A Sexier Retirement: 10 Exotic, Affordable Retiree Havens
I’m a regular reader of this blog, Get Rich Slowly, Five Cent Nickel, Cheap Healthy Good, and a number of other blogs which encourage me to live more frugally, to save my pennies for retirement.
Save, save, save, they say. And so I am.
Like a squirrel storing up nuts for an endless winter, every spare dime beyond my basic living expenses and occasional indulgences gets ferried into the hidey-hole that is my FNBO Direct account. Granted, there’s not a lot left over, since I’m only barely living below my means at present, but no matter – regardless of its size, I guard my hoard fiercely, watch over it daily, and, occasionally, like today, wonder what it’s all true for.Banking Deal: Earn 1.55% APY on an FDIC-insured money market account at CIT Bank. See details here. CIT Bank. Member FDIC.
Saving patterns are fabulous things to train oneself into, but what is this elusive retirement for which I’m saving? What does it really mean?
The very phrase “retirement” brings to mind a time-worn face looking over a horizon colored by a splendid sunset, over either waving fields of grain or hordes of beaming grandchildren. I’ve seen too many commercials, perhaps, and I like sunsets and all, but I have to tell you, none of it excites me. The very thing I’m working for seems like something I wouldn’t really want at all.
Now, don’t get me wrong – the whole not-working thing seems quite appealing. I’ve got plenty of “take this job and shove it” fantasies to go around, especially on Monday mornings.
I’d love to not have to work, but I don’t really see myself retiring at 40, trading in all my suits for Hawaiian shirts and yachting around the Florida Keys. Though I try, I don’t see myself accumulating a great deal of wealth, especially considering inflation. I believe I will find a way to save enough to sustain myself reasonably well, but not to live some fabulous fantasy life, not here on the East Coast, anyway.
So in reality, I can imagine having a very nice, peaceful week or two off before I become bored and irritable, and I’d probably either be back at work or starting my own venture within a month’s time.
Even after I’m old enough to qualify for the senior citizen rate at the movies, I can still imagine myself craving excitement and wanting to fill my days with new wonders, rather than reliving old memories from my rocking chair. It’s just who I am.
Knowing this, I start to realize that I need a different kind of retirement to save for, a goal that reflects what I’m about versus some one-size-fits-all fantasy. It’s more geared towards gaining new experiences than reflecting upon the past, and that means that, given the very expensive area in which I live, maybe it’s not in the United States at all.
As you know from past entries, I love to travel and feel that I’ve not seen nearly enough of what the world has to offer. When I came across International Living’s article, 10 Exotic, Affordable Retiree Havens, I was intrigued. What if my dream vacation was also my retirement destination? And if the cost of living was cheaper, all the better!
While some spots sound better than others to me, there are lots to learn about these exotic retirement meccas. The article lists out comparative prices for everything from a bottle of wine to a doctor’s visit, utilities, and rent in all ten locales, but I’ll summarize some of the things I found interesting:
A man, a plan, a canal…a high standard of healthcare. This plus access to both raw, compelling nature and more refined musical and theatrical events makes Panama a standout. The travel column the article links to outlines an alluring range of options from city-slicking to jungle exploration:
Panama is full of possibilities. Panama is really three countries: glitzy, supermodern Panama City; the cool, inscrutable, slow-moving interior (including jungle and cloud forest); and the varied, surfable, fishable coasts–backpacker-land. Like so many places that are at the center of their geographical area, Panama is a dream factory.
There’s another great article I stumbled across from International Living as well: Panama is a Paradise for Retirees. It mentions a 50% discount program off of just about every cost I can fathom, plus extra perks like a 20-year exemption from property taxes and no taxes whatsoever on foreign earned income. There’s a wealth of information on the cost of living as well. Panama has one of the lowest costs of living in all Central and South America: A U.S.-style home can be built for about $40 per square foot; unskilled labor costs $6.40 per day; a full-time live-in maid costs $120 to $160 a month; a beer at a bar costs 35 cents; a cup of coffee, 30 cents; a haircut and shave can cost as little as $2; an afternoon at a beauty salon is $8; electricity is about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour; water bills are $18 per year; telephone service costs roughly $30 a month; Internet access is $14 a month; wireless is available for a bit more; cellular-telephone service costs about $30 a month plus a per-minute charge of around 22 cents; and cable TV will cost you about $30 a month.
