"Best Places in the World to Retire (Or Escape To), Part II"
by Daily Reckoning Contributor
"In the States today, most Americans are on the verge of retiring are much more likely to talk about their fears than their dreams. The cost of everything from healthcare to food is rising, while incomes, pensions and nest eggs are shrinking… or at least not growing nearly as much as expected — leaving baby boomers with fewer and fewer options for retirement at home. But all hope is not lost! If you look at the right places beyond our borders today, you’ll find you have more good choices than ever for a comfortable — even pampered — retirement. In any one of our “Top 19” havens for 2012, a lifestyle well beyond your reach in the States could be yours for pennies on the dollar.
In the 2012 Global Retirement Index we bring you the top choices available on the planet today. From beachfront hideaways to arts-rich colonial cities, from cosmopolitan capitals to small highland villages, there’s an overseas haven to fit your fantasy… and your budget. For our Retirement Index, we only measure the very best havens against one other. So the country last on our list is still the 19th best in the world. In each of our 2012 top retirement destinations, you’ll find thousands of ordinary folks who’ve not simply salvaged their retirements overseas… but upgraded them.
The Most Exciting Retirement Haven: Let’s get this out of the way…none of our picks are boring places, it’s just that some have more to offer than others in terms of the range of amenities and entertainment options to keep you busy. If variety is the spice of retired life, then Paris, Panama City, the expat communities of Mexico, Medellin in Colombia, and Bangkok, Thailand, should be top of your list. Here you’ll find something different every night… Choose from catching a concert, seeing a movie or eating out with friends for a fraction of the cost back home. “Thai food is amazing,” says Jason Gaspero, “But if you get tired of it, you can find restaurants with food from all over the world.” In Medellin’s El Poblado district you’ll find Japanese, French, seafood and Italian restaurants within a block of each other.
In Malaysia you’ll catch a movie in English for $4…before it comes out in the US. In Punta del Este, Uruguay, artists like Shakira don’t just perform there, they live there, too. If you love the sea, then Placencia and Amergris Caye in Belize, Roatan, Honduras, and Panama’s Caribbean Coast make sense. Scuba diving, fishing, sailing, kayaking and snorkelling, they’ve got it all. And if surfing is your passion, catch the best waves on Nicaragua and Costa Rica’s Pacific Coasts.
For foodies in love with culture, Spain and Italy offer a menu of delights unmatched anywhere else, even the smallest villages ooze history, and art is everywhere. You’ll find delicious three-course meals for less than $20 in both countries, too. Of course, you might be content with amazing new views, meeting friends down the boardwalk and a homecooked meal. “If you’re looking for exciting night clubs, Kentucky Fried Chicken, or a night at the opera, Bahia, Ecuador, is not for you. But for peace, simplicity, a dish of Pingüino ice cream, and soothing natural beauty, this is heaven,” says Patricia Farmer. “You would be hard-pressed to find such tranquility in any beach resort town in the US. Even the wealthiest people inhabiting fortress-like beach homes on the hills of Malibu have to spend much of their lives sitting in rush hour traffic, breathing in smog, and feeling the crush and pressures of a type-A culture.”
Healthcare in our Havens: In each of our 19 havens you’ll find first-class hospitals and clinics where care is second-to-none, and the staff are often US-trained. But while the care is similar to the US in many places, it’s a lot cheaper than back home. You’ll literally save thousands on procedures if you need them, and hundreds on prescriptions and doctors’ visits. For example, a visit to the doctor in Nicaragua is $15, in Panama its $10 and in France house calls are standard. In fact, in many of our choices, doctors put a value on the personal touch. “Our doctor in Nicaragua speaks English and we have his personal cell number for emergencies. Hard to imagine that happening in the US.” says Darrell Bushnell.
In many of our picks the public health care systems provide wonderful low-cost care. In Costa Rica, the public health care system, called the Caja, is part of a socialized medical system. Living in the Central Valley, Sharon and Lee Harris are members. “It provides economical and excellent medical care as well as prescriptions for only $40 per month for both of us. There is a Caja clinic in every neighborhood. There are also many excellent private hospitals in the Central Valley and state-run Caja hospitals in every province,” says Sharon.
The Ecuadorian government guarantees senior citizens access to free health care and medication and exemption from notary and registration fees. “All expats are able to participate in the Ecuador Social Security medical program,” explains Jack Moss who, with his wife Debbie, retired to Cotacachi two years ago. “The premium is about $57 a month, and there is no co-pay or deductible for physician visits, hospitalization, medications, or dental visits.” Even just living overseas can improve your health, as Lucky and Erin Ivy point out on page 11 of this issue. On the sandy beaches of Placencia, Belize, they found a stress-free life that means they sleep better, and feel healthier, than ever before.
The Best Retirement Infrastructure: These days, you can have a US phone number ring in your home overseas for less than $20 a year. Through online services like Skype, you can video chat with friends and family back home every day if you want to — for free. The world is more connected than ever, and that makes exploring it so much easier than it ever has been. Good Internet coverage is a necessity most expats today are reluctant to do without. In all our havens, rest assured: You can get online. Malaysia, Italy and France have higher levels of Internet penetration than other countries — but there’s access in all of them. Quality roads and good cell phone coverage matter, too. Now, you may not want to drive, and in that case, you’ll want access to a good public transport system.
In Paris, expat Jim Leavy says he’s delighted by the great public transportation…in Cotacachi, Ecuador, IL editors Dan Prescher and Suzan Haskins get by with taxis and buses. When the mood strikes, Patricia and Ron Farmer can explore the sandy beaches of the Ecuadorian coast by taxi — $35 for the whole day. And what about direct, cheap flights home to the US to visit family? You don’t even have to fly to get to Mexico; you can drive. It takes less time to fly from Houston to Quito or to Panama City than it does to fly from New York to Los Angeles.
The Best Climate: You’ll find lots of climate choice in our top retirement havens. Sharon Hiebing says she practically lives in tank tops and shorts now, and only occasionally needs a light jacket or close-toed shoes. Ever since her move to San Ignacio, Belize, Sharon has been enchanted by the climate. She’s not alone. Thousands of expats have turned in their snow shovels for good. In places where the weather is warm year-round, not only do you eliminate the need for heavy winter clothes, but you gain in quality of life. Better weather means you’re outside more. And that often translates to “healthier.” Plus it usually means lower utility bills, too. In Belize you’ll find an average temperature of 80 F, and it isn’t even one of our highest scoring havens in this category. Because pretty much all of our picks offer a perfect climate for part of the year, we concentrated on the ones that are the best year round.
But you could opt for the part-time strategy — capitalizing on good weather in different parts of the world. That’s what Kelly and Angela Grams do. They live lakeside in Canada May to September, then head south to their second home in warm-weather Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, October to December. Then every January to April they rent out their Mexican condo to cover their costs and spend those three months traveling.
How to Know You’re Safe Overseas: The expats living in each of our top havens report they feel safe. In fact, often they say they feel safer than they did back in the States. That’s not to say there’s no petty crime or that nothing bad ever happens. But just as you wouldn’t dismiss the idea of owning a condo on Chicago’s upscale Magnificent Mile because of the crime stats on that city’s south side…you shouldn’t reject a town we recommend in a country where you can retire well for less…because you remember hearing something about that nation being “dangerous.” Old stereotypes die hard. You’re best served by seeing a place for yourself. Talk to expats on the ground. See how comfortable you feel there. We predict: You’ll be pleasantly surprised.”