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NEWSLETTERS

The Best Places


To Retire
Abroad

By William P. Barrett
2019
William P.
Barrett
BIO
A journalist for nearly five decades, Bill has  /@williampbarrett
written for Forbes since 1987. He primarily
covers personal finance, taxes, retirement F /williampbarrett
and nonprofits. He is the author of the novel,
OFFSIDE: A Mystery. Bill also blogs regularly at web
New To Las Vegas.
When it comes time to pick a retirement spot, the majority of Americans end up
staying put, or moving within their own state. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t
at least consider the option of retiring abroad. Fact is, many countries offer a high
standard of living at a much lower cost and throw in good weather, great scenery
and fascinating culture at no extra charge.
More Americans have been not just considering, but actually making, the big
move. The U.S. Social Security Administration reported it’s now sending checks to almost
700,000 people living in foreign countries.
That’s a steady 40% increase over 10
One advantage of just years. Of course, not all Americans

about every foreign “retiring” abroad are old enough to collect


Social Security. The growing FIRE (financial
country on our list independence, retire early) movement
is that good medical has got some GenXers and even
care, and health care Millennials dreaming about “retiring”

insurance, is available from their day jobs and living abroad.


To assist those planning, or simply
and at a cost much dreaming about, a foreign retirement
less than in the U.S. haven, Forbes has scoured the globe to
come up with a list, the Best Places To
Retire Abroad In 2019. Note that while
we are picking entire nations, not every place in each is suitable. U.S. expat retirees
often tend to cluster in just a few locales. We suggest a few specific spots in each,
although in most countries there are many other locations that would also be suitable.
One advantage of just about every foreign country on our list is that good
medical care, and health care insurance, is available and at a cost so much less than
in the U.S. that private insurance can easily replace the Medicare benefits most U.S.
retirees depend on. (No, you can’t use your Medicare benefits abroad.) Three

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countries on our list—Uruguay, Ecuador and Italy—even allow expats under
certain circumstances into their national health care systems. In some countries,
good health care is more easily found in the larger cities, and we make a note of
that in our individual write-ups.
To put together this list, we examined a variety of factors besides health care.
Among them: overall cost of living, tax issues, ease of gaining residency, outdoor
and cultural amenities, climate, safety, local hospitality, prevalence of English, and
ease of travel return to the U.S. No one factor puts a country on or off the list, with
the exception of ability to gain residency. Some inviting countries, including
Canada, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, are simply too difficult for Americans
to retire to unless they have an in, such as a family connection. Mainly for that
reason, they’re not on this list.
Political stability is also an issue. Over time, countries do change. Colombia
and Croatia, which both once had heavy baggage, are on our 2019 list. Nicaragua,
which we’ve recommended in the past, is not. Like the U.S., some countries are a
mixed bag, but it’s not difficult to avoid the bad places. For example, in Mexico
certain border cities are problematic, while the Philippines has had to cope with
unrest in a distance province.
Your own preferences will determine the weight you give to various factors.
Online video services like Skype, Facetime and Facebook messaging make it easy
and cheap to stay in touch with friends and loved ones back home. (In most of the
world, internet connectivity is very good.) But if traveling back to the states is
important, then far-flung venues like Australia, the Philippines and Malaysia might
not work. Instead, consider Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic.
It’s important, of course, to do your own due diligence. There are dozens of
factors to weigh beyond those we mention. How to check out the feasibility of a
possible home? Thanks to the internet and social media, conducting solid research
has never been easier.