I’ve always dreamt of going to visit jungles, but not necessarily residing there permanently. (You know, hungry jaguars and all.) But it sounds like there’s so much variation between regions that one could live comfortably while still enjoying the occasional expedition. That sounds like a downright thrilling retirement, not passive at all. And with monthly rent around $600 for Panama City, it sounds reasonable as well.
Say “near-perfect climate” in the heart of the Mediterranean and I’m there, but the 15% income-tax rate for foreign residents, lack of property taxes, low crime rate, excellent healthcare and prevalence of English seals the deal. $80 a month for a maid means I can spend my time out enjoying everything and come home to a spotless abode, too. $25 doctor visits sound pretty sweet as well, though I can hardly imagine getting sick somewhere so beautifully temperate.
Yes, it’s pretty fair to say that my ultimate retirement could look something like this:
HomesInMalta.com makes it all sound very simple and free of hassles, as I feel retired life should be, and the island is simple to travel to and from as well:
- Traveling around Malta, whether to the beach, shopping in the city or a night at the theatre is simple. Wherever you are it shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes by car.
- The Maltese Islands are easy to get to from most major European airports, with flight times of 3 hours from London or Amsterdam, and 2 ½ hours from Paris, Frankfurt, and Cairo. Flights are very regular and transport from the airport is easy and straightforward.
Imagine retiring in the land where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed! While it can be difficult to qualify for permanent residency, this English-speaking country boasts a low cost of living and tons of gorgeous countryside to explore. No capital gains tax and an average rent of $900 per month is a good incentive to keep my passport current.
I always dreamt of honeymooning there, but I could really see living in New Zealand, enjoying the sort of outdoorsy lifestyle I wish I had the time to live here in the U.S., but with less overhead costs to worry about. One could even follow the example of the Maori and build a mud hut to save even further. That’s not my plan, however.
EmigrateNZ.org has some interesting information too about superannuation after retirement, which sounds rather attractive:
By law, you can work to any age you want to in New Zealand.
If you live here continuously for at least ten years, five of them after the age of 50, you get state superannuation at the age of 65. This is currently worth $249 per week after tax if you’re single or $383 per week after tax for married couples.
It’s not a windfall, but depending on your circumstances, you might be able to receive these monies in addition to your pension from a former U.S. employer. It could be a nice bonus, enough to bring your standard of living in retirement up a level.
Uruguay “feels like Europe but with Third World prices,” according to the article. Potable water is a must, but the stunning beaches are a definite plus. $35 doctor visits make it livable, but $5 movie tickets make it enjoyable when you’re not out in the great outdoors.
Internationalliving.com has a nice piece on the pros and cons of retiring in Uruguay, and lists some of the following perks:
- Permanent residency is relatively easy to get, and new residents can import their household goods tax-free
- The cost of living is half what you’ll find in North America or Europe
- Healthcare is inexpensive and high-quality
All in all, there are some attractive elements to Uruguay as a retirement spot, however, the cons mentioned in the article, including crime rates and lack of accessibility for the handicapped are definite concerns.
While I expected to see Mexico on the list, the $3.50 movie ticket price and $700 monthly rent average make me realize that this Spring Break hotspot can be the ideal place for a permanent vacation. Beaches, culture, and incredibly tasty and flavorful food will help keep life vibrant and colorful as time goes on. Plus, while my idea of retirement is rather active, an afternoon siesta provides a rather alluring pause.
An International Living article from September boats that beachfront property can be had in Mexico for under $100,000, and goes on to describe the excellent quality of life a Mexican retirement can afford:
- Goods and services cost less, so you can afford the kinds of luxuries only the very wealthy enjoy up north: a maid, a cook, and a gardener for example. In your retirement here, you’ll have time to volunteer at the local school, time to golf in the mornings, time to relax on the beachâ€¦time to savor life.
