Housing

Top 10 Safest and Most Cost-Effective Retirement Destinations in 2024

Many countries outside the US offer affordable food and healthcare options, making it possible to afford luxuries such as a beachfront house. Discover the ten most cost-effective countries to retire in worldwide and start planning your journey with that one-way ticket.

C.E Larusso

C.E Larusso

Published July 16th, 2020

Updated November 27th, 2023

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

Cost of living is important, but you should also weigh culture, climate, and safety when deciding where to move abroad for retirement

All countries have very specific income and visa requirements for expats, so be sure to read the fine print on the consulate’s website

Portugal is our top pick for retirement abroad; the European country is inexpensive, beautiful, safe, and close to other desirable countries

Retiring abroad can provide you with the opportunity to stretch your retirement income, embrace a slower-paced lifestyle, and enrich your life by immersing yourself in a new culture and learning about it. Numerous countries outside the US offer affordable food and healthcare options, making it possible to afford luxuries such as a beachfront house. Discover the ten most cost-effective countries to retire in worldwide and start planning your journey with that one-way ticket.

Best places in the world to retire today

One of the main reasons you might choose to leave the US for another country during retirement is because your money can go a lot further—other countries might allow you to live on the beach, for instance, for half the cost as you would pay in America. Therefore, cost of living is our number one consideration here, while also taking into account quality of life, expat population, healthcare, and other factors. The countries on this list will allow you to stretch your retirement dollar very far, especially if you choose to live outside of a city.

Criteria for being the best destination for retirement

Every year, International Living compares a myriad of factors into what they call the Annual Global Retirement Index. They crunch numbers, compare facts, and speak with expats currently living in countries throughout five continents. They compare things like:

  • Cost of living
  • Climate
  • Political stability
  • Entertainment
  • Residency requirements
  • Ease of buying a property as an expat
  • Culture
  • How easy it is to meet and connect with others
  • Healthcare

You can also check the Global Peace Index (2020) to assess a country’s safety.

Inflation? Recession? No problem.

Download our new guide to help safeguard your retirement.
Recession Proof Your Retirement eBook

Top 10 Places to Retire for Expats

Without further ado, here is Retirable’s Top 10 safest and most cost-effective retirement destinations in 2024.

10. Vietnam

Vietnam

Median Home Price: $150–$250 per square foot

Average Rent: $400–$900

Average Monthly Expenses: $800–$1,000

Global Peace Index Ranking: #41

Income Requirements to Apply: There are no long term visas for Vietnam, so you will need to pay the $135 short-term visa fee every three months, plus travel costs as you will need to leave the country briefly every 90 days

Vietnam has a low cost of living, lovely beaches, and a rich cultural history. It’s easy to get around the country by train, bus, or bicycle. English is spoken by almost everyone, and people are warm and friendly.

Since Vietnam is right in the middle of Southeast Asia, it’s also easy to fly from Vietnam to anywhere in the world. Vietnam is booming and has one of the strongest economies in Asia.

There is no formal retirement visa in Vietnam, but Americans can apply for a visa to Vietnam through any Vietnamese embassy; approval usually takes anywhere from six months to a year. This allows you to stay in the country for three months at a time. After you have this visa, you can choose to continually renew your visa every three months or get an extension for an additional three months. The extensions are costly, so most people go with the renewal process, which requires that you leave the country for a short period of time every 90 days—you’ll need to factor in travel out of and back into the country into your yearly budget.

By renewing your visa, you are also avoiding permanent residency, which means that you won’t need to pay resident taxes. If your retirement income—pension, social security, etc.—come from the US, you won’t pay taxes in Vietnam, only on any income you earn in Vietnam.

One important detail about life in Vietnam: foreigners are restricted from owning land, except for certain condos in larger cities. You can lease land from the government for a maximum of 50 years, which should be enough to last you your retirement. Because of the complicated housing situation, many retirees opt to rent.

Find the nearest Vietnamese consulate office here.

