The World’s Best Places to Retire 2018

By Suzan Haskins and Dan Prescher: International Living

For 38 years, International Living has been researching and reporting about retirement and lifestyle opportunities overseas…the places where money goes the farthest, climate is best, culture and food is most interesting, healthcare is high-quality and affordable, and life just moves at a generally slower, easier pace.

We’ve been writing for International Living for 17 of those 38 years, and as it happens, we’re very familiar with many of the destinations that top the newly released 2018 Global Retirement Index, because we’ve lived in several of them and repeatedly visited and reported on most of the others.

Tamarindo surf, Tamarindo beach, Tamarindo, Costa Rica.
Tamarindo surf, Tamarindo beach, Tamarindo, Costa Rica.

In fact, we were married in this year’s top retirement destination, Costa Rica, back in 1997, and we’ve been back nearly every year since. The Index itself lists all the reasons Costa Rica came out on top for 2018, and we agree with every one…especially the part about pura vida. It’s the country’s unofficial slogan, and it means “pure life” or “good life.” The idea that life should be simple, happy, and pure is such a part of the Costa Rican psyche that you can even say “pura vida” in place of hello and goodbye or cool.

(Another remarkable aspect of Costa Rica is that it’s so stable and peaceful, it doesn’t even have a standing army. And last year, almost 100% of its energy came from renewable resources.)

But back to International Living’s Global Retirement Index: We’re currently legal residents of Mexico. Over the years, we’ve lived in three different cities in Mexico, the #2 country on the Index.

For us, no matter where else we go, Mexico keeps calling us back—a call we’ve been happy to answer. Quite simply, Mexico is an easy and the convenient place to be an expat retiree. If you have friends and family in the States, getting back and forth is a breeze, with direct flights from most major cities in both countries.

With the currently strong dollar against the peso, Mexico is an amazing bargain. A couple can live very well on $1,500 to $3,000 a month, including rent and a top-quality healthcare plan. It doesn’t hurt that Mexico offers literally dozens of places to do that, with long Pacific and Gulf/Caribbean Coasts for beach lovers and awe-inspiring mountains, deserts, forests, lakes, rivers, and valleys in between.

In third place on the Global Retirement Index—Panama—was the first country we explored, back in 2000, when we were first thinking of living overseas. We lived in Panama City for a time in 2006 and, as with Costa Rica, we still return for a visit every year. (Our granddaughter’s other grandparents are Panamanian, so we have family there.)

Panama is notable for its top-notch infrastructure. Americans have been working and living in Panama since the Panama Canal was built, so there is a large and well-established expat community, with just about every modern-world amenity you might want or need. And for such a small country, you’ll find a variety of different locations to consider, from bustling Panama City to expat-popular Boquete in the Chiriqui Province in the west…and miles of both Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

Loja, Ecuador.
Loja, Ecuador.

Ecuador ranks #4 on this year’s Index, and it’s especially close to our hearts. We lived in Quito, the capital, in 2001 and made a very happy home in the little mountain village of Cotacachi from 2011 until just last year. And we weren’t even in the most popular expat spots…that title is held by Cuenca, another beautiful highland city. If you’re a beach lover, there are several towns along Ecuador’s Pacific coast to check out. Some say the Ecuadorian coast reminds them somewhat of Northern California—only at 1960s prices for beach properties and condos.

Malaysia is the one place in the top five countries on the Index that we personally have never been to or lived in—but maybe we should. As an ex-colony of Britain, English is widely spoken. Expat clubs have been around since the 1700s and still welcome new members. The cost of living in bang-for-buck Malaysia is hard to beat, too…a couple can live comfortably on $1,500 a month, or extravagantly on $2,500 a month, including rent. For $700 a month you can rent a 2,195 square-foot, four-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Penang on a natural harbor overlooking the Straits of Malacca.

Rounding out the top 10 on this year’s Global Retirement Index are:

Colombia at #6—we’ve been there several times, and the first thing we discovered is that it’s not what we thought. Its former narco reputation is decades outdated. Today’s Colombia is smart, thriving, and modern, with some of the most breathtaking scenery we’ve ever seen.

At #7, Portugal is the top-ranking spot in Europe on this year’s Index. We have friends who live there and love it. They spend their days exploring the gorgeous beaches and say those beaches alone are enough to keep them there, although the low cost of living is another great feature. Portugal offers arguably the lowest cost of living in Western Europe—a couple can live on a monthly budget of $1,761. And it’s definitely on our bucket list to check out.

Small beach and boat-filled harbor area near Cascais's cathedral, close-up. Cascais, Portugal.
Small beach and boat-filled harbor area near Cascais's cathedral, close-up. Cascais, Portugal.

Nicaragua came in at #8. We lived there in 2007 in San Juan del Sur, along the country’s most famous stretch of surfing coast and within site of the northern headlands of Costa Rica. In fact, at that time, people were calling it “Costa Rica at half the price,” and in some cases, that still rings true. For all the impressive coastline and colonial charm Nicaragua has, it’s one of Central America’s best value destinations.

Spain ranks #9 on the Index, and who wouldn’t want to live there? You’ll find Old World culture but modern-world comforts…and most-excellent food and wine. And as in Mexico, your strong dollar exchange rate goes far in Spain today.

At #10 is a relative newcomer to the Index—Peru. We visited Peru in 2002 and would happily return. Cusco remains one of our favorite travel spots and is one of the most beautiful cities we’ve visited. If you have any interest in archeology and ancient culture, Peru is filled with the astounding ruins of the Incas and the still-thriving cultures of several indigenous groups.

Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru.
Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru.

Yes, we still have a couple of places to visit, but we’ve had the extreme good fortune to have real-world experience with many of the top countries on the 2018 Global Retirement Index. And we can say from that personal experience that you can indeed have a better retirement overseas. Money goes farther, costs are lower, weather is better, healthcare is more affordable, and things are just generally more colorful, unique, and interesting.

All you have to do is pick a place. And take it from us…it can be hard to choose!

This article comes to us courtesy of InternationalLiving.com, the world’s leading authority on how to live, work, invest, travel, and retire better overseas.

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