The secret to taking control of your retirement in 2015 and making this phase of life a grand adventure, even if your retirement nest egg is modest, is expanding your horizons.
Here are the 10 best places to retire overseas this New Year 2015:
#1 Algarve, Portugal
Portugal’s Algarve is home to more than 100,000 resident foreign retirees. This Old World region on the Atlantic Ocean is the best place in the world to retire that nobody’s talking about. Portugal’s southernmost province offers the best of Europe, including medieval towns, fishing villages, open-air markets, and local wine, plus some of Europe’s best sandy beaches.
This is a land of cobblestoned streets and whitewashed houses with lace-patterned chimneys, surrounded everywhere by fig, olive, almond, and carob trees. Thinking more practically, the Algarve also offers great weather, with 3,300 hours of sunshine per year, meaning more sunny days than almost anywhere else in Europe.
The Algarve has a longstanding reputation as a top summer destination among European sun-seekers and as a top winter retreat for those looking to escape Northern Europe’s coldest months. Health care is international-standard in this part of the world, and medical tourism is a growing industry.
Thanks to Portugal’s strong historic and cultural links with England, English is spoken more widely in the country in general and especially in the Algarve than you might expect.
The Algarve’s 100 miles of Atlantic coastline is punctuated by jagged rock formations, lagoons, and extensive sandy beaches, many awarded coveted Blue Flags from the European Blue Flag Association. In addition, the region boasts 42 golf courses in less than 100 miles and is generally recognized as a top golfing destination in continental Europe and the world.
The cost of living in Portugal is among the lowest in Western Europe, on average 30% lower than in any other country on the Continent. A retired couple could live here comfortably but modestly on a budget of as little as US$1,500 per month. With a budget of US$2,000 per month or more, you could enjoy a fully appointed lifestyle in the heart of Old Europe.
#2 Cuenca, Ecuador
If you’re looking for the world’s best place to retire overseas on a budget and live better for less, Cuenca, Ecuador, will be hard to beat. This is a beautiful colonial city in a fascinating and diverse country. The historic center measures roughly 12 by 20 blocks, big enough to be interesting but contained enough to be manageable without having to invest in owning a car.
Many of the Spanish-colonial structures that line the streets of central Cuenca are given over today to cafes, restaurants, bars, and bookshops, operating alongside the traditional butchers, tailors, repair shops, and bakeries. At the heart of the city is the town square, anchored by the original cathedral at one end (dating to 1557) and the “new” cathedral at the other (dating to the 1800s).
Perhaps the biggest appeal of Cuenca is its cost of living, which is among the lowest in the Americas. Real estate prices, too, are rock bottom, if you’re interested in owning a home of your own in retirement. The health care is high quality, honest, and, like everything else here, inexpensive. The climate is temperate 12 months a year, and the city’s large and growing expat community is one of the most diverse and well-blended in the world.
#3 George Town, Malaysia
The Malaysian island of Penang, recognized as both the Pearl of the Orient and the Garden of the East, offers retirees one of the best overseas living opportunities in the world and stands out as a top retirement choice in Asia. Retired here, you could while away the hours exploring George Town, Penang’s colorful and lively state capital, kick back on the beach, explore the mountains and waterfalls, shop ‘til you drop, and eat out every meal if you wanted. The cuisine is so diverse you’ll never tire of it and so affordable you can indulge without worry even if your retirement budget is modest.
George Town’s population is about 750,000, small enough that it’s easy to make friends and meet your neighbors, yet large enough to support the infrastructure and services of a real city. The center of historic George Town is a maze of 19th-century streets. Even beyond its UNESCO heart, this city is a cornucopia of Chinese shop houses, pagodas, temples, clan-houses, churches, mosques, British colonial buildings, and landscaped parks.
Malaysia offers sophisticated, international-standard health care at an affordable cost and is one of the world’s top five destinations for medical tourism. Many private hospitals are internationally accredited.
The Malaysian government actively encourages immigration and welcomes foreign retirees. There is no pressing need for you to learn a second language in Malaysia and even less so in George Town. This is an international destination, and nearly everyone you come in contact with will speak and understand English.
A couple could retire comfortably in George Town on US$1,500 per month.
#4 Northern Belize
Northern Belize is a remote region of tropical rivers, hardwood forests, traditional farms, sleepy rural villages, and breezy Caribbean seashores. This is a refreshingly off-the-radar place where residents embrace a simple, friendly, by-the-sea lifestyle.
It is also the best value destination in Belize and one of the most affordable options for retirement in the Caribbean.
