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In International Living's Annual Global Retirement Index 2018, we ranked the 24 best retirement havens in the world, where you can live comfortably for less than you can in the U.S. And while all of these destinations are affordable, we have found the most cost-effective havens from the results of the "Cost of Living" category in the Index.
This is possibly our most definitive category in the Index, due to the ease of getting hard numbers. Each of our scouts fills in extensive cost-of-living questionnaires tailored to the needs and wants of an expat retiree. The category evaluates things like day-to-day expenses—from the cost of a flight back to the U.S., groceries, rent, movie theater tickets, eating out, garbage collection, gas, gym membership, and all the hidden and often unconsidered costs.
Below are the top five retirement destinations for an affordable cost of living:
If you're looking for a country that gives you a big bang for your buck, it would be tough to beat Bolivia. Centered in the interior of South America, this country offers a variety of lifestyle options for a fraction of North American costs.
Lovers of all things urban and sleek will feel right at home in Cochabamba. This city of 650,000 people is full of palm-lined boulevards, trendy boutique stores, and shimmering condo buildings. All the amenities you could want, from Korean restaurants to sprawling grocery stores and multiplex cinemas, are available in this city.
A spacious two-bedroom condo in a secure building uptown can be found for $600 per month. Housing in other cities is often even cheaper. In the colonial city of Sucre, two-bedroom apartments near the historic district rent out for as little as $350.
Read more from International Living:
The world's best places to retire in 2018
First impressions of Nicaragua from a recent expat
How to earn on your Vietnamese adventure
But it's not just accommodation that's less expensive in Bolivia. Nearly everything is more affordable than in the U.S. Expats report that basic utilities tend to run around $20 per month, thanks in part to the mild weather which requires little heating or no air conditioning and the government subsidies on liquid petroleum.
Here, eating out doesn't need to be just for special occasions, you can have a large dinner (enough to feed two people) of grilled meats, salad, potatoes, and fruit for $10. And wine drinkers will find a huge cost savings on their dinner drink of choice. Because Bolivia has its own wine country, bottles of locally produced wine start at less than $3.
Most places in Bolivia are pedestrian friendly and perfectly walkable, but when you need to travel long-distance, public transportation is cheap. In Tarija, a taxi can take you from one end of the small city to the other for less than $2. The country's national airline, BOA, also provides cheap fares between cities, starting at $35.
IL Correspondent Wendy Dechambeau says, "Living it up while conserving funds is both easy and enjoyable in this Latin American country."
Some people want to live in nature, and Nicaragua has plenty of that. But most people come to Nicaragua looking for a cheaper place to live where they can escape the everyday stresses, and afford a higher quality of life.
Consistently, Nicaragua is one of the most economical countries in which to live. You can find a nice "Nica-style" one-bedroom furnished house or apartment for $300 to $400 a month, often a block or two from the beach or with a beautiful mountain view, well-located, and in a safe family neighborhood. Modest homes and condos often furnished, can be found for less than $100,000.
Nicaragua-style meals typically range from $3 at local markets to $6 in regular restaurants. Fancy seafood dishes may set you back up to $20, but that usually includes a glass of wine, beer or rum.
IL Nicaragua correspondent Bonnie Hayman says, "Fresh fruits and vegetables can be bought for a song. I usually pay about $8 a week for what I need. Chicken, beef, and pork are not only cheaper than back home, GMO is not allowed in Nicaragua. Everything you eat here is fresher, better, healthier."
Most local live music venues are free. You can go out to find any type of music you love: rock 'n roll, blues, jazz, swing, merengue, salsa, Nicaraguan folkloric music and pay about $1.50 for a beer or rum and coke.
If you are on a budget you can easily live in Nicaragua as a couple for $1,500 per month, or $1,200 for a single person. However, you have to adjust your expectations. For more amenities or your comfort foods from home, your budget will definitely go up. Nicaragua allows you to live a higher quality life for much less. Your needs and lifestyle will determine exactly how much you will pay.
Peru is one of the least expensive places to live in Latin America. Food, transport, accommodation and clothes cost much less than in the U.S. Retirees looking for a high quality of life at a low cost will not be disappointed.
Even in the capital city of Lima, a couple can live on less than $2,000 per month. Expat couples report monthly budgets as low as $1,200, including rent. Of course, like any large city, the sky is the limit but many say that the cost is about half that of New York City for a similar lifestyle.
In the southern sunny city of Arequipa, two-bedroom and three-bedroom unfurnished apartments can easily be found for less than $400 per month. Cusco and the picturesque Sacred Valley of the Incas is another low-cost area to live. Foreigners are permitted to purchase real estate outright, even if they are not residing in the country.
IL Peru Correspondent, Steve LePoidevin, and his wife, Nancy, live in Huanchaco. "We pay $600 per month for our furnished, three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit. It's only five minutes from the beach and the local market, it is an ideal location."
A couple will typically pay $20 to $30 for a meal in a mid-priced restaurant. But if they have the menu del dia (menu of the day) in one of the many small local eateries, it will cost less than $3 each for a delicious two or three-course meal, including a non-alcoholic drink. Local beers cost less than $1 but you will pay around $5 per pint for one of the dozens of Peruvian craft beers that are becoming popular throughout the country.
