How to Choose the Best Country for Your Overseas Retirement, Part II

It's a big world out thereLast week I wrote an installment about how to choose the best country for your overseas expat retirement. It’s a complicated process because there are so many factors that come into play.

I suggested you begin with some soul searching and serious conversation with your significant other if you have one. I listed a bunch of things to consider.

  • Climate
  • Geography (beach, mountain, other)
  • Big city, small town or something in between
  • Language
  • Proximity to your home country
  • Schools and childcare if you’re moving with young ones
  • Entertainment
  • Culture
  • Health care
  • An expat community

I favor quickly eliminating choices that are obviously not workable. Start with the items from the list that are unchangeable and you can’t do anything about.

Those are:

  1. Climate
  2. Language
  3. Proximity to your home country


Humans are very adaptable and can become accustomed to any climate. But an overseas move is challenging enough without adding a constant, daily dose of discomfort. That’s why I think it’s important to look at climate first.

As I mentioned in the previous article, if you wilt in the heat, you won’t be happy in the tropics. If your idea of heaven is to hit the ski slopes every day, don’t move to an island. If cold and snow are a problem for you, don’t pick anyplace that’s ever hosted the Winter Olympics.


Are you willing to learn a new language? If not, and if you have to be in an English-speaking country, your choices are whittled down pretty fast. You can look at:

  • Belize
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Malta
  • US
  • UK
  • Canada
  • South Africa
  • India

If you’re a bit more flexible, most of Europe opens up to you as plenty of Europeans speak English. You can also add Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines to your list.

If you’re willing to learn another language, you can look at Latin American countries and most of Asia.

Proximity to your Home Country

Do you have family or other close ties in your home country? How important is it that you be able to travel back there frequently or rapidly? How many hours travel time is acceptable? Is it likely you’ll need to return on an emergency basis?

If you have grown children who are starting families, or if you have aging parents, there’s a strong likelihood that you’ll need to rush back at some point. Will you be able to do that if you’re on the other side of the world?

Quality of Life

When you start the process of deciding on the best country for your overseas retirement, what you’re really doing is deciding on your quality of life. Climate, the language of the people, and distance from home are three very important factors that you can’t change. That’s why I think it’s important to consider them first.

Now that you’ve shortened your list of possible countries, it’s time to research some additional quality of life issues.

“Quality of Life” is very subjective. Lots of organizations create indexes of countries or cities with the best/worst quality of life. They do it using a set of metrics — criteria which they attach a mathematical value to.

Unfortunately, their criteria might not match yours — the climate they give high marks to might be something you dislike, for example — so it’s always best to take these indexes with a grain of salt. It’s still worth looking at them, though, because they can spark lots of ideas.

Here are a few to look at quality of life metrics:

Expat Explorer
International Living’s 2011 Quality of Life Report
18 Best Places to Retire Overseas
Best Places to Retire, Do Business and Live Overseas


The state of your finances also has a big impact on quality of life.

At some point you’ll have to dig deep into your financial situation. Even if you’re not ready to do that yet, you should have an idea of whether you need to look at budget destinations or can afford a more upscale location.

Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as a budget for an entire country. The cost of living in New York is significantly higher than the cost of living in a small midwestern town. Panama City is more expensive than a small town in the interior. Paris is pricey, but parts of France can be surprisingly affordable.

The Best Tool I’ve Found

There’s an excellent tool I’ve found for helping you through the entire process of moving abroad. It walks you, step by step, through all the major decisions you need to make, including your choice of location. I’ve written about it here and here.

It’s called 52 Days to Your New Life Overseas, and it was written by Kathleen Peddicord, an expat with over 25 years experience advising people on how to retire overseas.

Every day you get an email with information and an assignment to complete. Kathleen suggests you budget about an hour a day to work on it.

You can take longer than 52 days — I certainly did! But if you’re serious about your plans to live overseas, it can save you a lot of time and money.

Find out more about it here (aff).

This is the second of a three-part series of articles.

photo by JoeLodge on flickr


  1. Nicely written 2-part article, Susanna!
    On paper, a destination maybe the best candidate for retirement (or expatriation for that matter) but there is nothing better than travelling to the place and taking a trial run to see if it really ticks all the boxes… and even though it does, there is still no guarantee. So really, one needs to be open minded and accept the challenge (small or big)!
    I seem to remember that you had visited Panama quite a few times before deciding to move there, right?

    • Thanks, Sabine 🙂

      Actually, we visited Panama one time. Because our finances were so badly devastated by the US financial meltdown, we didn’t have the luxury of making multiple trips. If you can afford it, though, it’s a better way to handle the process.

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