The 7 Best Places in the World to Retire on a Budget
There has been a wave of retirees going abroad to enjoy beautiful locations, a new culture, and lower living expenses. In some cases, early retirement is possible thanks to a manageable cost of living and working opportunities to stay active the new communities. Perhaps one of these locations can be exactly what you need.
What’s the best place to retire in the world on a budget? That’s a great question. It’s kind of magical to think that you could retire anywhere in the world.
Ditch the 9-to-5 and take long vacations or spend lazy days on a tropical beach. Depending on where you’re looking to go, that life can come sooner than you might realize.
There has been a wave of retirees going abroad to enjoy beautiful locations, a new culture, and lower living expenses. In some cases, early retirement is possible thanks to a manageable cost of living and working opportunities to stay active the new communities.
What are you looking for in your ideal retirement? Perhaps one of these locations can be exactly what you need.
The 7 Best Places to Retire in the World on a Budget
Portugal consistently ranks near the top of the safest and most affordable places to retire. It is difficult to go wrong in a country with an expansive shoreline, great seafood, and even better wine. The cost of living doesn’t hurt either.
With living and transportation costs lower than in much of western Europe, you can enjoy all of Portugal or even cross the border and enjoy Spain (another country with a low cost of living).
Portugal may be especially ideal if you love sailing. It’s a well-known location for the quality of its sailing opportunities and a range of weather for calm sailing or a more significant challenge depending on your desire.
2. Costa Rica
If you’re looking forward to the retirement dream of a life on beaches with warm weather, Costa Rica might just be the best place to retire in the world on a budget. Even better, you get this dream package along with an incredibly affordable cost of living.
A Costa Rican life will prove enjoyable whether you like to stay active or prefer a slower-paced life. Ziplining, jungle hiking, and whitewater rafting can help keep the adrenaline high if you’ve got the energy for it, but, of course, there is nothing like a tropical beach for relaxing.
All of this can be yours at minimal costs. Rent is sometimes as low as $500 a month. The fantastic food comes at a low cost as well. With tropical fruits native to the area, you’ll find juicy delights across the island and plenty of restaurants with entire meals well under $10.
Leave your savings alone. You can find work teaching English in Taiwan and earn plenty to support your living expenses and then some. Best of all, you can do this while working only 20 hours a week. What’s more, by working for a school in Taiwan, you gain access to Taiwanese healthcare, which is widely considered some of the best healthcare in the world.
Of course, if you’re not interested in working in your retirement, you can do fine without earning an income. The country is known for its night markets, where almost every town features its own light-up street shopping with delicious arrays of food at incredibly affordable prices. Many foreigners are surprised to come to Taiwan and find they can eat out three meals a day without hurting their bank account.
Working in Taiwan will earn you an Alien Resident Card. Spending five years with the same employer makes you eligible for a Permanent Alien Resident Card where you can come and go as you please just like a regular citizen (without the voting rights).
If adventurous living is a part of your retirement dreams you may want to consider retiring in Ecuador, which offers you access to Pacific Ocean beaches, the Andes mountains, Amazon rainforest and Galapagos National Park. Frequently lauded as one of the most affordable places to retire in the Americas, there are Ecuadorian cities where you can retire on a $1,000 monthly budget.
In the city of Cuenca, a former Inca capital, you’ll find thousands of expat retirees from the U.S., Canada and Europe, all enjoying a vibrant after-hours life. Music, theater, dance clubs, shows and a symphony orchestra are just a handful of your entertainment options. Couple that with mild weather due to the city’s high elevation and an affordable cost of living and it’s no wonder that Cuenca is a popular destination.
If you plan on returning to the U.S. on a regular basis or frequently traveling, you may want to consider Quito or Guayaquil which offer direct flights to the U.S. Quito, the highest-elevation capital in the world, offers a more cosmopolitan lifestyle, with shopping, nightlife and a variety of five-star restaurants.
If you’re more concerned with catching rays than catching flights, then Salinas might be an ideal destination for you. Sometimes referred to as “little Miami,” Salinas is a popular destination for tourists and retirees alike. Because it’s a travel destination you’ll find plenty of restaurants, bars, and other tourist-oriented services with seasonality that offers a significant change of pace each year.
It’s also relatively simple to obtain a visa in Ecuador as their Pensioner Visa program currently requires that you have a minimum income of $800 per month from a stable income source and they offer a number of other visa programs that can allow you to establish temporary residency for the 21 months required to obtain a permanent visa. You can even become a citizen after only three years of residency.
Ecuador also offers affordable health care and a number of benefits for residents that are 65 or older, such as discounted bus tickets and airfare, a value-added tax refund, and free landline telephone service.
