What is the best country to retire to? Find out here.
How did I think about the best countries to retire to? Well, most of the days I leave my office around 20:00, a time I established years ago.
Last Thursday, however, I left work earlier, at 18:00, to enjoy more of the summer daylight. Then I realized why I leave work at 20:00. In a metropolis with 2 million inhabitants, the traffic at 18:00 is just unbearable. It took over one hour to make half of my way home.
Why do I live in an overpriced capital city with polluted air, above-average criminality levels, and spending hours in traffic? On, because we (my wife and me) need to make money, that is why.
But that is not the situation for everyone. If you are a pensioner or just part of the lucky ones who accumulated enough to live on the return of invested capital, there is a shiny door open for you.
The golden gates for a better quality of life.
The path to make the most of your money and live as you dreamed to. Something that we, poor fellows locked in the metropolitan rat race, can only dream about.
Why Move Out for Retirement?
If you don’t need to live in a big urban center because of the proximity of your work or clients, I imagine that the only reason to keep living there is due to some sadistic pleasure in breathing insulting doses of CO2 and punishing your body with untold amounts of cortisol.
But if this is not the case, I imagine you would prefer fresh air, a pleasant climate, a friendly neighborhood, high-quality healthcare, stable government, and lower living costs.
These are the criteria used to rank the best places to retire in the world. You can also understand this list as a rank of great places to live on invested capital. Most of these spots have a decent communication infrastructure, so they are also friendly to digital nomads and remote workers.
If you prefer to retire only in the old continent, we have another list of the best places to retire in Europe.
Criteria to Rank the Best Countries to Retire in the World
There are multiple rankings about the best countries to retire to on the internet. Some rankings are better than others, because of the factors considered.
One example is the ranking compiled by the U.S News, called Best Countries for a Comfortable Retirement. While it analyzes important factors like health-system and climate, its focus on upper-income readers blurry the affordability criteria, resulting in a first-place for…. Switzerland.
Not that Switzerland is an awful place to retire. It is great if you are a billionaire, an exiled dictator, or a Russian oligarch, but it is for the very top of the pyramid.
The reason I prefer the rank of the best countries to retire from the International Living is that it considers the common, middle-class citizen instead of the super-rich.
- Housing: Things like the price of apartments and houses in districts where an expatriate retiree would prefer to live in. Expenses like property taxes and restrictions on foreigners buying property are also considered. Here in Poland, for example, a foreigner can buy an apartment but not a house.
- Benefits & Discounts. Benefits and discounts retirees can get in the country.
- Visas & Residence. If a country puts every kind of obstacle for a pensioner to get a permanent residence, it is not a good place to retire.
- Fitting In/Entertainment. How easy is it to adapt to the local way of life? How much of a culture shock will experience a retired expatriate?
- Development. Reliable infrastructure, public transport, and other services come into this indicator.
- Climate. If you are moving to have a good life, scorching heat and long, dark winters are unlikely to be part of your dreams.
- Healthcare. How expensive and available is good healthcare? A self-explanatory indicator.
- Governance. Revolutions and riots are not on the shopping list of most pensioners. A stable government and clear rules matter for governance.
- Opportunity. It is not because an individual retires that he/she will give up any business idea. Remember the words of entrepreneurs like Jack Ma or Colonel Sanders: good business ideas do not have an age limit. Does the country provide opportunities for entrepreneurial ventures?
- Cost of Living. Differences in the price tags of consumer goods and services between countries are the difference between living on a shoestring and the comfort of an aristocrat.
Now that the criteria considered are clear, it is time to start the rank of the 15 best countries to retire in a high style.
The 15 Best Countries to Retire in the World
Average Score: 72.6
This island-nation full of friendly people and with a turbulent history scored very high results in development (95 on a scale from 0 to 100), fitting in & entertainment (86), and healthcare (84), but low results in Visa & Residence (62), Discounts (60), Housing (60) and Climate (58) pushed it to a not-impressive 15th place.
Average Score: 72.6
Peru scored a near-perfect score in Cost of Living (92), and also had good marks on Climate (87) and Visa & Residence (82). On the lower side, it scored only 56 on two important indicators: Development, and Benefits & Discounts.
Average Score: 74.5
Uruguay didn’t score high (above 90) in any indicator, reaching decent notes in most elements like Development (88) and Governance (84) and low but not tragic notes in Climate (58), Housing (66), and Opportunity (69). Just enough for 13th place.
Average Score: 74.6
Cambodia marked a whopping 93 in Cost of Living. I remind my last trip to that country where paying prices that in Europe would put me in a Hostel, I could enjoy a boutique hotel with massagists. On the unpleasant side, Cambodia scored 57 in Climate — it is a steamy, sultry country — and 62 in Benefits & Discounts.
