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The World’s Best Places to Retire in 2020


“Where should I retire?” This is the question we hear most often at International Living, and every January we give you our most definitive answer in the form of our Annual Global Retirement Index.

Annually we reflect on and refine our methodology. This year is no exception, and we’ve made some changes. The research and production of the Global Retirement Index is now an annual rite involving every single member of the International Living team. That team has grown to cover five continents, which means we’re bringing to the Index an ever-greater depth of knowledge.

Having moved overseas and immersed themselves in the destinations where they live and learned their lessons the hard way, our experts are ideally placed to compare, contrast, and bring nuanced insight to the most appealing retirement destinations in the world.

What has their research revealed about the best retirement havens in 2020? Read on…

10. Vietnam By Wendy Justice, IL Southeast Asia Correspondent


Vietnam has modern and progressive cities, ancient historic sites, uncrowded beaches, rugged mountains, and some of the friendliest, most welcoming people in the world. It is developing rapidly, with one of the strongest economies in Asia. This is bringing high-quality healthcare, good roads, and modern conveniences to a place that was one of the world’s most impoverished countries less than 30 years ago.


In urban areas, skyscrapers are popping up like dandelions, and motorbikes and automobiles outnumber cyclos and bicycles. Yet 1,000-year-old temples, ancient emperor’s tombs, and ornate century-old mansions left over from Vietnam’s lengthy occupation by the French, are constant reminders of a country rich in history and tradition.


Vietnam’s exceptionally low cost of living is a major incentive for living here. Wherever you are in Vietnam, you’ll find that the cost of living is low. Even in the most expensive cities—Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi—two people can live well for less than $1,500 per month. If you’re on a limited budget, you’ll find the entire country affordable; if you have a larger budget, you’ll be living a life of luxury for a fraction of what you would pay in the West.


After years working as a purchasing agent in New York, John Powell sold most of his belongings and moved to Hanoi, Vietnam’s historic French-influenced capital city, in 2014. He says, “I liked Hanoi for a number of reasons. I like that it’s a city. There’s lots of things to see and do; it has all the services I need, like good healthcare, and it’s a good base for travel.”


Altogether, John says that he budgets about $2,700 a month, but he says that the figure includes taking frequent trips abroad and living quite comfortably. “It would cost at least twice that to live the lifestyle I have now, back home,” he says. His utilities average about $120 a month, and he spends about $270 per month on groceries.


Vietnam is an easy place to live. English is widely spoken, and the local people are exceptionally friendly and welcoming. Making friends—both expats and Vietnamese—is easy. Life’s little luxuries are more than affordable in Vietnam. It’s not surprising that so many foreigners have chosen to retire here.


Situated right in the middle of Southeast Asia, Vietnam is also a convenient and well-used travel hub; a cheap launch pad to almost anywhere in the world. People based in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City have the choice of many airlines flying routes to such major destinations as Australia, the U.S., Europe, China, Russia, Turkey, India, and other parts of Southeast Asia.

9. France By Tuula Rampont, IL France Correspondent


La vie Française. Imagine relaxing in the garden of your own French home, a pretty stone cottage set among orchards, vineyards, and flowery meadows. The sun is shining, there’s not a cloud in the sky. The only sound is the drone of honeybees and the blissful strains of one of Satie’s Gymnopédies playing in the background. You’ve just returned from the market, and now you’re savoring the thought of lunch. It’s such a perfect day, you decide to dine picnic-style, spread out over an old oak table under a shady canopy of trees.


Freshly baked baguettes, a ripe Camembert cheese, a tangy ratatouille of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant—and don’t forget to add those deliciously plump black olives straight from the stallholder’s barrel. Glass of chilled Chablis in hand, you sit happily planning your next day’s adventures.


France has all the ingredients we look for at International Living: good food, good wine, haute couture, a good climate, unspoiled countryside, glittering culture, excellent healthcare, colorful traditions and history, and, as a bonus, the glamour and sophistication of Paris—arguably the world’s most bewitching capital.


And France is more affordable than you may think. Although my electricity, cable TV, and water bills are similar to what I paid in the U.S., my other expenses have dropped significantly since moving to France. Outside of major cities like Paris and Lyon, rent is about a third of what I paid in California and so is my mortgage payment. For meals out, I can eat like a king (or queen in this case) for around $38—this includes a starter, main dish, and dessert. And since the French are careful about what they eat, you can be sure that you’re getting the best quality, freshest produce of the season.


A couple can live here for anywhere from $2,083 to $2,483 a month—and that includes rent and healthcare.


