International Living has published its list The World’s Best Places to Retire in 2020, listing the top 10 places where you can quit your job and live abroad today, of places so cheap you might be able to stop working.
The list by International Living, which releases an Annual Global Retirement Index of the top places to retire, is not limited to retirees: It’s also for people who want to relocate to a place where the cost of living is much cheaper than in the United States, “so cheap, in fact, that you might not have to work”, and/or invest.
International Living’s editors, in preparing its Annual Global Retirement Index, systematically gather and sift through the wealth of opportunity the world offers, comparing, contrasting, ranking and rating their findings to help potential expats pinpoint the best-value destinations around the world.
“We strive to create an Index that provides the most accurate—and useful—insights for readers,” says International Living’s executive editor Jennifer Stevens. “There’s no one-size-fits-all destination, but by gathering insights and specific data from our correspondents around the world, we’re able to compare apples-to-apples and create a snapshot of what each of the 24 countries we rank has to offer across categories like Cost of Living, Healthcare, Visas and Residence and more.”
International Living editors refine their methodology each year. “We tweak the Index each year to make our comparisons more helpful to potential expats,” says Stevens. The climate category, for instance, now favors places that offer a variety of options.
Another change is in the Cost of Living category, creating an entirely new category for “housing, which combines buying and renting, which now makes it easier to compare day-to-day living costs,” says Stevens.
Who tops the list for the best—and cheapest—place to live in 2020?
“It’s the best-value destination in western Europe today,” says Stevens of Portugal. “A place where not only do dollars really stretch but where the quality of life is high, healthcare is excellent and low-cost, the pace is slow and pleasant and the populace is unendingly welcoming.”
Costa Rica is ranked in 3rd place, continuing to be a top contender year after years on the list of countries for International Living’s Retirement Index. There’s a dozen microclimates, abundant nature, warm locals, a straightforward residency process, plus pioneers who have already paved the way.
In 2020, Costa Rica celebrates 72 years without an army, abolishing its military in 1948. The World Health Organization ranks Costa Rica as having the best health care system in Central America and 36th best in the world.
Following is our summary of the lowdown on the 10 cheapest places to live in 2020.
One of the world’s friendliest, easiest and safest countries, Portugal tops the International Living Index for 2020. Adding to Portugal’s appeal are its gracious people, attractive beaches, brilliant sunshine and rich culture.
Whether you’re looking for fine museums, hiking paths, surfing beaches, ancient ruins or places to polish your golf game, it’s easy to find it in Portugal. In most regions of Portugal, there’s a pleasant climate year-round. Want an urban lifestyle? Check out Lisbon—the oldest city in Western Europe—or Porto, the second largest metropolitan area.
Portugal is one of Western Europe’s most affordable countries, and expats typically find that their expenses are about a third of what they would be in the States. In the capital city of Lisbon, a couple can live comfortably on about $2,200 a month—and it’s much less for a single person. In smaller cities and in the country’s interior, a couple’s budget will be about $1,700 a month.
Panama is warm and tropical. The currency is the U.S. dollar. The tax burden is low. There’s a large English-speaking population—including excellent doctors. It lies completely outside the hurricane belt. High-speed internet and cell coverage are remarkable, as is the power, air and water quality. And the country’s famed Pensionado—which provides easy residency to expats—is one of the best retiree programs in the world today and it’s open to everyone.
Panama is about the size of South Carolina and has mountains, beaches and cities within an easy striking distance—no matter where you go. Most people are attracted to the cosmopolitan capital, Panama City, but the well-maintained Pan-American Highway runs the length of the country, making it easy to get around.
In Panama City, a couple can live on a monthly budget of as little as $1,700. A single could shave about 20-30% off those numbers. Leave Panama City and costs are even more affordable.
3. Costa Rica
“Costa Rica continues to be a top contender year after years on the list of countries for International Living’s Retirement Index,” says Kathleen Evans, International Living’s Costa Rica correspondent. “There are so many reasons to love this stunningly beautiful Central American gem.” There’s affordable medical care, a dozen microclimates, abundant nature, warm locals, a straightforward residency process, plus pioneers who have already paved the way.
This year, the country celebrates 72 years since the abolishment of the army, making it the largest democracy without a military force.
Costa Rica is about the size of West Virginia, but it has a wide variety of landscapes and climates. Choose from rainforests, seaside villages and mountain towns. In the capital of San Jose, the capital, and the surrounding Central Valley you’ll find a temperate “eternal spring” climate. Guanacaste is known for its dry, hot beaches. Around the pristine Lake Arenal, expats live in the hills with lake views.
In the Central Valley (San Jose metropolitan area) —home to about two-thirds of Costa Rica’s population—a single person can live on between $1,500 and $1,800 a month Many couples report living well on $2,000 a month—including all their costs, but that amount can go down to $1,585, depending on where you live and how you spent your budget.
