How to Choose a Region to Retire Overseas

Sometimes it’s easier to select a region of the world instead of a specific country.

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If you're considering the idea of retiring overseas, I suggest you start by considering regions, not countries. Here are a few regions of the world worth a closer look.

[See 10 Tips for Retirement Overseas.]

Latin America. Latin America gets a lot of attention when it comes to retiring overseas. That's because it's near North America and you can conveniently get back and forth to the U.S. It’s fairly easy to stay in touch with family or even to continue operating a business back in the States. Latin America is also generally cheap and sunny, two things most would-be retirees abroad actively seek. But there's a world beyond these Americas that can also offer good weather, a low cost of living, and, in some cases, some things you won't find in this hemisphere.

Asia. Asia boasts a number of the most affordable places in the world right now. Pockets of Thailand, China, and India, for example, can be absurdly cheap. Living on this side of the planet, you would also have access to some of the world's most beautiful beaches. Your life in Asia could be exotic, unexpected, and adventuresome, which is another way of saying that the culture shock would be significant. For some, this reality is thrilling and invigorating. For others, it’s intimidating, even terrifying.

In Asia you have an added challenge related to establishing residency. Typically (the exception is Malaysia) you aren't going to be able to arrange to stay on indefinitely as a foreigner. You will have to make regular border runs, which can grow tiresome and expensive. The easier alternative is to enjoy the benefits of retirement in Asia part-time. Then you don't have to worry about trying to organize permanent residency. Stay as long as you can as a tourist and then move on. Consider three months in Chiang Mai, where your retirement budget would stretch far, followed by a few months in the south of France. This brings us to Europe.

[See The World’s Top Retirement Havens For 2011.]

Europe. Most would-be retirees abroad 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 consider southwestern France, where life is quintessentially French and surprisingly affordable. One of the big advantages of Europe compared with other regional retire-overseas options is the opportunity it affords for high culture. Every country in the world has local culture, but not everywhere has world-class museums, opera, and live theater. If you're interested in a life that includes these kinds of cultural offerings, look to the Continent.

South America. This is not to say it's impossible to enjoy an Old World Continental lifestyle anywhere else. Some cities in South America offer a fair imitation—Buenos Aires and Medellin, Colombia are two of my favorites. Both are cities of open-air cafes, classic-style museums and theaters, art galleries, and antique shops. And both, you'll note, are in South America, not Central America. The differences between these two regions, even between next-door neighbors Panama and Colombia, can be striking. South America generally offers what I'd call more polished options and therefore is the place to focus if you want culture on the cheap.

[See How to Choose an Overseas Retirement Haven.]

Central America. Central America, by contrast, is rough around the edges. These are small, developing countries with non-existent budgets for things like art museums. This makes for a way of life that is, for some, 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, and even appalling. However, this sun-blessed region is the outdoors-enthusiast’s playground. It’s home to some of the best diving, boating, fishing, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, birding, and spelunking on the planet.

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.