Thinking about retirement? Who isn’t? You’ve been working all your life, and now it’s time to treat yourself. The first step is to count your dollars. The next step? Move someplace fun, and relaxing. We will help you with the latter, as we explore the best international decisions for any retiree.
Panama, the southernmost country in Central America tops the 2016 global retirement havens listings compiled by International Living, with what the magazine describes as “hands down the best package of retirement benefits in the world”. These include discounts for retirees on transport, entertainment, medicine and energy bills.
To receive these wide array of benefits all you need is a Pensionado Visa, for which you need to be over 18 years of age and have a pension of at least $1,000 a month to qualify (both private or social-security payments count). The currency, the Panamanian balboa, is pegged to the dollar, so US retirees shouldn’t face shocks from currency swings. Savings will go a long way here too. Even without these pension benefits, living costs are already low compared to many countries in Europe, North America and Australasia, with a three-course meal for two in a mid-range restaurant in Panama costing $30, according to numbeo.com, a website that tracks the prices of everyday items.
Panama has an internationally well-regarded healthcare system, with many doctors trained in the US and Europe. However, retirees should allow at least $200 a month to cover private health insurance.
Ecuador ranks second in the 2016 listings, compiled by International Living magazine, on its generous retirement benefits, affordable housing and a great climate. Indeed, for housing and climate, the country tops this year’s rankings.
Resting on the equator, the country enjoys 12 hours of daylight every day throughout the year. In addition, the highlands of Ecuador, which include popular expat destinations like Cuenca, Cotacachi, and Vilcabamba, sit several thousand feet above sea level, giving residents a year-round spring-like climate. To live here though, retirees will need to learn Spanish, as English is not widely spoken and expats will have to adapt to a limited national road infrastructure. But there are plenty of perks. Like Panama, Ecuador offers a wide range of desirable retiree benefits, including half-price public transport for those aged 65 or over and IVA (value-added tax) refunds on many purchases.
The Ecuadorian government also made a recent change to its healthcare system that will likely prove a major pull for expats. Since 2014, foreign retirees in Ecuador have been able to join the country’s national health care system, which is managed by the country’s Social Security administration, at a cost of about $70 a month. At the same time, age and pre-existing medical condition restrictions were removed. Previously, those older than 60 weren’t eligible for membership. Retirees can also opt for private healthcare.
For year-round sunshine and diversity, consider Malaysia, which offers everything from tropical beaches and remote rainforests to the high-rise bustle of capital, Kuala Lumpur. This former British colony is also an inexpensive place to live, with International Living placing it among the cheapest places to live in its global cost of living index. Add to this widely-spoken English, low cost of restaurants and direct foreign ownership of property freehold, and it is easy to see the country’s appeal for older expats.
Malaysia also ranks as one of the world’s top “medical tourism” destinations attracting more than 700,000 healthcare travellers in 2013, according to the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council.
Spain was one of the biggest victims of the Eurozone debt crisis: its economy plunged into recession in 2008, sending property prices sharply downwards and unemployment spiralling. But its economy is finally on the mend with growth expected to top 3% in 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund, one of the strongest rates of growth across the Eurozone. Although unemployment remains high, jobs are being created and estate agents are reporting rising demand for property in cities like Barcelona and Madrid. Across the country as a whole, however, agents estimate prices are still around 40% below the peaks reached in 2007, giving retirees the opportunity to potentially snap up a bargain.
Retirees in Spain enjoy one of the finest climates in Europe, particularly on the Mediterranean coastal region where the weather is characterised by hot sunny summers and mild winters. Spain also ranks high for its infrastructure according to International Living magazine, with its modern road networks, extensive public transport coverage and widespread high speed internet coverage.
Among the smallest and most densely-populated countries in the world, Malta covers just 120 sq-miles and boasts a population of 400,000. With English the first language for many on this southern European island, Brits flock here. More than 5,000 UK citizens live on Malta, located just a three-hour flight from London. The abundance of UK shops and supermarkets make it an easy transition from the UK. Aside from the abundant sunshine and an average annual temperature of 18 C or 64 F, an added draw is the “Malta Retirement Plan,” which allows EU nationals who take up residency to enjoy an income-tax rate of 15%.
The downsides? The picturesque Mediterranean island’s public transport system fails to match that of many other western countries. Expats also report that imported consumer goods can either be difficult to find or significantly more expensive than back home.
From beaches and golf courses, to fishing villages and medieval towns, Portugal offers its own allure. With a well-established expat population, English is also widely spoken. The capital, Lisbon, is one of the oldest cities in the world and ranks as of one of the world’s most liveable, according to the most recent annual study by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
But if you are in search of warm, dry winters you are likely to be disappointed. While the country benefits from a temperate Mediterranean climate, winter in Portugal’s coastal resorts tend to be much wetter than in neighbouring Spain. Still, wherever retirees choose to settle, Portugal offers beneficial tax regimes. Under the country’s non-habitual resident’s scheme, foreign-sourced pension income can be exempt from income tax for a period of up to a decade.
Known as the “The Land of Smiles”, Thailand offers expats retiring here plenty to smile about – a low cost of living, tropical clime, culture that respects older people plus no tax on retiree income from abroad.
While the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office rates many private hospitals in Thailand equivalent to western standards, it says standards at local hospitals can vary. Retirees should therefore budget to pay for local health insurance.