Best Places To Retire Overseas

The 2014 Retire Overseas Map

While in the States for the holidays these past two weeks, I was interviewed by Yahoo Finance on the world’s top retirement havens for 2014. Where, the interviewer wondered, should an American consider starting a new life this New Year?

In other words, how do we choose where to invest our virtual ink?

We begin by considering things big picture, breaking the world map down into three retire-overseas zones: Latin America (Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America), Southeast Asia, and Europe.

We weight those three regions based on the opportunity each offers for anyone in the market for a new (or maybe a second) overseas lifestyle choice. Our position on the level of opportunity each region holds out comes from our collective personal experience. We pay little attention to published data or government websites. Our ideas about how appealing and interesting a place is for the would-be retiree, investor, or adventurer abroad are based on firsthand, real-world experience.

I can’t be everywhere at once, and neither can anyone else. So I’ve built a team of people I trust. This didn’t happen overnight, but, after almost three decades of moving around the world the way I have, I’ve been fortunate enough to develop relationships with an impressive line-up of folks I can count on. These are people who share our view of the world and embrace our perspective and priorities. They’re on the road and reporting back in real time about everything from the cost of living and health care to the ease of entry and the quality of the available internet service. How easy (or not) is it, really, to get a visa? A government’s website tells one story for things like residency applications; an expat’s current experience can tell another.

Latin America gets the most coverage. The majority (but not all, we understand) of our readership is located in North America. Someone starting out from that geographic position is most likely to make his (or her) first (or second or third) overseas choice in the Americas. The culture in this part of the world can feel familiar for North Americans (though, yes, of course, there’s culture shock). You’re more or less in the same time zone; flights are cheaper than to Southeast Asia and Europe, so trips back home are easier on the budget; and it can seem less intimidating, I think, for some, to make a move straight south overland rather than “overseas.”

Budget is an important consideration. A low budget that provides a comfortable lifestyle with affordable, quality health care is one of our yardsticks. In each monthly issue of our Overseas Retirement Letter, we publish a budget that details the costs for a couple living in that month’s featured location. These budgets rarely go above US$2,000 per month—and sometimes they dip below US$1,000.

So we’re balancing geography, the “hassle factor,” as we call it (that is, how difficult or easy is it to establish yourself and make a new life in a place), and the cost of living. We’re also balancing what we think of as “soft” retirement locations—places that are well-known retiree favorites—with more challenging places better suited for the pioneer.

We’re making adjustments all the time, because the world map is always changing. A new location can suddenly jump on our retire-overseas radar, as happened just last month. The January issue of our Overseas Retirement Letter features a report on expat and retiree life in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This is not a place we were paying attention to until one of our trusted correspondents sold us on it. Asia Correspondent Robert Carry made such a strong case for why we should be paying attention to this destination right now that we made room for it at the head of our 2014 calendar.

So let’s start there in reviewing how we see the world map this first month of the New Year.

Phnom Penh:

Phnom Penh is a destination that will appeal to the frontier type, the property investor, the Southeast Asia lover, and the person on a very low budget,” explains Overseas Retirement Letter Managing Editor Lucy Culpepper.

This city offers great colonial architecture, a newly redeveloped riverside promenade, and rock-bottom real estate prices. Cambodia in general is phenomenally inexpensive, and the country uses the U.S. dollar as the main currency. The people are extremely friendly, a good standard of English is spoken in the city, and Cambodian food is amazing. Health care has been a concern, but it’s improving.

Dominican Republic:

“I’ve included the Dominican Republic on my 2014 ORL calendar,” Managing Editor Lucy explains, “because of its low cost, its Caribbean lifestyle, and its interesting mix of Latin and colonial cultures. Plus, property prices are relatively low for the Caribbean, private health care is good and affordable, the climate is tropical, beaches are world-class, and the government is stable.”

Medellin, Colombia:

Our Overseas Retirement Letter last covered this up-and-coming city in 2010. We’re more bullish on what Medellin has to offer than ever, so Lucy has included a re-visit on this year’s ORL editorial calendar.

Danang, Vietnam:

Southeast Asia Correspondent Wendy Justice has spent a lot of time in Vietnam. She’s our ears and eyes on the ground in this part of the world. While on a stay in Hoi An (featured in ORL in 2011), Wendy discovered that Danang also has a lot to offer. It’s the third-largest city in Vietnam with an established expat population, good health care, and a low cost of living. Plus it’s a modern city with skyscrapers and an upscale waterfront lined with trendy restaurants and nightclubs.

Orange Walk and Corozal, Belize:

Belize offers one of the best residency programs in the world and is a regular on our ORL calendar. Corozal and Orange Walk are two spots in the north of this country that we haven’t featured enough in past coverage, so Lucy has included them as part of our 2014 line-up.

Barcelona, Spain:

So much has been written about this city but almost entirely from a tourist’s perspective. Barcelona is also a fantastic place for living, offering so much in a small area. In 2014, therefore, our Overseas Retirement Letter will feature this destination beyond the well-known Ramblas, Modernista architecture, and Gothic district, identifying the best places to live, shop, and become part of the permanent scene.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico:

Lucy has decided that it’s time to revisit this age-old favorite and is working with our Mexico expert Mike Anderson (who lives not far from San Miguel de Allende) to prepare a fully updated report on a city that continues to offer a great deal for the would-be retiree or expat.

Tagaytay, Philippines:

The Philippines offers the best retirement program in Southeast Asia, if not the world, so, as Lucy says, it’s an obvious choice for this year’s ORL calendar.

“The problem with the Philippines,” Lucy explains, “is the lack of urban beauty in its cities. Anywhere that offers that plus good health care is worth a close look. Tagaytay is about an hour outside Manila and is at a higher elevation, so temperatures are cooler. It’s a town rather than a city so is less congested. It’s popular with wealthy Manila residents for weekend getaways, meaning amenities that expats and retirees require.”

Coronado, Panama:

Another well-known retirement location in what can be considered the world’s top retirement haven, Coronado will get more virtual ink from us this year. This beachside community offers gated resort living on a low budget within easy commuting distance of the Panamanian capital.

Georgetown, Malaysia:

Malaysia has a strong retirement/investment program, is English-speaking, and offers luxury living on a low to medium budget,” explains Lucy, “so I’m featuring it again on this year’s ORL calendar.”

Georgetown is a busy, thriving city with a large expat community that has managed to retain its colonial charm (it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Georgetown is affordable, has a tropical climate, excellent health care, and an intriguing culture. Last featured in ORL in 2009, we felt it was time for a re-visit and a complete update.

Big year ahead.

Kathleen Peddicord