Life here is simple. There’s high-quality healthcare, stunning beaches, a vibrant life and culture and a low cost of living. The country has something for everyone: beautiful, warm oceans, crystal-clear tropical lakes, fertile farmlands, temperate-but-majestic mountains, starkly gorgeous deserts, small towns or sophisticated cities. And it’s quite easy to fit in.
“The cost of living is notoriously low,” says Don Murray, International Living’s Riviera Maya correspondent. “In fact, there are many places in the country where a wonderful life can be had for the price of one monthly Social Security check and this improves even more when you figure the normally favorable exchange rate from dollars to pesos.” A couple can live in Mexico for $1,500 to $3,000 a month, depending on the location—including rent and healthcare.
Colombia, for the last several years it has ranked highly in the retirement index thanks to its lower cost of living, stunning scenery, world-class healthcare, close proximity to the U.S. and the warm, welcoming Colombian people. As the expression goes: you don’t just meet a Colombian: You meet the entire family.
One of the major draws to this beautiful country is its climate. Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, meaning you can find whatever climate you desire—there is something for everyone.” Warm and tropical on the Caribbean coast, eternal spring in the lower Andes mountains, and even cooler in the upper mountains. Sitting just above the equator, Colombia has the same climate all year long. So whichever climate you choose, you will enjoy it in January, July or October.
Things are much cheaper here than in the US. You can go out and have a nice breakfast or lunch for $4 or a nice dinner for $8. Getting a retirement visa to live in Colombia is also quite easy. The cost of living is 60% less than it was living in a small city in Maine. Think $1,400 to $2000 a month for a couple, even less for a single person.
The weather is spring-like, there’s no need for a car, and rents are an affordable $500 for a nice condo overlooking the historic downtown. Ecuador scores well in the Benefits/Discounts and Cost of Living categories.
Whatever you want—small village life, big-city conveniences—you’ll find it in Ecuador. Lush, green hills and fertile valleys are the norm. There are beaches that are warm but rarely muggy (and no hurricanes or tropical storms). There are temperate climates in the Andes where you do not need a heating or cooling system.
Ecuador is good for your pocket. For instance, in Cuenca, a frugal single person can get by on less than $1,000 per month. A two-bedroom, two-bath condo in downtown Cuenca rents for just $500 a month.
Malaysia—a popular expat destination since the late 1960s—is known for its idyllic beaches, seductive islands and some of the most pristine ancient rainforests in Southeast Asia. Expats can own property freehold, there is no inheritance tax and Malaysia places no tax on income earned overseas.
If white-sand beaches are your dream, you have more than 878 islands to choose from here. Known as a foodie haven, Penang’s largest city, George Town, is home to eclectic architecture, a vibrant art scene and the best street food in the world.
In Penang, a couple can live comfortably on $1,455 a month, including rent.
Spain has the highest living standards—and for a lot less than in the US. “There’s no question of having to give up anything in living here. In fact, you’ll gain a lot,” says Marsha Scarbrough, International Living’s Spain correspondent.
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. Spain has a surprising range of climates: hot and dry in the south and cool and mild in the north (Navarre, Cantabria, Asturias, Galicia and the Basque country have forests, mountains, stunning coastline and food to die for).
Spain has one of the lowest costs of living in Western Europe. Even in Madrid, one of the most expensive locations, you can live (modestly) on $2,000 a month. Rent is cheaper than the US, and living in a city you don’t need a car—which is a huge saving. Because of the warm climate, many basic food items are inexpensive here.
France has all the ingredients: 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.
In the Languedoc-Rousillon, you’ll find a warm climate year-round, delightful medieval villages, white-sand beaches and prices that are still reasonable. If you prefer a cooler climate, look to charming Normandy, just two hours from Paris.
One of the best things about living in France is the excellent healthcare system: Universal coverage is guaranteed to all residents (expat and otherwise) after three months, and healthcare prices are rock bottom. How much you spend on living costs in France depends on your own lifestyle. A couple can live on a budget of $2,000 to $2,500—it’ll be less if you’re single.
Modern cities, ancient historic sites, uncrowded beaches, some of the most welcoming people in the world and one of the strongest economies in Asia—this is Vietnam. Vietnam’s exceptionally low cost of living is a major incentive. It’s also an easy place to live, with English widely spoken.
“In urban areas, skyscrapers are popping up like dandelions, and motorbikes and automobiles outnumber cyclos and bicycles,” says Wendy Justice, International Living’s Southeast Asia correspondent.
Even in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, a couple can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle for less than $1,100 per month, but many Westerners get by on around $500 per month for a no-frills lifestyle. If you live outside of Vietnam’s two largest cities, a budget of around $800 to $1,000 per month will provide a lovely house or apartment, all utilities, housekeeping, groceries, dining out every day if you choose, and even the occasional massage. 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.
For complete coverage of The World’s Best Places to Retire in 2020, visit the International Living website.