- Whether your vision of the ideal retirement involves shopping, fishing, sunbathing, diving, biking, mountain climbing, parasailing, collecting crafts, visiting archeological sites, partying, going to concerts, attending the theater, or fine dining, in Mexico, you can engage in all of these activities, and many more.
The French countryside apparently provides a much cheaper cost of living than the $2,650 rent you’ll find in Paris, but I still worry that this may be too expensive an option for me. Still, as a gourmet, I am compelled by the food culture and can imagine spending many happy hours in the kitchen attempting various culinary feats with high-quality, well-priced local ingredients. The countryside is indeed gorgeous, and the overall pace of life seems well-suited for relaxed enjoyment. I’m no French scholar, but the idea of learning a beautiful new language later in life is appealing, as is exploring France’s wealth of cultural wonders.
ShelterOffshore has a great article full of reasons to retire in France, including climate, culture, cuisine, ease of relocation, and more.
The article’s description of Romania makes it sound like a fantasy come to life, a low-cost fantasy to boot, along with its diverse and interesting landscape of medieval towns, fairy-tale castles, natural spas, magnificent architecture, majestic mountains and unspoiled beaches, Romania’s big appeal is its low cost of living.
With $600 rent and $10 doctor visits, this fairy tale sounds like a financially sustainable way to live. While the infrastructure is somewhat overwrought at present, healthcare is free and supported by the government, and substantial investments are anticipated for the future. The tourist dollars of those still working for a living just might pave a very nice road for those who have left work behind.
Live for $800 a month surrounded by the art and culture of Buenos Aires, with “over 300 theaters, 100-plus art galleries, at least 70 museums, and hundreds of all-night bookstores“, or live for even less out in the countryside. Either way, you stand to benefit from Argentina’s recovery from the recession. There are lots of investment opportunities to be had as well, helping you to continue to earn income even with the workforce well behind you.
There’s a nice article here with more information, including notes on the varied and fascinating neighborhoods of Buenos Aires.
I’m not as certain about Malaysia as a retirement destination, but with a 5-year unlimited-entry-and-exit visa, I am certain it’s at least worth checking out further. I would want better assurance of the standard of living and healthcare, however, since I personally know several doctors who volunteered time there to help bring up their quality of medical care. Active city life and lots of water recreation like snorkeling and scuba diving are tempting, as is the average $850 rent found in Kuala Lumpur.
In his article Malaysia: An Asian Retirement Paradise, Shannon Roxborough calls Malaysia “Asia’s best-kept secret for expatriates,” explaining:
- Compared with other major Asian cities (Tokyo, Singapore, and Hong Kong, for example), Kuala Lumpur is downright cheap. Even in the over-priced tourist spots you can get a good meal for two for around $20. Outside of these places, a 3-course meal for two with all the trimmings, including drinks, will set you back no more than $10, doctor’s visit $8 to $15 and live-in domestic help $200 a month.
- Rental properties are readily available and not overly expensive by American or European standards. The cost of 2-bedroom rental apartments begins at around $225 per month, with 3-bedroom houses starting at $35,000.
$600 average rent, rustic charm, and rich agriculture greet the retiree in Ecuador. Again, there are jungles to explore, fascinating culture and wonderful language to become familiar with. Gocurrency.com provides a tempting overview:
- With attractions ranging from the famous Galapagos Islands to the sunny Pacific beaches and from the snow-capped volcanoes to the exotic Amazon jungle, Ecuador offers something for everyone at prices unheard of in North America and Europe.
- Ecuador enjoys beautiful weather year round. With average temperatures ranging from lows of 60ºF to highs of 75ºF, one never finds himself particularly uncomfortable due to the weather. This ultimately eliminates the need for heating systems and air conditioning, significantly reducing expenses.
