Fixed Income Strategies

Enjoy a penthouse retirement, including Champagne on a beer budget, in these five overseas locales

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Maid and gardener service? Check. Crazy affordable spa services? Check. Country club membership? Check.

In these five retirement spots, high-end living comes at a fraction of U.S.costs, according to a report from the editors at

Retirees can splurge on penthouse living, gardeners and maids, club memberships, epicurean meals in fine restaurants – all on a modest budget.

"In the right places abroad, retirees can automatically upgrade their retirement to one of pure luxury — and enjoy the perks of a swank lifestyle for far less than a comparable retirement back home would cost," said Jennifer Stevens, executive editor of International Living.

Stevens says the costs for high-end living are jaw-dropping. "A $10,000-a-month penthouse might rent for just $2,000," Stevens said.

In the U.S., even when people have saved well, relatively few have enough set aside to afford a housekeeper for an ocean-view apartment. "Only a small percentage is splurging on perks like an annual membership at an exclusive spa resort," Stevens said. "But in the right spots overseas, those are precisely the sorts of luxuries retirees can afford on a modest nest egg."

For more price-checking, try looking at costs on Numbeo and Expatistan.

The five spots below are places where dollars stretch farther, and retirees will find plenty of luxurious offerings.

1. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand
Suthep Wongkhad | Getty Images

First-class health care, great food, low cost of living and rich culture draw an increasing number of expats to Thailand. Chiang Mai, the country's second-largest city, is known as a place to get a lifestyle upgrade.

Rachel Devlin, Chiang Mai correspondent for International Living, says the top resorts offer gym memberships to local expats at a bargain price. A membership to the Rati Lanna Riverside Spa Resort is just over $500 a year. Club amenities include a salt-water infinity pool overlooking the river, a 10 percent discount on meals and dining under a traditional Thai pagoda with fountains and water gardens.

The Gymkhana Golf Club, established in 1898, has hosted royalty, consuls and the novelist W. Somerset Maugham. A nine-hole game is just $5, and it's in view of the ancient, holy Yang Na tree.

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Justifiably famous for great street food, Southeast Asia now has more luxury dining. "Chiang Mai is now rivaling Bangkok for elite dining experiences," Devlin said.

The Shangri-La Hotel has begun hiring Michelin-ranked chefs for extremely affordable meals. Nine dishes in a seven-course lunch is just $44 per person.

Prices for a couple per month can range from $1,596 to $1,914 in Chiang Mai, according to International Living.

2. Medelli­n, Colombia

Juan Camilo Bernal | Getty Images

Medelli­n is a cosmopolitan city with a neighborhood feel.

Set in the middle of the Andes Mountains, Colombia's second-largest city is known as the City of Flowers. Medellin is always in bloom and offers high-end living for significantly less than it would cost in the U.S.

Aaron Brabham found exactly what he wanted. "I'm really a penthouse kind of guy," he said. "I was looking to live in the lap of luxury for much less than I could back in the U.S."

For less than $2,000 a month, Brabham rents a 1,625-square-foot, three-story penthouse apartment in the trendy, tranquil Provenza area, in the heart of upscale El Poblado. A deck with private Jacuzzi looks out over the city.

"The apartment came fully furnished, right down to the towels and silverware," he said. "This apartment would rent for close to $10,000 a month in San Diego, California, or South Beach [in Miami Beach], Florida —and that's if you could even find something like it."

Brabham has a chef who prepares five meals each week. For $50 a week, the chef shops, comes to Brabham's home to cook and cleans up after. A maid comes twice a week to clean, do laundry and ironing, and runs errands, for $15 per day.

A monthly budget for a couple runs between $1,394 and $1,994.

3. Penang, Malaysia

Penang, Malaysia
simonlong | Getty Images

The quality of life and low prices make Malaysia one of the world's best retirement havens. Penang has year-round warm weather, luxurious living at bargain prices.

Jacques and Sharon Giraud from Toronto, Canada, live in a luxury, 4,800-square-foot condo in a beach suburb. The condo has marble floors and high ceilings, and every room – even the pantry – has views of the Straits of Malacca or the jungle-covered hills behind them. The monthly cost? A mere $2,000.

Their complex has an infinity pool, gym, covered parking and sculpture gardens with beach access. "In Canada, for an apartment like this, you'd pay $10,000 a month or more," said Sharon.

"Overall, the cost of living is about one-third to one-fifth of what it cost us back home," said Jacques.

Sharon Giraud says she might have pushed to move to Penang earlier had she known about the good food, rich social life and high standard of living, not to mention how much they have in common with other expats in the area.

The couple has lived there for just over two years but it feels like home.

"It's not a second home, it's actually home for us," Giraud said.

The monthly budget for a couple, according to International Living, is $1,455.

4. Panama City, Panama

Sisoje | Getty Images

Changing location meant more than just a deeper suntan or active lifestyle for Jessica Ramesch, Panama editor for International Living.

Ramesch had been enjoying the restaurants, art galleries, parks and bayside promenades of Panama City for years. But the low cost of living recently made her consider a lifestyle upgrade: an upscale apartment, perhaps with an ocean view.

A glut of apartments means long-term rental prices are dropping. Ramesch has seen ocean-view two-bedroom, two-bath apartments for $1,300 a month in buildings with pools and gyms. In San Diego, a similar apartment would cost $6,300 a month.

Ramesch likes the city-center zones, with their hip bars and restaurants. In central neighborhoods on the metro line, listings are sometimes as low as $1,100 or $1,200 a month for apartments that are within walking distance from cafes and tapas bars. "In what other world capital can you get this kind of value for so little?" she asked.

She extols the reliable hired help. Her gardener charged just $15 for a full day's work. Every two weeks he helped clear fallen mangoes, cut grass, weeded and even cared for delicate orchids.

One day's work from a maid is $20. Back home, Ramesch says, a cleaner would charge upwards of $130 for an afternoon every other week.

A couple can live a First World-quality life in Panama City for $1,765 to $2,890 monthly.

5. Salinas, Ecuador

Photo Taken In Salinas, Ecuador
Paulina Morales | Getty Images

The most popular beach resort in Ecuador, Salinas lies at tip of the Santa Elena peninsula. As it's just 2 degrees south of the equator, days are always almost exactly 12 hours long.

In their plush new life in Salinas, Jim Santos, the Coastal Ecuador correspondent for International Living, and his spouse wake to the sound of the Pacific crashing against rocks.

"There are few places on the planet where you can buy or rent oceanfront property as cheaply as you can on the coast of Ecuador," Santos said. He and his wife bought a 2,129-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bath condo on the upper floor of a modern building, with views of the ocean from every room. The building has 24/7 staff, a hot tub, pool and sauna – and their condo cost $220,000.

Santos says a comparable place on the California coast would have been five times as much, if not more.

"We might not have been able to afford even the property tax and maintenance fees of an oceanfront condo elsewhere," Santos said. "In Salinas, we pay less than $200 a month for all our amenities, including trash pickup.

"Our property taxes are less than $300 a year," he added. A couple can live on $1,800 per month in Salinas.

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