One of the best things about living in France is the excellent healthcare system. I can see any doctor in any city that I like, and changing doctors involves simply calling a new practitioner and setting up an appointment. Even without the universal coverage, which is guaranteed to all residents (expat and otherwise) after three months, healthcare prices are rock bottom compared to the U.S. Since the costs are fixed by the state, a standard visit to the doctor is $28 and a specialist visit will cost you $56. After your healthcare coverage kicks in, 70% of that cost is reimbursed. I go to the doctor as often as I like, even for a quick check-up, and that freedom and flexibility has greatly enhanced my quality of life and general health.


In 2016, Carol Jean Lonsdale and her husband, Scott, swapped a fast-paced life in the U.S. for a much slower one in Brittany.


“We wanted more culture and more access to the rest of Europe, to be able to get in the car and be somewhere completely different in a few hours,” says Carol. “Plus, housing is more affordable here, and healthcare too.”


They found that the French lifestyle matched their priorities better than life in the U.S. had. “The U.S. is just frenetic and so busy. People work long hours, they don’t take holidays, and it’s all about making money. We were just sick of it. We wanted to go somewhere saner and more stable, a place which appreciates more things to life than how much money you can bring in or what school you can send your kids to,” she says.


“In France there’s such a great amount of care taken with how well things are managed, maintained, and appreciated… And did we mention the wine?”


If good healthcare, a relaxed lifestyle, and all the modern comforts you enjoy at home are among your top priorities, then France should be on your radar.


8. Spain By Marsha Scarbrough, IL Spain Correspondent


Spain is one of Europeans’ favorite beach destinations. It offers first world, Western European living standards, so there’s no question of having to “give up” anything in living here. In fact, you’ll gain a lot. Outside the tourist zones, you may need to know a little Spanish to get by, but there are plenty of beach areas with large, English-speaking expat communities. In my experience, Spanish people are friendly, helpful, and curious about other cultures. I have made many wonderful Spanish friends.


Because of the warm climate, many basic food items are inexpensive here. Spain produces a variety of fruits and vegetables both for domestic consumption and for export. In season—and Spain has a long growing season—many produce items cost around 60 cents a pound. In addition, many fruits and vegetables that are relatively gourmet items in North America—baby artichokes, cherimoya, and doughnut peaches, for example—are locally grown in Spain.


Following Spanish eating habits will also keep costs down. Lunch is the big meal of the day, and the lunch special, or menú del día, is a great bargain. For anywhere from $11 to $20, you’ll get two to three courses, plus a beverage (which can often be beer or wine). Make that your big meal out (or prepare it in your rental) and follow it with a light dinner or tapas.


With one of the lowest costs of living in Western Europe, a couple can live comfortably in many parts of the country for around $2,500 a month.


Traveling by rail in Spain is fast, comfortable, and efficient to large and medium-sized cities. The bus system goes everywhere inexpensively. The ride-sharing websites blablacar.es and amovens.com are popular alternatives for inexpensive travel. Weekend getaways to visit friends or explore new destinations are affordable and practical.


Spain also has a surprising range of climates, from hot and dry in the south to cool and mild in the north. There’s skiing, too—not just in the north, in the Pyrenees, but down in the mountains of the south, as well. Cool northern provinces like Navarre, Cantabria, Asturias, Galicia, and the Basque country offer forests, mountains, stunning coastline, and food to die for.


Michele and Stanton Cohen believe they struck lifestyle gold in their retirement. They moved to Girona over three years ago from Yuma, Arizona.


The city’s Mediterranean climate, proximity to Barcelona’s international airport, and relaxed lifestyle are the factors most compelling to outsiders. It is also affordable—leaving more money in their pockets.


“Food is less expensive,” says Michele. “Imagine going out for a 3-course meal and paying less than $30.” Lower food costs also allow for more frequent opportunities to dine out.

“We often go out for breakfast and meet friends for coffee or drinks at least twice a week,” Michele explains. “We eat lunch at a restaurant at least weekly.”


After working at a hospital in Arizona, Michele also has good things to say about Girona’s medical infrastructure.


“Medical and dental care are excellent,” says Michele. “The prices are about one-third of U.S. medical costs, if your insurance doesn’t cover it.”


In terms of healthcare, The World Health Organization ranks Spain as having one of the best healthcare systems in the world. The public system is widely used, but private healthcare is excellent and affordable, including 29 JCI-accredited facilities.


Spain openly embraces alternative lifestyles. Civil unions are recognized by law. Same-sex marriages have been legal since 2005. Madrid boasts the biggest Pride parade in Europe as well as the LGBT-friendly neighborhood of Chueca.