Average Score: 74.8
If your priority is good access to healthcare, Spain should be on your list, since they reached impressive 96 points on it. The bureaucracy to get a permanent residence if you are a non-EU citizen, however, may be a problem. They marked only 60 points in Visa & Residence.
Average Score: 75.5
Vietnam is the most affordable country in this ranking, and that is signaled by 99 points in 100 in the Cost of Living criteria. On the other side, they scored only 60 in Climate, Visa & Residence, and Benefits & Discounts.
Average Score: 76
Malta achieved remarkable results in Fitting in & Entertainment — no surprise, since its large population of expatriates and bubbling nightlife — with a 90 score. It also marked 86 in Visa & Residence, confirmed by the large population of retired foreigners that chose this Island because of its welcoming laws for individuals with a stable income. In any indicator, Malta scored less than 60, granting her a place in the top 10.
Average Score: 76.4
With a 96 in the Development factor, France has an ample offer of public services and an excellent infrastructure in the heart of Europe. Its lowest results are in Cost of Living (69), Visa & Residence (68), and Housing (65).
07: Malaysia (The Best Asian Country to Retire to)
Average Score: 79.8
This Southeast Asia country had excellent results in Development (92), Cost of Living (91), and Healthcare (90). Its lowest result is on the Climate indicator (62). Malaysia is a hot, humid country with a long wet season and prone to mosquitoes buzzing around, but there are beach-inviting sunny days too.
Average Score: 83
As any person that visited Ecuador could expect, it had an exceptional result in Cost of Living (93). The surprise is that there is another indicator where this country had an even better result: Benefits & Discount (95). Its worst result came in governance (70). It is South America after all. I write that as a South American myself.
05: Portugal (The Best European Country to Retire to)
Average Score: 83.2
The country from Cristiano Ronaldo and Fado opens the top 5 of the best countries to retire with only one result above 90, but one that is critical for pensioners: healthcare, where Portugal scored an extraordinary 95. This nation with extraordinary culinary also had good scores in every other indicator except one: Visa & Residence, with only 64. For European Union citizens, however, settling in Portugal is much easier.
04: Colombia (The Best South American Country to Retire to)
Average Score: 83.3
Confession: it surprised me to see the 4th and 3rd places in this ranking (while the top positions were pretty much what I expected). It surprised me even more that Colombia had extraordinary results in Healthcare (96) and Development (86) since I always imagined it as a country similar to Brazil, my homeland. The ranking, however, does not consider only the public health services, but also the private (and their prices). Colombia has a high-quality private health system and very affordable prices.
Average Score: 83.5
Mexico had very similar results to Colombia, doing well in Healthcare because of its extensive and affordable private network. It did better than Colombia in Housing (86) and Fitting In (94), granting this North-American country a place on the podium of the best countries to retire.
Average Score: 84.4
Panama’s lowest score was 76 (in Development). This is higher than the highest indicator in many countries of the research. It marked 97 in Visa & Residence, 96 in Benefits & Discounts, 88 in Healthcare, 83 in Cost of Living, and 82 in Opportunity.
Retiree Denise Hadley, in an interview for Travel Awaits, explained why she chose Panama:
We are renting a 1,500-square-foot beachfront modern apartment with an amazing view of the mountains and the beach. It is $1,400 plus electricity and internet. In Portland that amount would cover a mediocre one-bedroom apartment, not including garbage and water.
The Best Country in the World to Retire to: Costa Rica
Average Score: 85.2
It was a close match between Panama and Costa Rica, but the country of Goalkeeper Keylor Navas predominated with a 97 in Healthcare, 92 in Fitting in & Entertainment, 92 in Development, 88 in Benefits & Discounts, 86 in Visa & Residence, 84 in Cost of Living and 80 in Climate. The worst indicator was Opportunity, with a still respectful 79 score.
[It’s an] extremely high level of medical and dental care. Many medical professionals in the private health sector have studied in the U.S., speak English, and offer the same quality of service at a fraction of the cost. […]Many first-time visitors are blown away by how fresh the produce tastes here.
If you are not thinking about the best countries to retire to yet…
But looking for a place to start a business and begin an entrepreneurial venture, better check business-friendly countries with low taxes and little bureaucracy, or think about greenfield spots, like Paraguay. If instead, you are looking for a place to start a new life with no resources to invest in a business, there are also some places good to start a new life with no money. And, lastly, if your target is Europe, look at this guide about starting a business in Europe as a foreigner.