In this report we take a closer look at the magazine’s 2016 top places to retire abroad index, and give you some insight into what to look for when researching your own retirement abroad haven.
International Living (IL) has been around for years, and it utilises the analysis and input from 30 correspondents around the world when compiling its annual list.
These correspondents look at everything from the cost of real estate to the quality of life, from the visas and the healthcare.
They rate nations around the world on how suitable or otherwise they are for an expatriate retiree, and this year their top 3 choices for those who want to retire abroad are Panama, Ecuador and Mexico.
The best ranking European nations are Spain and Portugal coming in at positions 9 and 10 in their global index…funnily enough, Britain doesn’t even rank!
What’s important to remember is that International Living Magazine is heavily focused on North Americans rather than Brits…therefore the nations chosen in the index are likely to rank less favourably for Britons when it comes to accessibility. Beyond that however, there’s no reason why more UK residents considering retirement abroad shouldn’t consider Panama or Ecuador or Mexico.
Why is Panama the Best Country in the World for Retirement?
According to IL, Panama ranks highly on accessibility to the States as Miami is just a 3 hour flight away, and it ranks highly when it comes to cost of living, standard of living, pace of life and healthcare.
You can pick your climate as the nation spans from tropical to temperate, and you can even pick your ocean, choosing perhaps the Caribbean or maybe the Pacific.
If you prefer mountain living to coastal living don’t worry, Panama can support your ambitions, and because Panama city is an incredible first world metropolis, home to every conceivable amenity and facility, if you can afford it you can have it – whatever ‘it’ is…
According to IL, when it comes to healthcare: “Panama’s cities are home to world-class hospitals and many medical professionals trained in the U.S. A Pensionado visa can further lower your costs by providing discounts off the already low fees for care.”
Pensionado visas are relatively easy to obtain, according to Panama Immigration Services: “Anyone over 18 years of age can qualify for the Panama Pensionado (Retired) Visa by proving the he or she is receiving a lifetime minimum $1,000 USD per month payment. An exception to this minimum amount is when the applicant purchases Panama real estate valued at least $100,000 where the minimum monthly amount is reduced to $750 USD.
The pension or annuity must be proven with documentation from the government agency or company which makes the payments and the certification must be notarized and authenticated by the nearest Panama Consul or by Apostille.”
Whilst the official language is Spanish, internationally focused businesses can transact in English, and of course those who have received a high level of education and who have been educated abroad also speak English.
From IL’s index you can see that Panama ranks highly in every single category – from the benefits and discounts available for retirees, to the entertainment and amenities available, and from the healthy lifestyle to the ease with which retirees fit in.
Retire to Ecuador and Own a Piece of Paradise
Ecuador comes in at number 2 in the list of the best places in the world to retire, and it actually tops IL’s index when it comes to the affordability and availability of homes to rent and buy.
Apparently: ”In the colonial city of Cuenca, you can rent a two-bedroom apartment for $500 or less, while the same property in the popular mountain town of Cotacachi will set you back $450 to $600 a month (although you can find rentals for much less if you shop around). Even in the capital, Quito—where you have great healthcare and amenities within easy reach—rentals can be had for under $1,000.
“Ecuador also has stunning beachfront properties for sale and rent, as expat Denver Gray has found out. “Here you can find ocean-view apartments from under $100,000,” says Denver, who lives in the coastal city of Salinas. Denver himself bought a four-bedroom oceanfront condo for $220,000. “For half of the year, we have all of the windows open in our condo to enjoy the cool breezes and the sound of the surf,” he says.”
Whilst Ecuador loses quite a few points when it comes to visas and gaining residency, because it is mired in a notoriously tangled web of red tape, it exceeds Panama’s score when it comes to cost of living, lifestyle and climate…in fact, it tops the global list for climate.
Retirement in Mexico is Easy to Organise
Coming in at number 3 is Mexico – which of course ranks very highly with IL’s North American readers because it is so accessible from the States, but for anyone who wants to retire there, getting a visa is apparently relatively straightforward.
IL Mexico Editor Glynna Prentice says: “…the real winner is Mexico’s permanent visa. You have to show a slightly higher income—about $2,100 a month. But you can get a permanent visa right from the get-go—you don’t need a temporary visa first. It’s a one-time application process, and the visa is valid indefinitely. And with either residence visa, those aged 60 or over can get a pensioner’s card and qualify for discounts from 5% to 50% on a whole range of goods and services.”
Otherwise the country ranks well for infrastructure and entertainment and amenities.
Whilst we don’t question the appeal of the nation in many categories ranging from cost of living to quality of life, we do question the safety of the nation, but that doesn’t seem to have been criteria in the ranking process for IL…therefore this has led us to produce our own ranking system by which you can assess any nations you are personally considering for retirement abroad.