Northern Belize is an area of about 2,500 square miles and the point where the Caribbean and Central America meet. As that geographic juxtaposition suggests, the population is diverse, and it is becoming more so as North American retirees are beginning to recognize what this overlooked part of Belize has to offer and settling here in growing numbers.
Northern Belize’s remoteness is part of its appeal, but remote living has its disadvantages, especially in retirement. This is why the proximity of this part of Belize to Chetumal, Mexico, just across the border, is so important. The town of Corozal in Northern Belize is a gateway town to Chetumal and from there to Merida and Cancun beyond. In Northern Belize, you could enjoy a bargain Caribbean lifestyle with easy access to shopping, city distractions, and, very important, medical care in Chetumal.
Belizeans are known for their hospitality. Plus, they all speak English, so new friendships are quickly and easily made. Corozal is home to an established and growing expat community, but this group is well integrated with the local Belizean community. Living here, how would you fill your days? Sailing around Sarteneja, horseback riding at Chan Chich, kayaking at Orchid Bay, fishing at Bacalar Chico, or bird watching at Crooked Tree Lodge, and you wouldn’t ever lack for company, Belizean or expat, if you wanted it.
#5 Dumaguete, Philippines
Located along a sheltered coast on the island of Negros, Dumaguete is protected against most of the typhoons that periodically batter many of the Philippines’ 7,107 islands. The weather is tropical and balmy, rarely too hot but occasionally cool enough to wear a sweater in the evening. Dumaguete offers excellent medical care, too, care that has been getting even better since the city was named one of the five top retirement destinations in the Philippines.
The Philippines offers one of the best residency programs in the world, helping to explain why more than 5,000 foreigners have chosen to retire here. The financial requirements to qualify are low, and the benefits are globally competitive, including duty-free importation of household belongings and the ability to own a business, work, or go to school.
You can get by comfortably in this part of the world as an English speaker. When Dumagueteños talk to you, they’ll speak in English.
The biggest advantage for the retiree in Dumaguete is the cost of living. A couple could retire comfortably here on less than US$1,000 per month.
#6 Pau, France
No border marks the entry to the Basque region, but you’ll know when you’ve entered this part of France. The most obvious change is the architecture. Every house is painted white with accents of Basque red. You buy the paint at any Home Depot-type store; the can will be labeled “Basque Red.” In this part of the world, there’s just one red. This collective approach to home decor has the effect of making everything appear pristine and cared for. The Basque people also have their own language, music, dance, sport, cuisine (one of the best in France), myths, flag, and even alphabet typeface.
France’s Basque region is made up of seven provinces that sit astride the French-Spanish Atlantic border. The geography is intense, bringing to mind a young child’s drawing of the countryside where every type of geographic feature is squeezed onto one sheet of paper. Small steep valleys, rolling hills, towering mountains, meandering rivers, a wild coastline, forests and woodland, all crammed into about 31,000 square feet and all gloriously green and lush.
The water in many parts of the bay is shallow, giving rise to spectacular surf. This coastline, specifically Biarritz, was the birthplace of French surfing in the late 1950s.
France is recognized by the World Health Organization as having the world’s best healthcare.
The retiree who has dreamt of France but who can’t afford Paris should consider Pau. A couple could retire here on as little as US$2,000 per month.
#7 Medellin, Colombia
Medellin is a city of parks and flowers, pretty, tidy, and, despite its checkered past, safe. It’s also architecturally consistent and pleasing. Most every building is constructed of red brick and topped with red clay roof tiles. The overall effect is delightful.
Medellin is both an industrial, economic, and financial center for this country and a literary and artistic one. Newspapers, radio networks, publishing houses, an annual poetry festival, an international jazz festival, an international tango festival, an annual book fair, and, back in 1971, Colombia’s answer to Woodstock, the Festival de Ancon, all have chosen Medellin as their base.
Thanks to its mountain setting, Medellin is another of a handful of cities around the world that bills themselves as lands of eternal springtime. The cost of living is affordable, though not super-cheap. The medical care is excellent, with 5 of the 35 best hospitals in Latin America located here.
The European undertones in Medellin are strong, from the way the women dress to the way people greet you in passing on the street. This is South America, not Central America, and the differences between the two regions can be striking.
Medellin was named 2013’s World’s Most Innovative City and is finally beginning to shed its bad-boy image from Pablo Escobar days and to become appreciated for the romantic city it is, with good wines, great coffee, outdoor cafes, and open-air music venues. It’s a top choice for chic but affordable city living in retirement. A couple could retire here on as little as US$1,600 per month.