9. France

France

Median Home Price: $450–$650 per square foot

Average Rent: $650–$800

Average Monthly Expenses: $1,000–$2,000

Global Peace Index Ranking: #67

Income Requirements to Apply: $1,848 per month

In addition to amazing food, France also has a temperate climate, great wine, and fantastic shopping. Universal healthcare is available to all residents, even if you’re an expat. Paris is a glittering capital city, with great art and culture. The French lead a more relaxed lifestyle than your typical American, which you’ll appreciate as a retiree. To stay in France longer than three months, you should apply for a long-stay visa and then apply for a residency permit within two or three months of your arrival in the country. This will allow you to live in France for up to a year. For the long-stay visa, you’ll need to prove you have adequate income, equivalent to about $1,848 per month. These figures correspond with France’s minimum wage. You will also need to show you have private health insurance and sign a declaration that you will not accept paid work while in France.

After you have your residency permit, you can use that for five years at which point you can apply for permanent residency.

Find the nearest French consulate office here.

8. Spain

Spain

Median Home Price: $200–$300 per square foot

Average Rent: $650–$850

Average Monthly Expenses: $800–$1,500

Global Peace Index Ranking: #32

Income Requirements to Apply: For one applicant, the annual income must equal at least $30,000.

Spain has a very low cost of living compared with the rest of Western Europe. They have a wider range of climates than you might think: there’s forests, mountains and beaches, where hiking, swimming, and skiing are possible. Spanish people are friendly, there are multiple international cities, and who can argue with the benefits of a late afternoon siesta? Because Spain has been in the European Union since 1985, those who are EU citizens will have no hurdles retiring there—there are no visas or residence permits required. But, as an American, you’ll need to get a Long-stay visa (visado nacionale) or a Residence Visa (visado residencia).

With the long-stay visa, you’ll need to live in Spain six months out of the year, and must renew it annually. With the residence visa, you won’t be allowed to work in the country and will need to prove you have adequate income to support yourself and any dependents. For one applicant, the annual income must equal at least $30,000. You will also need to show proof of private health insurance from a Spanish provider for the period of residence. The residency can be extended into permanent residency after five years.

Find the nearest Spanish consulate office here.

7. Malaysia

Malaysia

Median Home Price: $100–$175 per square foot

Average Rent: $250–$350

Average Monthly Expenses: $500–$1,000

Global Peace Index Ranking: #19

Income Requirements to Apply: Monthly income of at least RM10,000 ($2,350) from a government pension, or $34,883 in cash available to deposit into a Malaysian bank.

Malaysia is a beautiful country with over 800 islands to choose from and an average daily temperature of 82 degrees. Ancient rainforests, hiking trails, and a variety of water sports will keep you in good shape. And if something happens and you need medical care, health care in Malaysia is both affordable and efficient. The capital city, Kuala Lumpur, is less expensive than the already affordable Bangkok, and is a popular tourist destination—it’s a great place to live if you wish to settle down in a bustling international city.

Malaysia has a unique retirement visa called “Malaysia My Second Home,” or MM2H. This visa grants expats a 10-year multiple entry visa, which is automatically renewed at the end of the initial 10 years. To get the visa, you must be over 50 years of age and willing to deposit RM150,000 ($34,883) into a bank in Malaysia or be able to show you have a monthly income of RM10,000 ($2,350) from a government pension. You will also have to show you are in good health; there is a simple medical test when you arrive in the country.

Taxes are simple, too: only income earned in Malaysia is subject to taxes in the country, so your retirement benefits won’t suffer from double taxation. In addition, there are no inheritance taxes.

Malaysia has a website for more information about “Malaysia My Second Home,” with all application details.

6. Ecuador

Ecuador

Median Home Price: $100–$150 per square foot

Average Rent: $250–$350

Average Monthly Expenses: $500–$1,000

Global Peace Index Ranking: #97

Income Requirements to Apply: $1,275 per month

Tropical breezes, mountain ranges, and lush green valleys are all present in Ecuador. Rental properties are plentiful and affordable, and the climate makes heating and cooling costs almost nil. There are lots of expat communities, where you’ll feel right at home. The most popular city for expats is Cuenca, a UNESCO World Heritage site and former Inca capital. The city boasts lots of nighttime activities, from live music to dance clubs, as well as a low cost of living.