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Facebook hosts dozens of groups run by expatriates living in specific
countries. If it’s a closed group, ask to join, read the posts and ask questions about
cost of living, crime, ease of moving funds, problems in moving personal property
such as a vehicle, and any other topic of interest. Likewise, in this era of easy
blogging, it’s pretty simple with a Google search to find blogs authored by expats
dealing with day-to-day living issues. For instance, a recent Google search for
“expat blogs in Uruguay” yielded more than 180,000 hits.
You can learn a lot from the
often-amusing local blogs. For instance,
Since most of these a post on the Panama Adventure,
countries allow written by a registered nurse from

tourists to visit for Florida named Kris, detailed the local


cost of living. “We bought a pig last
three months or even month, 120 pounds worth at $2.50 per
longer, consider pound,” she wrote. Or this advice by

taking what amounts Californian transplant to Italy Susan


Darin Pohl at her blog, Americans in
to a test drive, visiting Umbria: “Remember the three Ps of
the country and living in Italy: patience, perseverance
renting an apartment and purpose.”

on a short-term lease. While they may not be so


entertaining, the websites maintained
by countries’ U.S. embassies in
Washington frequently offer crucial information, such as what it takes to get
permission to move there. These procedures vary widely by country. Some require
the process to start with an application to the country’s U.S. embassy, while others
mandate an application once the retiree arrives in the country. But they all require
lots of exacting paperwork, frequently translated into the foreign country’s main
language. Generally, the initial permission to stay is granted for a limited period of

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a year or two, with the possibility of renewals and, down the road, something akin to
what in the U.S. is permanent residency (popularly known as a green card). Some
expats hire a lawyer to navigate the process.
Most countries require proof that a retiree has a minimum annual income
from sources like pensions, Social Security and investments, but these amounts
tend to be modest. In Colombia, for example, the requirement is $19,000 yearly for
a couple. In Costa Rica, it’s $24,000. Australia, on the other hand, looks for a net
worth of $600,000.
Since most of these countries allow tourists to visit for three months or even
longer, consider taking what amounts to a test drive, visiting the country and
renting an apartment on a short-term lease. Most expat retirees end up renting
rather than buying a residence, anyway. There are several reasons for this. Some
countries simply make it hard legally for foreigners to purchase property (six
months ago New Zealand did this).
In other nations expat retirees find the purchase process too burdensome—
or even treacherous. In November, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission obtained a
court order in Maryland shutting down what it called a $100 million real estate
fraud in Belize that the agency called “the largest overseas real estate investment
scam” it has ever targeted. According to the FTC, the fraud, perpetuated by a
convicted felon, involved the sale of lots in what supposedly soon would become a
luxury development variously known as Sanctuary Belize, Sanctuary Bay or The
Reserve, on the Atlantic Ocean coast south of Belize City.
Tax issues can be vexing and often require professional advice. The U.S. taxes
citizens wherever they live in the world. Americans living abroad get an exclusion
from U.S. taxes for earned income of up to $105,900 in 2019. But this income has to
be from work (not usually the case with retirees in foreign countries), and not from
investments, which includes rental properties. This raises the possibility of double
taxation—meaning the same income could be taxed in both the U.S. and the foreign
country of abode.

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There are ways to deal with this. In many circumstances, the U.S. allows a tax
credit for income taxes paid to other countries. Some foreign countries don’t tax the
income coming from abroad to expats—that means crucial income streams like
Social Security, pensions and returns from U.S. investments might be exempt from
foreign tax. And the U.S. has a tax treaty to avoid double taxation with nearly half of
the countries on the Forbes list. (Those with treaties are Australia, France, Ireland,
Italy, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Portugal, Spain and Thailand.)
The Internal Revenue Service website provides guidance as well as a list of tax
treaties in effect.
As noted above, Medicare does not cover medical services provided abroad.
Still, retirees in countries not far from the U.S. by land or plane—on this list, Belize,
Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico and Panama—might be able to
use Medicare by returning to the states, especially for major procedures.
Foreign countries generally require expats to show proof of medical insurance
as a condition for residency. But the insurance premiums, reflecting the lower cost of
medical care abroad, are much lower than in the U.S. Coverage can be shopped
online from such sites as Association of Americans Resident Overseas and
Medibroker. Getting covered for pre-existing conditions, however, can be a problem.
Warning: Even if you move abroad, be sure to enroll in Medicare Part A when
you turn 65; for most retirees Part A, which covers hospital care in the United
States, is free. You must pay premiums for Medicare Part B, which covers doctors
and other outpatient services. (The regular 2019 premium for part B is $135.50 a
month per person, but it can be a lot higher if your income is above $85,000 per
person, or $170,000 for a couple.) If you go abroad, decline to pay Medicare Part B
premiums and later move back, you can be hit with a late enrollment penalty—
equal to a 10% premium increase for each year you would have been paying
premiums. So, don’t forgo Medicare Part B if you’re only going abroad for a test
period and haven’t decided on your permanent retirement locale.

