The Cheapest Places to Retire: Five Towns Where You Can Live Better For Less


By International Living

At home, prices are rising. It costs more to put gas in the car, buy groceries, and pay for health insurance. At the same time, retirement savings eroded in the market downturn.

If you’re looking overseas for a low-cost alternative to an uncertain retirement at home, there’s good news. You can find it in places that offer not just “cheap” living, but a whole basketful of benefits, too—places where a mild spring-like climate is yours all year round…beaches are of powder-white sand…snow-capped mountains soar above colonial towns…and your costs could be as low as $1,000 a month.

In our annual Global Retirement Index (published every January), we rank and rate the best retirement havens in the world. You can stretch your dollars in any of them and live better than you can back home—for less. But the five here offer an outstanding bang for your buck: Ecuador, Panama, Malaysia, Nicaragua, and Mexico.

We asked our editors and in-country correspondents to pinpoint within each nation a specific community to recommend—places that have lots to offer retirees and can be enjoyed on a budget of $1,000 to $2,000 a month.

Santa Fe, Panama: From $1,000 a Month

“Buenas,” he says, nodding his head as he rides past. Leathery tan on a face framed by a worn cowboy hat, he’s the very picture of a Marlboro Man. Except he’s Panamanian.

I’m sitting in an ancient Lada Niva—a Russian 4×4 made for rugged terrain. We’ve stopped so our cowboy (and his herd of cows) can pass safely. It’s a chance to take in the view…

In the distance I can see the national park, where hiking trails crisscross hills lush with rainforest. In the treetops above me, I’ve seen monkeys and toucans and several species of birds I can’t name. This is Santa Fe de Veraguas, Panama—a tiny mountain hideaway about 200 miles west of Panama City.

It’s the kind of place where $6 will get you a sack of fruit and vegetables…and two chicken breasts for dinner. Where the town’s one Internet café charges 60 cents an hour and your monthly water bill is rarely over $3. Where home rentals can be as little as $400 a month and any significant crimes take place on TV.

A couple on a budget could live on $1,000 a month in Santa Fe, easy. Expat residents Mitzi and Bill Martain agree. They retired here 10 years ago to live the good life for less. “This was a place where we could live on social security, comfortably and happy,” says Mitzi.

Santa Fe may boast less English speakers than other, more popular parts of Panama…but the low cost of living is a function of this. You can hire help…cleaning ladies or even builders…for $15 a day. Utilities are low, too. A typical electric bill is maybe $20 a month, Internet is as little as $15, and cable starts at about $20. Trash pickup is just $2 a month, and gas for cooking will cost you even less.

Mitzi and Bill are clear about one thing: While the cost of living is great, it’s not the only reason they’re living in Santa Fe. “We chose to be here primarily because of the people,” says Mitzi. “Panamanian people are so wonderful, and will do anything and everything to help you out when they see you’re trying to adapt and find your way. We respect and admire them, and we try to earn their respect and admiration, too. It’s important to us…especially here in Santa Fe, where there aren’t many expats. It’s mostly local.”

Mitzi is the picture of contentment, shelling peas on her tidy, sun washed porch as she shares her story (and her fresh brewed coffee). The property, says Mitzi, is the land where nearly anything grows. She and Bill grow heirloom vegetables and tropical fruit. The property is run through by the Santa Maria River, and there are plenty of cats and dogs, and wildlife, too.

“We are so grateful for this location. We have waterfalls nearby and everything from birds to deer—and we’re surrounded by flowers. This is home.”

From its rural, rugged mountain-scape…to the mild sunny days and cool evenings…to the welcoming locals and the small expat community, Santa Fe truly does have it all.—Jessica Ramesch.

Granada and San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua: From $1,000 a Month

Nicaragua offers the lowest cost of living in Central America, and there are so many great places to retire in the country, including the historic colonial city of Granada and the picturesque seaside village of San Juan del Sur.

In Granada, you’ll be lured by ancient pastel-painted, colonial-era buildings with terracotta tile roofs that spill along the north shore of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. Views of the nearby Mombacho Volcano add to the postcard-ready image.

