The concept of moving abroad in retirement is usually associated with adventure, good food and the freedom to explore other parts of the world.
But the main factor that motivates people to actually spend their later years abroad is often affordability, says Kathleen Peddicord, publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, a resource for retirees that publishes an annual ranking of the 21 best places to retire overseas.
“Outside the United States, you can live for far less,” says Peddicord, who ranks cities based on cost of living, weather, options for residency and other factors.
As the greenback has gained against the euro, parts of Europe are suddenly looking more within reach, says Peddicord, pointing out that European cities accounted for three of the top five destinations in this year’s ranking. Other top destinations in Asia and Latin America offer the combination of low cost of living, mild climates and proximity to other main destinations that might appeal to retirees.
Here’s a look at the top seven places on the list, along with an estimate for the cost of living, which includes rent, groceries, utilities and entertainment:
1. Algarve, Portugal
Cost of living: $1,410 a month
This region on the coast of Portugal has held the top spot for two years in a row thanks to its low cost of living, affordable real estate and pleasant weather. The area was highlighted for having mild temperature year-round, with temperatures usually staying below 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Foreigners can buy land in Portugal just as any citizen can, and chances are high that they’ll find a good deal. In Algarve, property goes for an average $1,345 per square meter, according to the report, earning it an A rating for the cost of real estate.
When it comes to settling down, Portugal does not have one of the pensioner programs available in parts of Latin America that make it simple for retirees to establish residency and receive certain tax breaks when importing their belongings. But Portugal still has one of the most inviting programs in Europe, the report notes. Retirees with corporate pensions can apply for a short-term residency visa, which could lead to permanent residency and other tax breaks once they show they have sufficient income to support themselves.
2. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Cost of living: $1,950 a month
No hablas Español? Expats living in this touristy part of Mexico can get away with doing most of their errands in English, such as shopping, going out to eat or visiting the spa, according to the report. The area is well developed, giving retirees options for golfing, fishing and fine dining. Puerto Vallarta is also a safe part of the country with a strong presence of bilingual police officers, the study points out.
The climate there is tropical — a.k.a. hot and humid year-round — so retirees need to like the warmer temperatures. As for transportation, the study notes retirees don’t need a car unless they live outside the town’s center. A reliable bus system, along with taxis, makes it easy to get around. At $1,273 per square meter, real estate is decently affordable. For health care, the city has three hospitals. Retirees should have little trouble finding an English-speaking doctor in this part of the country.
3. Cayo, Belize
Cost of living: $1,225 a month
Described by researchers as “off the grid,” Cayo is about a 20-minute flight or three-hour drive from Belize City. Retirees in the tropical climate would live among the rainforest and would need to clear their own road if they bought property and built a home there. That real estate would be affordable, though, costing an average $1,318 per square meter.
Crime rates in Belize City may be a bit high for retirees, but Cayo’s remoteness makes it a quieter place to live that is safe for people who are vigilant. Because of Cayo’s isolation, some people needing advanced medical treatment may need to turn to Mexico or the the United States, researchers wrote, making it less appealing for people with ongoing health conditions.
4. Languedoc, France
Cost of living: $1,185 a month
France has a treaty with the United States that gets rid of any risk for double taxation, according to the report, making it so that an American living there is unlikely to pay more taxes than in the United States. As in other parts of Europe, Americans should be able to establish residency if they can show they have enough income to support themselves. (Exact requirements will vary from country to country, but the minimum wage in the region is often used as a guideline.)
Like Portugal, Italy, Spain and the Dominican Republic, Americans face no restrictions when it comes to buying property in France. But when it comes to the affordability of real estate, Languedoc gets a C+, as property sells for $2,357 per square meter. Living in the French wine country can still be affordable, however. Renters might be able to find a one-bedroom apartment for about $650 a month. That’s good, because they’ll need a car to get around this coastal region, according to the report.
5. Abruzzo, Italy
Cost of living: $1,265 a month
Abruzzo was named a “foodie destination” in the study for its wide access to Italian cuisine. There is a large community of British expats in this sparsely populated region, but retirees might still need a translator or a language guidebook to communicate. They will also need a car to get around, the report notes, but with a monthly average rent bill of $500, a car might be affordable. The closest international airport is 2½ hours away in Rome, and a local airport that has flights to other parts of Europe is about an hour’s drive.
Health care in Italy is second best in the world, according to the report, but the treatment available in Abruzzo would be basic. General hospitals are available about an hour away in Pescara and Sulmona, but retirees may need to go to Rome for more specialized care. As in the states, there are four seasons in Abruzzo.
6. Medellin, Colombia
Cost of living: $1,295 a month
Once known for its drug violence, Medellin has changed, according to the study, which has named it a top place to retire for the past seven years. The murder rate is down, and retirees moving here are likely to find many families in the area. Its walkability, good roads and parks may also make it appealing. Establishing residency in Colombia should be straightforward for retirees who make three times the minimum wage, or roughly $1,000 a month.
As in Algarve, the climate here is mild year-round. Real estate there is among the most affordable of the cities on the list, at $1,119 per square meter. It also helps Americans that the U.S. dollar has gained against the Colombian peso, making investment even more affordable. A two-bedroom, two-bathroom 1,345-square-foot apartment that would have been worth $180,400 in July last year would be worth $126,600 in July 2015 after the currency change, the study estimates.
7. Hua Hin, Thailand
Cost of living: $975 a month
American dollars will go pretty far in Thailand, where retirees could live for roughly less than $1,000 a month. (A one-bedroom apartment can be rented for about $400.) Retirees would find golf, spas and amusement parks, but the main draw is the beach. The city has a strong community of expats from European countries that U.S. retirees can befriend. People age 50 and up can qualify for long-stay visas if they show they have a pension of about $1,900 a month or open up a Thai bank account and deposit at least roughly $23,400 about two months before they apply, according to the study.
The health care system there is also both advanced and affordable, Peddicord says, making it so that some people may choose to forego medical insurance and pay for treatment and checkups as they need it. (Generally, the options are to buy health insurance local to that country or to buy a global policy that works in multiple countries but is more expensive.)
The savings found abroad can be substantial, but as with most destinations on the list, people will need to be motivated by more than money when they decide to make the move, Peddicord says. For some retirees, the distance from family and the changes to standard of living may outweigh the low costs. “When you just begin thinking about [retiring abroad] at a superficial infatuation level, it’s a very exotic, romantic, sexy idea,” says Pedddicord, who lived in Ireland and Panama before moving to Paris. “But the truth is that once you get into it, it’s not easy.”
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