According to the editors at International Living -- Latin America, Europe, and Southeast Asia -- were favored in 2021 by U.S. retirees and expats looking for high-quality, good-value living. These three regional winners from IL's 2021 Global Retirement Index represent the best of what each area has to offer across 10 categories, including cost of living, visas and residence, climate, and more.
International Living's Marita Kelly tells The World Property Journal, "All over the planet, we've identified friendly, good-value, warm-weather escapes where you could effectively upgrade your life--places where it's possible to live better, but spend less. For many expats, that's the end goal. Even if you could afford to retire at home, in the right spots overseas, you could live two or three times better, afford to save for great travel adventures, and never worry again that you'd outlive your nest egg.
"In International Living's annual Global Retirement Index, we compare, contrast, rank, and rate 25 countries across 10 categories (and point to specific communities we recommend in each). The three regional winners provide a sense for the diversity of options people have around the world today. Costa Rica, Portugal, and Malaysia--while each is unique in character, all offer great beaches, welcoming locals, and comfortable low-cost living."
The regional winners identified in International Living's 2021 Global Retirement Index include:
Top Pick in Latin America: Costa Rica
Given that Costa Rica is the overall leader of the Index this year, that also puts it in the position of best location in Latin America.
Costa Rica is a beautiful country, with long stretches of deserted and undeveloped beaches, dense jungles teeming with exotic wildlife, towering volcanoes, lush green valleys, and crystal-clear rivers and lakes.
It attracts many different types of expats, and all can find a place in its tolerant, welcoming society. "I left the U.S. in 2005," says Costa Rica expat Roni S. Cher. "I am an environmental and peace activist who has just had enough. I came to live a less stressful, gentler life growing a lot of my own organic food, being a hermit, and making art. I have been much happier here."
Roni's experience is a happy one, but maybe her lifestyle is more niche than the average Joe would choose. Hers is not the only way of life in Costa Rica, though.
For Lisa Burnham, originally from San Francisco, California, life in Costa Rica is the realization of a long-term dream. "Something kept bringing me back to Costa Rica for over 30 years, and now I have lived here as an expat full-time for three years," she says from her home in the beach town of Tamarindo.
"Life is thriving and abundant here, the commerce and culture is a wonderful eclectic mix of a global community that comes to visit, those who end up staying, and, of course, the ticos [locals]. After three years, the U.S. feels like a foreign land, and a truer sense of a happiness lifestyle that suits me better seems to have emerged. Life really is simpler here."
Beaches, lakes, valleys, urban amenities, and untracked wilderness--they're all packed into this small Central American nation. Not only that, but the country offers a warm climate year-round, a neighborly atmosphere, no-hassle residence programs, excellent healthcare, a stable democracy, and safety and security. It doesn't hurt that many retired couples report living well on $2,000 a month--and that includes all their costs.
It comes as no surprise to the overseas experts at International Living that Costa Rica is the top destination in Latin America--and the world--for 2021.
Top Pick in Europe: Portugal
"Since I have been living in Portugal," says Joann Arnold, who moved to the European country in 2017, "my health has improved greatly; no stress, no worries. I survive on my Social Security and my pension, and I have all I need: a beautiful place to retire, a low cost of living, and the food--fresh grilled fish, salad, and garlic potatoes--is delicious."
As Joann has found, with the lowest cost of living in Western Europe, an Old World retirement in Portugal is within most North American expats' means. Portugal, continental Europe's westernmost country, lies quietly in the shadow of the larger, more boisterous Spain. People are friendly and courteous. Family and friends are important, and people know their neighbors and the local shopkeepers. Ancient buildings look worn and lived-in, and quiet, cobbled lanes wind through seaside villages.
Quietly friendly, emphatically old-fashioned, and highly conscious of their illustrious history, the people of Portugal are what makes the country such a magical destination to retire to.
"One of Portugal's main advantages," says U.S. expat Rick Steffens, "is that it's very affordable, from daily groceries to property." Rick and his wife, Victoria, retired to the south coast of the country in 2016, after spending a year touring the country in search of the perfect spot to settle. "We currently rent a house with a roof terrace and ocean view in Ferragudo for $577 a month," says Rick. "Only a 10-minute walk from our doorstep, there are five different beaches to choose from. In the U.S., a property like that would quadruple the price. Same for medical insurance: in the U.S., we'd pay $400 per month, per person. Here, we've found great health insurance for both of us for $173 monthly."
With figures like that, it's easy to see why Portugal tops the chart as International Living's pick for a European retirement this year.
Top Pick in Southeast Asia: Malaysia
Malaysia offers an exciting mix of Asian exoticism, cutting-edge modernity, and the grand colonial opulence of the Victorian era from when it was a British colony. Beyond the lofty skyscrapers of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and the bustling expat community of Penang, its dramatic canvas is embroidered with tropical beaches, mountains, dense rainforest, and vivid green tea plantations.
Most people in Malaysia speak English; its healthcare is among the most modern and affordable in the world; property rentals cost a fraction of U.S. rates; and the standard of living (including tempting cuisine for as little as $5 for a restaurant meal) is simply luxurious.
The country scores an impressive 91 in this year's Cost of Living category, establishing it firmly as one of the most affordable overseas retirement locations in the world. With a cost of living that will allow a couple to live handsomely on $1,500 a month, most expats say there's no need to skimp on comforts (a housekeeper works for about $30 a day).
Situated bang in the center of Southeast Asia, Malaysia is the ideal base for trips to Thailand, Bali, Cambodia, or Vietnam. Getting back home for family visits is affordable, too. A round trip from Kuala Lumpur to Los Angeles costs as little as $455.
With temperatures averaging 82 F, mountain retreats, thousands of miles of coastline, untracked jungles, and chains of islands peppering the surrounding sea, Malaysia offers extraordinary natural surroundings. Plus, they come with top-quality healthcare at low prices. "When I damaged my knee playing tennis one evening, I was sitting in front of a world-class surgeon the following morning," says Keith Hockton, IL Malaysia Correspondent. "I had an MRI result within an hour, which cost just $73, and I had an operation to repair my meniscus the following day."