A move overseas comes with many benefits. In the right spots, it can mean a lifestyle upgrade and a budget cut go hand in hand.
Our annual Overseas Retirement Index pinpoints the world’s best places to start a new life abroad, ranked and rated in 14 key categories including health care, climate, crime, real estate restrictions, English spoken, and of course, cost of living.
Here are three of the top spots where even those on a tight budget can enjoy a richer life…
Santa Marta, Colombia
Many have heard about the charms of colorful Cartagena, Colombia’s Spanish-colonial gem on the Caribbean Sea…
But not as many have heard about Santa Marta, a laidback beach town about 150 miles up the coast.
Santa Marta is Colombia’s oldest colonial city—in fact, it’s one of the oldest cities in all of South America, founded by the Spanish in 1525.
While mostly unknown to international audiences, Santa Marta is the preferred vacation destination for locals, favored for its affordability, perpetually warm weather, soft golden sands, and warm Caribbean waters.
Santa Marta is more geographically diverse than Cartagena, with the Caribbean Sea to the north and west, Tayrona National Park to the east, and Colombia’s Sierra Nevada mountain range to the south.
It offers excellent beach- and water-based activities, like boating, snorkeling, and diving… but it also offers mountain-based activities, like mountain hiking, trekking, and biking. The Sierra Nevada even has snowy peaks at certain times of year.
On top of this, Santa Marta has an upbeat and energetic culture and a diverse selection of lifestyle opportunities…
There’s the historical center, with its quaint, narrow lanes, white-washed Spanish-colonial architecture, and squares lined by everything from pizza joints to burger bars to more upscale Italian and Mediterranean food.
The newer part of the city features an attractive seafront park, plenty of small cafés and bars, as well as boutique hotels, excellent seafood restaurants, and a cruise-ship port. There’s also a 256-slip marina and new, tasteful condo projects all around.
Then there’s the beaches… The most popular among them is Rodadero Beach, which boasts soft, golden sands, warm Caribbean waters, and a long boardwalk.
Colombia’s overall standard of health care is the best in Latin America—better ranked than both Canada and the United States.
In Santa Marta, there are over a dozen hospitals, clinics, and health centers, both public and private. Health care here is also extremely affordable. Most medical procedures and medications are one-third to one-tenth the cost of comparable U.S. prices.
Colombia is already very affordable by North American standards. Because the dollar is strong against the Colombian peso, everything comes at a further discount.
Plus, Santa Marta is priced for the local tourism market. This is definitely a place where you can reduce your monthly cost of living. A couple can live well here on a monthly budget of $1,560.
Start Your New Life Today, Overseas
Southeast Asia is famous for its affordability and in this region our #1 pick is Phuket, Thailand’s biggest island. Here, a monthly budget of $1,702 will see a couple enjoying the best of laidback island life.
Phuket is a dream destination for outdoor recreation lovers.
The beaches are the biggest draw. They range in size and style from luxury set-ups inside exquisite resorts to laid-back, little-known stretches where you sprawl out directly on the sand.
Most offer activities ranging from surfing, snorkeling, swimming, and diving to yachting, jet-skiing, parasailing, kite surfing, deep sea fishing, and more.
In southeastern Phuket, you can catch boats to small islands, like the Phi Phi Islands, famous for their turquoise waters, white-sand beaches, and jagged limestone cliffs.
On land, you can chase waterfalls and explore sprawling national parks, full of unique wildlife species.
Golf is a beloved pastime here, with nine courses in the vicinity. Wellness is also a big trend, particularly massage and yoga, but also breathing, meditation, and mindfulness.
You can indulge in high-quality spa treatments for a fraction of what you’d pay back home—about $10 for an hour-long massage.
Health care is also affordable. There are two private hospitals here which treat thousands of foreigners and locals every year, offering superb quality care and English-speaking staff.
There are also four government hospitals and plenty of medical centers, dental offices, and pharmacies across Phuket.
Medical fees vary, but you can expect to pay about $30 for a regular visit at a private hospital.
Located about midway along Mexico’s Pacific coast, Mazatlán offers the best beachfront lifestyle you’ll find in Mexico… maybe the best you’ll find anywhere.
Mazatlán’s Centro Histórico is big, offering a wide range of restaurants, cafés, museums, shops, and more.
And both the Centro Histórico and the waterfront areas of Mazatlán offer exciting lifestyles and inexpensive property… You’ll spend less in Mazatlán for seaside properties than you’ll spend in Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Vallarta, or Tulum.
On top of all this, Mazatlán offers all the familiarity and convenience that make Mexico the most popular expat haven in the world. You’ll find familiar shops like Home Depot, Sam’s Club, Walmart, and AutoZone here, as well as local chains.
Plus, there’s great weather for most of the year, miles of sandy beaches, a vibrant cultural scene, a friendly expat community, hundreds of appealing dining options, lots of nightlife, and a low cost of living…
Indeed, everything from food and entertainment to housing and utilities costs less here than in the States or Canada… but it also costs less than comparable Mexican resort cities, like Puerto Vallarta.
You can buy most anything in Mexico that you can in the States, and because many “American” goods are made in Mexico, you can get these items at a local price.
When it comes to health care, most expats here seek out private care which is excellent. Costs here are low, typically just one-third the cost you’d pay for comparable care in the United States.
Overall, a couple can savor the good life in Mazatlán on a monthly budget of $1,788.
Editor, Overseas Living Letter