THE BLOG

Live and Invest Overseas Names the World's Top 21 Retirement Havens

06/19/2013 02:52 pm ET | Updated Aug 19, 2013

For the first time ever, Live and Invest Overseas has named the world's top retirement havens.

In our First Annual Retire Overseas Index, we identify and score the 21 best places on earth to think about spending your retirement.

The world's best place to retire?

There's no way to answer that question, so we don't try. Instead, in this new survey, we grade each of what we have identified as the world's 21 best places to think about enjoying this phase of life in each of 12 categories. Together, these 12 categories represent the most important criteria that a would-be retiree should consider when shopping the globe for the best place to hang his hat. Specifically, these criteria are:

 Climate
 Cost of Living
 English Spoken
 Entertainment
 Environmental Conditions
 Existing Expat Community
 Health Care
 Infrastructure
 Real Estate
 Residency Options
 Safety
 Taxes

For our index, we considered those 12 criteria for the following 21 countries:

 Abruzzo, Italy
 Ambergris Caye, Belize
 Boquete, Panama
 Cayo, Belize
 Cebu, Philippines
 Chiang Mai, Thailand
 Copper Coast, Ireland
 Costa de Oro, Uruguay
 Cuenca, Ecuador
 Georgetown, Malaysia
 Granada, Nicaragua
 Hoi An, Vietnam
 Hua Hin, Thailand
 Istria, Croatia
 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
 Languedoc, France
 La Serena, Chile
 Medellin, Colombia
 Mendoza, Argentina
 Panama City Beaches, Panama
 Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

The first thing to notice about this list is that it is a list not of countries but of particular places. You aren't going to retire to Panama or to Belize, not to France or to Ireland... just as you aren't going to retire to the United States. Every country in the world (even little Belize, to take a good example from our list) offers a diversity of lifestyle options, of costs of living, of climates, etc. You won't get far if you try to plan for your retirement to Panama... or any other country. Approach this that way, and you're guaranteed to be confused, frustrated, and disappointed.

The second thing to consider about this list is: Why these destinations, specifically?

That is, of all the places in all the world, why have we chosen to focus your attention on these 21 in particular?

First, collectively, these 21 spots represent the best our world has to offer -- city, beaches, mountains... Old World and New... East and West.

Second, each of these 21 places is special, remarkable in some way. Indeed, some are remarkable in several ways.

Specifically, some are among the cheapest places in the world to live well (Cuenca, Ecuador; Granada, Nicaragua; Hoi An, Vietnam; and Chiang Mai, Thailand, for example). Some offer lifestyles that qualify as quintessentially Old World, rich with culture, history, and romance, at prices that even retirees working with modest budgets can afford to embrace. (Here I'm thinking of Languedoc, France; Abruzzo, Italy; and Istria, Croatia.) Some promise escape, either practical (Cayo, Belize) or romantic (Copper Coast, Ireland).

In some of the places we feature in our index you can embrace the best of beachfront living on a budget (Costa de Oro, Uruguay; Hua Hin, Thailand; Cebu, Philippines; and Hoi An, Vietnam). Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is the best place to embrace what I'd describe as a luxury-level beach lifestyle on a non-luxury budget. Puerto Vallarta; Ambergris Caye, Belize; and the Panama City Beaches are the best places to retire to the beach in the company of fellow expat retirees. All are home to established and growing foreign retiree communities.

We feature here our picks for the best places in the world to enjoy the best of city living on a budget (Medellin, Colombia; Georgetown and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)... the best places to retire among the vines (the Languedoc, France, and Mendoza, Argentina)... the best highlands options (Boquete, Panama, and Cuenca, Ecuador)... and our favorite place to kick it in the Caribbean (Ambergris Caye, Belize).

As I said, for our index, we don't attempt to rank each destination in each category; rather, we grade it -- A, B, C, or F.

Some of our 12 categories have to do with the country where the destination is located; others have to do with the destination more specifically; and, in one case (infrastructure), we consider the category both for the country and the localized destination.

Based on its 12 category grades, we then give each destination an overall, final grade. We award four destinations "A's" overall, as follows:

 Cuenca, Ecuador
 Georgetown, Malaysia
 Medellin, Colombia
 Panama City Beaches, Panama

No country is graded "F" overall, of course; however, we do give three particular "F's" -- to Cayo and Ambergris Caye, Belize, for Infrastructure and to Hoi An, Vietnam, for Real Estate.

Hoi An's "F" is easy to understand; it's illegal for foreigners to own real estate in this country.

Why do Cayo and Ambergris Caye, Belize, receive "Fs" for Infrastructure? Because they hardly have any.

Why do we include two destinations that we grade "F" for one of the criteria we identify as most important to the would-be retiree? Because, in this case, failing infrastructure is part of the appeal. Many seek out Belize specifically for this reason. Belize is a place to escape the world and all the trappings of the 21st century, a place to embrace a simple, back-to-basics lifestyle. In that context, Belize has all the infrastructure you need -- loads of sunshine, plenty of fresh water, and expansive, undeveloped stretches of rich, fertile soil.

Here are some other highlights from this new survey:

World's Most Affordable Places To Retire Well (that is, places where you could retire comfortably on a budget of $1,250 per month or even less)

 Cebu, Philippines
 Chiang Mai, Thailand
 Cuenca, Ecuador
 Granada, Nicaragua
 Hoi An, Vietnam
 Medellin, Colombia (outside El Poblado)

World's Best Climate

 Cuenca, Ecuador
 Medellin, Colombia

World's Most Expat-Friendly Places To Retire

 Ambergris Caye, Belize
 Boquete, Panama
 Cuenca, Ecuador
 Georgetown, Malaysia
 Hua Hin, Thailand
 Panama City Beaches

World's Best Health Care

 Cebu, Philippines
 Chiang Mai, Thailand
 Cuenca, Ecuador
 Georgetown, Malaysia
 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
 Languedoc, France
 Medellin, Colombia
 Panama City Beaches

World's Best Foreign Residency Programs (and their respective minimum monthly income requirements)

 Belize, $2,000
 Colombia, $966 (at current exchange rates)
 Ecuador, $800
 Nicaragua, $600 (plus $150 per dependent)
 Panama, $1,000 (plus $250 per dependent)
 Uruguay, $500 (this is the minimum according to the law; note that, in practice, you're going to have to show closer to $1,000 per month in income as a couple)