Top 15 best foreign countries for retirement: 2014

For those with retirement around the corner or who are already retired, picking a place to retire could be a key element into how fulfilling, meaning financially comfortable, retirement will be. With many early boomers' retirement portfolios punished by the financial crisis and low interest rates, the choice of where to live is even more critical.

International Living magazine released the results of its most recent Global Retirement Index last week, with some familiar countries on the list and some new ones. The magazine bases it index on data gathered from editors, correspondents and experts living in the countries that it ranks.

International Living scored 24 countries in eight categories: real estate, special benefits, cost of living, ease of integration for foreigners, entertainment and amenities, health care, retirement infrastructure and climate.

The “special benefits” International Living considered include government provisions that make it easy for Americans to move to and live in each country. Things like discounts on health care, airfares, utilities, duty fees on imported goods, and property rights and taxes were considered. For the “ease of integration” category, International Living considered how widely English is spoken in the country, the friendliness of locals to foreign residents and the size of the current expat community.

Due to its proximity and similar time zones to the United States, Central and South America are obvious choices for retiree destinations, and several of the countries in the top 15 are from those regions.

(Check out Top 10 Best Foreign Countries for Retirement: 2013 on ThinkAdvisor.)

Of the 24 countries in the index, Cambodia was rated the lowest, with a score of 73.2. Although the country earned a score of 100 in cost of living, it rated a 57 and 58 in special benefits and retirement infrastructure, respectively.

Portugal15. Portugal: 82.4

  • Real Estate: 85
  • Special Benefits: 73
  • Cost of Living: 85
  • Ease of Integration: 73
  • Entertainment and Amenities: 70
  • Health: 93
  • Retirement Infrastructure: 95
  • Climate: 85
Image courtesy Associated Press

Italy14. Italy: 82.5

  • Real Estate: 73
  • Special Benefits: 80
  • Cost of Living: 70
  • Ease of Integration: 79
  • Entertainment and Amenities: 98
  • Health: 89
  • Retirement Infrastructure: 89
  • Climate: 83
Image courtesy Associated Press

Nicaragua13. Nicaragua: 82.6

  • Real Estate: 94
  • Special Benefits: 68
  • Cost of Living: 92
  • Ease of Integration: 92
  • Entertainment and Amenities: 77
  • Health: 87
  • Retirement Infrastructure: 69
  • Climate: 83
Image courtesy Associated Press

New Zealand12. (tie) New Zealand: 83

  • Real Estate: 71
  • Special Benefits: 77
  • Cost of Living: 77
  • Ease of Integration: 92
  • Entertainment and Amenities: 88
  • Health: 86
  • Retirement Infrastructure: 86
  • Climate: 87
Image courtesy Associated Press

Ireland12. (tie) Ireland: 83

  • Real Estate: 85
  • Special Benefits: 76
  • Cost of Living: 72
  • Ease of Integration: 97
  • Entertainment and Amenities: 98
  • Health: 89
  • Retirement Infrastructure: 85
  • Climate: 61
Image courtesy Associated Press

Thailand10. Thailand: 83.5

  • Real Estate: 83
  • Special Benefits: 62
  • Cost of Living: 88
  • Ease of Integration: 89
  • Entertainment and Amenities: 96
  • Health: 90
  • Retirement Infrastructure: 78
  • Climate: 81

International Living notes that retirees have several choices when it comes to where they want to live in Thailand, depending on what kind of lifestyle they want. The capital, Bangkok, is a major city, while the northern part of the country tends to be more peaceful and less expensive, with proximity to the country’s beaches a highlight of the south.

Wherever they decide to settle down, rent can be as low as $500 a month, and a doctor’s exam in a modern hospital will cost less than $40.

Image courtesy Associated Press

Uruguay9. Uruguay: 83.7

  • Real Estate: 79
  • Special Benefits: 76
  • Cost of Living: 64
  • Ease of Integration: 87
  • Entertainment and Amenities: 94
  • Health: 96
  • Retirement Infrastructure: 82
  • Climate: 92

Uruguay is the second smallest country in South America, and boasts extensive infrastructure and ease of access, according to International Living. It also has an established expat community.

Image courtesy Associated Press

Malta8. Malta: 84.1

  • Real Estate: 85
  • Special Benefits: 84
  • Cost of Living: 83
  • Ease of Integration: 100
  • Entertainment and Amenities: 68
  • Health: 88
  • Retirement Infrastructure: 77
  • Climate: 88

Malta, a tiny archipelago about 60 miles south of Sicily, is just over 120 square miles. Despite this, it has a modern airport on the main island of Malta that connects the country with Rome, about an hour away by plane. It has been a member of the European Union since 2004 and has been using the euro since 2008.