Ecuador has adopted the US dollar, which makes it easy to budget. The country also guarantees foreign residents the same rights as its citizens, so you’ll be able to save on healthcare and taxes. Retirees reap many additional benefits: discounted transportation, utilities, and entertainment tickets.

The minimum income requirement to qualify for Ecuador’s pensionado visa is $1,275 per month—this must be permanent income, coming from a source like a pension or social security. Income from rental properties or stocks are not accepted for this visa. After three years of residence, you can apply for Ecuadorian citizenship; dual citizenship is allowed, if you’d like to maintain your US citizenship.

Find the nearest Ecuadorian consulate office here.

5. Colombia

Colombia

Median Home Price: $100–$125 per square foot

Average Rent: $240–$290

Average Monthly Expenses: $500–$700

Global Peace Index Ranking: #140

Income Requirements to Apply: Monthly income of $717

The days of seeing Colombia as a haven for drugs and violence are long over, transforming Colombia as an up-and-coming spot for retirees to relocate. The climate is temperate, so no need for expensive heating and cooling costs, and Colombian people are warm and welcoming. The cost of living is low, and Colombian healthcare is excellent; several of the hospitals have been ranked some of the best in Latin America.. If bird watching is your thing, Colombia is home to 1958 species of birds. And of course, the coffee is amazing.

If you wish to stay in Colombia for more than 180 days in a calendar year, you will need a visa. The most common one for expat retirees is a Migrant pensionado visa, which requires proof that you have a minimum monthly income of $717 from Social Security. If you have a spouse, just one of you would need to apply; the other would be considered a dependent.

One thing to note: it’s very difficult to obtain a mortgage in Colombia, so you’d likely be renting or purchasing a home or condo outright, with cash. To qualify for a mortgage, you must have at least a few years of credit in Colombia and permanent residence status.

Find the nearest Colombian consulate office here.

4. Mexico

Mexico

Median Home Price: $90–$130 per square foot

Average Rent: $340–$550

Average Monthly Expenses: $600–$800

Global Peace Index Ranking: #136

Income Requirements to Apply: Proof of bank or investment accounts with a monthly balance of $181,968 for at least the past year, or monthly income from work, Social Security, or a pension of at least $4,549 after taxes over the past six months

If you want a low cost of living within easy proximity to the United States, consider retiring to Mexico. Stunning beaches, breathtaking mountain ranges, and sunburnt deserts are all part of the Mexican landscape. The cost of living is quite low; you can rent a two-bedroom home for about $750 U.S. dollars a month, and you can opt to live in a city, a smaller town, or somewhere more rural. The icing on the cake (no pun intended)? The food is delicious and inexpensive.

To receive a permanent resident visa, you’ll need to pay a visit to the closest Mexican consulate and:

  • Complete a visa application form
  • Pay the $48 application fee
  • Provide your US passport
  • Provide proof that you have maintained bank or investment accounts with a monthly balance of $181,968 for at least the past year, or that you have monthly income from work, Social Security, or a pension of at least $4,549 after taxes over the past six months

Once you establish Mexican residency, you can sign up for the national health care plan.

Be aware that parts of Mexico are under a travel advisory by the U.S. State Department. You should spend some time in the country before deciding where to live, and make sure that the areas you visit are considered relatively safe. Some places, such as Puerto Vallarta, are resort meccas filled with many expats to meet and become friends with.

Find the nearest Mexican consulate office here.

3. Costa Rica

Costa-Rica

Median Home Price: $120–$175 per square foot

Average Rent: $400–$600

Average Monthly Expenses: $800–$1,000

Global Peace Index Ranking: #39

Income Requirements to Apply: At least $1,000 monthly from a pension or retirement fund OR a current cash balance of $60,000 or a monthly income of $2,500 (consistent for two years)

Many people have dreamed of living on a tropical island, and that dream can become a reality by choosing to retire to Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a stunning country with miles and miles of white-sand beaches and affordable housing. The country is so peaceful that they disbanded the army in 1948, and the money went to education and healthcare. There’s plenty to do in Costa Rica, from soaking up the sun to surfing, horseback riding, golf, diving, and swimming—it’s easy to pursue an active lifestyle in Costa Rica.