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Argentina
The world’s largest Spanish-speaking country, Argentina offers
a European-style experience with a vibrant culture and a wide
variety of climates. Cost of living is reasonable. But taxes are
a problem due to lack of tax treaty with U.S. barring double
taxation. There is quality medical care, especially in Buenos
Aires, with reasonably priced private insurance. Petty crime is
sometimes an issue. Speaking Spanish is a definite plus. Gaining legal
residency is relatively easy with steady-income or retired-persons visa and minimal
showing of financial capacity. Return air travel is convenient, but long—9 ½ hours
nonstop from Buenos Aires to Miami. Inviting venues include capital Buenos Aires,
wine country Mendoza and scenic Bariloche.

Australia
The world’s only single-country continent, Australia offers
friendly people speaking English, stable politics, low crime
and a warm, often dry climate featuring lots of beaches.
Cost of living is moderate. Health care is reasonably priced,
but private insurance is a must. Australia doesn’t discourage
retirees, but they generally have to meet stiff financial
requirements. This includes a net worth of at least $600,000 for
a couple. Australia doesn’t tax foreign income of expats, and a tax treaty with the
U.S. bars double taxation. Trips back to the States are direct, but very long—14½
hours from Melbourne to Los Angeles. Top retirement locations include Brisbane,
Melbourne and Adelaide on the south coast, and Tweed Heads and the Sunshine
Coast on the east coast.

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Belize
The single Central American country with English as its official
language, Belize caters to retirees seeking a warm outdoor-
oriented environment, including fishing and barrier reef
diving. Cost of living is reasonable. Crime is not a problem
outside Belize City. Obtaining quality health care can be an
issue; many retirees return to the U.S.—a two-hour plane ride to
Houston—for major medical needs. The politically stable country
solicits retirees with a Qualified Retired Persons program that offers permanent
residency upon a showing of $24,000 in annual income. Retirees are found in
Ambergris Caye, an island 35 miles northeast of Belize City, and Corozal, a mainland
city on the Atlantic Ocean near Mexico.

Chile
Some 2,650 miles from north to south, Chile has a varied
range of inviting climates—dry, wet, snowy, subtropical,
mountainous, beachy—with a reasonable cost of living and
a growing number of U.S. retirees. Health care is good and
far cheaper than in the U.S. Politics are stable. Crime rate is
low. Knowing Spanish is a big plus. Retirees are not taxed on
pensions and Social Security income during early years of residency,
but a tax treaty with the U.S. against double taxation has not been ratified. Retirement
visas are relatively easy to obtain upon showing of a minimal income source. Plane
trips back to the U.S. usually require a stop or change and are long. Among popular
retirement venues: the coastal cities of Vina del Mar, La Serena, Iquique and
Valparaiso; the capital Santiago, and the Lake District wine region.

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Colombia
Colombia’s emergence as a retirement haven is little short of
miraculous given its past drug cartel history. Crime is still an
issue, but the politically stable country has terrific weather
and scenery, coupled with a low cost of living and affordable
quality health care. Knowledge of Spanish is beneficial.
Pensions and Social Security payments are not subject to
Colombian tax, but there is no tax treaty against double taxation with
the U.S. Retirement visas are relatively easy to come by upon a showing of $24,000 in
sustainable annual income. Plane trips back to the U.S. are short and often nonstop.
Inviting locations include the mountain valley cities of Medellin and Pereira, the capital
Bogota, and the coastal city of Cartagena.