English is one of the official languages of Malta, and according to International Living, there are many hints to its 150-year history as a British colony, from red phone booths to driving on the left side of the road.

Image courtesy Associated Press

Mexico7. Mexico: 84.2

  • Real Estate: 88
  • Special Benefits: 75
  • Cost of Living: 87
  • Ease of Integration: 92
  • Entertainment and Amenities: 81
  • Health: 93
  • Retirement Infrastructure: 74
  • Climate: 84

One of Mexico’s biggest attractions to retirees is the wide variety of lifestyles they can adopt there. Whether they’re looking to retire on a beach or in the city, expats will have as much to do as they want. The cost of living is low, and the ease of integration among the highest on the list.

Image courtesy Associated Press


s6. Colombia: 84.2

  • Real Estate: 88
  • Special Benefits: 80
  • Cost of Living: 87
  • Ease of Integration: 79
  • Entertainment and Amenities: 82
  • Health: 90
  • Retirement Infrastructure: 83
  • Climate: 86

Although technically tied with Mexico on its total score, Colombia earned the higher spot with a much higher rating in special benefits and retirement infrastructure, and slightly smaller gains in other categories.

International Living noted that Colombia is more developed than some other countries in Latin America, and cost of living and real estate are low.

Image courtesy Associated Press

Spain5. Spain: 85.8

  • Real Estate: 91
  • Special Benefits: 62
  • Cost of Living: 82
  • Ease of Integration: 87
  • Entertainment and Amenities: 96
  • Health: 91
  • Retirement Infrastructure: 93
  • Climate: 85

International Living called Spain the “best bargain in Europe.” That’s partly due to the recession, which has driven real estate prices down, but the magazine noted Spain has long been one of the least expensive countries in Europe. In some areas, utilities can be as little as $150, and while meat tends to be more expensive than in the United States, other items like produce, olive oil or wine can be very cheap.

Spain also has excellent private and public health care systems, with access to good hospitals even in rural parts of the country.

Image courtesy Associated Press

Costa Rica4. Costa Rica: 86.8

  • Real Estate: 87
  • Special Benefits: 87
  • Cost of Living: 87
  • Ease of Integration: 92
  • Entertainment and Amenities: 94
  • Health: 94
  • Retirement Infrastructure: 75
  • Climate: 77

Costa Rica has long been a favorite destination for expat retirees. One reason is simply that it’s easy for retirees to move there. A couple needs just $1,000 per month in retirement income to qualify for residency.

Another major benefit is the affordability of health care. expats pay a monthly fee based on their income for care that’s free at the time of service.

Image courtesy Associated Press

Malaysia3. Malaysia: 88.5

  • Real Estate: 93
  • Special Benefits: 80
  • Cost of Living: 88
  • Ease of Integration: 92
  • Entertainment and Amenities: 94
  • Health: 95
  • Retirement Infrastructure: 85
  • Climate: 81

The highest-rated Asian country on the list, International Living found a couple can live well in a luxury condo on the coast for about $1,700 per month, including rent. It pointed to Penang Island and the capital, Kuala Lumpur, as centers of excellence in the health care industry.

In addition to having first-world infrastructure, retirees can move their household and car to Malaysia duty-free.

As for visas, retirees can stay in the country on a “social visit pass” that lasts 10 years and automatically renews for an additional 10 years when it expires. Foreign residents just need a fixed deposit of $46,707 and a monthly income from a government pension of at least $3,114.

Image courtesy Associated Press

Ecuador2. Ecuador: 91.1

  • Real Estate: 94
  • Special Benefits: 99
  • Cost of Living: 89
  • Ease of Integration: 92
  • Entertainment and Amenities: 88
  • Health: 88
  • Retirement Infrastructure: 79
  • Climate: 100

Less than one point behind the top spot, Ecuador was knocked out of the No. 1 position, but just barely. The excellent climate and low cost of living that made it the top place holder last year are still there, and International Living noted the country is working to improve its infrastructure. A $680 million airport opened outside Quito in February.

Image courtesy Associated Press

Panama

1. Panama: 91.2

  • Real Estate: 91
  • Special Benefits: 100
  • Cost of Living: 88
  • Ease of Integration: 95
  • Entertainment and Amenities: 95
  • Health: 91
  • Retirement Infrastructure: 81
  • Climate: 88

International Living noted that Panama won the top spot “by a hair.” In addition to a range of retiree benefits, it has introduced new visas that make it easier to gain residence, and has made great steps to improve its infrastructure. It’s worth mentioning, too, that Panama is largely hurricane free (the last hurricane was Martha in 1969).

Panama uses the dollar, English is widely understood and expats don’t even need to bring electronic converters to use their gadgets.

Image courtesy Associated Press

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