From Europe to Central America, Here Are the Best Countries to Retire
How did I think about the best countries to retire to? Well, most of 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 (and that is a reason to pay attention to some of the most business-friendly countries in the world).
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.
Ps: If you are interested in retiring abroad, our consultancy’s team wrote a few articles about hot retirement destinations, such as:
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.
Switzerland is indeed a good place to retire, but not for everyone. 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 is private health insurance and how 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.
The ranking also considers entire countries. There are some places that are good for retirement, like Bali, or the beaches in Jamaica, or even low-taxation territories of the US like Puerto Rico, but they are just a tiny region of their countries and often exceptions. There are other places that have low cost of living, like those mentioned in this list of the cheapest places to live in South America, but maybe they are not suitable to retirees that want more infrastructure.
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
We start the top 15 with this island in Western Europe. By the way, it’s surprising that Europe doesn’t have many representatives on the rest of the list.
Ireland is 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). Good health care quality is reflected in the very high average life expectancy: 82.6 years.
However, Ireland had low results in Visa & Residence (62), Discounts (60), Housing (60), and Climate (58) pushing it to a non-impressive 15th place. Due to the country’s high average monthly income, living expenses are also relatively high. There are also other environmental factors that may be against the island, like the wet, cloudy weather during long periods of the year (that is why the best time of the year to visit Ireland is april).
Average Score: 72.6
This is the first country from Latin America in this ranking, but not the only one.
Peru scored a near-perfect score in Cost of Living (92), and also had good marks on Climate (87) and Visa & Residence (82). Peru has surprisingly low bureaucracy for obtaining temporary or even permanent residency when compared to other countries in the region.
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.
Uruguay has also high political stability when compared to virtually all other south-American countries. We wrote an entire article dedicated to the pros and cons of retirement in Uruguay, and it is quite an interesting piece.
In South America, the only country that rivals Uruguay in terms of quality of life and stability is Chile.
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. Foreigners can buy into a type of national health insurance plan in Spain that gives them access to public health care. This agreement is also called “Convenio Especial.”
Regarding living costs, big cities like Madrid (one of the safest European capitals) or Barcelona have remarkably higher price tags than smaller cities.
If you are interested in retirement in this really attractive country, we prepared a list for you with the best cities to retire in Spain.
The bureaucracy to get permanent residence if you are a non-EU citizen, however, may be a problem. They marked only 60 points in Visa & Residence. If you are planning to move, check out our tips on immigration to Spain.
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.
The low cost of this country extends to items like housing, grocery shopping, and even healthcare Vietnamese pharmaceutical companies produce multiple types of low-cost generic drugs, and public system hospitals are generally reliable (although not free).
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 the island nation has a large population of expatriates (there are six expatriate types, discover yours here) and a bubbling nightlife even for senior citizens— with a 90 score.
This small country between Italy and North Africa 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 as an ideal retirement location.
Natural beauty and endless sunny days are some additional perks offered by Malta.
Average Score: 76.4
Check also our article Pros and Cons of Living in France as a Foreigner
With a 96 in the Development factor, France has an ample offer of public services and an excellent infrastructure in the heart of Europe. This may explain why France has 2 cities among the fastest growing in Europe.
Its lowest results are in Cost of Living (69), Visa & Residence (68), and Housing (65). There are also other issues, like the high government debt (almost 100% of the GDP) imposing higher financial contributions from the citizens.
07: Malaysia (The Best Asian Country to Retire to)
Average Score: 79.8
The highest-ranked country from Asia in this list 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 is 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
To retire there became such a popular idea that we wrote an entire article with the best places to retire in Portugal. The country of Cristiano Ronaldo and Fado is also the best among the European countries. No wonder this nation also has one of the lowest living expenses in western Europe.
On the other hand, Portugal is also among the countries with the worst population declines, since Portuguese fertility rates are very low.
Lisbon is remarkably safe when compared to other European capitals. Portugal also has one of the fastest-growing retirement aged population in the World, which may be good news for pensioners wanting to socialize. It is also one of the cheapest European destinations to fly to if you are from America.
There is also less tax pressure in Portugal than in neighboring countries like Spain. Wages earned in Portugal are subject to a 20% tax, but income earned outside of Portugal, like pensions, is subject to only a 10% tax. Spain, on the other hand, does not provide such tax incentives.
Portugal 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 cuisine and warm weather 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: among all the countries, 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. Housing costs are also remarkably low when compared to developed economies.
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.
Giving the numbers of expatriates looking to retire in this country, we wrote an entire article about the best places to retire in Mexico.
There are other pros, like the world renowned cuisine, as well as cons (eg: the country’s corruption levels). Often foreigners tend to favor places facing the Caribbean sea for a retirement house, but there are also attractive destinations on the Pacific ocean side.
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.
It is a popular country among US pensioners. That explains why of our most successful articles to date is about retirement in Panama, a low-tax gem in South America.
This country in Central America is very well connected to the USA due to its flag carrier airline (Copa), which is an extra pro for American retirees.
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 is no secret that Costa Rica is a retirement friendly country and most expats (especially American expats) report positive experiences. English is widely spoken as a second language: 38% of Costa Ricans are proficient in it.
Costa Rica had only the 8th place among the best countries to live in Latin America, and that may raise some questions: how the best country to retire in the world is only the 8th in Latin America? It is because the cost of living in Costa Rica is more expensive than Bolivia or Ecuador, and that had a high weight in the rank mentioned, but not here, since Cost Rica is still way cheaper than the US, for example.
[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.