Do you ever find yourself in an idyllic vacation spot and thinking to yourself “what if I could live here when I retire?” It may be a mountain hamlet, a seaside village, or a thriving metropolis. Different locations appeal to different people. I’m not attracted to large cities, but I have friends who wouldn’t live anywhere else and like to experience cities elsewhere on the globe. Others want to see the beaches of the world and swim in exotic waters. And on it goes, with infinite twists on the theme of going somewhere new for some period of time.
Maybe the idea of living full-time in another country is not appealing, but what about a part-time change of scenery? You probably already know people who call themselves “snowbirds,” making the trek to a condominium or cottage in a more hospitable climate for the winter months. Some of them may already be part-time “expats” if their winter location is Mexico or Costa Rica as opposed to Florida or Arizona. Most of those snowbirds eventually find the twice-a-year trek too cumbersome to manage and they decide to stay put in one place or the other, but the part-time routine gives them a chance to have a deeper experience than a vacation and many ultimately choose the more exotic of the two locales.
A few years ago, I stumbled upon InternationalLiving.com and their stories of people who have made the leap. It whetted my appetite to learn more and now I follow their posts and even have a subscription to their print magazine. International Living (IL) is the go-to source for anyone looking for solid information on retirement relocation in other countries. They have an extensive website, a print magazine, and an online bookstore. They sponsor podcasts and hold in-person events in some of their high-profile locations. They have hundreds of contributors who roam the globe, investigating new opportunities, researching the real estate market, and assessing cost-of-living data. For people who are intrigued by the idea of settling outside the U.S. borders, it is a treasure trove of information.
International Living appeals particularly strongly to people looking for more economical locations in which to retire. For those whose only source of funds in their later years is their social security check, living in a far less expensive country is particularly appealing. Of course, this solution carries with it numerous questions and challenges and that’s where IL shines. What about health care? Can I get my medications? How stable is the government? How safe will I be? IL has the answers to these questions and more, based on their contributors’ recent experiences.
The reason I chose January to write this post is that each year, IL compiles a list of the top ten retirement destinations. They call it the Global Retirement Index and they have just released their 2020 data, so I thought I would share it. Here is the list:
#1 – Portugal
#2 – Panama
#3 – Costa Rica
#4 – Mexico
#5 – Colombia
#6 – Ecuador
#7 – Malaysia
#8 – Spain
#9 – France
#10 – Vietnam
International Living’s international network of editors, correspondents, and contributors compile a large amount of on-the-ground data in order to produce this list. They rank and rate countries across ten categories:
This category focuses strictly on the value of real estate and ease of purchasing or renting a home
Benefits & discounts
In some countries, retirees get enticing discounts on food, utilities, transportation and more.
Visas & residence
This category covers residence requirements and special residence options for retirees.
Cost of living
Affordability, based on a typical monthly budget.
Fitting in and entertainment
This category is a measure of how easy it is to make friends with locals and other expats. It also looks at opportunities for enjoying the local culture (museums, exhibitions, outdoor activities).
How much will you have to pay for dental care, knee surgery, an eye exam? Both quality and price are factored in.
Most people want to be able to access the internet easily and have reliable electricity. This category also includes public transportation and road quality.
Rainfall, temperature extremes, and humidity are all factors in this category.
How much bureaucracy will you encounter trying to get a driver’s license or set up a bank account? This category also factors in how well the governing body of the country respects personal freedoms.
In the event you want to set up a business or do some freelance work, how easy is it to do this? Does the local community support small business and will you be able to work remotely?
Finding the perfect spot to be an American expatriate is a very personal decision, but most people are keenly interested in at least half of these categories. Some are harder to measure than others and can be quite subjective. It’s easy to measure the temperatures throughout a given year; not as easy to discern the friendliness of the local people. It is always advisable to rent a place for a month or more before making the much bigger decision of whether to pull up stakes and make a permanent move.