don't have to travel as far. It's hidden away, but only a half-hour from the international airport.
If you like life slow and easy, El Retiro could be an appealing option. It’s also a place to escape the heat. Here, a fireplace would be a welcome addition to your home some evenings. The setting is hard to beat, and the cost of living and of real estate are a bargain. The old colonials around the central square change hands for $40,000 to $60,000. There’s an awful lot of charm for not a lot of money.
Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.