Granada is known, too, for its colorful horse-drawn carriages that clip-clop their way atop cobblestone streets, toting neck-craning tourists and locals alike. The latter go about their daily business with the languid, carefree aura that comes from living in the tropics.

In the enclosed courtyards of the city’s colonial homes—some of which have been converted to boutique hotels and cherished homes, Nicaragua’s famous rocking chairs—made of rich tropical hardwoods and wicker—beckon.

Many are occupied these days by North American retirees—but only for brief moments. They’ve not come to rock away their golden years, but for the active and adventuresome retirement that Nicaragua offers. It helps, say retirees here, that the cost of living is so low. It’s easy to live on just $1,000 a month, they say, especially if you own your own home.

Donna Tabor, a retired single in Granada who has lived there since 1996 and owns her home not far from the lake, says her expenses each month rarely top $1,000—including gas and maintenance for her truck.

Further south along the coast—not far from the border with Costa Rica—charming San Juan del Sur beckons to those with a penchant for seaside living.

The culture and the sense of community here, says Renda Hewitt who retired to San Juan del Sur with her husband, Ralph, in 2003, reminds her of what it was like growing up in rural Texas back in the 1940s. Children are taught to be respectful and well mannered, she says, and they don’t have to worry about their safety, because everyone in town is looking out for one another.

Ralph, a lifelong sailor, loves the town for its perfect crescent-moon bay, its soft golden sands, its sparkling blue water and (for him) near-perfect weather—85 to 95 degrees year round with a cool easterly breeze and few bugs.

Over the last 12 years, Ralph and Renda have built a condo project, a small hotel (which they still run), a couple of houses, and—most rewarding of all—they devote lots of time to community projects.

It’s a wonderful fringe benefit, says Renda, that their monthly expenses in Nicaragua are low.

“Include everything…groceries and going out to restaurants…my weekly shopping trips to Rivas (a nearby town)…and our monthly shopping trips to Managua and hotels and restaurants there…and even gas for the car…all we spend is $1,000.”

They both laugh and Ralph says again for emphasis: “Our monthly expenses are just $1,000…. a thousand dollars. We actually have money left over each month from our Social Security…so every October we take a cruise.”—Suzan Haskins.

Campeche, Mexico: From $1,400 a Month

Just 100 miles south of Mérida on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, Campeche has long been under the radar for expats. But that is changing fast as visitors discover the charms of this city, considered one of the safest in Mexico.

Campeche is one of Mexico’s few World-Heritage cities to sit by the sea—it’s right on the Gulf of Mexico. A three-mile-long malecón (boardwalk), with running and cycling paths, mini-park spaces, and workout equipment, runs beside the water. Just a few blocks inland lie the city’s World-Heritage neighborhoods and historic center, with their rows of attractive candy-colored, Spanish-colonial facades.

The historic center (just eight blocks square) and the three historic neighborhoods are walkable, and it’s possible to live in these areas without a car. Campeche has a small-town or even village feel—remarkable in a city of almost 300,000.

The government—both state and national—has made improvements in the area over the last few years. The highway to Mérida is now four lanes, reducing driving time to less than 1.5 hours. A new shopping mall just off the malecón is anchored by the high-end Liverpool department store. It also has a Cineplex, restaurants, and a range of stores. Campeche already has a Walmart Super Center, a Sam’s Club, and numerous large supermarkets, plus a large traditional market just outside the historic center. In addition, more of the historic center has been made pedestrian-only, with art and sculpture exhibits decorating public spaces and outside dining available.

“The weather is good, the people are friendly, and there are fresher fruits and vegetables year-round here than you get back home,” says expat Daniel Record, of life in Campeche.

Day-to-day expenses are relatively low. You can buy a week’s worth of fruits and vegetables at the market for as little as $8. A sandwich or tacos from one of the many small loncherías (lunch joints) will cost you $2 to $3, while a seafood plate at a sit-down restaurant may run $12 or $15.

You can rent a small local house for as little as $400 a month. Comfortable modern homes, with two or three bedrooms, rent unfurnished for $500 and up. These same homes sell from $150,000.

