Top budget retirement destinations abroad

January 28, 2010


Looking for a fabulous place to retire on a budget? GlobalPost picked 10 intriguing overseas locales where you can stretch every dollar.

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.

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  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

For the remainder of the list please see the original version at

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If one is to consider retirement DO NOT buy property in Costa Rica. The government is so corrupted by foreign NGO money, mainly from eco organizations that have no interest in the welfare of the country, but only their agendas. Land is subject to the whims of the government and can be either expropriated without fair compensation or rendered useless by ridiculous restrictions. In addition anyone can file a recourse against your property to usurp your rights to reasonable utilization. This starts an open-ended long delay to access to your property. This occurs regardless of legal processes including free and clear title.

Unfortunately I speak from experience having bought beachfront property eight years ago with no likelihood that either I or the numerous others like myself will ever be able to use their retirement properties. This occured in spite of obtaining all permits, strictly adhering to ecological protection laws and common sense rules.

Posted by pwbw | Report as abusive

Hello PWBW:
I am sorry to hear about your problems, and I assume they are in the Playa Grande region of Guanacaste in the northwestern section of Costa Rica. I have lived in Costa Rica now for 16 years, and worked in real estate in Guanacase for 2 years, but 11 years total now.
I have always warned people against purchasing land that is not 100% titled, that is found in the “Concession Zones” of Costa Rica, and thats over 90% of the country. Although your land was titled, it is located in a highly controversial area as to whether it is a National Park Baulas, and a Turtle Reserve. Costa Rica does not expropriate land indiscriminately, but it attempted to do that in this region. It’s a terrible situation, as I have friends that purchased there and they have been fighting for 8 years. The government doesnt have the money to pay the correct price of the land, nor does any of this help to protect the Leatherback turtle whose main problems are from the fisherman killing them, not the residents in that area who are mostly of the “Environmental” persuasion. It still is not resolved, and I’m sorry for you, and embarrassed by the government action. Its one of the reasons I moved.
However I sell real estate in the Central Pacific,from one hour north of Jaco to Manuel Antonio to the South. Jaco and one half of Hermosa Beach are 100% titled, fee simple, and there are absolutely no problems of ownership for a foreigner in Costa Rica. With the new highway that just opened last week, our area is primed for new growth, and for homes, condos, lots, developments where one’s purchase is 100% safe. If you care to know more, email me,or check out
thanks. Jeff

Posted by GringoJeff | Report as abusive

We wonder how long the “Mexico, Central & So. America Promote” can keep on going ? If you are tired of considering these Spanish-speaking countries for whatever reasons, take a fresh approach and consider the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific !

Residency requires only US$5,000. “assured income” ANNUALLY (not like many Caribbean countries) and a positive Police report; citizenship is available after 5 years of residency !

This Kingdom’s official languages are Tongan & English, as with other So. Pacific island nations and if you need a “city fix” just travel to New Zealand, Australia or Fiji where English is obviously spoken.

Retire affordably now/later, have a 2nd home or “Escape” location at our private island village in the Vava’u Group of islands, in the Paradise of Tonga !

Posted by Cocomo1 | Report as abusive

I’ve been visiting potential retirement locations for a number of years. Even creating a list of possibilities is a real job. That’s why I created my own “Expatriate Index” to help with narrowing down choices. It’s completely free! Take a look at at.html and let me know what you think.

Posted by cldickerson | Report as abusive

Costa Rica and Mexico are too dangerous. Thailand has got that red shirt revolution still goin on. Uruguay’s the best choice. They also should have mentioned Chile.

Posted by mastershakejb | Report as abusive

Nice blog. I’m surprised Panama isn’t mentioned with it’s long list of pension incentives. How to make the most of your pension abroad.

For more infomation on banking in Thailand.

Also for UK expats who wish to avoid paying UK tax on their existing pensions and qrops specialist advice, see this blog on qrops pension transfer

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