If you're considering the idea of retiring in another country, where should you be looking? It depends what you're looking for. Perhaps you’re choosing among Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Each choice is very different and has both pluses and minuses.
Latin America is nearby to North America and accessible. Retired in this part of the world, you could return to the States often to stay in touch with family and friends. This part of the world also has two other very appealing things that most would-be overseas retirees actively seek: It’s cheap and it’s sunny. In parts of Nicaragua and Ecuador, for example, you could retire comfortably on less than $1,000 a month.
Latin America is really two options—Central America and South America, which can be more different than you might expect. Central America offers the most accessible, cheapest, and sunniest choices, but it’s the developing world. This is the land of mananas and fiestas, where life is sultry and sweet and nobody’s in any hurry to do anything.
Thanks to all that sunshine, Central America is also hot, sometimes too hot and humid for comfort. South America can be hot, too, but it can also be seasonal, with seasons the reverse of those in North America. Uruguay, for example, could be an ideal choice if you’re looking to retire somewhere with four mild seasons.
While most of the region is still technically “developing,” in parts of South America you could forget that fact and think yourself perhaps in Europe instead. Central America is raw and rough around the edges. South America can be more polished, polite, genteel, and cultured in the traditional sense. If you’re interested in a retirement that includes fine dining, theater, opera, and the arts, Central America is probably not for you. The countries in this region are small, with non-existent budgets for things like art museums. However, in cities across South America, from Buenos Aires to Medellin, and from Santiago to Montevideo, you could enjoy those kinds of cultural offerings regularly, even on a budget.
Before you settle on a retirement choice in Latin America, however, remember that there's a world beyond these Americas that can also offer good weather and a low cost of living. In some cases, there are also some things you won't find in this hemisphere.
Asia boasts a number of the world’s most cost-friendly places to call home. Some places cost less than the most affordable options anywhere in the Americas. Pockets of Thailand, Malaysia, China, and Vietnam, for example, can be amazingly cheap. Living on this side of the planet, you'd also have access to some of the world's most beautiful beaches. Your life would be full of the exotic, the unexpected, and the adventuresome. That is to say, the culture shock would be significant. For some, this reality is thrilling and invigorating, while for others it’s intimidating, even terrifying. Asia also has some of the world’s best health care available for pennies on the dollar compared with U.S. costs.
In Asia, as well, you have an added challenge related to residency. Typically (an exception is Malaysia) you aren't going to be able to arrange to stay on indefinitely (legally) as a foreigner. You'll have to make regular border runs, which can grow tiresome and expensive. The easier alternative is not to approach Asia as a full-time choice, but to create a retire-overseas plan for yourself that allows you to enjoy the benefits of Asia part time. Don't worry about trying to organize permanent residency. Stay as long as you can as a tourist and then move on. How about three months in Chiang Mai, Thailand followed by a few months in the south of France?
That brings us to Europe. Most would-be overseas retirees dismiss Europe as too expensive, but this isn't necessarily the case. Sure, a retiree on a modest budget probably can't afford Paris, but have you considered southwestern France, where life is quintessentially French but also surprisingly affordable?
Perhaps the biggest advantage of Europe, compared with other regional retire-overseas options, is the cultural opportunities it affords. For example, Paris is but one of the many cities on the Continent overflowing with classic-style museums, theaters, art galleries, and shops. This makes for a way of life that is, for many, the definition of charming.
Romantics (like me) in Central America focus on the potential for what could be rather than the reality of what sometimes is. Others find Central America frustrating, disappointing, even appalling. On the other hand, this sun-blessed region can be a quick plane hop away from the U.S. Every retirement spot has pluses and minuses and requires give and take.
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.