Costa Rica
Costa Rica remains a bug light for U.S. retirees, with its lure
of broad beaches on two oceans, lush scenery, a tropical
climate, stable politics, low crime and affordability. Health
care in the larger cities is good and cheap. Knowledge of
Spanish is helpful but not essential. The country encourages
expat retirees upon a showing of minimal pension or Social
Security income. The U.S. and Costa Rica do not have a tax treaty
avoiding double taxation, but Costa Rica does not tax foreign income of retirees.
Miami and Houston are three hours away by nonstop plane. Popular venues include
the mountain-flanked Central Valley plateau with spring-like weather year-round, the
worldly capital San Jose and the Pacific Ocean city of Santa Cruz.

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Croatia
Facing Italy across the Adriatic Sea, Croatia is another country
that has surmounted turmoil, in this case a 1990s civil war.
The country has gorgeous scenery, an inviting Mediterranean
climate for much of the area, good food and wine, low
crime and a very low cost of living. Health care insurance
is affordable. Some English is spoken. Retirement visas are
relatively easy to get. Expat retirees get tax breaks, although there is
no U.S.-Croatia tax treaty against double taxation. Plane trips back to the U.S. require a
change somewhere in Europe. Among the retirement possibilities: the Istria peninsula
and the medieval port city of Dubrovnik.

Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic offers retirees tropical Caribbean
weather, lots of golf courses and beaches, and a very low
cost of living. Politics have become stable. Health care is
considered good and affordable. Serious and property crime
can be a problem in certain areas. Knowledge of Spanish is
important. The country encourages retirees upon a showing of
minimal sustainable income. Pension and Social Security income
are tax-exempt, but there is no tax treaty with the U.S. against double taxation. Plane
trips to the U.S. are quick: 2½ hours to Miami. Good spots include the northern
beach cities of Las Terrenas and Samaná; Punta Cana on the eastern tip, and the
capital Santo Domingo.

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Ecuador
Home of beaches, breathtaking terrain, a good climate and
the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador is one of the world’s best
retirement values. Cost of living is less than half that of the
U.S. Politics are quiet. Crime, though, can be a problem.
Unusual for most countries, foreign retirees can join the public
health care system for less than $100 a couple per month, but
private insurance is also advised. Little English is spoken. There is no
tax treaty with the U.S., so double taxation is an issue, but Social Security payments are
tax-free in Ecuador. Retirement visas are fairly easy to come by upon a minimal showing
of steady income or a lump sum good for five years, and buying a home is not out of the
question. Thanks to the brisk tourism business for followers of the footsteps of Darwin,
there is fairly good air travel back to the U.S., a 5½-hour flight. Favored retirement spots
include the mountain town of Cuenca, the college mountain town of Loja, the beach city
of Salinas and the capital Quito.

France
Famous for its food, France also offer retirees high-quality
health care at low prices, albeit paid through private
insurance or out of pocket. Cost of living varies widely but
gets a lot cheaper away from Paris. Knowing some French is
essential. Taxes are high, but there is a tax treaty with the U.S.
against double taxation, and France does not tax U.S. pension
and Social Security income. Obtaining a long-term visitor’s visa
allowing year-round stay is difficult but doable. Flights back to the U.S. are nonstop.
Besides Paris, popular retirement spots for U.S. expats include Bordeaux, in
southwestern France, or Lyon, near the Alps.

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Guatemala
Touching both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Guatemala
possesses great beauty and a low cost of living for retirees.
Health care is adequate and inexpensive. Spanish is the main
language. Crime can be a problem. The country welcomes
retirees who can show yearly income of $14,000 or more per
couple. There is no tax treaty with the U.S. eliminating double
taxation, but income generated outside Guatemala, including Social
Security and pensions, is not taxed. Plane trips back to the U.S. are quick: just 2½
hours to Miami. Popular retiree locations include the mountainous region around Lake
Atitlan and the ancient capital Antigua Guatemala.

