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The Best Places Around the World to Retire

Written by Frank Yung
Writer. Storyteller. Foodie.
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How often do you find yourself saying “Oh, I wish I could retire right now”?

Retirement seems to be a common topic among all of us no matter how old we are.

With improved medical and healthcare services, we live a longer life, but at the same time, we need to spend more money to sustain a longer life. Also, who doesn’t want to rest and relax after many decades of working?

But where should you go after your retirement? Here are 20 best places to retire with low living cost, stunning natural scenery, and large expat communities.

1. Crete, Greece

Usually, places with the lowest living cost are in Asia. Crete might come as a surprise. This island is filled with sunshine, beaches, and great hospitality. It is a highly recommended option for retirees.

  • Cost of living: $1,090
  • Major language: Greek
  • Population: 623,065 (2010 stats)
  • Healthcare services: Free medical care and hospital care in public hospitals if you are covered by IKA National Insurance.
  • Entertainment: Hiking, cave tours, water activities, festivals in summer

2. Barcelona, Spain

As Spain’s second-largest city, Barcelona offers a low-cost living experience, with a fully developed public transportation system. You can enjoy pre-Roman architectures, art galleries, museums, and also beaches all in this metropolis.

  • Cost of living: $1,183
  • Major language: Spanish
  • Population: 1.602 million (2014 stats)
  • Healthcare services: Healthcare is largely subsidized in public hospitals if you own a Targeta Sanitaria Individual (TSI) health card.
  • Entertainment: Museums, art galleries, monuments, theaters, beach activities

3. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Surrounded by volcanoes, Lake Atitlan is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Villages around the lake are filled with Mayan traditions,[1] and it is definitely a great cultural experience for retirees.

  • Cost of living: $700
  • Major language: Spanish
  • Population: 11,142 in Panajachel (in the 2000 census)
  • Healthcare services: Very few funds are allocated to healthcare, while 88% of the population relies on public healthcare system.
  • Entertainment: Hiking, water activities, cultural tours

4. Santa Fe, Panama

This tiny mountain hideaway is the perfect retirement spot for people from the city. Although English is not commonly spoken like in other more developed cities in Panama, Panamanians still show wonderful hospitality and often lend a helping hand to foreigners.

  • Cost of living: $800-$1,000
  • Major language: Spanish
  • Population: 3,047 (2010 stats)
  • Healthcare services: Panama’s pensionado visa program allows expats and retirees to get discounted healthcare services, like medical check-ups and prescriptions.
  • Entertainment: Hiking

5. West Des Moines, Iowa, United States

This might be a shocker for most people. How is a town in the Midwest with snowy winter a possible retirement place? Well, West Des Moines offers excellent healthcare programs, alongside with low living cost and crime rate.

  • Cost of living: $2,230
  • Major language: English
  • Population: 61,255 (2013 stats)
  • Healthcare services: Both the federally funded Medicare and Medicaid programs provide healthcare coverage for retirees, especially those above 65.
  • Entertainment: Music festival, winery and brewery tours, golfing, live horse racing

6. San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Now let’s jump back to the tropical, beach life. San Juan del Sur is known for it’s sunny weather and great healthcare, with a perennial temperature of 85 to 95 degrees. Also, the country offers an irresistible retiree program (you don’t need to pay any taxes). Fun fact: Nicaragua produces world-class coffee and chocolate!

  • Cost of living: $1,000
  • Major language: Spanish
  • Population: 7,790 (2012 stats)
  • Healthcare services: There’s no health insurance, but the Metropolitan hospital offers two packages with discounts to healthcare services. The general rates per month are: 51-65, $61; and over 65, $65.
  • Entertainment: Water and beach activities, art center, religious festivals and celebrations

7. Algarve, Portugal

For 3 years, Algarve has been the most highly-rated place in the world for retirement. Apart from a low cost of living and rent, the region also offers an extensive expat community with more than 100,000 resident foreign retirees. It has amazing food and wine too!

  • Cost of living: $1,500-2,000
  • Major language: Portuguese
  • Population: 451,006 (2010 stats)
  • Healthcare services: Services are available for registered legal foreign residents, and if you are working in Portugal, you are automatically entitled to the publicly funded National Health Service (Serviço Nacional de Saúde, SNS).
  • Entertainment: Golfing, mountain-biking, beach activities

8. Nha Trang, Vietnam

If you are looking for a low-cost, affordable retirement spot in Southeast Asia, Nha Trang would be the best place to stay. This sandy, rural town is fused with historic temples and exotic cuisines that will satisfy foodies.

  • Cost of living: $650-$800
  • Major language: Vietnamese
  • Population: 402,000 (2015 stats)
  • Healthcare services: Medical costs in Vietnam are low, and there might not have English-speaking doctors, but the healthcare system is developing. Some expats and retirees will seek medical care in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, or Singapore.
  • Entertainment: Water activities, temple tours

9. Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Other than Nha Trang, the tranquil Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia is also a great place. It is a small, walkable island with a low cost of living and a high standard of healthcare. You can also travel to nearby islands to explore what nature has in store for you.

  • Cost of living: $1,200
  • Major language: Malaysian
  • Population: 207,214 (2010 stats)
  • Healthcare services: Foreigners are recommended to look into international health insurance plans. Public hospitals are inexpensive with high medical standards, while private hospitals are more expensive with a shorter wait, but they both provide the same quality of healthcare services.
  • Entertainment: Water activities

10. Vilcabamba, Ecuador

The hustle and bustle may often bring negative impacts to our health. An alternative to excellent healthcare is living in a stress-free and organic environment. With clean air and constant sunshine, Vilcabamba attracts expats and retirees because of such healthy lifestyle.

