Our friends at International Living started 35 years ago with a mission to educate people about the possibilities of a life overseas. For much of their history, they’ve been publishing a retirement index of the best locations to retire abroad. This annual index measures important categories in each country, such as the cost of Buying or Renting, Entertainment & Amenities, Healthcare, Climate, and Infrastructure, among others, to arrive at a list of recommendations. While this index is focused on retiring abroad, it could just as easily apply for people of any age looking for a change of lifestyle.
We’ve highlighted the top scoring country for each category below.
Buying & Renting
First place: Ecuador (Score of 100/100)
Cuenca, Ecuador. Photo by Jonathan Hood.
This category looks at the affordability of buying or renting a home. Rentals in the colonial city of Cuenca can be found for $500 and in the capital, Quito, you can find apartments for under $1,000.
Second place: Nicaragua (96/100)
Benefits & Discounts
First Place: Panama (100/100)
Panama City, Panama. Photo by Peppo Palomino Aragon.
This category is applicable only to retiring abroad since it considers what discounts retirees are eligible for in each country. In Panama, significant discounts are available on entertainment, electricity, restaurants, airline tickets, and healthcare…but only if you’re on the pensionado visa and getting a pension of at least $1,000 per month.
Second place: Ecuador (99/100
Visas & Residency
First Place: Panama (100/100)
How easy is it to obtain a visa and residency in another country? Panama tops the charts again for this category. Besides the pensionado visa mentioned previously, there is also a Friendly Nations visa for U.S. citizens who want to run a business in Panama and have at least $5,000 in a Panamanian bank account.
Second Place: Mexico (90/100)
Cost of Living
First Place: Cambodia (100/100)
Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo by XEgg.
While housing is a big part of a country’s cost of living, this category takes a broader view and looks at the costs of food, water, power, and internet as well as housing. Cambodia, which is still a relatively new destination for retirees, is the cheapest place on the index. Here a budget of just $1,200 a month will afford you a great lifestyle.
Second Place: Nicaragua: (98/100)
First Place: Honduras (100/100)
Roatan, Honduras. Photo by James Willamor.
Moving to a new country is exciting, but not always easy. One of the big challenges is getting over homesickness since you’ve left your friends and family. The best way to feel at home in your new home is to make new friends, and Honduras gets the top spot for friendly expats and locals.
Second Place: Ireland and Belize (Tie; 98/100)
Entertainment & Amenities
First Place: Malaysia and Panama (Tie; 100/100)
Malacca Waterway, Malaysia. Photo by Hadi Zaher.
Both Panama and Malaysia win for having lots to do. You’ll find great options for food, sports, movies, and other activities.
Second Place: Uruguay (98/100)
First Place: Malaysia and Colombia (Tie; 94/100)
Cartagena, Colombia. Photo by Karl Stanton.
In both Malaysia and Colombia, you’ll find excellent hospitals and highly trained doctors at an affordable price. Both countries are popular destinations for medical tourism. Many claim the care is as good as what you’ll find in North America.
Second Place: Costa Rica (92/100)
First Place: Costa Rica (98/100)
Costa Rica. Photo by kansasphoto.
Costa Rica wins this category for making it easy to exercise and eat healthy. Expats speak highly of all the fresh fruit and vegetables in their diets and the availability for hiking.
Second Place: Nicaragua (97/100)
First Place: Spain, Portugal, Malta, and France (Tie; 93/100)
Malta. Photo by Marco M.
It’s no surprise that these four countries are all in Europe. They’ve got good roads, communication, and airports for easily getting back home to visit your friends and family.
Second Place: Italy (92/100)
First Place: Ecuador (100/100)
The climate in Ecuador is quite consistent year round and given the range of geography in this country – beaches, valleys, and mountains – you can pick the temperature you prefer.
Second Place: Colombia (90/100)
First Place: Panama (93.5/100)
Panama has been a perfect destination for retiring abroad for years, and for good reason. It’s affordable, offers a range of lifestyles, has great healthcare, provides a host of activities, and boasts a great climate year-round.
Second Place: Ecuador (92.4/100)