10 Best Countries to Retire to in 2016

By Marjorie A. Cohen

If you’re thinking about retiring to another country in 2016 and have no idea where in the world might be the best place to head, here’s a good place to start: Take a look at what the two leading sources on retirement abroad, Live and Invest Overseas and International Living, have to say in their year-end “best of” lists. Each year, both of these organizations survey their writers and correspondents from all over the world, collect the data, “run the numbers” and come up with their own list of favorites. International Living puts together a list of the 23 best, Live and Invest Overseas rates the top 12.

What we find so interesting is that the top five choices of each organization don’t overlap at all – the lists are completely different. Live and Invest Overseas is bullish on Europe: “We’ve got three European destinations among the top five,” says founder and publisher Kathleen Peddicord. “The weak euro and depressed markets across Europe in general are combining to make that region more affordable for Americans than it has been in a long time. This is a window of opportunity to realize retirement in the Old World.” According to International Living’s list, four out of the top five are in Central America, none are in Europe.

Both groups consider some of the same criteria when making their determinations. Residency requirements, cost of living, cost of buying and renting a home, entertainment, healthcare, infrastructure – all are part of the formula for both. Live and Invest Overseas has added environment, safety and taxes; International Living includes benefits and discounts, fitting in, climate and healthy lifestyle. Jennifer Stevens, IL’s executive editor, explains the reason for that last one: “Folks are concerned about where their food is coming from. They want to feel better. They want to live a more healthy lifestyle, and that’s a lot easier to do in many of the places we write about overseas than it is Stateside.”

Here are each company’s top five destinations, along with some of the reasons these places have earned their spot on the list. All quotes are from the actual reports.

Top Picks from Live and Invest Overseas

No.1: Algarve, Portugal

Expat Global Medical

This is the third year in a row that this southern coast of Portugal has placed first with Live and Invest Overseas. The reason? Its low cost of living and real estate, great weather, established expat community, user-friendly and low-cost retiree residency program and “endless options for how to meaningfully fill your days and evenings.” With safety a very real consideration these days, “it is one of the safest places on Earth right now. And when it comes to bargain living,” a retired couple could live here comfortably on a budget of as little as $1,500 per month. Add another $500 and “you could enjoy a fully appointed lifestyle in the heart of Old Europe.”

No.2: Cayo, Belize

Expat Global Medical

According to the survey, Belize is “one of the quirkiest countries in the world.” (The Cayo District is in its interior.) Described as a “a sunny country, that’s easily accessible from the United States and where the folks all speak English,” it’s also one of the easiest places in the world “to establish foreign residency, as well as a banking and a tax haven.”

No.3: Medellín, Colombia

Expat Global Medical

Remember when Medellín was a drug- and crime-ridden city? Not any more. Now it is “establishing a name for itself as one of the world’s most progressive cities.” It is a city of parks and flowers – ”pretty, tidy and architecturally pleasing.” The climate is one of “eternal springtime,” no heating or air-conditioning costs necessary. It’s possible to enjoy a luxury-level retirement in Medellín on a modest budget and enjoy the perks of the economic, literary and artistic center of the country.

No.4: Pau, France

Expat Global Medical France

Expat Global Medical France

Pronounced “paw,” this town is in the Basque region of France where “every house is painted white with accents of Basque red.” The retiree who has dreamt of France “but can’t afford Paris should consider this part of the country.” A couple could retire here on as little as $2,000 a month and enjoy the ”small steep valleys, rolling hills, towering mountains, meandering rivers, a wild coastline, forests and woodland.”

No.5: Abruzzo, Italy

Expat Global Medical Italy

This area of central Italy stretches from the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea and features both beaches and mountains, meaning that “living here you’d have both skiing and beachcombing on your doorstep, depending on the season.” It’s not overcrowded and has no heavy industry – ”only castles, vineyards and villages made of stone.” If the current euro to dollar exchange rate holds, a couple could retire here on $1,800 or less per month.

Top Choices of International Living

No.1: Panama

Expat Global Medical

IL assigns numerical scores to their listings, and Panama scored 93.5 out of 100. Fifty thousand U.S. expats live “along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, on white sand islands, and nestled in mountain valleys and along the glittering promenade of Panama City,” just a three-hour flight from Miami. One expat living in Santa Fe reports that “a couple can manage on as little as $750 a month here if they own their own home.” And here’s some surprising information from an expat who lives in the city of David: “I have more sense of belonging here…than I ever felt in the U.S.”

No.2: Ecuador

Expat Global Medical

Ecuador gets top ranking for best bang for your buck in real estate. “You can rent a two-bedroom apartment for $500 or less in the colonial city of Cuenca or for $450–$600 in the mountain town of Cotacachi.” In the capital city of Quito, “where you have great healthcare and amenities within easy reach,” rentals can be had for under $1,000. Want to buy an apartment? How about a 1,300-square-foot one with three bedrooms and two and a half baths on the Malecon (beachfront promenade) in Salinas for just under $150,000? And should you want to try farming in your retirement years, “fertile land is available in the northern Andes region for as little as $500 an acre.”

No.3: Mexico

Expat Global Medical

Nearly 1 million U.S. citizens live in Mexico, and one of the reasons is its uncomplicated visa and residency requirements. You can spend six months in Mexico with a visitor visa – ”plenty of time to check out great retirement spots like Tulum and San Miguel de Allende.” If you know that you want to stay longer, you can get a permanent visa right from the start by showing that you have about $2,100 per month in income. With a permanent visa comes a pensioner’s card making you eligible for discounts on both goods and services.

No.4: Costa Rica

Expat Global Medical

Being able to live a healthy lifestyle seems to be a big concern of would-be retirees, and Costa Rica scores 98 in that category. The country’s climate makes growing fresh produce easy and “farmers’ markets and produce stands offer lots of opportunities to fill your fridge for under $40 per week.” Good weather makes it easy, too, to get out and enjoy outdoor activities. But, if good food and exercise fail, healthcare scores high as well ”with hospitals and facilities to rival the best in North America for a much lower cost.”

No.5: Malaysia

Expat Global Medical

This country earned high marks for “fitting in” and “entertainment and amenities” and came second only to Ecuador for bargains in buying and renting a home. One expat reported that he and his wife pay $950 a month for a 2,100-square-foot, 3-bedroom condo with “gleaming marble floors in the living areas, high ceilings throughout and polished parquet floors in the bedrooms.” Their condo property includes a gym, landscaped garden, golf chipping green and swimming pool.

Use the facts and figures that these two organizations have put together to help you decide where you should go to retire, but you’d be wise to follow this advice from Peddicord: “Be honest with yourself….Make a short list of what’s most important to you and then don’t compromise on the top two or three items on that list.” And, of course, it’s always best to spend some time on the ground getting a real feel for what life would be like in your planned retirement spot before you call the movers.