It’s so amazing you might consider moving now and working remotely.
The cost of living in the United States continues to rise and the average monthly expenditures for a couple exceed $3,500. From college students to retirees, people struggle to afford a fulfilling lifestyle, so many US citizens are flocking to other, less expensive countries to live better lives for less.
Younger workers fear they may never have a chance to retire. Wages are flat while the cost of living is skyrocketing. There needs to be a better way.
Perhaps working remotely or retiring in another country. But which one?
You could pore through data on 200 countries, but don’t bother, I’ve narrowed it down to the absolute best — the Top Ten.
There are dozens of good quality sources of the best low-cost countries, so I thought a little science was in order. I performed a meta-review of articles — a scientific combination of multiple results to extract and identify the statistically best of all.
I used recent articles only and focused on those that included lower-cost living. I ignored articles that rehashed data from other articles, so a single popular study didn’t skew the results. Articles with lists that had no specific rankings were also ignored. I only counted countries that appeared across multiple articles so there were enough data points to be relevant. Finally, I took their rankings and entered them into a grid, calculated the mean, and stack ranked them in order.
The articles I reviewed use a variety of criteria beyond just price. They looked at diversity of nature, safety, healthcare, political stability, climate, warmth of the people, culture, activities, affinity for English, food, beaches, wines, and more.
Links to all the studies are listed at the end of this article.
Countries and their rankings
I found that the best low-cost countries for retirement living are clustered in four regions: The Mediterranean, the northeast coast of South America, Southeast Asia, and Central America.
Each region has its own unique characteristics that are attractive to expatriates, and so the list is organized by region, with 1–10 country rankings in parentheses. For example, Portugal is the 4th best country: “Portugal (#4)”
Image edits by Author
The Mediterranean is the northernmost of the low-cost-retirement regions, and generally falls lower in the top-10 rankings than other regions. Its climate is more varied and temperate than the others, but any region that includes the French Riviera is a prime destination in my book.
Spain (#10 tie)
France (#10 tie)
The fact that two captivating countries like Spain and France are at the bottom of the list is a testament to the quality of options available for cost-aware retirees. Even with stunning beaches, hot summers, and snow-covered alps, you’ll find the cost of living for retirees to be surprisingly affordable.
Now don’t run off and move to Nice or Barcelona. You’ll want to avoid the big cities and scout out some areas that are more reasonable. There are fine coastal towns and wonderful inland hamlets that combine low housing costs with a lifestyle and culture not too far removed from your own.
France and Spain are appealing for their rich history, diversity of nature, and relaxed pace of life. You’ll taste some of the world’s finest wines and foods in quaint cafés in small towns dripping with old-world character. Along the coast, your toes will tickle the silky sand while the 75-degree summer seas will tickle your fancy.
English is common but you may want to brush up on the local language to better fit in. The quality of healthcare in both France and Spain are reported to be among the best in the world, and both offer healthcare for permanent residents at affordable prices.
You’ll find the tiny Republic of Malta, an archipelago of three islands, about 50 miles south of the tip of Italy’s boot, in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea. It has a population of just over 500,000 squeezed into the tenth-smallest country in the world, just one quarter the size of Rhode Island.
Expatriates move here for two reasons: Low cost of living, and charm. They say the people of Malta are some of the friendliest in the world, and the streets, shops, and buildings are characteristically quaint.
The country has a fascinating history, predating the bronze age. Throughout the islands, you’ll find ancient architectural marvels, some of the oldest free-standing temples in the world, and of course warm beaches in protected lagoons.
English is spoken everywhere. In fact, it’s their second official language (after Maltese). Healthcare is affordable for permanent residents with insurance, and residency is easy to obtain. The local climate ranges from 50 to 90 degrees, averaging a pleasant 73 degrees. Urban areas tend to attract the affluent and are upscale and safe. But don’t expect to pay a fortune to live here, a typical lifestyle can cost less than $2,500 a month.
If you’re a traveler, this is a great central location for excursions to Greece, Tunisia, Italy, Israel, Egypt, and other low-cost retirement destinations like France, Spain, and Portugal.
Portugal is the highest-ranking retirement location in the Mediterranean region for good reason.
It’s a small country, about the size of Indiana, with a population of about 10 million. People there are warm and welcoming, as are the miles of golden beaches.
By far, Portugal has the lowest cost of living in this region, with the same benefits of fine wines and foods, wide-open lands with gently rolling hills, a wealth of fascinating history, and a casual laid-back pace.
Even the cities are affordable. You can retire in Lisbon or Porto — no car needed. The cost there is about one third less than living in the United States.
Like France and Spain can boast of the best healthcare in the world. And on top of that, Portugal is known for safety. English is taught in the schools, so you’ll be able to communicate most everywhere you go.
Much of South America has struggled with a reputation for political unrest and drug trafficking, but as Bob Dylan says, “The Times They Are a-Changin’”. In the northwest corner, where the Pacific meets the Caribbean, you’ll find two politically stable and safe retirement destinations you should definitely check out. They may not have shed all the violence, but they’ve made immense improvements and more expatriates are feeling comfortable building a life here.
Columbia is a land of geographic diversity. From the tips of the Andes mountains, through the jungles of the Amazon rain forest, to the warm beaches of the Caribbean and Pacific, you’ll have endless opportunities for exploration and adventure.
Cities like Bogota (at 8,675 feet high), Cali, and Medellín are well developed and sophisticated. You can live in the cities or move into the rural or coastal villages and live like a king for half the cost of the US.