Ireland
Famously green and beautiful, Ireland offers much to U.S.
retirees. English is widely spoken, and politics are stable.
Flights back to the U.S. are quick and cheap. The cost of living
is not low, although the countryside is a lot cheaper than
tony Dublin. Health care is good and affordable with private
insurance that expat retirees are required to get. Gaining
residency for retirement generally requires a stiff showing of a
substantial annual income: $110,000 for a couple. A tax treaty with the U.S. avoids
many double taxation issues. Inviting locations include the seaside village of Dingle in
the west and the coastal city of Waterford in the southeast.

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Italy
On top of an agreeable climate and great food, Italy offer U.S.
retirees who are residents a rare perk: participation in its
state-run health care system. Government policy encourages
U.S. retirees, although there are substantial but murky
financial wherewithal requirements to be met. Cost of living is
lower than in the U.S., especially away from the big cities. A tax
treaty between the U.S. and Italy helps avoid double taxation.
Speaking Italian is definitely helpful. There is considerable nonstop plane service back
to the U.S. Popular areas for U.S. retirees include Marche and Abruzzo along the
Adriatic Coast.

Malaysia
Despite a steamy climate, Malaysia draws U.S. retirees for its
low cost of living, outdoor vistas and exotic mix of cultures.
English is widely spoken. Crime can be a problem. The
government makes it easy for U.S. retirees with a My Second
Home program that includes long-term visas. It’s even feasible
to buy real estate. There’s no tax treaty against double taxation
with the U.S., but Malaysia doesn’t tax foreign source income. Plane
trips back to the U.S. can take upwards of 19 hours. Health care is adequate, at least in
the bigger cities. Private health insurance is a must. Expat retirees are found in George
Town, on the Straits of Malacca, and Kuala Lumpur, the capital.

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Malta
In the middle of the Mediterranean, off Italy, Malta is a tiny
three-island nation with glorious beaches, a temperate
climate and low crime. English is an official language. The
government is stable and encourages retirees, with one-year
easily renewable visas. Cost of living is reasonable, and health
care is excellent and very affordable. A tax treaty with the U.S.
prevents double taxation. Return air travel to the U.S. requires a
change of planes in Europe. Much of the retiree action is on Gozo, the northern of the
three islands, and St. Paul’s Bay on the main island.

Mexico
With a nearly 2,000-mile-long border with the U.S., Mexico
affords Yankee retirees the ability to take advantage of the
U.S. Medicare system, even though Mexican health care is
adequate and inexpensive, especially prescriptions. Cost of
living is low. Other pluses include a warm climate and friendly
folks. A tax treaty between the U.S. and Mexico prevents double
taxation. English is spoken, but sporadically. Official permission
to retire in Mexico is relatively easy to come by. Serious and property crime can be
a problem, especially in some of the border towns. Return travel to the U.S. is quick
and cheap. Popular places include San Miguel de Allende, Puerto Vallarta, Lake
Chapala and Tlaxcala.

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New Zealand
As Down Under as it comes, New Zealand is an inviting mix:
beautiful mountains and beaches, seasons, friendly English-
speaking folks, stable government, low crime rate and good
health care. Cost of living, though, is not the lowest. The
government doesn’t bar retirees but makes high financial
demands: a $540,000 business investment in New Zealand,
proof of another $360,000 of liquidity and a minimal annual
income of $43,000. A tax treaty between the U.S. and New Zealand avoids double
taxation issues. Flights back to the U.S. are long: Auckland to Los Angeles takes 12
hours. Retirement locations include the South Island city of Queenstown, an outdoor
adventure paradise, and the North Island city of Auckland, the country’s largest city.

