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Overseas Retirement: Which Country Is Best?

In these days of dwindling mutual fund prices and 401Ks becoming 201Ks, many people are seriously thinking about whether to retire somewhere outside the United States. I’ve thought about it—at least a bit—and although my current take is “no sale,” I can see the attraction. If you are interested, you have lots of information sources.

A featured article in the current AARP magazine on the “best places to retire listed Buenos Aires; Cozoral, Belize; Atenas, Cost Rica; Languedoc-Roussilon, France, Le Marche, Italy; the Puerto Vallarta area; Granada, Nicaragua; Boquette, Panama; Cascais, Portugal; and the Costa del Sol as the most attractive. For the most part, low living costs are apparently an important part of AARP’s selection process, and for the most part, selections are outside the realm of the most highly developed countries with strong economies. Finding some attractive options in normally expensive France and Italy, however, will come as a welcome surprise to some of you. AARP offers a lot more information for potential overseas retirees, and I commend you to its publications or AARP website. {{{SmarterBuddy|align=left}}}For years, however, the “go-to” source of information on overseas retirement has been International Living, a specialized newsletter-plus-data bank devoted to expat life. Among its many publications is an annual “quality of life” index—an attempt to quantify the most important factors for potential expats and combine individual scores into a composite index. Scoring is based on values for cost of living, leisure and culture, the economy, environment, freedom, health, infrastructure, risk and safety, and climate. I suspect most of you would give very high weight to the first and last measures. And only a few results were surprises:

  • The best cost of living scores went to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the other lowest-cost spots were also places not many of you would consider. You have to go well into the list to start finding the “usual suspects” of Thailand, Brazil, and Costa Rica. New Zealand came in best among the English-speaking countries.
  • The most expensive places to retire should come as no surprise to anyone who has previously visited them, including Scandinavia, Japan, Russia, and the British Isles.
  • The best climate score went to Zimbabwe, but lots of more popular spots were close. International Living—as well as most other folks who rate retirement areas—obviously favors warm climates.
  • The overall top quality of life scores? France as number one—I can’t argue with that—along with Australia, Switzerland, Germany, and New Zealand.

Obviously, for most American seniors, the biggest roadblock to foreign retirement is health. You do not get Medicare outside the United States, and for those of us who depend on Medicare, giving up that benefit is a deal-breaker. Sure, you find plenty of places outside the United States with top-notch medical services at reasonable prices—just look at the huge medical tourism market—but you still have to pay.

All the “best retirement” scores I’ve seen so far ignore what would be another deal-breaker for me: reliable high-speed Internet. I can’t conceive of spending more than a few weeks anywhere I can’t log on and open up the vast array of knowledge and entertainment available online. Maybe that’s not as critical to today’s oldest senior cohort as it is to me, but for anyone just approaching retirement age, I suspect good Internet access is a must.

Regardless of your age or interests, I strongly recommend an extended visit to any country you might even consider as a retirement venue. If possible, stay in a rental rather than in a hotel, and stay long enough to get the feel of being a resident. In the meantime, start with a long look at the information online from AARP. And if you’re at all serious about it, you can’t go wrong with a subscription to International Living (800-681-2402, $49 a year).

Your Turn

If you were to retire overseas, where would you go? For those that have or plan to retire overseas, what advice do you have for other readers? Share your thoughts by adding a comment below!

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