There are three main avenues by which you can apply to get a residence visa in Costa Rica: the Pensionado Program, the Rentista Program, or the Inversionista Program. Here’s the key details to know about each:

  • Pensionado Program: Intended for retirees, you’ll need to show you have a monthly income of at least $1,000 from a pension or retirement fund, and can transfer these funds to a Costa Rican bank account.
  • Rentista Program: If you don’t have enough of a fixed retirement income, this program allows you to demonstrate that you have a current cash balance of at least $60,000 or a monthly income of at least $2,500 for two years.
  • Inversionista Program: Perhaps the most direct option of the three, a visa can be obtained so long as you immediately invest at least $200,000 in an approved Costa Rican business or property.

Costa Rica is also very tax-friendly to retirees. You won’t pay taxes on your Social Security benefits, pension, or other investment income; you’ll just need to file with the US.

Find the nearest Costa Rican consulate here.

2. Panama

Panama

Median Home Price: $120–$200 per square foot

Average Rent: $500–$800

Average Monthly Expenses: $750–$850

Global Peace Index Ranking: #68

Income Requirements to Apply: Proof of a pension or retirement payment granted for life, no matter your age, for a minimum of $1,000 per month

Panama is a gorgeous country, with mountains, beaches, and—if you’re not into nature—city life, too. It’s also very hospitable to expats, with an easy to obtain permanent residence permit available so long as you can show you have a pension or retirement payment granted for life, no matter your age, for a minimum of $1,000 per month. For couples, you will need to show an additional $250 per month in income.

This unique permit is called the Pensionado Visa, and it comes with additional benefits beyond residence: tax exemptions, discounted airline tickets, hotels, and entertainment, and much more. One big advantage of living in Panama is that the government doesn’t tax income earned outside of its borders. This is great news if you have retirement accounts in the U.S. and want to continue to invest. It’s also one of the safest countries in Latin America, with a much lower cost of living than the U.S.

Find the nearest Panamanian consulate in the US here.

1. Portugal

portugal

Median Home Price: $200–$300 per square foot

Average Rent: $650–$850

Average Monthly Expenses: $700–$900

Global Peace Index Ranking: #7

Income Requirements to Apply: $3,087 per month

Portugal is the third safest country in the world, and one of the least expensive countries in Europe to retire to. Retirees will enjoy a relaxed, appreciative culture and friendly people who are welcoming to those coming to live in their country; you can live the beach life in Algarve, drink wine in Porto, or experience a historic metropolis in Lisbon. English is spoken by most people, especially in the cities. Recent changes to the tax laws are particularly appealing to expats: if you qualify for Non-Habitual Residence status, you might be eligible to receive ten years of tax benefits when you retire to Portugal.

In order to move to Portugal, you will need a residence permit. Visit a nearby Portuguese consulate, complete the application, and provide the required documentation: your passport, proof of income, and evidence you have health insurance. The consulate will also require you to go through a background check. Your permit will be a temporary residence permit that allows you to live in Portugal for five years; after five years, you can apply for a permanent permit.

While Portugal taxes all income, including pension and retirement income from international sources, you can apply for NHR (Non-Habitual Residence) status. This applies to people who have not been tax-paying residents of POrtugal for the previous five years, and allows your income to be exempt from Portugal’s income tax for 10 years. To check whether you are eligible for NHR, talk to a financial advisor who has experience with international tax law.

Find the closest Portuguese consulate in the US here.

Want to retire abroad?

Discover what's possible with a FREE Retirable consultation.

Retiring Abroad Checklist

Before you set off on your international retirement journey, we've compiled everything you need to be prepared.

Check Visa and Residency Requirements

After you’ve chosen your dream retirement country, check visa and residency requirements, as they vary from country to country. Check with the state department’s Traveler’s checklist. Some countries require you to provide proof of assets and or income before they’ll let you settle there. Different countries may consider pensions, retirement accounts, or even overall net worth.

