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Retiring abroad: our pick of top countries

PUBLISHED: 15 August 2019 | LAST UPDATED: 9 May 2024

Moving abroad to retire offers the adventure of a lifetime, but it can be hard to know where to start. We’ve taken a look at some of the most popular expat destinations around the world to help you on your way, whether you’re thinking of retiring abroad, or you’re already there but seeking a new place to live because you’ve had a change of heart. 

1. Portugal  

The cost of living in Portugal is very reasonable and offers a high standard of living. 

In 2019 it offered the best value for money combined with quality of life compared with other EU member states. On average, groceries are around half the cost of those in the surrounding countries, and rental prices are low, too. Prices vary depending on the area, but renting a two-bedroom apartment in the Algarve could be less than $620 a month. 

The Portuguese state healthcare system is very good but can become overstretched. Many expatriates take out private health insurance and use private hospitals as, depending where they’re moving from, they may not have access to the public health system right away.  

The Algarve region boasts some spectacular beaches, as well as golf courses, a long and interesting history, stunning countryside and picturesque villages, making it a popular choice for retiring expats. Portugal also gets up to 3,300 hours of sunshine a year – that’s more than California.

2. Panama 

Panama topped the 2019 Annual Global Retirement Index and you certainly won’t be short of things to do there. Panama City has a vibrant culture that includes jazz, food, beer, film, and sport. The weather is warm and tropical, and with two long coastlines, Panama boasts plenty of beaches, as well as lush mountain villages and buzzing cities to keep you busy. 

It also has some of the best benefits for foreign retirees in the world, including a range of discounts, property-tax exemption, and zero tax on income earned elsewhere. Living costs are low, with a litre of fuel coming in at less than $0.80, and the economy and government are stable.

Panama boasts a healthcare system to be proud of, thanks to many doctors coming from Europe and the USA. It offers a level of care that is up to Western standards, and in fact, four of Panama City’s private hospitals are considered among the best in Central America.

3. Thailand 

41,000 expats currently live in Thailand with many expat groups around Phuket and Bangkok. Because of the large expatriate community, there are a range of languages spoken. Thailand offers a surreal mix of bustling cities, grand temples, with stunning cuisine and friendly locals. There’s plenty of opportunity for hiking, cycling, or water sports and a rich history to explore.  

Housing, fuel and living costs are low and, good news for retirees, there’s no tax on foreign retiree income. There are modern, private hospitals in the cities that offer exceptionally good quality healthcare. 

4. Malta 

Malta’s pleasant climate means it gets around 3,100 hours of sunshine a year, with an average temperature of 19°C. This is perfect for exploring the coastline, which is scattered with coves and fishing harbours.

Currently, permanent residents of Malta can benefit from tax free pensions from their source country and pay only 15% tax to the Maltese government. Malta also offers an excellent overall standard of living and top-notch healthcare. The crime rate is one of the lowest in the world, ranking 103rd on the Crime Index measured across 118 major countries.

As 21% of the Maltese population are from overseas, there are a variety of languages spoken in Malta, including Maltese, French and English.

5. Spain 

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 combined. With a climate that is so warm and pleasant, it’s easy to see why it has the largest expat community in Europe, however if you’d rather live away from the main tourist zones, you’ll need to speak Spanish to get by. 

You’ll most likely notice the change in pace in Spain with the relaxed and laidback Spanish culture – it makes for an ideal way to spend retirement. If it’s more excitement you’re after, there are several metropolitan cities, including colourful Barcelona where you’ll be kept on your toes with new things to explore and try.

Spain also has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Depending on where you’re moving from, you might be able to access the public healthcare system for little to no cost although this isn’t the case for everyone. You’ll need to check what you’re entitled to before you go.

6. Malaysia 

Life here is both traditional and 21st century, making it exotic but comfortable. There are many picturesque beaches and 870 islands, as well as some of the oldest rainforests in the world that you can explore. The city of Penang is home to the renowned Penang Swimming Club, which boasts state-of-the-art facilities and a range of water sport activities. 

English is widely spoken in Malaysia, and road signs are usually in English and Malay – but because of the diversity of the country, Chinese and Tamil are also spoken. 

Healthcare in Malaysia is high-quality and is a popular destination for healthcare tourism. Most expats choose to use private hospitals, which tend to be cheaper than private hospitals in the West. 

If you meet the criteria, you can apply for a Malaysia My Second Home residency permit, and this can last you for ten years.

7. Barbados 

Barbados offers a great standard of living with low property tax – but the overall cost of living can be high. The island is a popular tourist destination so there’s plenty for expats to do too, such as golf, diving, and exploring the bars and restaurants and the average temperature is 26°C.

Although locals speak a Bajan dialect of English, most English speakers will be understood.

There is a mix of private and government hospitals in Barbados, providing top-quality healthcare. There are also a number of hospitals specialising in geriatric care. 

8. The Philippines 

The Philippines offers a Special Residents Retiree’s Visa (SRRV) to make the process of retiring to the Philippines easier. If you qualify, the benefits include a tax-free income from your pension, non-immigrant status, exemption from customs duties and taxes, and no exit and re-entry clearance. 

The costs of living, accommodation, transportation, healthcare and leisure are all very low compared to the West. This, coupled with the beautiful scenery and relaxed way of life, makes the Philippines a very popular destination for retiring expats.

Respect towards the elderly is an engrained part of the Pilipino culture. This means there are a number of exceptional retirement homes available providing medical care, physical therapy and food. This could be ideal if you have an elderly parent you’d rather not leave behind if you’re planning on moving permanently. 

The Philippines is very warm – with a tropical climate and year-round average temperature of 26-32°C and high humidity. 

9. Greece  

Greece is visually spectacular with a relaxed attitude and is renowned for its sunnier, warmer weather. It’s probably for these reasons that we’ve seen Greece as a popular destination for retiring expats for years. 

Because of the economic crisis in Greece, property prices are around 30-40% lower than they were almost a decade ago, and the cost of living is low. This has allowed those who are retiring and ready to downsize to live comfortably in Greece. 

Healthcare is readily available, but many locals and expats take out private health insurance to receive a more comprehensive and cost-effective service. 

10. Ecuador 

Ecuador is an up and coming part of the world, and the city of Cuenca enjoys reliable electricity and internet, and clean drinking water. In terms of weather, Ecuador boasts some of the best you can find, and the mild climate also means no heating or air conditioning expense. The beaches are warm year-round but rarely muggy and too close to the equator for hurricanes or tropical storms. 

English is not widely spoken, so speaking, or learning to speak Spanish is a must. Ecuador uses the US Dollar and the prices of locally grown fruits and vegetables are very low.

Ecuador also offers benefits including half-price public transport and access to a national health-care plan for less than $75 a month. And over 65s are entitled to certain tax benefits.  So it’s no surprise that over 12,000 Westerners have already made it their home.

Let us take care of things

With all of the things you’ll be thinking about when considering a retirement abroad, your health insurance doesn’t need to be one of them. With our global healthcare plans we’re already supporting retired expats all over the world. If something unexpected does happen, we can help you get back on track so you can carry on living your adventure. 

The information in this article is correct at the time of publishing.


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