Healthcare, like many of the nearby Spanish-speaking countries, is surprisingly advanced and shockingly inexpensive. You can pay out of pocket for most of your needs or get insurance coverage as a resident or visitor using one of many different available plans. Hospitals and clinics are plentiful and provide top-rated service.
Sharing Columbia’s southern border is Ecuador. It reaches into both the northern and southern hemispheres, which guarantees consistent 70–80 degree hot and humid temperatures year-round. Escape the heat with a dip in the Pacific from anywhere along 1,200 miles of beaches. Or cool off with a trip into the mountains that touch the sky at 20,564 feet.
According to International Living, Ecuador offers the lowest cost of living of any of the countries on the top-10 list. A month in retirement here could cost as little as $1,500. If you’re strapped for cash yet yearn for life in a tropical paradise, Ecuador is your place.
Spanish is the common language here, but many indigenous dialects are spoken as well. English is common in the larger cities but be sure to polish up your high school Spanish if you plan to travel outside the cities.
Ecuador is largely undiscovered, so be ready for an unhurried and unstructured pace of life. Enjoy a local cerveza with your chips and ceviche as you watch the surf and forget about the hectic life you left behind.
This region has one of the top retirement countries, Malaysia, and it also has the 11th highest ranking countries — Vietnam. Both of those were a surprise to me, but after some research, I understand and agree. I’ll be visiting this area soon, eager to see the beauty it has to offer in person.
Malaysia is a country of extremes, a mix of modern and traditional. From bustling cosmopolitan cities to ancient Islamic and Buddhist temples, it offers a smorgasbord of delights not found in most countries.
In the sprawling city of Kuala Lumpur, you can buy name-brand fashions and rent an upscale flat with a pool in a modern skyscraper for $750-$1,000 US. You can live very well on $2,500 a month. Prefer the beach? You can find ocean-view accommodations in scores of small towns for about the same. Inland costs are lower still, and you can enjoy hikes in the rain forest and foothills or explore the largest cave system in the world — the Mulu Caves.
Inland is where you can really save. For half the price of the cities you can rent a home in a village near the rain forest or the foothills.
Since it’s just a few clicks north of the equator, your heating and cooling bills will be minimal. The climate stays around 82 degrees all year long.
Healthcare is modern and efficient. Each year, a million foreigners travel to Malaysia to pay out-of-pocket for treatments and surgery at a small fraction of the cost they’d pay in the states. Legal residents enjoy high-quality universal healthcare at reasonable prices.
Malaysia is politically stable, clean, safe, and almost everyone speaks English (it was a former British colony).
The Central America region is the clear winner. The top three finishers all come from this region and their scores are separated by less than half a point — a virtual tie. They have a lot in common: They’re easy to access, offer a wide array of desirable amenities, and cost far less than a lifestyle up north.
Costa Rica (#1)
All three have national healthcare for legal residents, and the quality of care is superb, particularly in the larger cities. Access is widespread and costs for visits and checkups are so low, many people simply pay out of pocket. It’s not hard to find English speaking doctors — in fact, many were trained in the United States.
The cost of living is similar among these three, and an amazing bargain for those of us from the north. Living expenses range from as little as $1,500 a month in the outlying areas to $2,500 or more in the big cities and beachfront resorts.
Speaking of beaches, if you’re a sun seeker, seek no more. The number and type of beaches, surf, fishing, and water activities are endless. In Panama you can even swim in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea in the same day.
Spanish is the language of choice, but in the more populated areas you’ll have no trouble with English. Tourism is a primary source of income, so expatriates are welcomed with open arms.
Proximity to the United States is a major benefit. Hundreds of flights are available every day from major carriers, and the costs are quite reasonable. More than a million citizens from the US and Canada fly to Mexico for a few months at a time, often in the winter — “snowbirds” they call them. This community of friendly and welcoming expatriates will be a wonderful support structure for you as you assimilate into the local society.
The region has a rich and varied culture dating back thousands of years. Their festivals, traditions, and holidays are uniquely aligned with the local culture and people, who tend to be overjoyed when you join in with their celebrations.
All three countries are stable democracies with safe environments. High-speed internet is available at reasonable prices if you’re planning to work remotely.
There are so many reasons to consider remote living or retirement in Central America, but the name Costa Rica sums it all up: “Rich Coast.” And whether you choose to live in the richness of the coast, or the temperate beauty of the mountains, you can rest assured there is a perfect place just for you.
It’s hard to choose which of the three is best. So don’t! Take a trip to each one and spend some time. You don’t have to move in permanently to enjoy the low cost of their riches. Spend a week or a month. Or become a snowbird. You’ll be glad you did.
A top-10 list of anything is hard to prepare because we all have opinions and experiences that guide our preferences. This list was a compilation of multiple studies and opinions and I hope you enjoyed it and it brought you value.
Wherever you go, please be sure to be smart and be safe. There are plenty of bad actors in every paradise so be vigilant in your travels and plan ahead for contingencies.
Other countries that were highly regarded are:
Thailand in Southeast Asia. Peru in South America. Italy and Greece in the Mediterranean. New Zealand in Oceania. Nicaragua and Belize in Central America. Slovenia, Hungary and the Czech Republic in Eastern Europe.
Whether you’re looking to retire early, or just retire; whether you’re planning to work remotely or just relax; there’s a place for you at a cost you can afford.
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