7. Malaysia By Keith Hockton, IL Malaysia Correspondent


My wife, Lisa, and I vacationed in Malaysia in 2008 and at that stage we were taking at least two holidays a year somewhere in Asia. When we got back and did the sums we realized that we could actually live in Malaysia and vacation back home, effectively reversing our situation and saving a heap of money into the bargain. We started to make plans to do just that and moved to Penang in early 2010.


Idyllic beaches, islands that seduce the senses, and some of the most pristine ancient rainforests in Southeast Asia—this is Malaysia. And these are just some reasons why I call it home.


Malaysian law is based on the British system and all road signs are in both English and Malay, which makes driving around easy. The unofficial first language of the country is English, so you don’t have to learn another language here if you don’t want to.


A family of six can dine out in a good local Chinese restaurant (10 courses) for less than $5.70 per person, including beer. A men’s haircut costs just $2.16. In Penang, a couple can live comfortably on $1,800 a month, including rent.


As for healthcare, when you compare surgery prices between the U.S. and Malaysia, the benefits are obvious. Just the other day I decided on a whim to have a medical.


I’d never had one done before and as I had a free morning I decided just to pop in to the Lam Wah Eee Hospital. I was already registered and found myself sitting outside a GP’s office not five minutes after arriving. Within an hour I’d been examined by a doctor, had an ECG and blood and urine tests done, and I was on my way home. The total cost of the visit was just $43. The doctor who had examined me called me later that afternoon with the results. It’s this level of service that makes medical care in Malaysia not only an attractive option but also a non-scary one. It’s all so easy.


The other attractive thing for us is the outdoor lifestyle. If white-sand beaches are your dream, you have more than 878 islands to choose from here. Both my wife and I hike a lot; so living near the Penang Botanic Gardens is a bonus. With year-round good weather, the temperature in Malaysia averages 82 F, there are over 60 hiking trails for us to explore. We are also members of The Penang Sports Club and The Penang Swimming Club. The swimming club is five-star facility that offers a 50-meter outdoor saltwater pool, a state of the art gym, the best library on the island, a scuba and sailing section, and a number of restaurants that are heavily discounted for members.


Apartment rentals here are good value and you can choose between sea and mountain views. In Batu Ferringhi, a nice beach suburb, you can rent a three-bedroom apartment with sea views for as little as $403 per month. The complex has a good gym, 24-hour security, secure parking, tennis courts, and two pools.


There are direct flights to the rest of Asia from Penang’s International Airport, which makes getting away for a weekend easy. Penang to Bangkok in Thailand takes just one-and-a-half hours and can cost as little as $43 roundtrip.

6. Ecuador

By Donna Stiteler, IL Cuenca Correspondent


For me, the number one thing about Ecuador is that it offers so many different types of places to live; you can have warm weather year-round on the coast, a more temperate climate in the Andes, small village life, big-city conveniences, and everything in between.


Quite simply, some of the best weather on the planet can be found in Ecuador. The unique combination of its position on the equator, the cooling sea breezes from the Humboldt Current, the Andes mountain range, and the Amazon basin have conspired to create a variety of climates. There are beaches that are warm year-round but rarely muggy (and are too close to the equator to ever have hurricanes or tropical storms), and places in the hills where you do not need a heating or cooling system. Lush, green hills and fertile valleys are the norm in Ecuador.


While I appreciate the natural beauty and the mix of indigenous, Incan, and Spanish culture, one of my favorite benefits is the affordable lifestyle. There are few places where living is as affordable in Ecuador. There is something for everyone, regardless of your budget. Consider that you can own a home on a Pacific Coast beach or a condo with great views in the Andes for less than $150,000. Rentals are plentiful and affordable too with a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo available in downtown Cuenca for $500.


A couple can live here for anywhere from $1,650 to $1,825 a month, depending on location and lifestyle.


Since the land produces excellent food, mostly with year-round growing seasons, prices at local mercados are so low; it is difficult to carry more than $15 worth of fruits and vegetables. Household help is available for $10 to $20 per day, and services like pedicures and haircuts are just a few dollars. No need for heating and cooling bills in most of the country, and you can live most places without a car, paying 30 cents or less for buses, and $2 to $5 for cab rides.


There’s a tight knit active expat community and many activities to get involved in—day trips to nearby towns, card games, dinner clubs, trivia, art classes, hikes in the Cajas, and long lunches with friends. Every day I get up and have a choice of what I’d like to do. Living in Ecuador has given me the retirement I could only have dreamed about if I had stayed in the U.S.


