Business, Finance & Economics

Top budget retirement destinations abroad


Are you one of the Americans struggling to save for retirement who President Barack Obama mentioned in his State of the Union address? GlobalPost has put together a slideshow of some of the best places to settle down when you need to make your dollar last. We favored countries that not only have low costs of living but also offer beautiful, relaxing settings; access to good medical care; and a range of activities to keep you busy.

Check out our slideshow and let us know what you think. Have you already retired abroad? Know other great inexpensive retirement destinations? Share your suggestions with other readers in the comments section below.

Notes on methodology: 

The Cost of Living Index, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, compares the cost of maintaining a typical international lifestyle in a foreign country with that of in New York City. New York prices are the base at 100. The figures come from the Economist’s Pocket World in Figures 2009 Edition.

The United Nations Human Development Index measures a country’s adult literacy, life expectancy and income levels. The figures here, which come from the U.N. Human Development Report 2009, are scaled from 0 to 100. Countries scoring over 80 are considered to have high human development and those scoring under 50 have low human development. The United States has a human development index of 95.6.

Costa Rica
With lush forests, beautiful beaches, rich biodiversity and affordable living, Costa Rica is a prime tourist and retirement destination. It has a high standard of living and modern amenities for less than the price in Europe or the United States.

  • Activities: Rainforests, volcanoes, bird watching, ecotourism, beaches
  • Cost of living: 57
  • Healthcare: Medical care is adequate but limited outside San Jose.
  • Human development index: 85.4
  • Weather: Tropical

If you retire in Ecuador, you can rent a condo in the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca for $300 a month, according to International Living magazine, which gave the country its No. 1 spot in its 2009 World’s Top Retirement Havens. Plus, it states, retirees never have to wait on line!

  • Activities: Hiking in tropical cloud forests, beaches, bird watching, shopping, UNESCO World Heritage sites, visits to the Galapagos Islands
  • Cost of living: N/A
  • Health care: Adequate, inexpensive medical care is available in the major cities, but services are limited beyond that.
  • Human development index: 80.6
  • Weather: Tropical to temperate

Thailand’s delicious food, gorgeous beaches, excellent health facilities and low cost of living — an hour-long massage can cost less than $10 — have made it a popular retirement destination.

  • Activities: Shopping, hiking, beaches, Buddhist temples
  • Cost of living: 74
  • Healthcare: High quality, affordable medical care has made Thailand a prime medical tourism destination. Medical facilities outside the major cities are limited.
  • Human development index: 78.3
  • Weather: Tropical

Mexico’s proximity to the United States, geographic diversity and cultural treats make it another popular destination for Americans looking to find an inexpensive place to retire. And the low cost of labor means you can hire a housekeeper and gardener to come three times a week for $150 a week, according to International Living magazine.

  • Activities: Ruins, beaches, mountains, art
  • Cost of living: 80
  • Healthcare: Excellent health facilities in Mexico City; adequate care in other major cities.
  • Human development index: 85.4
  • Weather: Arid to tropical

Boasting a beautiful waterfront and rich cultural life, Uruguay’s capital and largest city Montevideo received South America’s highest rating in Mercer’s Quality of Living global city rankings 2009.

  • Activities: Beaches, music and art scene, colonial towns
  • Cost of Living: N/A
  • Healthcare: Medical facilities are considered adequate. Serious problems may require evacuation.
  • Human development index: 86.5
  • Weather: Mild

South Africa
Thanks to its sandy beaches and majestic Table Mountain, Cape Town is known as one of the world’s most beautiful cities and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Africa. Retirees — especially those who love high quality, inexpensive wine and/or facelifts — can find plenty to keep themselves busy here.

  • Activities: Beaches, mountains, wineries, safaris
  • Cost of living: 68
  • Healthcare: High quality medical care is available in major cities. Less expensive private hospitals have made South Africa a destination for plastic surgery tourism.
  • Human development index: 68.3
  • Weather: Cape Town’s winters are mild; beautiful summers

Panama’s pensionado program, which entitles retirees to all sorts of discounts including 50 percent off movie and theater tickets and 30 percent off public transportation, has made this Central American country a hot spot for retirees looking for a less expensive option. It topped International Living’s annual Global Retirement Index for six years straight.

  • Activities: Beaches, mountains, rainforests
  • Cost of living: N/A
  • Healthcare: High quality, affordable. Many hospitals in Panama City are affiliated with U.S. hospitals. Medical facilities outside the capital are limited.
  • Human development index: 84.0
  • Weather: Tropical

To encourage foreigners, including retirees, to relocate to Malaysia, the government provides renewable, 10-year multiple-entry visas. Benefits from the “Malaysia — My Second Home” program include exemption from Malaysian income tax on pensions, according to International Living.

  • Activities: Beaches, rainforests, restaurants featuring country’s rich diversity
  • Cost of living: 71
  • Healthcare: Medical facilities in larger cities are considered adequate. Serious problems may require evacuation.
  • Human development index: 82.9
  • Weather: Hot and humid

A mix of European and indigenous American cultures have made Argentina a cultural hotspot, and the low cost of living means it’s a great place to retire on the cheap.

  • Activities: Soccer matches, cosmopolitan cities, tango dancing, wine tasting, beautiful landscapes
  • Cost of living: 57
  • Healthcare: Varies widely. Foreigners can visit British and German hospitals.
  • Human development index: 86.6
  • Weather: Mostly temperate, ranges from subtropical in the north to subantarctic in the far south

Retire in Bulgaria, and you can explore nine Unesco World Heritage Sites, visit quaint villages and lounge on long, sandy beaches. It is easy to travel to other European destinations, but you can live on much less in Bulgaria.

  • Activities: Sandy beaches, snow-topped mountains, rich cultural heritage, cosmopolitan capital
  • Cost of living: 66
  • Healthcare: Most physicians are highly trained, but many hospitals and clinics are not equipped to meet U.S. standards.
  • Human development index: 84.0
  • Weather: Temperate

Have suggestions for other fabulous and inexpensive retirement destinations? Leave your ideas in the comments section below.