Retirees on tight budgets who love the beach but want more than just sun and sand can have all the fine dining, theater and arts they desire.
It just takes an adventuring spirit and a willingness to live outside the U.S.
Miami and Los Angeles are fine for those with huge nest eggs. But if you want sophisticated living at a relatively low price, check out these five recommendations beyond our borders from an International Living report. Explore more prices for rent, groceries and transportation at Numbeo, which gives prices in about 8,500 cities for restaurant meals, gas, transportation, clothing items and housing. The site details prices for rental apartments of different sizes in more and less expensive areas, as well as the purchase price per square foot. Expatistan gives cost-of-living comparisons for 2,300 cities.
The top picks for high-culture, low-cost beach towns for retirement span the globe, from Europe and Asia to Central and South America.
Rich in cultural history, Puerto Vallarta, on Mexico's central Pacific coast, is dotted with museums and theaters. The town's Zona Romantica, also known as Old Town, features narrow streets and a mix of historic buildings and modern construction. Shops, bakeries, cafes, restaurants and condos are within a stone's throw of the water.
Despite its popularity as a tourist destination, Puerto Vallarta offers an affordable cost of living. A typical retired couple should budget under $3,000 for a month's expenses.
However, U.S. expats such as Bobby Blanchard and Nan Lippard find they can live on much less. Their one-bedroom condo rents for $472 a month, including maid service and bottled water.
"We're proof you can live in Mexico for $1,000 a month for two people, including rent, food, utilities, gas for the car … although there's not a lot for extras," Blanchard said.
The city of Toulon, on the Mediterranean coast, has all the glamour of the French Riviera but without the hefty price tag.
The city has a thriving arts scene with concerts and festivals along the beach. Unlike its more expensive neighbors — Saint Tropez, Cannes, Bandol and Cassis — tourism is a secondary industry, so Toulon open for business throughout the year.
Tuula Rampont and her husband moved to Toulon eight years ago. "Given the slower pace of life in France, and the preference given to leisure time over work, my life in Provence feels much less stressful than when I lived in the U.S.," she said.
"I could easily afford to rent a comfortable one-bedroom for $650 in the center of Toulon," Rampont said. "And if you increase your budget a bit — or rent as a couple — things get really interesting.
"When we first arrived, we rented a two-bedroom apartment, with a sea view, and just a two-minute walk from the beach for $1,090."
Spain's second-largest city is organized, efficient, friendly and receptive, and spilling over with music, theater and nightlife. It's a city alive with history and art with countless museums and concert events.
Barcelona can be much more affordable than retirees might expect.
Linda Fernandez, who lives in Barcelona with her husband, Kurt, calls their living expenses minimal. "Since we own our own apartment, our regularly occurring expenses — minus groceries and entertainment — average about $860 a month," she said.
Property taxes back home in Texas accounted for a huge portion of their monthly paycheck. "In Barcelona, property taxes are minuscule, averaging around $66 a month," Fernandez said.
A coastal city on the Rio de la Plata river, Montevideo (population: 1.4 million) is one of the most diverse and sophisticated cities in South America. With Old World-style theaters and opera houses, jazz festivals and diverse restaurants, colonial-era Montevideo looks and feels like modern-day Europe.
The city has many large parks, plazas, tree-lined streets, sandy beaches and wide avenues. The "rambla" — the promenade that runs the length of Montevideo's seven-mile coastline — is ideal for walking, running and bicycling.
A couple can live in Montevideo on $3,200 a month, renting a furnished one-bedroom apartment in Pocitos, the city's most popular expat neighborhood.
No bigger than Manhattan, the small tropical island of Penang off the west coast of Malaysia has arts and culture, history and nature, beach and jungle.
Known as a foodie haven, the island's largest city, George Town, boasts eclectic architecture, a vibrant art scene and what many claim is the best street food in the world.
Since relocating from Portland, Oregon, Ed and Sally Wilkerson have lived in a 1,300-square-foot apartment with sea and harbor views. Included in their $1,000 a month apartment cost: 24-hour security, rooftop swimming pool, state-of-the-art gym and tennis courts.
With a balcony that easily holds 30 people, the couple often hosts get-togethers for friends near and far. "We get quite a few visitors from the States, and although people thought we were crazy when we left, they don't when they visit," Sally Wilkerson said.
On a budget of between $1,500 and $2,500 a month, a couple could live well in George Town, everything included.