11 countries to move to for early retirement

We’ve all dreamed of biting the bullet and moving abroad to enjoy early retirement. But how easy is it to move to a new country and survive without all the trappings of your everyday life? And where are the best places to retire abroad?  

Retirement experts International Living advise on everything to make life post-retirement easy. Their Annual Global Retirement Index lists the best places to retire around the world, taking into account cost of living, accessible healthcare, good food and great weather. Read on to discover 11 of the best countries to move to for early retirement. 

1. Panama 

Why: One of the world’s safest, most affordable and most welcoming countries, Panama tops the Annual Global Retirement Index this year for the 11th time. They say Panama is tough to beat when it comes to countries to move to – its medical care is top-notch, internet access is good and the currency is the U.S. dollar. Lots of US residents settle here for early retirement due to Panama’s easy access to the States.  

The country has rebounded from Covid exceptionally well, welcoming new tourists, new residents and new investment. For foreigners who choose to retire early here you won’t pay income tax on funds earned outside Panama and there are several easy options for getting a visa or residency. Property taxes are also low. 

Where: Panama City is Central America’s most modern neighborhood, but that’s not all the country has to offer. You’ll find cool mountain towns like Cerro Azul, Sorá and El Valle a one-to-two-hour drive from the city, while the beautiful Caribbean beaches of Portobelo are around two hours away by car. Elsewhere, the small mountain town of Boquete is home to the Barú Volcano National Park, and Coronado, just an hour’s drive from Panama City, is a thriving beach town with a thriving expat community.  

The cost: More and more retirees from the U.S. and Canada are exploring Panama as one of the best places to retire due to cost of living. Foreign pensioners with legal residence get 15% off hospital bills, 20% off prescription medication, 15% off dental and eye exams and 20% off medical consultations. On top of that, Panama’s famed Pensionado program makes it easy for you to become a legal resident if you have a social security or corporate pension of at least $1,000 a month. According the Annual Global Retirement Index, a couple can live well in Panama for around $1,753 a month.

2. Costa Rica  

Why: Second on the 2022 list of best countries to retire abroad is Costa Rica, where the national motto is ‘Pura Vida’, or ‘pure life’. Millions of expats looking for early retirement have been lured here by the country’s tropical climate, low cost of living, friendly locals, affordable medical care, great property and its sheer natural beauty.  

Costa Rica is a safe and stable country to consider if you want to retire early. It’s incredibly progressive, diverse and welcoming to all – same sex marriage is legal and women’s rights are mandated. It’s post-Covid law to attract retirees includes benefits like a lower threshold for investors, the ability to import two cars and a shipping container of home goods tax-free.  

Where: There is something for everyone in Costa Rica. The Nicoya Peninsula in Guanacaste has a high population of centenarians (100+ year-olds) thanks to its healthy diets, natural water, sunshine, active lifestyles and friendly communities. Other popular areas include the capital of San Jose, the milder Central Valley and the Caribbean coastline.  

The cost: A retired couple can live comfortably in Costa Rica for less than $2,500 a month, based on rental of a two-bedroom condo with air conditioning, plus groceries, socializing, travel costs and healthcare. A solo retiree here can live on as little as $1,600 a month.  

GET INSPIRED: Visit Costa Rica with Trafalgar on the Monkeys, Jungles and Volcanoes tour

3. Mexico  

Why: Coming in at number three on the list of the best places to retire is Mexico, a popular expat spot for at least 50 years thanks to its close proximity to the US and its low-cost living, excellent healthcare and fantastic weather. It’s also a perfect destination for early retirement thanks to its high-speed internet, good roads and reliable amenities like electricity and water.  

It’s pretty easy to become a resident of Mexico, thanks to reasonable income requirements. To get permanent residence here you must have a monthly income of around $2,700 a month or $149,000 in the bank.  

Where: As a huge country, Mexico has a place for everybody from bustling beach resorts to quiet country villages and big metropolitan cities. The best beaches are in Puerto Vallarta and Playa del Carmen, where the weather is warm with a sea breeze all year round. Inland, the Colonial Highlands is greener, while cities like San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato have comfortable year-round warm weather.  

