What retirement is like in 50 places around the world
In its 2019 “Stress in America” survey, the American Psychological Association reported that 60% of American adults identified money as a significant source of stress in their lives. Aside from simply trying to make ends meet, saving money for retirement is often reported as folks’ primary money concern. In fact, only 45% of people feel confident that they’ll be able to pay for their retirement dreams.
While financial experts stress starting to save for retirement early, and common wisdom dictates that individuals should be setting aside 10% to 15% of their yearly incomes as early as in their 20s, that doesn’t always happen. A variety of factors like the recession, downturns in the stock market, and supporting adult children or elderly parents make it impossible for many to put money aside even though they know they should. As a result, the size of the average nest egg in 2019 was down 7.5% to 8% from 2018’s average.
Retirees in the United States would need more than $1 million to retire at age 65. That amount of wealth is unattainable for many, and as a result, those reaching retirement age have started looking for other options. One such option? Retiring overseas. In 2019, it was reported that more than 500,000 people were receiving their retirement benefits overseas, an increase from the 400,000 receiving their benefits overseas in 2000.
In this article, Stacker looks at what it would be like to retire in 50 places around the world. Using independent sources, we’ve checked key components like the cost of living, safety, health care, ease of obtaining a visa, popular activities, and cultural similarities to give you an idea of what it would be like to start your third act somewhere new.
From sunny Costa Rica to glacial Iceland, read on to get a basic idea of what your golden years would look like spent outside the United States.
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Costa Rica: A tropical haven for outdoor lovers
The stable democracy, affordable health care, low cost of living and tropical climate of Costa Rica make it an especially attractive destination for retirees. The average cost of retiring in the Central American country is certainly affordable, around $1,500 per month or $18,000 a year, and programs like the Pensionado Program, which requires expat retirees to have at least $1,000 of monthly income from a retirement account or pension program, make obtaining the necessary paperwork easier. After arrival, retirees stay busy spending time outdoors, doing everything from hiking to horseback riding to scuba diving to yoga.
Canada: A traditional retirement
Canada strikes a balance between quality of life and cost of living, something that makes it one of the top 15 places to live in the world, according to a United Nations Human Development Report. For American retirees, Canada’s proximity to their home country, universal health care system, and Old Age Security Pension (which any Canada resident is eligible for, even if they never worked in the country) are major draws. Those who move north have plenty of opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities, like hiking, camping, and skiing.
Japan: An unaffordable retirement option for many
Japan ranks among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest cost of living, according to the World Population Review, which is not good news for those interested in retiring to the island nation. Enjoyment of the scenic beauty, rich cultural history, and fast-paced cities comes at a cost that many simply cannot afford. For those who can afford it, and who can wait through the visa process, learn Japanese with some fluency, and acclimate to the customs, retirement here could be enjoyable because of the great health care system and the country’s overall respect and reverence for elders.
Spain: A budget-friendly option in western Europe
While Spain is far from the most affordable destination on this list, it is one of the cheapest countries for retirees in western Europe. The Mediterranean climate, rich culture, impressive art scene, and overall safety are major draws for those looking to spend their retirement abroad. A standard visa doesn’t allow retirees to work in the country, but it does allow them to enter and exit as they please, meaning they can take advantage of Spain’s location and easily explore other parts of Europe.
Nicaragua: An enticing retiree benefit program
Nicaragua has a retiree benefit program: The plan, intended to encourage foreign nationals to retire in the country, includes incentives like paying no taxes on out-of-country earnings, the ability to bring up to $20,000 of household goods duty-free, and the opportunity to open a local bank account, buy items on credit, and obtain a Nicaraguan phone plan. The country’s low cost of living and the draw of the colonial, coastal towns, makes this one of the most attractive countries on the list for retirees.
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Colombia: A traveler’s hub
A mere 20 years ago, Colombia wasn’t making any “best places to retire” lists thanks to its high crime rate and corrupt government. These days, new safety policies, implemented in 2006, have made the country far safer, and the infrastructure has increased so dramatically that in 2015 the health care system was ranked higher than those in the United States and Canada by the World Health Organization. A beautiful, diverse country, Colombia’s cost of living is between $1,000 and $2,000 a month, and its location makes travel within South America cheap and easy.
Panama: A tropical heaven
If you’re looking to retire somewhere tropical but not too far from home, consider Panama. The developing country has many benefits (like excellent health care) at a much lower cost than in the United States. Savvy retirees can live well on $1,600 a month or less while still doing things like renting a nice home, visiting beach resorts, and playing golf. A large part of what makes retirement affordable in Panama is the resident retiree program, which offers discounts on everything from entertainment to medications and plane tickets for seniors who have established residency in the country.
Sweden: A relaxed and healthy country for retirement
With one of the oldest populations in the western hemisphere, Sweden might provide an attractive option for some retirees, especially when it comes to finding a community. Although the country’s population is on the older side, it doesn’t mean they’re idle—in fact, outdoor activities and cultural engagement are hallmarks of life. According to Numbeo, the cost of living in Sweden is slightly lower than in the United States, which would help retirees stretch their savings.
Chile: Amenities at a much lower cost
One thing many people seek in a retirement location is a place that provides first-class living at a lower cost. In that department, Chile delivers. With one of the highest standards of living in Latin America (drinkable water, reliable transportation, good health care, modern infrastructure), Chile isn’t the most affordable country in South America, but it certainly isn’t the most expensive, either. Also, residency is easy to establish and Americans don’t need a visa to enter the country.
Malaysia: 'Paradise on a budget'
Close to the equator, Malaysia is hot and humid for a large chunk of the year, which certainly isn’t for everyone. But those who don’t mind the weather can spend their golden years in a country that’s been described as “paradise on a budget.” With plenty of unexplored wilderness in the highlands, gorgeous coastal communities, and bustling city life, there’s a huge variety within the bounds of the country, and expats from all over the world have chosen to make Malaysia their home. American expats can apply for a “Malaysia My 2nd Home Program,” a 10-year, multiple-entry visa that affords them tax breaks, making settling down in the already cheap country an extra attractive option.
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