Colonial properties, which most expats want, cost more. Unrenovated colonials for sale start at about $80,000—most cost more. Relatively few renovated colonials are on the market, but you can get small ones starting at around $100,000. Likewise, only a handful of furnished, renovated colonials are available. Colonial rentals in the centro and historic neighborhoods generally rent for $800 and up. Modern rentals, and colonials outside the center can start as low as $300 a month. More colonial rentals are desperately needed; it’s a business opportunity looking for an entrepreneur…—Glynna Prentice.

Vilcabamba, Ecuador: From $1,485 a Month

Johnny Lovewisdom, a quirky spiritual seeker, first put Vilcabamba, Ecuador on the gringo map in the 1960s. He advocated (among other beliefs) breatharianism—that one can live on air and sunshine alone. (He died in 2000…some say of malnutrition.)

While clean air and constant sunshine are abundant in this lush valley in southern Ecuador, so is fresh, organic food. The healthy lifestyle is just one reason expats are drawn to Vilcabamba today.

Many residents live to be 100 years old or more. That may be thanks to clean water, clean, stress-free living, or the near-perfect climate. Just shy of the equator and at an elevation of 5,000 feet, temperatures average between 65 and 81 F, day in and day out. Estimates put the number of permanent foreign residents at about 150 and part-timers at perhaps another 100.

Although it takes some doing to get to Vilcabamba, it’s a small price to pay. Literally. Vilcabamba is among the lowest-priced retirement havens in the world.

Here is a sample monthly budget for a couple in Vilcabamba:

  • Housing (rental of a furnished two-bedroom apartment or home): $375
  • Utilities (including phone, water/electricity, internet, and DirecTV): $155
  • Maid (once a week): $60
  • Groceries (not including alcohol): $400
  • Maintenance and fuel for one car: $140
  • (personal items, etc.): $75
  • Entertainment (two people dining out six times per month, with drinks, dessert, tip): $200
  • IESS (social security) healthcare: $80
  • Monthly Total: $1,485—Suzan Haskins.

·         Penang, Malaysia: From $2,000 a Month

My wife and I first came to Penang, Malaysia for a vacation in 2008 and after two weeks, which we extended to three, decided that it was the perfect place for us to live. From the region’s best street food to smart restaurants, bars, shopping malls, and movie theaters, it had everything that we needed and more.

George Town, Penang’s capital, is a UNESCO-listed city and dates from 1786. Most of the buildings in town were built between 1820 and 1900, and it’s these historic streets that are the main attraction for visitors to the island. Some of the colonial mansions on Penang Hill were built even earlier. We loved its history, but also its deserted white-sand beaches, pristine jungle trails, constant sunshine, and affordability.

There is a lively street culture anchored in religious festivals, a recently opened performing arts center at Straits Quay Marina, and events like the Penang World Music Festival and the annual George Town Festival (a month of performances) that have become a must-see event in Asia.

Our apartment is a short distance from the local market, where we can buy vegetables, fruits, bread, meat, seafood, and all manner of goods. An entire bagful of fresh fruit, including mangoes, bananas, apples, oranges, and pineapples, costs just $6.

High-speed internet is reliable and costs $30 a month, and the premier cable TV package for $40 includes favorites like HBO, CNN, numerous sports and movie channels and the BBC.

We live in a spacious 2,100-square-foot apartment with four bedrooms and three bathrooms. We also have a covered carport, swimming pool, and well-equipped gym. The apartment is fully air-conditioned and fitted with ceiling fans, and costs $900 a month. We have a maid who comes one day a week and costs just $56 a month.

Penang is known internationally for its good medical care, which is downright cheap. Six world-class hospitals are situated within George Town. All the medical staff speak perfect English. You don’t need to make an appointment to see a specialist and seeing one can cost as little as $12.

Originally from San Francisco, Ivan Peters has been living in Penang for just over a year. He noticed that three moles on his back had changed color, and he decided to have them removed. The initial consultation by a world-class plastic surgeon cost him $12, and the moles were removed five minutes later. The total cost came to $22. In the U.S. he estimates that that it would have cost closer to $1,000.

Penang is an exciting place to live and we have no regrets about moving here. Well, just one…that we didn’t do it years ago. Where else could you eat out seven nights a week, sampling any cuisine you want, and still live for under $2,000 a month?—Keith Hockton.