The cost: Most couples who retire early in Mexico live happily on around $2,000 a month. This price covers everything including housing, travel, healthcare, food and utilities. In Mexico you can spend less and live like a local, or spend more for high-end luxury. Destinations with a big expat community tend to have a higher cost of living.

4. Portugal  

Why: With its old-world charm, miles of golden sandy beaches, green hills, some of the best healthcare in the world, low cost of living and safe streets, Portugal is number four on the list of the best places to retire abroad. English is taught in schools here from an early age, so many locals speak English, which makes moving here easier.  

Where: Caldas da Rainha is a mid-sized city with cobbled streets and a good size expat community. It’s also just an hour away from the capital of Lisbon. If you’re looking the settle somewhere a bit more rural, look towards the Alentejo region and the cities of Beja and Evora. If you’re looking for city life, Lisbon or Porto could be for you.  

The cost: A couple looking for early retirement can live comfortably in Portugal on $2,500 per month. If you want to live in Lisbon, Porto, Cascais or the Algarve, you should increase that to $3,000 or more. 

GET INSPIRED: Visit Portugal with Trafalgar on the Best of Portugal tour

5. Colombia  

Why: Number five on the list of countries to move to if you want to retire early is Colombia. With its low cost of living, excellent healthcare and a climate to suit every taste, Colombia is more developed than other countries in Latin America which makes it a viable option to include on your list of potential retirement spots. It’s also the second most biodiverse country in the world, which adds to its appeal. 

Where: Most expats looking for early retirement head for Medellín, thanks to its spring-all-year-round climate. Its mountain areas, Bucaramanga, Pereira and the Coffee Triangle, have a more temperate climate and no humidity. Bogota is a cooler choice, while if you’re looking for tropical heat head towards Cartagena, Barranquilla or Santa Marta. 

The cost: You money will go a long way in Colombia. A single person can live happily here for $1,030 a month, while a couple can live for less than $2,000 per month. Those who have already moved here to retire early say their living expenses are 60% less in Colombia than they were in the United States.

6. Ecuador  

Why: Looking for the best places to retire abroad? You could do worse than put Ecuador on your list if you’re thinking about early retirement. Coming in at number 6 on the Annual Global Retirement Index, Ecuador is a largely undiscovered country that still offers modern living including fiber-optic internet, great weather, good transportation and affordable healthcare and housing. It also has near-perfect weather all over the country.  

Where: If you’re dreaming of living by the coast, visit the beaches of Puerto Lopez where you can spot whales and eat ceviche. Further north, sleepy towns like Montañita attract a lot of expats looking for a quiet reprieve, while livelier spots like Quito and Cuenca offer a city lifestyle. You’ll find more expat communities in the beach town of Salinas, the quiet village of Cotacachi and the café society village of Vilcabamba.  

The cost: Ecuador has a very affordable lifestyle. Here you can easily live off $1,500-$1,825 a month largely due to the fact that Ecuador’s culture has yet to be gentrified. There are few great countries to move to that are as cheap to live as Ecuador. A Pacific Coast beach home with great views will set you back about $150,000 here, while a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in downtown Cuenca is about $500 a month.

7. France  

Why: As the largest and most diverse country in Western Europe, France has long been one of the best countries for retirement in the world. Appearing at number 7 on this list, it continues to grow in popularity thanks to its cosmopolitan culture, beautiful landscape, sumptuous cuisine, and last but not least, good cost of living.  

Where: Unless you want to spend a fortune every month, you should avoid larger cities like Paris. One city you should keep on your list for early retirement, however, is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in France, Montpellier. One of France’s most important university towns, Montpellier is a multicultural city with a big focus on the arts and gourmet living. Other popular expat destinations include the sunny region of the Dordogne and the medieval town of Sarlat-la-Caneda.  