To get the required visa, you’ll likely need to visit a local embassy office. A list of US-based embassy and consulate offices can be found on each respective country’s embassy website. For instance, here is the website for Vietnam and here is the one for France. Not every metropolis will have an office for every country, so you may need to travel to access the closest one.

Research Safety Scores

Vision of Humanity publishes the Global Peace Index every year. They rank 163 territories and countries according to their levels of peacefulness.

You can also check the U.S. State Department to see if there are any travel advisories.

Political situations can change quickly, so keep an eye on the news as well.

Determine Rules of Foreign Ownership

Foreign countries also differ in their approach to expats trying to buy property. International Living has a country-by-country list of ownership and property requirements. They also recommend you contact a lawyer from the country you’re considering moving to, for guidance.

Organize your assets (and taxes)

Unless you give up your U.S. citizenship, you won’t have to give up your Social Security check. It might be a good idea to leave your retirement accounts and investments in the United States as well.

However, you’ll still have to file an income tax return with the IRS, and possibly with your new country. You should consult with a U.S. tax attorney before you go, to make sure you’ve got everything covered. Now that the internet is available everywhere, online banking is easy and convenient. Visa, Mastercard, and American Express are accepted everywhere as well, and they have the advantage of keeping a detailed list of expenses.

Prepare healthcare scenarios

Most U.S. health insurance companies will cover at least some portion of expenses if you’re traveling outside the U.S. However, if you live outside the U.S., they probably won’t cover you. And Medicare doesn’t move along with you, even though you’re still able to collect Social Security.

Some U.S. health insurers offer international health insurance--check with your insurer. The good news is that health care in many foreign countries is very affordable, and you may still end up paying less.

If you’re planning on spending some time in the U.S. even after you move, it might be worth holding on to your U.S. health insurance for situations that arise when you’re on U.S. soil.

Budget

How much do you want to spend on a property if you buy one? What's your vision as far as trips back to the United States to see friends and family? Cost of living may be cheaper in most of these countries but if you're making two or three international trips home to visit then you may not be saving as much as you thought.

Consider how much housing, travel, and other lifestyle considerations is going to cost, and whether or not it makes sense given your retirement income.

Citizen vs. Resident Status

Being a permanent resident is different from being a citizen. Most foreign countries are happy to let people from other countries retire there, especially if they bring assets with them. Escape Artist has a list of residency requirements and citizenship requirements for every country. The benefits of being a resident vs. becoming a citizen also vary from country to country.

Permanent residency is usually faster and easier. You can maintain your citizenship with the United States and apply for dual citizenship. You will still have to pay taxes with the IRS, even if you’re living in a foreign country. You can take the somewhat unusual step of relinquishing your citizenship, but keep in mind that such a step is permanent and irrevocable.

Bottom Line

There is a lot to consider if you’re thinking of pulling up stakes and retiring to a foreign country. Taxes, residency, health care, purchasing a home all come with paperwork and preparation. Get your questions answered with a Certified Financial PlannerⓇ to make your transition to your new country as smooth as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which country is safest to retire in?

According to the Global Peace Index, Iceland is the safest country. Other countries that made the top 10 include: Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, Austria, and Singapore. World politics are ever-changing, however, so it’s always wise to check if there are travel advisories before you visit a different country.

Which country is cheapest to retire in?

According to the cost of living index, Turkey, Morocco, and Malaysia are all among the cheapest countries to live. That said, you’ll want to weigh safety and other concerns in addition to cost of living. All of the countries on this list cost, on average, less than life in the United States, but of course you can live more extravagantly in Mexico than you can in France—but choosing which to retire in depends on your priorities and preferences.

Can I buy property when I retire in another country?

Each country has its own set of rules about who is and isn’t allowed to own property there. In many countries, even if foreigners are allowed to buy property, often it is very difficult to get a mortgage and is easier to rent. You should talk to a local attorney who is well-versed in property sales for expats.

