The 10 Best Countries to Retire Overseas in 2021

Retiree in Costa Rica
Lopolo /

The middle of a global pandemic might not seem like a good time to move away, but it is a great time to explore your overseas retirement options.

Exotic locales where you might live larger for less than in the U.S. include everything from tropical beaches and mountain hideaways to culture-rich cities.

The editors of International Living magazine, a monthly publication for subscribers, recently ranked their top 10 countries for overseas retirement for 2021. Using statistics and on-the-scene journalists, they average scores on these 10 areas important to retirees:

  • Cost of living
  • Housing
  • Health care
  • Retiree benefits
  • Visa/residence requirements
  • Fitting in/entertainment
  • Development
  • Climate
  • Governance
  • Opportunity — even as a retiree, you might want to start a new career

If you go, you won’t be alone. A significant number of American retirees live abroad. The Social Security Administration sent more than 430,000 benefit checks to retired workers in foreign countries as of December 2019, the latest month for which figures are available. That’s up from more than 320,000 sent 10 years earlier.

Here are International Living’s Top 10 rankings, its scores, and what it and others say about the countries. Take a peek and see if any appeal to you.

10. Vietnam

vuong kha thinh /

Average index score: 75.5

Cheap prices, French-influenced food and wine, pristine beaches, waterfalls in pine-filled forests and the hustle and bustle of developing cities sprouting high-rises lure Americans to Vietnam, say international travel experts such as publisher Live and Invest Overseas.

Vietnam’s location in Southeast Asia also serves as a great base for travel, says Purdie Worldwide, a moving and storage company.

With more than 100 million people in a country just a bit larger than New Mexico, Vietnam is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

9. Malta

Valletta, Malta
fokke baarssen /

Average index score: 76

This Mediterranean nation of three tiny islands south of Italy boasts plenty of sunshine amid architectural treasures left from the many cultures that once ruled the ancient shipping pitstop.

Dramatic cliffs, picturesque fishing harbors and vinyards of wine grapes abound. Food from bakeries, fishmongers and local cafes runs cheaper than in the U.S., says International Living, but you’ll pay a premium for sea-view homes.

As a British colony that gained independence in 1964, Malta lists English along with Maltese as the official languages of its half-million people.

8. France

Provence, France
Konstanttin /

Average index score: 76.4

Retirees find life tres magnifique in France. Hundreds of museums and galleries, historic sites, cafe culture and revered cuisine may draw you to the romance of pricey Paris, home of the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum and Arc de Triomphe. Or you can find a variety of lifestyles and living costs from small Provence villages to the French Riviera’s Mediterranean beaches, experts such as Live and Invest Overseas say.

France has 68 million residents and is almost the size of Texas. Health care is great, but the cost of living and lack of availability of middle-class housing might be a deterrent, says Purdie Worldwide.

7. Malaysia

The Strait of Malacca in Malaysia
nelzajamal /

Average index score: 79.8

If you’re looking for a hot destination — literally — try Malaysia, where the daily temperature averages 82 degrees, says Purdie Worldwide.

Cross-Asian influences create an extraordinary and affordable melting pot of customs, dress, architecture and cuisine in Malaysia. Choose from big-city living in Kuala Lumpur or explore the natural beauty of its rainforests and white-sand beaches. Another plus for retirees: Foreigners are allowed to own land freehold, notes USHEALTH Group’s rankings of overseas retirement communities.

The country of 33 million on the Malay Peninsula totals an area a bit larger than New Mexico.

6. Ecuador

Cuenca, Ecuador
Matyas Rehak /

Average index score: 83

Facing the Pacific Ocean and lying directly on the equator in the northwestern corner of South America, low-cost Ecuador offers T-shirt weather and sandy beaches year-round. You’ll find cooler climates as you move up into its mountains.

But even its populous capital, Quito, at more than 9,000 feet above sea level, is too warm to see snow, and you don’t have to shovel its frequent rain.

In an area slightly smaller than Nevada and with a population of 17 million, Ecuador uses the American dollar as its currency, the CIA World Factbook notes. Explore Incan and colonial architecture, hike in the Andes mountains or the rainforest, or hit the beach. The Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean are also part of Ecuador.

5. Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal
Steve Photography /

Average index score: 83.2

Portugal offers lots of sunshine, plenty of beaches along its sliver of Europe’s coastline and relatively bargain-level prices, especially away from its big cities such as Lisbon, says Live and Invest Overseas.

Despite its medieval cobblestone appearance, Portugal is full of modern conveniences. English is commonly spoken in the Algarve region, where many European retirees live.

The country of 10 million is about the size of Virginia and is generally peaceful, but watch out for pickpockets on its jammed public transit system, the U.S. State Department warns.

4. Colombia

Medellin, Colombia
Luis Echeverri Urrea /

Average index score: 83.3

Showcasing the Amazon rainforest, the Andes mountains and coastlines along both the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean, Colombia is more naturally diverse than most any other place on Earth.

Colombia’s population of 50 million in a country twice the size of Texas is found mostly in the north and west. With its easy residency requirements, you can enjoy seaside living, the friendly big city of Medellín or smaller mountain-nestled villages showcasing Spanish colonial architecture.

3. Mexico

Mexico City cathedral
WitR /

Average index score: 83.5

With two coastlines boasting beautiful beaches, mild year-round temperatures and a budget-stretching cost of living, it’s no wonder our southern neighbor, Mexico, is already home to 1.5 million Americans.

About 130 million people live in the culturally and historically rich country about three times the size of Texas.

Top-notch affordable health care, zesty food-and-fun-filled festivals, proximity to the U.S. and easy residency requirements are all part of Mexico’s lure. That is true whether you are in expat havens like beachside Mazatlán or closer to the capital, Mexico City.

2. Panama

Panama City, Panama
Milosz Maslanka /

Average index score: 84.4

Best known for its canal connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific, Panama lures visitors with its natural splendor of coastal beaches, unique jungle plants and animals, and a tax-advantaged retiree program that includes discounts on a lifestyle already discounted compared to U.S. costs.

While Panama is slightly smaller than South Carolina, about half of its population of 3.9 million clusters mainly around the capital, Panama City. Smaller cities attracting expats include Santa Fe in the highlands and Pedasi, surrounded by Pacific beaches.

The country uses U.S. currency, so there’s no worrying about exchange rates.

1. Costa Rica

Galyna Andrushko /

Average index score: 85.2

You don’t have to be rich to retire comfortably in Costa Rica, which literally means “rich coast.”

Although prices are rising along with the popularity of the Central American beach-rainforest-mountain country, you can still live there for less than in the U.S., especially away from its capital, San Jose, experts say.

About 120,000 Americans, including many retirees, lived in the country pre-pandemic. Slightly smaller than West Virginia, Costa Rica has a population of just over 5 million. While the country is known for peace and abolished its military in 1948, petty theft and drug-related crime are rising, the State Department warns.

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