If you have ever thought of living overseas, whether part of the year or full time in retirement, we've got some cool spots for you to check out. These amazing destinations are incredibly affordable compared to living in the United States and offer plenty of culture, food and activities to keep you living your most vibrant and exciting life while abroad.
Travel magazine International Living released its Annual Global Retirement Index, which ranks the 25 best retirement havens in the world.
We'll take a look at the top five destinations in these rankings; they're all places where you can enjoy the ex-pat life safely and comfortably for less than it would cost in the United States.
The index analyzes categories like day-to-day expenses -- groceries; rent; movie theater tickets; eating out; garbage collection; gas; gym memberships; and even the cost of a getting a flight back to the U.S. -- as well as other hidden costs that typically slip our minds.
"While people consider a retirement overseas for lots of reasons -- the adventure, the chance to explore a new place and maybe learn a new language, the travel opportunities, and so on -- the idea of lowering their cost of living while improving their quality of life plays an outsized role for many," said Jennifer Stevens, executive editor of International Living.
"Even before the pandemic, most people had not saved enough for retirement. The extensive job loss we're seeing is going to further exacerbate that situation. But a move to one of the best-value destinations overseas -- even if it's simply for a year or two -- can dramatically lower retirees' everyday costs."
This can help lower stress levels, too, she says.
"Consider a monthly budget of, say, $1,800 for a couple," Stevens said. "In the States, that would require penny-pinching. But take those limited funds to the right spots abroad, and you could watch your lifestyle expand.
"In fact, in the spots that top our Cost of Living category this year, as little as $1,000 a month can bankroll a comfortable lifestyle."
International Living's 2021 Annual Global Retirement Index ranks these countries as the best places to retire safely, comfortably and affordably:
No. 4 (Tie) Ecuador and Cambodia
Ecuador is one of the least-expensive countries in the world and has been gaining favor as an expat destination. Everything from the price of real estate and rent to the cost of hiring a full-time maid and dinner out is much lower than in the States.
Plus, you won't have to forego your favorite conveniences in major cities like Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca. New cars are common, including several brands made in Ecuadorian factories. Almost everyone owns a cellphone (or two), and internet connections are easy to come by.
World-class restaurants serve excellent meals, yet residents report they rarely pay more than $50 for dinner for two at a high-end place -- with drinks included. It's easy to live on less than $20,000 per year.
Donna Stiteler, an International Living Cuenca correspondent who grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, embarked on a new journey in search of somewhere cheaper to live in 2014 -- in Ecuador.
"When I tell people I easily live off $1,800 a month, the first response is usually 'What's the catch?' " Donna said. "I respond by telling them it's what I don't spend that helps me live off of my Social Security.
"I do own my house, but with rents averaging around $450 a month, housing is affordable. I don't need a car because Cuenca is a walkable city, and if I don't feel like walking, taxis run around $3.50 to get almost anywhere in town. Public transportation costs 35 cents for a bus or train ride.
"I live in the Andes where temperatures run in the high 50s in the morning and rise to the mid-70s during the day, so there are no high electric bills; mine averages around $70 a month compared to the $400 I paid during hot summers in Florida."
Progress has been accelerating in Cambodia. Phnom Penh, the capital city of this small, sparsely populated country, is alive with new high-rise buildings, a modern hospital and an improved standard of living for all residents. Once one of the world's poorest countries, Cambodia is now considered to have a lower-middle-income status.
Though the country is advancing, the cost of living is still extraordinarily low when compared with the U.S. A couple might spend as little as $1,355 a month living in the main cities and towns of Cambodia. A housekeeper charges $35 a month to come in once a week, and a cell phone bill might come to less than $10 a month for unlimited calls, messages and internet.
"One of the best values, if you're living in Cambodia, is the low cost of your rent," said Wendy Justice, International Living Southeast Asia correspondent. "Prices for apartments with Western amenities in the heart of cosmopolitan Phnom Penh start at less than $300 per month; spend around $600 and you'll be living in a comfortable, middle-class place with all the conveniences you need and maybe a few extras, too."
Phnom Penh is the largest city in the country and offers a diverse mix of historic cultural landmarks, French colonial buildings and grand boulevards, traditional markets, pagodas and palaces.
"One of the most enjoyable activities in this city is taking a stroll along the boardwalk at Sisowath Quay," Justice said. "Pull up a chair at one of the many bars and restaurants, and cool down with a cold Angkor beer for $1. The fantastically ornate Royal Palace and the chaotic night market are just down the street, too."