#8 Abruzzo, Italy
It’s hard to think of a lovelier corner of Italy than the Abruzzo. The beaches are golden, and the sea rolls out like a giant bolt of turquoise silk. There are mountains, too, meaning that, living here, you’d have both skiing and beach-combing on your doorstep, depending on the season.
This region is one of Italy’s secret treasures. No over-crowding, no heavy industry, only castles, vineyards, and villages made of stone. Life in the Abruzzo hasn’t changed much over the years, and exploring here is like wandering into a gentler, kinder yesterday, a time with little or no crime and neighbors who watch out for one another.
Old ladies in pinafores bring their chairs outside and sit in gossipy groups, stringing onions into plaits. Instead of playing computer games, young boys are outside playing soccer. Families shop at open-air markets, not hypermarkets, and if they don’t produce their own wine, they buy it from local vineyards.
Relatively unknown to foreign visitors, the sparsely populated Abruzzo is where central Italy merges into the languid realms of the deep south. Even though many parts of the area are only an hour’s drive from Rome, it clings onto its secret feel.
The main town in the region, Pescara, has one of the best city beaches in Europe and not far away is some of the best skiing outside of the Alps. In spring, it’s possible to combine a morning on the Apennine ski slopes with an afternoon at the beach.
Food is important in the Abruzzo, as it is everywhere in Italy. In most trattorie, everything is home-cooked and just like nonna (grandmother) used to make. In fact, sometimes, nonna still makes it. On the coast, dishes feature fish; inland, the cuisine becomes heartier, based on roast kid, baby lamb, and wild boar.
This delightful and culturally rich region of Italy is also one of Europe’s best bargains. A couple could retire here on as little as US$2,000 per month or less, including rent.
#9 Pedasi, Panama
Panama’s Azuero Peninsula is home to more traditional Panamanian culture and folklore than any other region in the country. The east coast of the peninsula is dotted with quaint villages steeped in history, folklore, and tradition. Queen among them is Pedasi, a town with a village atmosphere where you feel like an active stakeholder in a thriving community.
This gulf coast of Azuero, known as the Arco Seco (Dry Arch) offers some of Panama’s best weather. A constant breeze helps to reduce the humidity that can be overwhelming elsewhere in this country.
The waters offshore from Pedasi’s “Tuna Coast” provide for some of the world’s best big game fishing, and this coast is also one of the best places in the world to see the annual migration of the humpback whale.
Pedasi is the kind of small town where the locals sit outside in oversized wooden rocking chairs and leave their doors open to the street. The old men wear traditional leather sandals and black and white straw hats. Women of all ages wear white pollera dresses during festivals and the annual Carnival celebration.
This is a tidy and charming village with a rural feel and relaxed lifestyle that is beginning to attract attention among North American retirees. Pedasi is today’s best beach retirement choice in Panama, the country that continues to stand out overall as perhaps the most foreign retiree-friendly in the world.
#10 Istanbul, Turkey
Megacity Istanbul straddles the shores of both Europe and Asia and is the only city to have been a capital to both Christian and Muslim empires, as evidenced, inside its great Roman walls, by an architectural legacy like nothing else anywhere on earth. Though not the country’s capital, Istanbul is Turkey’s beating heart, offering the best of any European capital city, from lattes to the latest Hollywood releases in English, but with an edge and an energy that can be lacking in Continental Europe. Istanbul is a place to watch the world go by beneath a skyline of minarets and modern office blocks while ships from across the globe pass up and down the Bosphorus.
Istanbul is a city made for walking. Not only the oldest parts but every region of this city, both Euro and Anatolian, invites you to take off on two feet to explore it up close. When you do, you discover book stores and art galleries, antique shops and boutiques of all descriptions, on and on as far as your curiosity and legs will carry you.
Istanbul is known as the Paris of the East, but it might be fairer to think of Paris as the Istanbul of the West. These two cities have so much in common today. However, Istanbul settled some few hundred years earlier than Paris and developed much quicker, growing to become grand and prosperous when Paris was still swampland.
The best part is that this world-class city is also exceedingly affordable, perhaps the best place in the world to enjoy the best of city living on a budget. A couple could retire here on a budget of as little as US$1,100 per month.
Live and Invest Overseas has identified and ranked the world’s 21 top retirement destinations in our second annual Retire Overseas Index. Part science, part art, our Retire Overseas Index is the best way to introduce yourself to the exciting but tricky world of overseas retirement. And, as an Overseas Retirement Letter subscriber, you get free and immediate access to this report.