It is a good point – why pay to heat or cool a place which would otherwise be uninhabitable? Again, perfect weather is an attractive feature, as it the amazing biodiversity of the country.
Another International Living article devoted to Ecuador as retirement destination claims that “it’s not difficult to live on less than $17,000 per year here; you don’t have to live a restrictive lifestyle to do it.”
For me, it’s important to know that even if I’m not quite so adept at squirreling away my savings, there are still places I can go where I can live a fulfilling life in stunning environs, and Ecuador is definitely a candidate. A gourmet meal for two, including wine and dessert, averages a very affordable $25. I can have my retirement and eat well, too!
While some options are more attractive to me than others, I am thrilled to see the range of exotic locales available to me, some affordable enough that I can let go my fear of being flattened by inflation.
I’m not saving up so I can retire from my life. I’m saving for a fabulous, exciting permanent vacation.
I am European, and one big veto to this list.
Romania is a nightmare and you really can not consider it to be part of the list.
Replace Romania with Bulgaria which fully qualifies for the list.
The Black Sea is amazing and prices are again even lower as in Romania – compareable to prices in Thailand. Beach front properties can be bought for as less as 25.000 USD (60m2 flat).
About 100.000 UK people already retire in Bulgaria – and not Romania…
Interesting that so many of you are considering New Zealand as an ideal retirement place. I live in Auckland, New Zealand and I’m 47 years old. My wife and I are considering retiring in the Philippines where the cost of living is a fraction of what it is here. We want our retirement dollar to go futher. We are wanting to have maids and a gardener and any other home help we can get. That would be impossible here in New Zealand unless you are a multi-millionaire. It’s also far easier to start a small business there. Less red tape.
The other thing to consider is the weather. It rains all the time here in NZ. I think most of you will be better off somewhere that’s warm and sunny.
Awesome post. That view of New Zealand reminds me of some views from northern California. Apparently it is possible to get it at half the cost. WOOHOO!!
vh is spot-on about retiring in New Zealand. But if you have a family member who’s a resident or citizen in New Zealand, it’s possible to retire there without trying to get under the age limit (65) or being employed.
Interesting. Very cool to acutually see people planning for retirement instead of just winging it. I lived in Uruguay for 3 years. It’s one of the South American countries you mentioned. I must admit that I believe retirement is about traveling not sitting still in one place. Obviously this cost money. Exploring different places and experiencing different people and cultures is one of the most amazing feelings in the world. You feel alive and actually build up your portfolio of great and interesting memories. I believe the days we remember are the only days that matter. Uruguay is an amazing place. Very inexpensive other than in electronics and many imports. Cars are VERY expensive. On the other hand real estate is very inexpensive. You could buy beautiful houses on the beach for less than 200k and lots for less than 10k. Obviously it all depends where you go but you could very well live in a beautiful place for very little thats not too far away from the great capital city of Montevideo. The people have beautiful culture and mostly orient from Europe. Beautiful people, tasty food, Amazing places, and inexpensive living. Beaches are endless and the country is REAL country. A place you may very well fall in love with. I did. And I was forced to go. Now I go back every chance I get usually every year. It doesnt even compare to third world countries. There is a population of only 3 million people. Either way. Check it out. It’s a beautiful place.
I didn’t think that we old bats were especially welcome in New Zealand. They want folks who can contribute to the economy before going on the dole (which for most of us is what retirement is all about, even here in the U.S.). New Zealand has absolutely premiere social services and safety nets, but the citizens are smart enough not to give those away to freeloading retirees.
Check out the government’s website. Nothing there encourages people to go to N-Z specifically to retire.
Having spent time in Mexico and lived at many points overseas, and having had friends die unnecessarily in the Mexican “health-care” system (which makes the worst of ours look stellar), I would not recommend retiring to a third-world country. The U.S. has lots and lots of problems, but at least you know what they are and by & large know how to deal with them.
Great article and follow-up comments. I have done a lot of research on one of the choices, (Panama),and the little town of Boquete, in particular I’ve bought land there, and will be leaving San Diego shortly for an early (busy) “retirement”.