For retirees looking for affordable beach living, Malaysia is an ideal retirement destination. With 878 islands, most of which are uninhabited, you could spend your golden years island hopping and likely not visit every single one.
The cost of living is almost 50% lower than that of the U.S. with rents, on average, 70% lower than their U.S. equivalent. American and European expats often choose the island of Penang on the country’s west coast where you can spend your retirement years in a three-bedroom condo overlooking the ocean on a monthly budget of only $2,500.
Because Malaysia was previously colonized by the British, the medical system adheres to Western standards and many of the doctors speak English. An initial visit with a doctor can cost as low as $20 and private hospitals are government subsidized which makes even emergency care affordable.
Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, boasts modern skyscrapers and colonial architecture as well as all the trappings you’d expect from a large city. You’ll find theme parks, aquariums, and a wide variety of shopping and dining, including the city’s Central Market, where artists sell handcrafted goods like those you’d find in New York’s SoHo.
The visa process in Malaysia is relatively simple but does require that you apply to the Department of Immigration through the Malaysian Representative Office for advance approval. Alternatively (or if you’d like to put a toe in the water before taking the plunge), American citizens can visit Malaysia and receive a three-month visa on arrival.
If you plan on frequent international travel or want to spend most of your time with friends or family in the U.S. but are still interested in retiring abroad, Belize offers one of the best retirement options in the world. Belize’s Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) Program requires that you spend one month each year in Belize and have $2,000 of monthly income that you can deposit. Alternatively, if your savings are in a 401k plan, the Belize Tourist Board may accept a single $24,000 deposit per year with a local or offshore bank in Belize.
Anyone over the age of 45 is free to apply for the QRP Program, and once approved, you’ll be able to come and go as you please. Belize also offers a simple permanent resident program. When you arrive, you’ll receive a 30-day tourist visa which can be renewed every 30 days for up to 12 months at a cost of $25 for the first six months and $50 for the next. After that, you can apply for permanent residency which will allow you to live and work in Belize for life.
Life in Belize is full of white sand beaches, coral reef, Mayan ruins and rain forests and offers a safe small-town feel. There’s no need to learn a second language as everyone speaks English and the cost of living is very affordable compared to U.S. standards.
In Ambergris Caye, which is one of the most expensive destinations in the country, you can find apartments for about $1,000 per month with three- and four-bedroom beach homes closer to $2,000 - $3,500. If you’re looking for more affordable options, a one-bedroom home on the water in Placencia can be had for as little as $1,000 each month and rents are even lower in Cayo, where a two-bedroom home can be had for close to $300 each month.
Belizeans have a zest for simple life lived to its fullest. This means frequent festivals, music and parties that last into the early morning.
While Malta may be coming in at number seven on the list, it’s a destination that offers everything a globetrotting retiree could want. You’ll find Mediterranean swimming and island-hopping, a safe and secure lifestyle, proximity to continental Europe and an excellent healthcare system with an affordable cost of living. Plus, English is one of the official languages!
If you’re not planning on working abroad, Malta offers a very simple permanent residence visa that requires either a net worth of $40,000 or an annual income of just over $26,000. Once you go through an interview and open a Maltese bank account you must either purchase a home worth at least $132,000, an apartment worth $79,000 or pay at least $4,700 in annual rent.
There are four expat visa options, but for U.S. retirees the permanent residence visa or the Global Residency Program are the most viable. With the Global Residency Program, you must have a stable income, full international medical insurance coverage, and be in good health. Unfortunately, with the Global Residency Program, you may not stay in any Maltese jurisdiction for more than 183 days per year.
Once you meet either of those visa program requirements, you’ll enjoy an average of 3,000 hours of sunshine per year and year-round outdoor activities. The Maltese transportation system is excellent and inexpensive, making it easy to get around the island without a car, especially near the coast.
The cost of living is also relatively affordable, with many retirees living on budgets of less than $2,500 per month (the cost of a one-bedroom seaside apartment is typically around $800 each month). In Malta, your daily expenses can be fairly minimal, especially if you choose to forego a car, as a loaf of bread can cost as little as 35 cents and a nice, mid-range restaurant meal for two can cost about $50 (wine included).
Although Malta is the smallest country in the European Union, it offers a rich history, from 16th-century Valletta to the island’s hundreds of baroque churches. You’ll also find dozens of festivals each year, many of which have been celebrated for generations.
Your retirement destination options are bountiful. There are plenty of places to escape for an early retirement if you’re willing to make the trip. These locations are only the beginning of the list. They rank among the best in safety and low cost of living, but they aren’t alone. They just might make your dream retirement closer than you ever imagined.