Is there a retirement age requirement to retire abroad?

If you wish to receive your social security retirement benefits, you’ll need to be at retirement age in the US (age 62)—wait until you are at full retirement age to receive 100% of your benefits. The retirement age in other countries is different, but that doesn't’ have an impact on your ability to collect your US benefits. The two countries where US citizens cannot live and collect social security are Cuba and North Korea.

Retiring abroad could be in your future.

Let's build a plan with your goals in mind.
Income and expenses charts

Share this advice


C.E Larusso
C.E Larusso

A professional content writer, C.E. Larusso has written about all things home, finance, family, and wellness for a variety of publications, including Angi, HomeLight, Noodle, and Mimi. She is based in Los Angeles.

Best Places To Retire

Getting Started


Northeastern U.S. Best Places To Retire


Southern U.S. Best Places To Retire


Midwestern U.S. Best Places To Retire


Western U.S. Best Cities To Retire

Ad image

Recession-Proof Your Retirement

Download our guide to help safeguard your retirement from economic shifts.


Best Places To Retire

Getting Started


Northeastern U.S. Best Places To Retire


Southern U.S. Best Places To Retire


Midwestern U.S. Best Places To Retire


Western U.S. Best Cities To Retire


Share this advice


C.E Larusso
C.E Larusso

A professional content writer, C.E. Larusso has written about all things home, finance, family, and wellness for a variety of publications, including Angi, HomeLight, Noodle, and Mimi. She is based in Los Angeles.

Where Can You Afford?

Can you maintain your lifestyle through retirement? See how much monthly income to expect and how to make it last as long as you need.

personal-plan

Where Can You Afford?

Can you maintain your lifestyle through retirement? See how much monthly income to expect and how to make it last as long as you need.

personal-plan

Legal

Retirable, Inc. ('Retirable') is an SEC registered investment advisor. By using this website, you accept our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy. Retirable provides holistic retirement planning services, which are available only to residents of the United States. You must be at least 18 years of age to become a Retirable Premium user. Nothing on this website should be considered an offer, solicitation of an offer, or advice to buy or sell securities.

Investing involves risk and past performance is not indicative of future results. Increased spending increases the risk of depleting your savings and performance is not guaranteed. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any decisions based on your own personal circumstances.

For more information, see our Form ADV Part II and other disclosures.

Retirable is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services provided by Blue Ridge Bank N.A., Member FDIC. FDIC insurance is available for funds on deposit up to $250,000 through Blue Ridge Bank N.A., Member FDIC. The Retirable Visa® Debit Card is issued by Blue Ridge Bank N.A. pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted.

* Annual Percentage Yield (APY) of 5.12% is effective as of Aug 1, 2023. This is a variable rate and may change after the account is opened. Fees could affect earnings on the account.

** Refer to the fee schedule in your Consumer Deposit Account Agreement

© 2024 Retirable Inc. All rights reserved.

We're accredited and certified by

Legal

Retirable, Inc. ('Retirable') is an SEC registered investment advisor. By using this website, you accept our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy. Retirable provides holistic retirement planning services, which are available only to residents of the United States. You must be at least 18 years of age to become a Retirable Premium user. Nothing on this website should be considered an offer, solicitation of an offer, or advice to buy or sell securities.

Investing involves risk and past performance is not indicative of future results. Increased spending increases the risk of depleting your savings and performance is not guaranteed. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any decisions based on your own personal circumstances.

For more information, see our Form ADV Part II and other disclosures.

Retirable is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services provided by Blue Ridge Bank N.A., Member FDIC. FDIC insurance is available for funds on deposit up to $250,000 through Blue Ridge Bank N.A., Member FDIC. The Retirable Visa® Debit Card is issued by Blue Ridge Bank N.A. pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted.

* Annual Percentage Yield (APY) of 5.12% is effective as of Aug 1, 2023. This is a variable rate and may change after the account is opened. Fees could affect earnings on the account.

** Refer to the fee schedule in your Consumer Deposit Account Agreement

© 2024 Retirable Inc. All rights reserved.

We're accredited and certified by