The elevation is almost 4000′ (no jungle or humidity, just coffee plantations, oranges and flowers), and the temps are in the high 60’s to high 70’s every day of the year. That, along with the ability to own tilted and deeded land with the same property rights as Citizens, has brought many Ex-Pats to the area. Visit a site called BoqueteLots dot com for more information on the area. Good luck to everyone in their search!
I’ll stick with the US. I’ll try my best to travel to these places, but no way am I leaving the USA. That is unless HC gets elected. 🙂
New Zealand is amazing.
I am so deeply impressed by everything you’ve written here. You seem to have careful planning, foresight – just about everything in your favor. I’m going to make you my Retirement Hero, if you don’t mind. Your strategic approach is very motivational.
@ Plonkee: Where the Brits go, there go I. I love British culture and have been trying to get back across the pond for years (and it seems that opportunity may be coming soon!) I love NZ for its English-esque custioms and rural beauty, but if Malta starts to have British culture as well, it’s a strong contender.
@ Vixen: Glad you enjoyed the post, and your comment gets to the crux of it. No mashed peas here! I don’t want to retire ever if I’m going to become a dullard. Now I’m a bit more excited as well. In fact, New Zealand is looking good right about *now*.
@ Mrs. Micah and Kris: New Zealand is indeed my #1 choice out of all of these. Good to know there may be some new friends waiting there for me. =)
@ Brian and BuildandSucceed:
I understand completely about being away from family and other loved ones. I’d try to bring them with me, or if not, at least have frequent visits. Sometimes living at a destination locale is an easier way to get people to come visit -plus there’s none of that sitting around wondering “what should we go see or do?”
@ Fielding Melish: I definitely advocate speaking the language wherever you settle upon. It’s a great pursuit for retirement to learn something new and get the chance to use it as well.
New Zealand – someday… I dream of retiring a kiwi.
Thank you so much for the link, Sasha.
I have a retirement destination already planned. I have a home that I bought new in 1995 for $80,000 in North Carolina. It is about 70 miles from the coast, not too far from Raleigh, and some world famous golf courses. The backyard backs to a forested area that will never be built on. The mortgage on the house is less than $575/mo and the property tax and insurance adds another $100/month. It has been rented out for the past 9 years, so should I retire early or later, I can quite easily afford to pay off the mortgage. I could do so today, but the mathematics show the tax ride-off to be more beneficial. I plan to travel extensively, but would like to have a home base in the U.S.
Of course you need to speak Spanish to live in most of South America. That’s kind of the fun of living abroad.
Beware that if you retire to Malta, you will be sharing the island with a whole load of British retirees. Especially now that it’s part of the EU, it’s possible the best of all worlds for the elderly Brit abroad.
I have never lived in South America, but I have read in one or two retirment books that if you are a relatively affluent gringo, then you are fair game for robbers. For instance, you MUST have a live-in domestic employee, or you will come back home from shopping to find that all of your furniture has been stolen out of your house. And it is clear from the news articles recently that Mexico in particular is degenerating into a lawless and dangerous land. And in none of the examples cited in the article is it mentioned that in these cheap places in Latin America, you had better be fairly fluent in Spanish. One of the reasons these places are so cheap is that they are third-world, and in the third world, English is not taught in schools as it is in so many European countries.
Interesting information. I always wondered what certain things cost in countries like that. I would love to one day be able to move to one of those countries, although I’d miss a lot of family and friends.
While all of those places sound great, I hope to have a family by then and I couldn’t imagine being that far away from my kids/grandkids. Needing a passport to visit Grandpa isn’t my ideal.
I think Mr. Micah and I would like New Zealand best of all those. Perhaps we’ll retire there and become writers. The only downside is that we’re quite close to our families…of course, I don’t know what that’ll be like in 40 years anyway.
Absolutely wonderful post. I don’t ever look forward to retirement because I think of being elderly, eating mashed peas and being bitter. The possibilities you paint are far more positive.