  • Cost of living: $1,100-$1,485
  • Major language: Spanish
  • Population: 1,293 (2005 stats)
  • Healthcare services: Health insurance programs are of low costs, and hospitals and doctors are available even in small towns.
  • Entertainment: Hiking

11. Cayo, Belize

For those who are adventurous risk-takers, Cayo could be your retirement spot. As Belize is less developed than most countries, the country provides many opportunities for exploration, especially in rainforests and jungles.

  • Cost of living: $1,100
  • Major language: English
  • Population: 73,202 (2010 stats)
  • Healthcare services: The healthcare program in Belize is less developed, and for more serious medical issues, most retirees choose to leave the country to seek care.
  • Entertainment: Hiking, nature adventures

12. Abruzzo, Italy

Abruzzo is a secret garden for retirees. It is sparsely populated, with rusty and historical architectures, and also provides entertainments all year round (you can enjoy the beach in summer and ski on the mountains in winter). This secluded town also provides homey, hearty cuisines for you to enjoy.

  • Cost of living: $1,500-$1,700
  • Major language: Italian
  • Population: 1.328 million (2015 stats)
  • Healthcare services: Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN), the national health service in Italy, provides free or low-cost medical treatment to public facilities. EU nationals can use European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access public healthcare services.
  • Entertainment: Beach and water activities, skiing

13. Buenos Aires, Argentina

This vibrant Argentinian city offers endless entertainment with 20 colorful and boisterous festivals every year. It also provides an affordable yet high quality medical healthcare program.

  • Cost of living: $800-$1,500
  • Major language: Spanish
  • Population: 2.891 million (2010 stats)
  • Healthcare services: Healthcare in Argentina is cheap, and with high quality and standards of medical services due to a surplus of doctors.
  • Entertainment: Opera, symphonies, theaters, museums, and endless bookstores, and festival celebrations

14. Chiang Mai, Thailand

With abundant health-related services, Chiang Mai is one of the most popular spots for retirees to stay in. And if you still wish to get involved in the community after your retirement, Chiang Mai offers different job opportunities at schools, tourist spots, and medical facilities.

  • Cost of living: $1,100
  • Major language: Thai
  • Population: 148,477 (2008 stats)
  • Healthcare services: Similar to Vietnam, the quality healthcare services and insurance plans are cheap in Thailand.
  • Entertainment: Night market, boxing

15. Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic welcomes foreigners, and same as Chiang Mai, it provides many job openings for expats. The country is also known as a cultural melting pot with Afro-Antillean, European, North American, and Latin cultures. If you want to immerse yourself in a diverse culture, Las Terrenas is your pick.

  • Cost of living: $1,200
  • Major language: Spanish
  • Population: 39,221 (2012 stats)
  • Healthcare services: The medical care is not as well-equipped as other larger cities in the country, but Las Terrenas is improving its services and provides affordable aids at its new hospital.
  • Entertainment: Beach activities, hiking

16. Medellin, Colombia

Medellin has come a long way in terms of its security and safety. As the most progressive city, drugs and crimes are no longer issues in Medellin. The city is both a industrial, financial center, and artistic city with jazz concerts, book fairs, and poetry festivals.

  • Cost of living: $1,755-$2,000
  • Major language: Spanish
  • Population: 2.464 million (2015 stats)
  • Healthcare services: 1/7 of the best hospitals in Latin America are located in Colombia, and there are many insurance plans offered, but some do not provide services for retirees or those above 60.
  • Entertainment: Jazz concerts, tango festivals

17. Sarasota, Florida, United States

Sarasota and other cities in Florida on the Gulf of Mexico are great options for an after-retirement life. Apart from its cultural and musical scenes, the decent weather in Sarasota makes it one of the best spots for retirees in the States.

  • Cost of living: $2,575
  • Major language: English
  • Population: 53,326 (2013 stats)
  • Healthcare services: Both the federally funded Medicare and Medicaid programs provide healthcare coverage for retirees, especially those above 65.
  • Entertainment: Opera, theater, water activities

18. Valletta, Malta

For the mentioned places, English might not always been the most common language spoken, but in Valletta (and the rest of Malta), you don’t have to worry about any language barrier.

  • Cost of living: $1,290
  • Major language: Maltese, English
  • Population: 5,721 (2013 stats)
  • Healthcare services: The service in Malta is excellent, and all international visitors should have their own personal medical insurance policy.
  • Entertainment: Maltese cultural festivals, historical sightseeing, water activities

19. Playa del Carmen, Mexico

If you want a strong, well-established expat community, you should consider Playa del Carmen. The Mexican town is home to more than 10,000 foreigners, who are mainly North Americans.

  • Cost of living: $700-$1,300
  • Major language: Spanish
  • Population: 149,923 (2010 stats)
  • Healthcare services: Basic medical care is inexpensive and the line is fast, but for retirees, you don’t get the local medical coverage IMSS unless you work.
  • Entertainment: Beach activities, night bars and clubs

20. Paris, France

This might be the most surprising spot in the whole list. Paris, really? Yes. You are probably thinking how could a place with the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Luxembourg Gardens be affordable to retirees. Well, public transportation is cheap, and necessities are not as expensive as you think.

  • Cost of living: $1,290-$1,930
  • Major language: French
  • Population: 2.244 million (2010 stats)
  • Healthcare services: Medical care in Paris is considered one of the best, yet one of the cheapest in the entire Europe, and services are provided to everyone.
  • Entertainment: Museums, monuments, jazz night, shopping


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