Head to the local markets and you will be able to purchase enough fruits and vegetables to last a week for less than $20.
For all your healthcare needs, Peru has a large network of private hospitals and clinics throughout the country. Consultations with a specialist can be less than $20. Some hospital networks offer their own policies for as little as $100 per month.
High-speed internet and cell phone service is readily available. All-inclusive plans for cable TV, internet, and phone vary but $60 per month is pretty average. Cell phone plans vary from $10 to $70 per month and include calls to most countries in Central and South America as well as the U.S.
Vietnam is fascinating and vibrant destination, rich in natural beauty, steeped in history and brimming with opportunity. Although France's lengthy occupation of Vietnam is long over, their legacy has lived on. Beautiful French mansions and public buildings are located throughout the country, parks are abundant and trees line the city streets. Pavement bistros sell deliciously rich coffee and French-style baguettes.
And when it comes to bang for buck, it can't be beat.
Whether you want to live in the heart of the city, nestle among pine-forested mountains, or overlook a sun-washed beach, you'll find modern, high-quality housing for low prices. Furnished houses and apartments in prime locations start at just $250, and even spacious, top-end beach villas with private pools and golf club memberships are easy to find for $1,700 or less per month.
Household expenses are also minimal. Monthly costs for high-speed, fiber-optic internet run about $13, premium channel cable TV costs just $5.50, and a prepaid cellphone plan with unlimited data is just over $3. Experienced housekeepers cost around $1.50 per hour.
Famous for its inexpensive healthy cuisine, you can eat well in Vietnam without spending a fortune. You can bring home a bag of fresh, locally-grown vegetables and fruit from the traditional market for just $1 or $2. Other groceries are similarly inexpensive—you can find a dozen fresh eggs for $1.15, a pound of robust Vietnamese coffee for $3, only 7 cents for just-baked French-style baguettes.
Eating out often costs less than cooking at home; a hearty bowl of Vietnamese noodles cost about a dollar, while a steak dinner at a local restaurant might cost around $6.
A doctor's visit at an international hospital costs less than $30 and medications cost a small fraction of what they do back home.
With Vietnam's energetic cities, beautiful beaches and exotic culture,the low cost of living is the icing on the cake.
Pat Cox who lives in Da Neng says "Everything is cheaper here."
Known as the "Kingdom of Wonder", Cambodia is an expat hotspot for those dreaming of living a more luxurious lifestyle at an affordable cost.
Centrally located in the beating heart of Southeast Asia it is a country undergoing a renaissance thanks to 15 years boom in economic growth and tourism centered around the world-renowned temples of Angkor Wat.
When you look at the cost of living it is not hard to understand why an estimated 250,000 expats have decided to relocate and make Cambodia their new home.
Finding a nice place to call home is made that much easier thanks to Cambodia's great value property rentals. Even in the capital city of Phnom Penh, it's easy to find a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with separate living room, kitchen, and balcony in a nice area for as little as $350. Or you could head down to Sihanoukville, the country's most popular beach town, where you can find something similar from around just $200.
Utilities are equally affordable with $100 a month being enough to cover the cost of your water bill, cable TV, private trash collection, and your electric bill, even if you like to use the air-conditioning all day long. And, for the amazingly low amount of $1 a week you can get unlimited network calls and SMS as well as an incredibly generous 10GB of 4G LTE mobile data.
Expat Paul Howard says, "Living in Cambodia has been a game changer for me. The lifestyle I can afford is amazing and I feel a real sense of freedom compared to my life back home."
In Phnom Penh you don't need to worry about having your own car or motorbike as there are plenty of other options available. If you'd rather not have a vehicle of your own, the city has a growing network of public buses on the main boulevards which senior citizens can travel for free on. If you are under 50 then the cost per trip is a very reasonable 30 cents. Tuk tuks are also available or you can easily get a private air-conditioned taxi from $1 a ride.
Grocery shopping shouldn't set you back more than $150 a month at one of the country's western style supermarket chains such as Lucky or Thai Huot or well-stocked minimarts like the famously named 7-Elephants.
A meal for two can be had at a mid-range western or local restaurant for between $7 to $15 while a glass of ice cold beer costs about 55 cents. If you prefer wine then Cambodia is the place for you due to very low import taxes meaning that a decent bottle of French or Australian wine costs $7.50 upwards.
Tom Richter from San Diego and now living in Phnom Penh says, "My check from Social Security comes to just over $1,000 per month. But in Phnom Penh that's a sizable amount."
Staying fit and healthy is also inexpensive with membership of a quality gym costing $25 a month, doctor visits costing just $25 at well-respected health clinics, and $20 will pay for a professional dental cleaning and polish with filling costing around the same amount. Regular medications including original name brands and generics can be found at modern pharmacy chains like U-Care for less than 10% of the prices charged in the States.
IL Cambodia correspondent, Steven King says, "You may find you enjoy living your affordable life of luxury here so much that you never want to leave."