Top 10 Spots to Retire Overseas in 2011

Quito, EcuadorEvery year International Living publishes its list of the top ten retirement havens. They’ve just sent out their September issue, and it includes their take on the best spots in the world to retire.

I’ve been known to take issue with their findings in the past (for example, in their 2011 Quality of Life list). This time, though, they’ve come up with a list that makes a lot of sense.

Of course, any time you’re relying on number crunching, your results depend on what you feel is most important. Here’s how IL weighted their results:

  • Real Estate, 15%, with top marks going to the least expensive locales
  • Special Benefits, 20%. This category includes governmental benefits for retirees like discounts, duty free imports and property tax rates.
  • Cost of Living, 20%, with a higher score indicating a lower cost of living
  • Culture, 10%, includes factors like literacy rates, number of UNESCO sites, and a “subjective rating of the variety of cultural and recreational offerings.”
  • Health Care, 20%, includes an individual’s health care costs and the quality of health care available
  • Infrastructure, 5%, including transportation and technology (internet and cell phone availability and usage)
  • Safety and Stability, 5%
  • Climate, 5% gives highest marks to countries with temperate climates and low risk of natural disaster (hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.)

What does this mean for you? If your idea of the ideal climate is one where you can ski nine months out of the year, or if you prefer to live where it’s hot and humid, you may not like their picks. So keep your own preferences in mind as you read. . .

International Living’s Ten Best Countries to Retire in 2011

#1. Ecuador

IL loves Ecuador, and it’s no surprise it tops their retirement index again this year. With super-low real estate costs (they gave it 100 on that score), good special benefits, a nice climate and low cost of living it’s a great bargain. The country also scored well on culture, although at 26 their infrastructure leaves much to be desired.

#2. Mexico

Only one country scored higher on climate, while Mexico came in at 93 in the culture category, lagging only behind France, Italy and Spain. Cost of real estate and living are low, and the country offers good special benefits to retirees.

#3. Panama

Panama beat out the competition in the special benefits category, with its well known pensionado visa offering significant discounts in travel, health care and more mundane purchases, and granting full-time residency to retirees who can prove $1,000 monthly guaranteed pension income. Real estate is inexpensive, the cost of living is relatively low, and health care is good. The climate, hot and humid throughout most of the country, lost it some points.

#4. Spain

Spain, along with the next three countries, scored 100 in the safety and stability category, 92 in health, and well enough in the others to put it in fourth place.

#5. New Zealand

Safety and stability, health, cost of real estate and culture accound for New Zealand’s fifth place position. Sadly, you can’t get a permanent visa here as a retiree so unless you qualify in some other way you’ll only be able to enjoy their beaches, beautiful mountains and quality of life for part of the year.

#6. France

France is the only country on the list to score 100 in multiple categories — culture, health and safety and stability. Climate was rated 88, but the cost of living there is quite a bit higher than the first five countries.

#7. Uruguay

Little Uruguay, nestled between Argentina and Brazil with its mild four-season climate, made an excellent showing, scoring 94 in both real estate and climate.

#8. Costa Rica

Despite big increases in real estate costs in Costa Rica in recent years, it scored a very good 95 in that category. An infrastructure score of only 29, however, dragged it down.

#9. Malta

International Living gave Malta a perfect climate score of 100. Not familiar with this Mediterranean island country? Read more about it here. The country scores high marks for culture and safety and stability, and boast no property taxes.

#10. Italy

Italy’s cost of living and real estate are a bit higher than the European countries that scored better in the list. Climate, culture, health and safety and stability are all top notch.

Read International Living’s article and outline of their selection criteria here. You can also see some real-life budgets of expats in Ecuador here.

If you haven’t discovered it yet, International Living is a glossy monthly publication that’s been delivering quality information since 1979. While I often find the intensity of their rose-colored glasses to be too much for me, they do provide interesting, factual information and are a good starting point for anyone considering moving abroad. You can get more information here.

Have you picked out your retirement destination yet? What’s your top choice, and what do you find most appealing about it?


  1. Shouldn’t the current severe violent crime wave and kidnappings in Mexico have more of an impact? I understand there are risks everywhere and the violence is more pronounced against rival gang members but it seems to me the rating is out of touch. Then again, maybe I am out of touch.

    • John, not having lived in Mexico I can’t personally answer to that. From what I understand, though, talking with folks who live and visit there, it’s not nearly as bad as the US media would have us believe. Also, I’m told that unless you’re actively involved in the drug trade, there’s not a problem when you exercise common sense.

      I live in Orlando, FL. There’s one part of town, about 10 miles away from me, that became the site of a lot of drug-related violence a couple of years ago. I never think about it, except to avoid that area, I don’t worry about where I live. I suspect it’s similar there. Every US city has its neighborhoods that prudent people avoid.

      That said, my husband and I took Mexico off our shortlist, not because of our concerns but because some of our family were freaking out about it. . .

  2. Lists like these are just useless. Maybe even worse than useless. Regarding Mexico and Panama. Both are great places BUT they are expensive. They are not cheap. Maybe 20 or 30 years ago they were cheap or if you plan on being homeless but they are not cheap. Rent is high in both nations. But if someone has the money then they are great options. Cant beat the weather the food and the women! Again this list is lame.

    • Like anything else, it depends on where in the country you’re looking. Panama City or Mexico City? Sure, they’re big metro areas and rents will be higher than other parts of the country. It also depends on your definition of “cheap” and “expensive.” Renting a house for $150-200/month in a small town in Panama seems pretty cheap to me, and it’s quite possible. Maybe a $3,000 monthly rent seems cheap to someone else. . . Do you base the cost of living in the US solely on what it costs to live in New York?

      I’d also like to point out there’s more under consideration in this list than just cost of living.

      Where do you live now? Do you consider it cheap?

  3. This is a great list and thanks for publishing it! It’s nice to see my adopted country at #5: New Zealand. Auckland and Wellington always have high ranks as the ‘Most Liveable Cities.’ It has a great laid-back lifestyle and I’m in no hurry to rush back to the US 🙂 It is expensive to live here but you get a lot back so it balances out.

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