The Cost: In France, monthly living costs sit at around $2,083 to $2,483 per month for a couple renting an apartment for two people. A standard doctor’s visit costs $29, and a visit to a specialist is $58, that’s if you don’t sign up for French healthcare. After you’ve lived in France for three months, 70% of that cost is refunded to you—meaning you’ll pay approximately $9 for a standard doctor’s visit. 

GET INSPIRED: Visit France with Trafalgar on the Best of France tour

8. Malta 

Why: Number 8 on the list of the best places to retire is Malta. And the reason this pretty, untouched island in the southern Mediterranean is a good country to move to? It’s a mix of all the best spots in Europe – Tuscany, Spain, Greece – with a touch of sunny California – and is just a stone’s throw from Sicily.  

Where: Most expats live on the main island of Malta in the metropolitan area that stretches along the east coast in the cities of Valletta, St. Julian’s, Sliema and the so-called “Three Fingers” of Kalkara, Birgu and Senglea. Another popular place is Gozo, where life is slightly slower and quieter. 

The Cost: A retired couple can live comfortably in Malta for around $2,331 a month. Food costs 25% less than in the U.S. You don’t need a car here and public transportation is cheap: A monthly bus pass costs just $26. Housing is not cheap, but it’s reasonable: A modern one-bedroom apartment starts at about $900 per month on the main island. Expect to pay about 30% less than that if you live on the island of Gozo.

9. Spain  

Why: How many reasons do you need to move to Spain? At number 9 on the list of the best places to retire, Spain has around 300 days a year of sunshine and 3,000 miles of coastline… need we go on? On top of its weather and its beauty, Spain also has a low cost of living, excellent healthcare and very safe streets.  

Where to Live: The Costa del Sol and the Costa Blanca have long been top of the best places to retire list for expats from the UK in search of early retirement, largely because they promise 300 to 320 sunny days a year. If its city spots you’re after, Madrid and Barcelona have museums, operas and theatres aplenty. Valencia is medieval and post-modern at the same time, while the northern coast is greener and lusher.  

The cost: The good life in Spain is relatively affordable. The warm climate means food is inexpensive and the healthy Mediterranean diet also means people here live good healthy lives. The cost of eating in restaurants is cheap with a three-course meal including wine or beer costing just $12-$16.

GET INSPIRED: Visit Spain with Trafalgar on the Best of Spain tour

10. Uruguay  

Why: Uruguay is one of the smallest countries to appear on the list of the best countries for retirement. Its appeal for those wishing to retire early lies in its good cost of living and that, as locals put it, it’s a place “where things work”. Its public amenity companies are among the best in Latin America for both quality and reach.  

Where: Once they’ve decided that Uruguay is for them, most expats live in Montevideo, a capital city with tree-lined streets, large parks and a coastal promenade. If it’s a smaller beach town you’re after, the pretty Atlántida or Piriápolis are still close enough to the city to enjoy its amenities. 

The cost: In Montevideo’s fashionable Cordón neighborhood, you can rent a two-bedroom apartment for $700 per month. Most expat couples in Uruguay can live well on a budget starting at $2,500 a month, including rent. A single person can live on much less.

11. Thailand  

Why: Thailand is the number 1 country in Asia on the list of the best countries for retirement. Its stunning beauty and reasonable cost of living make it easy to see why this is a great spot for those who wish to retire early. For many years, Thailand was a difficult place to get a long-term visa – but this is no longer the case. Post-Covid, the Thailand government have recognized the economic and cultural value of welcoming expats into their country.  

Where: Bangkok has something for everyone and is very popular with expats. For a quieter pace, try Chiang Mai which is full of temples and winding back streets but has the modern amenities of a modern city, or the beaches of Hua Hin.  

The cost: You can live well in Thailand for just under $2,000 per month. A monthly budget for a couple living in Chiang Mai comes in at $1,596 to $1,914.  

GET INSPIRED: Visit Thailand with Trafalgar on the Treasures of Thailand tour

Have you thought about retiring early? Tell us about your experiences and your dream countries to move to in the comments below

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