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Experts Pick the Best Places to Retire Overseas in 2016 Experts Pick the Best Places to Retire Overseas in 2016
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Experts Pick the Best Places to Retire Overseas in 2016

Insights & Ideas Team •  February 3, 2016 | Enjoying Retirement

People who choose to retire abroad, either full time or part time, do so for a lot of reasons. Some may be drawn to the adventure of exploring a new culture or having a healthier, more active lifestyle; others may seek a slower pace or better weather; and others may be looking for ways to get a bit more from their retirement dollars. 

With that in mind, the editors at have produced a survey of top picks of retirement countries for 10 different criteria, such as ease in obtaining residency, weather, health care and which countries offer the best financial perks to retirees.

The 2016 International Living Annual Global Retirement Index names 23 countries in their overall “best” list, which includes countries from Latin America, Asia and Europe. The overall winner this year was Panama, which Executive Editor Jennifer Stevens says tops the survey not only because of its weather but because it was best in class in several key categories.

“Panama has made retiring there easy for Americans,” says Stevens. “Not only is English widely spoken, but they make it especially easy for retirees seeking residency, and they provide several discounts and benefits.” Some of those benefits include discounts for health care, entertainment, travel and utilities.

While Panama topped the overall list, other countries were high performers in other areas of concern to retirees. Here is a look at some of the key categories in the survey, along with the top-ranking countries in each:

Buying and Renting: Ecuador tops this category, which looks at the availability of affordable, quality properties. The survey pointed out that most Americans considered it very affordable to rent or buy in small cities, on the beachfront or in rural mountain towns in the Andean nation. Nicaragua, Malaysia, the Dominican Republic and Thailand round out the top five nations where good real estate deals are easier to find.

Benefits and Discounts: Panama and Ecuador score highest, followed by Mexico for offering specialized discounts for retirees, including things like discount entertainment, transportation, health care and even utilities.

Visas and Residence: Panama and Mexico are followed by Costa Rica, Malaysia and Honduras for ease in obtaining visas or residency for retirees. Both Panama and Costa Rica offer a special retiree residency permit called a pensionado to streamline the process.

Cost of Living: Cambodia tied Nicaragua for overall affordability, followed by Peru, Colombia and Guatemala. Housing, food, entertainment, transportation and medical costs were considered in determining overall cost of living.

Fitting In: Honduras’ island of Roatan was tied with Belize for having communities in which American expats feel most at home. Survey participants found it easiest to adapt in these communities in part because English is frequently spoken but also because they have large expat communities that provided information, support and access to shared activities.

Health Care: Malaysia tied Colombia for best in category, followed by Costa Rica and Panama for offering state-of-the-art health care. Many of the top medical personnel in these countries may have received their degrees in the United States, or there are hospitals in the larger cities that are as good as any in the U.S. And some are even affiliated with American hospitals.

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Healthy Lifestyle: Costa Rica and Nicaragua scored highest, followed by Panama, Ecuador and Colombia for fostering a healthy lifestyle. Many survey participants noted having access to fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables and healthier local non-processed foods as well as being more active, either because they walk more and drive less or because they participate in a more active lifestyle than they did at home.

Deciding to move overseas takes time and care. In addition to doing research online, Stevens recommends people plan to take extended visits to the places they are considering to suss out whether it is a good fit for them. “Sometimes people think they want to live a beach bum’s life. But they get there and the heat is too much or they don’t feel at home,” she warns. “Going for a month or more and renting an apartment near where you are considering moving will give you a chance to see how day-to-day life is. You can check out different neighborhoods, connect with other expats and ask questions, and ultimately be much better prepared for a big move.”

Many people thinking about living overseas may be drawn to the idea that they may save money living in a country with a cheaper cost of living, but there are personal and financial concerns worth reviewing before deciding to go. In addition to assessing how you’ll feel being away from family and friends, you should also assess what financial impact it may have for you, including looking at tax concerns and any additional costs that may be incurred for visits home.

Stevens says the most successful expats are those who are seeking adventure. "If people are only seeking financial savings, they may not be happy in the end,” she explains. “The people who thrive retiring abroad are the people who want to explore something new and who have found a place and community they enjoy. You need to feel pulled, not pushed.”

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