Retirement in the States is getting more expensive all the time. But in the right places overseas, you can upgrade your lifestyle and live better than you can at home for a small fraction of the price.
While price is only one factor to consider, it's a persuasive one... particularly when paired with other attractions that range from great weather to pretty, sun kissed beaches to reliable, First World infrastructure and excellent medical services. We asked our friends and associates from around the world to send in their monthly budgets -- and to include essentials like rent, health care, groceries and utilities.
So here are, in our opinions, the five most affordable countries in the world to retire comfortably today. They're all safe (we wouldn't highlight one that isn't), and all have more than just good-value to recommend them. In each of these countries, a couple can live well on $1,000 to $2,130 a month.
Nicaragua: A couple can live well on $995 a month
Nicaragua is one of the most beautiful countries in the Americas. It boasts a dramatic Pacific coastline; long, gentle Caribbean beaches; and volcanoes and freshwater lakes that dot the rolling, hilly interior. Colonial cities like Granada and León offer visitors a taste of days gone by. And Managua is rapidly becoming a real First-World city with top-notch theaters and a range of international restaurants.
Nicaragua's lower cost of living does not mean you have to sacrifice the quality of life you have been accustomed to in the U.S. or Canada. In fact, you'll probably be able to live in Nicaragua with even more luxuries than you are accustomed to, simply because the prices are so economical.
A sample monthly budget for two in Nicaragua:
Electricity (without air-conditioning): $45
Propane gas (tank for cooking): $20
Entertainment: $100 (or the sky's the limit)
Health insurance: $100
Maid (three times a week): $60
Monthly Total: $995
Cost of living in exotic Malaysia: $1,076
The cost of living in Malaysia is also very affordable. A couple can easily live on just over $1,000 a month, and a budget of $2,000 will have you living in relative luxury.
An entire bagful of fresh fruit, including mangoes, bananas, apples, oranges, and pineapples costs just $4. High-speed Internet is reliable and costs $30 a month, and the premier cable TV package for $40 includes favorites like HBO, CNN and the BBC.
A couple can eat out well for less than $10. Go to night bazaars, and you can dine for much less than that: chicken-and-rice meals are often only $1.
Sample monthly budget for a couple living in Malaysia:
Cell phone: $10
Maid (four hours a week): $15
Transportation: $34 for gas
Health insurance: $33
Dining out/Entertainment (alcohol not included): $300
Monthly total: $1,076
Monthly cost of living in Ecuador: $1,415
Ecuador is a place we know well: We live here. And not only can you retire on very little money, you can also live very well. It's easy to retire on less than $18,000 per year, and this figure is based on a very comfortable lifestyle. Some foreign residents even own tow homes... one in a city or village and another at the beach, or even property in another country -- a feat that would be impossible on a comparable budget in the U.S.
Ecuador's low cost of living allows retirees to increase their travel, take up new hobbies and generally enjoy a better quality of life.
Here is a sample budget for a couple living very well in Cuenca -- the most popular expat retirement destination in Ecuador. The expenses are, of course, approximate, and we've erred on the side of extra spending to come up with a budget that allows for a pretty luxurious lifestyle...
Sample monthly budget for a couple in Ecuador:
Rent (for a luxury two-bedroom apartment): $500
Utilities (including, phone, Internet and cable television): $150
Maid (twice a week): $60
Maintenance and fuel for one car: $140
Health care (four $30 visits to a doctor per year for two people, divided by 12 months): $20
Monthly total: $1,415
Cost of living in Panama: $1,865
Panama offers a very comfortable retirement solution, in part because this country is much more developed than most visitors expect. You may be shocked by the modernity and the clusters of skyscrapers that define Panama City's skyline. All of the services and amenities you might wish for are readily available.
Yet by moving to Panama, you'll enjoy the benefits of a developing economy where you can still take a taxi across town for a couple of bucks, or enjoy dinner for two with a bottle of wine at a very nice restaurant in Panama City for a mere $35.
No matter what your taste or budget, you'll find that Panama offers plenty of quality options.
Sample monthly budget for a couple in Panama:
Gas (for cooking, water heaters, dryer, etc.): $15
Transportation (taxi or fuel/maintenance on one small car, low to moderate use): $100
Full time maid: $175
Monthly total: $1,865
Live well in Mexico for $2,129 a month
Everyone seems to agree: the quality of your life improves in Mexico. (And please understand that violent crime in Mexico is isolated. There are so many safe and wonderful places to love in the country.)
Goods and services here cost less...so you can afford the kinds of luxuries only the very wealthy enjoy up north -- like a maid, a cook and a gardener.
And in Mexico you have the good fortune of giving up very little when you make your move. You're heading to live with a close neighbor where you can get Internet, cable TV and all the other comforts you're used to.
Sample monthly budget for two people in Mexico:
Rent (two-bedroom home): $800
Utilities (electricity, gas, water, phone, cable TV, Internet): $220
Health care (two people on IMSS insurance plan, plus $70 per month for incidentals): $112
Maid (three times a week): $210
Gardener (once a week): $87
Monthly total: $2,129
Now, there's just one caveat: Everyone's lifestyle requirements are different, and only you know what kind of lifestyle makes you happy. If you enjoy gourmet dining and fine wine and have expensive hobbies (like golf, scuba diving or luxury travel), your cost of living will reflect that. But even so, we'd say that a move to one of these countries will vastly reduce your expenses. And the adventure of it all? That, as they say, is priceless.