Ecuador is a little unique, in that there are not just a couple of expat communities. There are over a dozen places spread all across the country where you can find North Americans enjoying the laidback lifestyle. Even in areas with few expats, like Loja for example, the Ecuadorians make it very easy to feel welcome and at home.


Wayne Bustle and his wife, Mary, arrived in Quito, the country’s capital, on February 15, 2015 and have never looked back. They selected Quito after spending a year looking at 13 different countries and eventually settling on Ecuador.


“So many reasons attracted us to Quito. We are at about 9,000 feet and the weather hardly varies from between 68 F and 72 F year-round, with no snow or extreme heat nor humidity. The people are very welcoming and friendly and they treat senior citizens as special people with lots of benefits. Half price on all airline tickets is but one example.


“Life is simple and pleasant. People still greet you on the street. In restaurants, when people walk past your table, they wish you a pleasant meal. If you look in distress, people will stop to assist you should you need help. When I think back on my own life, the Ecuadorian lifestyle reminds me of the simple life of the 1950s when I grew up.”


Whether you want to live, vacation, retire, or simply relax in Ecuador, you’ll find the perfect combination of climate, culture, and affordability to make your dreams come true.


5. Colombia By Nancy Kiernan, IL Colombia Correspondent


Perfect spring-like weather all year was the first thing that drew me to retire to Medellín, Colombia. I had lived my whole life in the northeast, and I never wanted to see or shovel snow again. While not exactly pioneers, I’m one of the growing number of expats who have discovered that they can live a First-World quality of life in a country that’s only now showing up on fellow retirees’ radar.


Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, so you can easily find a climate and environment that suits your taste. If you want hot and tropical, consider retiring to the lovely Caribbean coastal cities of Santa Marta or Cartegena, where crystal-clear water laps against warm, sandy beaches. For those who prefer more temperate climates, then I suggest my adopted mountain city of Medellín, or anywhere in the “coffee triangle” of Pereira, Armenia, and Manizales, where you are surrounded by lush, green mountain scenery.


Getting a retirement visa to live in Colombia is also quite easy. All you need to do is prove at least $750 annual income from Social Security or $2,500 annual income from a private pension or 401K and you are eligible to obtain a visa that is good for three years. Once they arrive, retirees are discovering they can stretch their retirement dollars.


“I took a bus to Medellín on Christmas Eve 2012, didn’t know anybody, didn’t speak very good Spanish either. I had a hotel room in Poblado for one night and I didn’t know a soul,” says William Edwards, of the moment when he decided to move to Colombia for good.


The friendly nature of the locals in Medellín has made William’s experience a rich one and, despite living in a big city, he believes “it has the vibe of a smaller, friendly town, that makes you feel part of a community and mentally it’s better for you too. It makes you feel like you are at home.”


While William’s “love at first sight” affair with Medellín was the determining factor in his decision to relocate here, the low cost of living was an added bonus.


“That’s one of the things that’s nice about Colombia, the cost of living is not too high. By-and-large things are much cheaper here. You can go out and have a nice breakfast or lunch for $4, and you can have a nice dinner for $8.”


Your cost of living will depend on which part of the country you choose to live and what type of lifestyle you want to have regarding dining out and entertainment. I live in El Poblado, one of the most upscale neighborhoods of Medellín. My cost of living is 60% less than it was when I lived in a small city in Maine in the U.S. Just the fact that I don´t have to pay heating or cooling costs has saved me about $3,400 per year alone.


A couple can live here for anywhere from $1,030 to $2,720 a month, depending on location, lifestyle, and healthcare needs.


As we all reach retirement age, access to high quality but affordable healthcare becomes a front-and-center issue. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks Colombia’s health system at number 22 in the world, far better than Canada at number 30 and the U.S. at number 37. As a retired healthcare executive from the U.S., I know quality healthcare when I see it. The high-tech, world-class care I receive in Colombia does not cost “an arm and a leg.” My premium for public health insurance is only $75 per month, and my co-payment for lab tests, prescription medications, and other services is only $4.


The dark days of Colombia’s past are gone, and it has been transformed into a country that is thriving. One of the best things about the country are the warm, welcoming Colombian people. Don’t let a lack of Spanish keep you from trying out life here. As the expression goes, “You don’t meet a Colombian…you meet the entire family.” Here you’ll always feel part of the community.


4. Mexico

By Don Murray, IL Riviera Maya Correspondent


My wife, Diane, and I moved to Cancún in 2014. We wanted to retire somewhere close to high-quality healthcare and stunning Caribbean beaches—Mexico was the obvious choice. The country has something for everyone: beautiful, warm oceans,