Contrary to popular belief, not all American citizens are required to move to Boca Raton when they retire. Sure, the climate is heavenly, the ocean water is alluring and the shoreline could hardly be more inviting. However, it’s not cheap, as the presence of some of the most expensive gated communities in the U.S. will attest, and the simple fact is that not all retirees have the means to live someplace like this.
With this in mind, International Living, a publication devoted to showing that “you can live better, for less, overseas,” just released its Retirement Index for 2012. By weighing such factors as food prices, climate and health-care costs, the index determines which foreign destinations offer retirees a high standard of living at a low price.
Using data from International Living, CNBC.com is highlighting 10 of the locations on the 2012 Retirement Index. Many are in places that offer retirees substantially discounted utilities, public transportation and health care, and offer all of its residents a high level of luxury for a fraction of its cost in the U.S. Click ahead to see which up-and-coming foreign cities offer luxurious lifestyles to selective retirees.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 10 January 2012
Ecuador scored the highest of all the countries on International Living’s 2012 Retirement Index because of the real estate prices, the discounts for retirees and the cost of living. Ron and Patricia Farmer retired to the coastal Ecuadorian city of Bahia in February 2011, and Patricia told International Living that they’re living the good life at a low cost. “We live in a nice high-rise condo overlooking the ocean,” she said. “We enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle — even more luxurious than we had in California. You can live on less, no doubt, but our current budget is $1,500 (per month),” Patricia Farmer said.
Beyond their reduced expenses, the Farmers also receive the free health care that’s standard for all senior citizens in Ecuador, and which requires no co-pays or deductibles for doctor’s visits, dental work, medications or hospital stays. “If you’re looking for exciting night clubs, Kentucky Fried Chicken, or a night at the opera, Bahia, Ecuador, is not for you,” says Patricia Farmer. “But for peace, simplicity, a dish of Pingüino ice cream, and soothing natural beauty, this is heaven. You would be hard-pressed to find such tranquility in any beach resort town in the U.S.”
Thailand doesn’t score quite as well as Ecuador when it comes to special discounts for retirees, climate, or even cost of living. Where it does get high marks, however, is in real estate costs. $500 a month is all that a retiree would need to rent an apartment in the nation’s capital, Bangkok. As Thailand’s largest city, it also scores high when it comes to entertainment and amenities. So while the heat may be sweltering and retirees don’t get half-fare bus passes, there’s too much fun stuff to do to get too upset about it.
Bangkok has a bustling night life, making it ideal for the retiree who left work so that there are more hours in the day to party. Of particular note is the cuisine, which International Living contributor Jason Gaspero described as “amazing.” However, Bangkok residents are hardly limited just to Thai food. “If you get tired of it, you can find restaurants with food from all over the world.”
If you’re a retiree on a fixed budget of $2,000 a month, the Panamanian city of Boquete can help you live large with a small bank balance. Retirees Karl and Liz Parker live on exactly this amount, due in no small part to Panama’s retiree benefit program, known as the pensionado.
This program gets them discounts on just about everything and makes their monthly expenses a fraction of what they would be in the U.S. These include 30 percent off public transportation, 50 percent off movies and sports events and 25 percent off air travel. Doctor’s visits are $10, and those doctors often speak English, having received their medical training in the U.S.
Chuck and Jamie Bilbe were all set to spend their autumn years in Florida, but like a lot of other retirees they worried they would outlive their rapidly diminishing nest egg. They moved to Corozal, Belize, and today enjoy a low-stress lifestyle at a low cost. “We’re eating better, sleeping better and enjoying social activity much more now than we did before,” they told International Living.
Apart from the bargain-basement cost of living, Belize also offers the Qualified Retired Persons program, a special set of benefits open to retirees that exempts them from taxes on the importation of personal effects and on income and investments from outside of the country. Belize also offers a year-round average temperature of 80 degrees, which means more outdoor activity time and more sunshine.
Another city in Ecuador ideal for retirees on a budget is Cuenca. The city is home to Douglas Willis and his family of four, who live on a monthly budget of just $1,000.
Part of what makes this possible is the country’s low-cost health-care system, known as the Caja, which costs a grand total of $40 a month. Retirees are also eligible for a 50 percent discount on utilities and free local telephone service.
In addition, Ecuador offers some of the most affordable real estate on earth, with penthouse suites available to own for $50,000. If you’re looking to rent before you buy, a two-bedroom condo in Cuenca will set you back a mere $500 a month.
Granada is a city in western Nicaragua that was founded in the 16th century. Like many other Central American cities, the cost of living in Granada is very low. In fact, International Living says that it’s possible to live there on $1,200 a month.
Retirees can rent a small house for as little as $500 a month, and at $13 a pop, they can enjoy a steak dinner every night of the year and still make rent. For those with less luxurious standards, a meal at a small, local establishment starts at $2. Add a beer to that meal, and the bill will skyrocket to the princely sum of $2.75.
It’s not just the low cost of food and housing that makes Granada a great retirement destination. A doctor visit costs $15, and care providers are generally more available to their patients than they are in the U.S. “Our doctor in Nicaragua speaks English and we have his personal cell number for emergencies,” says expatriate Darrell Bushnell. “Hard to imagine that happening in the U.S.”
Sharon and Lee Harris are the owners of a townhouse in Heredia, a city in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, and they paid all of $75,000 for it. Should one of them fall and be unable to get up, their monthly $40 payment to Costa Rica’s health care system will get them all the quality health care they need. “It provides economical and excellent medical care as well as prescriptions for only $40 per month for both of us,” says Sharon Harris.
”There is a Caja clinic in every neighborhood. There are also many excellent private hospitals in the Central Valley and state-run Caja hospitals in every province.” In addition to affordable, quality health care, Costa Rica also offers natural resources for the sports enthusiast on its Pacific coast, a popular destination for surfers.
Not every retiree wants to spend the rest of his or her life in the quiet countryside. Some are loath to leave the urban life behind, and they intend to live out the rest of their days surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city. Jack and Margaret Griffin are such a couple. They moved to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, after the stock market crash made life in the U.S. too expensive.
One of the factors that motivated the couple to leave the U.S. was when their health insurance premiums increased by 37 percent. By contrast, their current medical insurance costs them 62 percent less than the one they just abandoned, and affords them treatment at an internationally accredited hospital with English-speaking doctors.
Jack Griffin says the move has been nothing less than a financial boon to them, and he and his wife have had to begrudge themselves nothing in the exchange, including a full-time maid and a gardener. “We do it all for less than half the cost of a moderate lifestyle back home in Atlanta, Georgia,” he says.
The cost of living in Penang Island, Malaysia, is a bit higher than some of the other cities on this list. However, it still knocks its U.S. counterpart out of the park. Keith and Lisa Hockton rent an apartment there for $1,000 a month that comes with a gym, a pool, and a view of the ocean, amenities that would send a U.S. rental price into the upper stratosphere.
Altogether they estimate that their cost of living is just over $1,700 a month. But because they’re spending so little money, they must be missing out on luxury and technology, right? Wrong. They eat out five nights a week, own a boat and enjoy the same lightning-fast Internet that someone sitting in a New York office would get.
Retirees who love the ocean would do well to consider life in Roatan, Honduras. It’s an ideal destination for people who love fishing, scuba diving, and sailing. It’s also not bad for people who just want to sit in the sand and watch the waves crash and recede for four hours.
Daphne Newman lives in Roatan, where she gets by on $1,400 a month. That buys her a home just yards away from the beach and offers plenty of English-speaking neighbors.