9 Things to Know Before Retiring Abroad

Senior couple on a vacation

By  Nick Wharton | Wise Bread

For an increasing number of Americans, moving abroad to enjoy retirement is an enticing idea. There are lots of reasons that lead people to make this choice, including better weather, cheaper health care, and an increased standard of living at a lower cost. But it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. There are a number of important considerations that retirees sometimes overlook. Here are nine things you must know before retiring abroad.

  1. U.S. tax laws are still applicable

Some retirees are under the impression that if you skip the country, the IRS somehow magically stops requiring you to file your income taxes. However, regardless of where you decide to live in the world, if you remain a U.S. citizen, your worldwide income is subject to U.S. taxes. Failing to pay your taxes is a serious offense with sometimes dire consequences that aren’t worth risking, and ignorance is not a mitigating factor.

If you are a U.S. citizen or green card holder who lives outside of the U.S. for 330 days during any period of 12 consecutive months, you may be able to apply for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. This allows you to exclude from your taxable income a certain amount of income that you earn abroad. The exclusion amount changes each year as it adjusts for inflation. For 2017, the amount is $102,100.

So, if you live abroad for 330 or more days in 2017 and earn under $102,100, you may not have to pay taxes. This exemption is not automatic and you must apply for the exclusion. Check the IRS website for more details. Keep in mind that even if you don’t owe any money, you are still required to file a U.S. tax return every year.

In addition to U.S. taxes, you’ll need to find out if you’re subject to taxes in the country you move to. Check with local tax authorities to learn more.

  1. Medicare doesn’t cover you outside the U.S.

The first thing to be aware of is that, except in rare instances, any medical expenses you incur when you’re not in the United States cannot be paid for with Medicare. That said, it may still be worthwhile to sign up for Medicare Part A (hospital coverage) because it is free. If you plan to move back to the U.S. or make frequent trips back, it may also be worth paying the premium for Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits and outpatient care. To determine whether this will be of benefit to you, you should thoroughly check the information provided on the Medicare website.

Keep in mind that health care is often much less expensive in other countries. Mexico, for example, is more than 50 percent cheaper for doctor visits, prescription drugs, and health insurance. (See also: How Almost Anyone Can Afford to Retire in Mexico)

  1. Currency fluctuations may affect your bank balance

Even if your monthly income remains the same, the amount that this translates to in your local currency may go down. This is entirely dependent on the strength of the U.S. dollar at any given time, which could have a large impact on your finances, particularly if you’re on a fixed income.

Remember, however, that this could also work in your favor if the dollar strengthens against your local currency, allowing you to purchase more of the local currency. Though you can’t control currency fluctuations, you should have a contingency in place for if and when they do happen.

  1. You can probably get Social Security — and maybe more

You can still receive Social Security payments in most countries around the world but it’s important to check the list of excluded countries before settling on a location. If you’ve lived and worked abroad for part of your career, you may also be able to combine retirement credits from the U.S. and another country where you worked, for a larger benefits payout. The other country must be among more than two dozen that has a reciprocal agreement with the U.S.

  1. You need to put a plan in place for when you die

There are two main considerations for putting a plan in place for the event that you pass away while you’re abroad. First, you should know that the U.S. State Department will not pay for the return of your remains or ashes. Second, different countries have different regulations around what happens to your assets.

You need to have funds in place if your wish is to have your remains repatriated to the U.S., as this can be a costly and time consuming process. You should make yourself familiar with local succession rules, as some countries won’t automatically honor your wishes for assets that lie within them unless you have an eligible will.

  1. You can probably still vote in the U.S.

Just because you no longer live in the U.S. doesn’t mean you don’t take an interest in the U.S. political situation. In the vast majority of circumstances you are still eligible to vote absentee in federal primary and general elections. In some states, you’re even able to vote for state and local office candidates and referendums.

You will need to submit a new Federal Post Card Application each year in order to qualify, and you should do so at least 45 days before an election. But from there it’s a simple process. You’ll be able to submit your vote either by mail or electronically depending on where you’re registered.

  1. You might not like it

Unfortunately, the reality doesn’t live up to the dream for some retirees relocating abroad. There are so many factors to consider that it’s almost certain that issues will arise that you’ve not even thought about, from financial problems to culture shock.