Whilst this list is not exhaustive, and cannot appeal to everyone’s needs or even desires, we hope it is a really good starting point for you when thinking about whether a country can live up to your expectations and requirements.
How much does it cost and how long does it take to get to and from your nation of choice? If it’s near and cheap – great. If it’s a long way away and/or expensive to get to, will this limit the number of times you can see your family and friends? How might this impact on you and them?
In the UK we have free healthcare – elsewhere in the world it’s more common to have to pay as you go or buy insurance. As we age health insurance gets more expensive.
What’s the system like in your nation of choice – can you afford access to healthcare. Also, what’s the healthcare offering like?
Are facilities good – what about if you need long term care or even home help or to go into a home later on in life? Are these facilities available and affordable?
Can you get a reliable electric, gas, water and internet connection? What are the roads like – are they ok even in the winter? Can you get around without a car? Think about the practical reality of living in your nation of choice – does it suit you…will it suit you still in 10 or 20 years time?
Are you permitted to retire to your nation of choice – some nations don’t want us after we reach a certain age, others bend over backwards to attract retirees.
Have a look at what red tape is involved in legally relocating permanently to your preferred country.
Affordability has to encompass the cost of relocation, living day to day, affording everything from a car to healthcare, from groceries to life’s little luxuries. What’s affordability like in your nation of consideration?
Think also about your income in retirement, and whether that will be inflation proof in your country of consideration. Also, what about currency fluctuations and needing to afford unforeseen expenses like a sudden trip home perhaps.
Are expats safe, are women safe, would your children be safe? Think about everything from crime levels, to sanitation, from the sanity or otherwise of the government to climate extremes when considering this topic.
Whilst a country might have a very low crime rate it might suffer from a very unstable government – or whilst a country could be paradise on earth for most of the year, it may fall victim to hurricanes.
How likely is your country to remain ideal for you as you age, and as it adapts and changes down the years? Whilst the answer to the sustainability questions are possibly only discernable if you have a crystal ball, if you take a realistic approach when thinking about a country – i.e., take off your rose coloured glasses and think about worst case scenarios, you’re likely to come some way close to knowing if your nation will stand the test of time for you.
Barriers to integration
How easy will it be for you to settle in, settle down, meet and make friends and build a new support network?
Have other expats made the transition successfully – are you outgoing enough to make friends?
How will you cope without a support network in place initially?
Are there cultural or religious barriers to integration?
Leading on from the above point, language can be a massive barrier for some people when moving abroad depending on where they are moving to and whether they have the capacity to learn a new language or not.
What about you? What about your new nation? Will language be a barrier for you – or will it be a challenge you can embrace? Or are you moving to a country where they all speak English?
What sort of lifestyle do you aspire to, is it achievable in your new nation? Are your lifestyle ambitions affordable in your new country?
Can you afford to buy, should you in fact rent? Not every nation as a property market as flexible and as fickle as Britain’s. What’s more, in some countries the entry and exit costs to the property market are extortionate and may make it more sensible for you to rent.
Do you have a house in the UK? What will you do with it? Rent it or sell it?
Don’t burn bridges with Britain in case you ever want to return – and don’t over commit to another country’s property market if it is hard or expensive to sell if ever you want to leave.
We always recommend anyone moving abroad rents a home overseas for at least the first 6 months to a year to ensure they fully test the waters, get to know the nation and understand the vagaries of its property market before opting to perhaps buy in.
We Brits long for perpetual sunshine because we are starved of it for so much of the year – but be honest about what climate you can cope with in retirement. To retire abroad to a super hot, tropical, humid country might play havoc with your health.
Also, even the Mediterranean region gets super cold in the winter – snow in Cyprus anyone? It’s a reality occasionally! So, do your climate research and be prepared.
Dreams versus reality
Finally, holidaying in a nation is not like living there. So, as aforementioned, take off your rose coloured glasses when thinking about any nation you might like to live in in retirement, and spend some time there getting to know it, warts and all.
Your reconnaissance visit should include looking at the cost of property, a car and fuel or public transport, food, electric and gas for your home, rates or other local taxes, and what life is like for those who live in your preferred destination.
Where do they socialise? Are people friendly? Can you integrate? Speak to other expats if you can, and make sure you are really making the right choice before you retire abroad.
Your Path to a New Life Abroad in Retirement
Whilst Panama, Ecuador and Mexico might be IL’s top places to retire abroad, that doesn’t mean they are everyone’s cup of tea! To plot your own path to retirement overseas we hope the above list of considerations will guide you.
Don’t be put off your dream – but do make sure you put the time and effort into researching, planning and preparing so that when you do move, it’s as stress-free and successful as possible.