International Living's Retirement Index, an annual comprehensive guide to global retirement destinations curated by US expats, was released. The ranking takes several factors into consideration, including the cost of healthcare, the cost of living, the process of obtaining a visa and owning property, the access to entertainment, and the ease of assimilation. Five Latin American countries made the list, followed by three European countries and two Asian countries.
The ranking was determined ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the US, unprecedented numbers of seniors are pushing past the once typical retirement age of 65 and working until about 72. Simultaneously, millennials are hustling to amass income-generating assets and living off rice and beans to retire early.
While there's no one way to approach retirement, many are getting creative in stretching their money for a comfortable - and even luxurious - third act of life. One strategy? Retiring abroad.
"International Living," a magazine focused on Americans living overseas, released its annual Retirement Index in January, before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
The index, which ranks countries "where you can live a healthier and happier life, spend a lot less money, and get a whole lot more" in retirement, was created through extensive surveys of US expats, the magazine said.
Retirees living overseas ranked their experience across 10 categories: housing; benefits and discounts for seniors; visas and residence; cost of living; assimilation and entertainment; quality and accessibility of healthcare; development; climate; government stability; and opportunity for semi-retirement.
Each category was then given a score out of 100, combining several nitty-gritty details. For example, the housing category encompassed the value of real estate, the cost of building, property taxes, and even whether there is opportunity to earn money renting. The cost-of-living category addressed minutiae like the cost of a liter of milk and a movie ticket, while the healthcare category covered the costs of medical procedures, common medications, and ease of access, as well as quality.
After balancing all 10 categories, the magazine ascribed a final overall score, also out of 100, to each country.
All of the countries on the list were selected before the global spread of the coronavirus. Travel is still restricted in many of these locations.
Here are the top countries for retirement, ranked in ascending order of final score, according to expats who have already made the move.
Overall score: 76
Cost of living: 92
John Powell, once a purchasing agent in New York, moved to Hanoi in 2014. He told International Living that he budgeted $2,700 a month and liked the city because of its low cost of living comfortably and its location. "It's a good base for travel," he said.
Overall score: 76.4
Cost of living: 66
Carol and Scott Lonsdale moved to Brittany in 2016. They told International Living that they liked the slower pace of life and the access to the European culture France provides.
"In France there's such a great amount of care taken with how well things are managed, maintained, and appreciated," Carol said, adding, "And did we mention the wine?"
Overall score: 76.8
Cost of living: 81
Michele and Stanton Cohen moved to Girona in 2017 from Yuma, Arizona. They told International Living their favorite aspect of life abroad was affordable dining and entertainment, saying that they not only can go out for three-course meals under $30 but "often go out for breakfast and meet friends for coffee or drinks at least twice a week."
The medical and dental care also helps. "The prices are about one-third of US medical costs," Michele said.
Overall score: 81.9
Cost of living: 85
Keith and Lisa Hockton retired in Penang in 2010. In addition to the low cost of living, they appreciate the temperate weather, noting that the average year-round temperature is 82 degrees Fahrenheit and that it's close to over 878 islands with "white-sand beaches."
Overall score: 82
Cost of living: 90
Mary and Wayne Bustle relocated to Quito, Ecuador's capital, in early 2015. The climate - which Wayne told International Living "hardly varies," with "no snow or extreme heat nor humidity" - drew the couple to Ecuador after they had considered 13 countries.
There are also attractive senior discounts, like half-price airline tickets.
Overall score: 83.4
Cost of living: 88
Nancy Kiernan was initially drawn to Colombia because it is so biodiverse. She chose to retire in Medellín. She found she could obtain a renewable three-year Colombian retirement visa by providing proof of $750 in annual income from US Social Security.
She also said that though Medellín is a bigger city, with a population of nearly 4 million, it had "the vibe of a smaller, friendly town, that makes you feel part of a community."
Overall score: 83.8
Cost of living: 86
Don Murray, who retired in Mexico in 2014, found that the country had several expat enclaves, making it easy to assimilate.
"What I and most other expats love most about Mexico is the vibrant life and culture," Murray told International Living. "And it's quite easy to fit in."
Popular spots include villages near the beaches of Cancún or the mountains of San Miguel de Allende.
3. Costa Rica
Overall score: 85.3
Cost of living: 82
"Here, there's more time to actually stop and smell the roses," Graham Swindell told International Living. "Combine that with great waves, an amazing climate, and a culture that places family, friends, and a relaxed quality of life above all, then it's easy to see why so many people come here for a week and end up staying for a decade or even a lifetime."
Kathleen Evans, another Costa Rica retiree, said: "Once you have acquired your residency, you pay between 7% and 11% of your reported monthly income, and the socialized medicine program is available to you."
Overall score: 85.8
Cost of living: 89
Jessica Ramesch retired in Panama City and lives there alone for "about $2,600 a month, including rent, groceries, utilities, and entertainment," she said.
She also celebrated the quality and price of healthcare, estimating that doctor visits cost "a nominal fee of between $20 and $60."
Easy access to the US is also a selling point - it is about three hours from Miami by plane.
Overall score: 86
Cost of living: 85
Portugal has several expat enclaves, including cities like Porto and Lisbon or "beach havens" like Cascais or the Algarve.
In addition to having an affordable lifestyle with quality healthcare, a temperate climate, and "excellent food and wine," Tricia Pimental, who has lived in Portugal for seven years, said she and her husband moved there for a more "ephemeral" reason: "the overarching sense of well-being we experience here."
Pimental recently told International Living that coronavirus restrictions in the country are "in a state of flux; in some areas increased, in some areas relaxed."