How much will it cost you to live in Overseas Retirement Haven XYZ?
The only honest answer is, I have no idea. And neither does anyone else. The only one who can answer that question is you.
Here’s the most important thing to understand about budgeting your new life overseas: You can spend as much or as little as you want to live almost anywhere. Some places are generally more affordable than others, and a handful of places are absolutely cheap. But globalization means you can enjoy more or less any standard of living more or less anywhere on earth, if you're willing to pay for it.
The exceptions are some absolutely cheap locales such as Ecuador, India, and Thailand (outside Bangkok). In these places, your cost of living is artificially low because, frankly, there isn't much for you to spend your money on. This is not to say that, in these places, you couldn't enjoy a comfortable, interesting, exotic, even fun, exciting, and adventure-filled life. But you'd be living simply, because you'd have no option. The only life in these places is the simple life.
If cost of living is your primary motivation for thinking about moving to another country, I recommend you focus on these choices. If you're not looking to move on a super-fixed income (of, say, US$1,200 a month or less), you have many good options, and here's what I strongly suggest:
Stop obsessing over this cost-of-living question. Yes, of course, you need to know that you'll be able to afford to live in whatever country you decide to try on for size, but here are a few other things to remember, as well.
Most important, your cost of living almost anywhere is controllable. It will not be the same as my cost of living in that same place or, necessarily, the cost of living in that place for anyone else you might speak with.
Most expense items--everything from housing to health care, from travel to entertainment, from your monthly grocery bill to your phone/cable/Internet package--are hugely variable and can be managed.
I met a gentleman recently, an American, living in downtown Panama City on a budget of US$800 a month. I wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't itemized his monthly costs for me. He's renting a small furnished house (without air conditioning), in a local neighborhood, for US$400 a month and controlling his other expenses so effectively that they amount to no more than another US$400 a month.
My family and I are spending more than five times that amount each month to live in the same city.
Maybe you could live in Panama City on US$800 a month, or maybe that lifestyle would make you miserable. Maybe you'd spend more than I am spending to enjoy the standard of living you're looking for. We know people who do. Panama City is a place where you can find almost any product or service you might be in the market for…and avail of it if you’re willing to ante up.
Second, cost of living is a forever-moving target, especially if you’re living in a country whose currency differs from the currency in which you derive your income.
Third, none of this is really the point.
The point is, again, that you can control your cost of living, within parameters, almost anywhere in the world. We present in this section, for example, two budgets for living in Medellin, Colombia. One totals US$1,890. It includes US$700 per month for rent, US$350 per month for a full-time maid, and US$300 per month for entertainment. This constitutes a higher-end budget for living in Medellin. In a more out-of-the-way neighborhood, you could rent a small, unfurnished apartment for as little as US$210 a month (we know someone doing this). You could forgo the maid service. You could reduce your going-out expense…
Making those changes brings the total budget down to less than US$1,000 per month.
So, one more time, I can’t tell you how much it will cost you to live in any of the places I recommend you consider launching a new life. I can, though, with the help of my far-flung network of correspondents already at home in these places, give you broad and general guidelines for reference…as a starting point.
One more thing before you get to the numbers. Just as a one-size-fits-all budget for living in any country is next-to-meaningless, so is any budget that claims to represent the cost of living in any country overall. A budget for Panama, Belize, France, Thailand, or Malaysia, is useless, because the cost of living in Panama City, for example, is nothing like the cost of living in Boquete or Las Tablas…etc.
All that said, we present in the pages of this section general guideline budgets for key locations with the world’s top retirement havens right now. As I’ve suggested, use these as starting points…and build out from here…
Panama City, Panama
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