No. 3 Bolivia
Bolivia might slip under the radar of most potential expats. Yet, this landlocked South American country surrounded by Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay offers a lot of advantages. One being the extremely low cost of living.
A retired couple can live on $1,000 or less per month. During research trips, International Living correspondents have met retired singles living on as little as $500 per month. How is this possible?
"I met two single retired women, one who owned a home in the countryside, the other whose rent was $125 per month for a two-bedroom home in the colonial center of Sucre," said Jason Holland, the magazine's roving Latin America editor. "Both have a monthly budget of $500 to $600."
Itâs very affordable in Bolivia, clearly. This is because it's still a developing country and one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Also, tourism, which tends to drive up prices worldwide, is very limited. So far, Bolivia sees few expats, and this helps keep prices low, especially for things like housing.
Holland reports: "Those pioneers who've made a home there enjoy a great lifestyle for less because even if it is a bit rough around the edges, it still has plenty of modern conveniences and amenities in the cities.
"It's surprisingly sophisticated. You can stroll through modern shopping malls, go to fancy restaurants, chill out in trendy cafes, and buy imported items in large supermarkets."
No. 2 Sri Lanka
A prospective expat looking for a destination that's affordable, rich in culture and diverse in its offerings should consider Sri Lanka, which offers a fine quality of life. The destination is fast becoming a popular choice for many expats.
Located just below India, with Africa to the west, Europe to its north and Southeast Asia to its east, the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean" is a gem that's largely undiscovered by Americans, though it's not unknown to British transplants who enjoy the warm sun and nice beaches.
The capital city of Colombo features 5-star hotels, clubs, theaters, museums, shopping malls and restaurants to cater to your every taste. However, living in the city can be expensive, and it's not the best option for budget-minded expats.
"If you're looking for an affordable lifestyle close to the city, the greater city locations such as Dehiwela, Nugegoda, Moratuwa and Ja-ela offer more bang for your buck," International Living contributor Sharmila Perera says. "You can find rentals here from $500 a month. It is close enough to get to the city for a night out but just far enough for it to be less expensive."
For beach lovers, the choices are numerous. For surfers and other water sports enthusiasts, you'll be drawn to the south of the country to live in locations like Arugambe, Beruwala, Bentota, Matara, Tangalla and Mirissa.
"These areas attract a lot of tourists, and you'll find lots of cafes, beach restaurants and vibrant expat communities of retirees interested in an active lifestyle," Perera said. "It can be a little more expensive than the hills; a three-bedroom house here could be rented for between $400 to $700 a month."
A couple in the south could live in a nice home a five- or a 10-minute drive from the coast, employ a maid and eat out -- and do it all for as little as $1,000 a month.
No. 1 Vietnam
Vietnam is a fascinating and vibrant destination, rich in natural beauty, steeped in history and brimming with wonderful activities for expats. You can find plenty of modern, high-quality housing for low prices in the heart of a city, nestled among pine-forested mountains, or overlooking a sun-washed beach.
The country offers lots of great-value options. Prices are consistently less than half of what retirees might expect to pay in the West.
"My husband and I live in a spacious furnished apartment down a small lane in a quiet, friendly neighborhood," International Living Southeast Asia correspondent Wendy Justice said. "It's in the heart of Hanoi, close to everything. There are dozens of great restaurants, three bakeries and several supermarkets all within walking distance.
"Our apartment has more conveniences that we had in the U.S.: a wonderful kitchen with a five-burner gas stove and oven, a huge refrigerator with an ice maker and two freezers, a washer and dryer, two modern bathrooms and big flat-screen TVs."
Justice says, "Our apartment costs about $740 per month, including housekeeping and all utilities other than electricity. It's rare that we'll spend more than $10 for dinner, including beverages and a tip. We can fly to another town for around $25 per person, including baggage, and we can stay in a five-star hotel for $40 or less if we shop around a bit."
"I couldn't afford to live like this back in the U.S. Altogether, we spend around $1,200 per month here in Hanoi, Vietnam's second most expensive city. In towns like Da Lat or Nha Trang, our monthly budget living a comparable lifestyle would be around $1,000 -- or even less. It's a small price to pay to live in one of the most amazing places in the world."
More details on the top five countries in the "Cost of Living" category of International Living's Annual Global Retirement Index 2021 can be found here: The Cheapest Places in the World to Live in 2021.
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