Retiring abroad is a dream for many of us, but the biggest question is always: where? Some people dream of waving palm trees and a turquoise blue sea; others prefer the fresh air of mountains, or the great food and wine of the European countryside.
There are other factors to consider apart from the weather and scenery, however. You have to like the culture of the place you retire in, or you can end up pining for home. Then there’s the cost of living: can’t be too expensive. There should be some recreational facilities to keep you busy, too. And there has to be good — and affordable — health care within easy reach. That’s a big factor for those who’ve reached retirement age.
Last year The Travelling Boomer featured the top picks of International Living magazine for the world’s best retirement havens. But this year Forbes has published its own list, with a slightly different viewpoint. You may be surprised at some of their choices — though if you’re averse to learning another language, you may find them just right.
Here are Forbes’ picks for the five best places in the world to retire.
The land down under takes Forbes’ top spot, for its combination of great weather, modern facilities and ease of living. It’s warm, there are lots of beaches, and miles of interesting country to explore. Just as important, Forbes cites Australia’s stable politics, its low crime rate and its reasonably priced health care.
A lot of people fall in love with Australia for its blue skies and outdoorsy culture, as well as the fact that everyone speaks English — kind of (just kidding). However, it’s not a bargain destination like some places in Latin America. Australia welcomes retirees, but requires a net worth of $600,000 per couple.
A favourite destination for people who love fishing, snorkelling and diving, Belize also scores points for being the only English-speaking country in Central America. In fact, it has the laid-back rhythm of the Caribbean islands, and retirees can chill out in places like Ambergris Caye and Placencia in the south.
Cost of living is reasonable, though not as cheap as in most of Central America. Belize actively courts retirees with a dedicated program much like Panama’s. Health care in some areas can be less than top-notch, but Forbes points out that it’s only a couple of hours from the U.S. by plane.
With arctic winds lashing the country as I write, it’s hard to believe Forbes thinks my homeland is a great place to retire — hey, a lot of us move away when we retire. But Canada’s west coast does have a mild climate, and Vancouver is a perennial pick as the one of the world’s most liveable cities. The east coast has its charms, as well, and Quebec adds its great food and a unique touch of European culture.
In practical terms, most Canadians speak English, the country is relatively peaceful and safe, and there’s free health care if you become a resident. And if you’re American, most major cities are close to the U.S. border. Best of all, right now the Canadian dollar is at a multi-year low against the greenback, so things are cheap for foreigners.
Another name that doesn’t turn up on many of these lists, Chile is a favourite country among those who know South America. It has an amazing variety of geographic regions, from the northern Atacama desert to the southern fjords — not to mention wine regions that turn out great wines, year after year. In fact, the vineyards start right outside Santiago’s city limits.
Chile’s political climate is stable, and its living costs are reasonable (though not really cheap, except for produce). As well, there are nice places to live, health care is good and affordable, and Forbes notes there’s no local tax on pensions. However, Chile is a long — and expensive — flight from North America, not to mention Europe.
This country has been on International Living’s list for a while, but its appearance in Forbes’ top 10 is new proof that Colombia has shed its reputation as a battleground for guerrilla fighters and drug lords. In fact, even places like Medellin, once a drug capital, have become favourites for some expats, and Cartagena, on the coast, is a popular beach resort.
Aside from warm weather, the country boasts a low cost of living, good and affordable health care, and a tax exemption for pension income (however, you may still be taxed at home). Located on South America’s north shoulder, Colombia is only a little farther away than places like Aruba and Curacao.
This Central American country makes most lists of top retirement havens, and for good reasons. Costa Rica is among the most stable and moderate countries in Latin America, and it offers lots of comfortable places to live. As well, there’s good infrastructure and great recreational opportunities, whether you like beach life, zip-lining through the jungle or birdwatching. High-quality, affordable health care is available — residents can join the national program.
Costs for things like food are still below North American levels, though Costa Rica is not the bargain it used to be: homes in the country’s beach resort areas go for near-U.S. prices. However, you can get resident status if you have $1,000 a month in pension income, and the flight home is reasonably short if you’re from North America.
Rounding out the list are Croatia (great scenery, a moderate climate and tax breaks for seniors); Ecuador (low costs, a mild climate and the Galapagos); France (great culture, good, affordable health care and tax benefits); Ireland (prices are high, but it’s beautiful); and Italy (good climate, affordable health care, and the pasta!). There are 20 destinations in the full list: you can find it here.
Unlike some retirement lists, Forbes’ picks aren’t a virtual tour of the world’s cheapest countries. Prices in places like Australia, France and Ireland are at least as high as those in North America, in some cases higher. But of course, many retirees are looking for the most comfortable and interesting places, not the cheapest.
Forbes is also preoccupied with how long it takes to fly back to the states — but while that is a factor, if you’re going to send a big part of the year in a country, you probably won’t be flying back and forth much.
I was also surprised that one of my top picks, Mexico, didn’t make the top 10, coming in at number 12 — right behind another of my favourites, Malaysia. Mexico’s drug war problem seems to have kept it out of the top echelon, and Forbes does concede that if you avoid the high-crime border cities, you’ll be all right. True, but I think the country’s great weather, fascinating culture and diversity move it way up the list.
Still, your perfect retirement haven has a lot to do with your own needs and tastes. While they’re fun, these lists are kind of like Caribbean cruises — a quick look at a number of places so you can tell which ones you’d like to come back to. If you see a place you like on the list, visit it a few times, then go back and spend some real time there before you decide to make it your home: living in a place is very different than being there as a tourist.
Once you find the right place, however, you may find your retirement is richer and more rewarding than you could have imagined. And even if it you have to slap a few bugs, it’s still better than shovelling snow.