Panama
With a sunny, warm climate, Panama is like Florida on the
cheap, with affordable, high-quality health care to boot.
Crime rates are low. The country encourages U.S. retirees.
Although there is no tax treaty with the U.S., Panama does
not tax the foreign source income of retirees. English is widely
spoken. Plane trips back to the U.S. are quick. Expat retirees
are found in Boquete, a town in the highlands with a somewhat
cooler climate, and Panama City, the capital.

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Peru
A South American country with a wide range of inviting
climates, Peru offers inexpensive living. Health care is good
and inexpensive. Knowing some Spanish helps. Crime can
be a problem. The country, which has become politically
stable, encourages retirees upon a showing of a $24,000
yearly income for two. The U.S. and Peru lack a tax treaty against
double taxation. Flights back to the U.S. usually require a stop or
change and thus can take eight hours. Attractive locales include the capital Lima, on
the Pacific Ocean; Trujillo, also on the ocean; and the mountain town of Arequipa.

The Philippines
A tropical country spread over 7,400 islands, the Philippines
offers a low cost of living and English as an official language.
Health care is affordable. Crime can be a problem. Residency
permission for retirees is easy to come by. Foreign source
income is untaxed, and a tax treaty between the U.S. and the
Philippines prevents double taxation. A return trip to the U.S.
is a long haul: 15 hours or more. Retiree centers include Tagaytay, a
suburb of Manila, and Subic Bay, site of an old U.S. Navy base.

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Portugal
On top of a warm but pleasing climate at the western edge of
Europe, Portugal has a relatively low cost of living for retirees
and good health care. English is spoken widely enough. Crime
rate is low. The country encourages retirees upon a minimal
showing (about $15,000) of yearly income or a $600,000
investment, which can be in property. A tax treaty between the
U.S. and Portugal avoids double taxation. Despite its relative
proximity to the U.S., return plane trips often require a stop or change. Many retirees
are drawn to the Algarve area on the Atlantic near Lisbon, the capital, or Lisbon itself.

Spain
Sunny like Florida, Spain is a lot cheaper, particularly a few
miles away from the gorgeous coasts and big cities. Health
care is excellent. Crime rate is low. Visas for retirees are
relatively easy to get upon a showing of adequate annual
income, roughly $36,000 for a couple. A tax treaty between the
U.S. and Spain eliminates many double taxation issues. Knowing
some Spanish is a must. Nonstop flights back to the U.S. take nine
hours. Inviting venues include Malaga on the Costa del Sol along the Mediterranean
and the Orange Blossom Coast near Barcelona.

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Thailand
With an exotic culture, low cost of living and excellent, cheap
health care, Thailand has drawn more than its share of U.S.
retirees. English is widely spoken. Crime rate is low. The
primary retirement visa is pretty easy to get upon a showing
of $22,000 in yearly income. A tax treaty between the U.S.
and Thailand prevents double taxation and exempts from Thai
taxation Social Security and pension payments from the U.S. Plane
travel back to the U.S. can take 24 hours or more. The northern Thai town of Chiang
Mai draws retirees, as does the crowded capital of Bangkok.

Uruguay
Nestled between Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay, with its nice
beaches, permits foreign retirees to use the national health
care system, although private health care and insurance is
quite affordable, too. Cost of living, while not low for South
America, is certainly lower than in much of the U.S. Knowledge
of some Spanish is helpful. Crime can be an issue. Long a stable
democracy, Uruguay makes retirement visas easy to get upon a
minimal annual income showing, unofficially, about $18,000. Most foreign income is not
taxed, which is good, since there is no tax treaty against double taxation with the U.S.
The climate has four seasons. Closer to the South Pole than Chicago, Uruguay is a long
way from the U.S. Plane trip to Miami is 9½ hours. The Atlantic Ocean coastal town of
Punta del Este is popular with retirees, as is the capital Montevideo.

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