It’s best to try a place out for a while before taking the plunge and relocating your whole life. Even if it’s a location you know well from having visited over the years, residing somewhere permanently is different from vacationing there. Just bear in mind that it may not work out as you hoped.

  1. Relocation can be extremely expensive

When it comes to calculating just how much it’s going to cost you to live in a foreign country, it’s important to include relocation costs. Shipping possessions like furniture can be costly, but not transporting them may also be expensive if you have to buy new items when you arrive.

If you have pets there may be vaccinations and quarantine periods that you have to shell out for, as well as separate transport costs. In addition, your own visa application could be expensive and complicated depending on the location. Look out for those hidden costs.

  1. Things will be different

It’s stating the obvious, but no matter how familiar the country is that you’re retiring to, things will be different from the U.S. Everything from the local customs, to what groceries you can get in the supermarket will be new.

You’ll more than likely be away from close friends and family and there will probably be a sharp adjustment period. It’s important not to underestimate the effects this could have on your happiness when making what will be one of the most significant decisions of your life.

How Living in Mexico Can Give You a Lifestyle Upgrade


By Chuck Bolotin | Best Places in the World to Retire

Picture this: you’ve gone to meet your wife after her facial and pedicure at a local boutique hotel.  Leaving the bright sunshine outside, you open the thick, wooden doors and are welcomed into the cloistered anteroom.  Around you is subdued lighting, ornate furniture, and a smiling, perfectly groomed young female receptionist with Old World mannerisms and a sophisticated hairdo.

Passing into the dining area, your feet and joints appreciate the thick carpeting, while your eyes feast on the rich colors and sumptuous furniture.  Above, there are chandeliers.  Two elegantly dressed and made up women wearing scarves and speaking in civilized tones are quietly conversing over wine in crystal glasses and what remains of their equally elegant meals on fine dishware.  Nearby, a formally-dressed waiter politely delivers their check and leaves the area.  You become aware of the gently playing classical music.

Where are you?  Have you landed in a tony upper-end US or Canadian city or suburb?  Gathering your wits to Jet Metier with expat friends at home in Ajijicfocus on the practical, are you suddenly nervous and a bit indignant about how much you’re going to have to shell out for all this extravagance, thereby ruining the entire experience?

Not at all.  Relax.  In this case, you’re in the little village of Ajijic, in the Mexican Highlands, on Lake Chapala, where the two women you saw are now paying the waiter the equivalent of about $6 for each of their meals and $2 for each glass of wine.  Smiling and after leaving an appropriate tip, they return to their conversation, in no particular hurry to leave their comfortable surroundings.

To the side of the women, your wife appears, very happy and relaxed.  She’s just had that facial and pedicure for the equivalent of about $23 total.  Remembering where you are, Jet Metier at Rosewood Hotel in San Miguel de Allende, Mexicorelief at the price rockets through your body.  Your breathing slows and your blood pressure drops. Now you’re happy again, too.  “Care for lunch, sweetheart?”

You and the expats around you are leading a life that would cost much more in the States or Canada for a very manageable amount down here.

You see it everywhere; going to the movies (about $3 for first-run American movies in English), out dancing, or to a play. If you choose to, you can go to Roberto’s, where you can get what would be a $25 dinner in the US for about $8, while enjoying it all listening to live music in a garden setting, in near perfect weather all year round.  If you go Friday night, you’ll get two for the price of one,  

In many of the areas I’ve gone here, the expats look like they could easily be in West LA or Manhattan, leading enviable upper-middle class lives.  The difference is, many of them do not have typical upper middle-class bank accounts. To put it simply, they’ve figured it out, as have others in other parts of Mexico.  In Baja, it may be the home on the bay with Jet Metier in Baja California with Isla Ceralvo in the distancethe view of islands, while in Puerto Vallarta, it could be the benefits of larger city amenities while living on the Pacific.  In San Miguel de Allende, perhaps it’s becoming a patron of the arts and local charities, and in Merida the style of living in a colonial city, while in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum or Akumal, it could be living in or near a world class tourist destination with famous beaches.  There are other equally great and diverse places in Mexico as well, and from what I’ve heard from interviewing hundreds of expats in other countries, the same can be true with local color and variation in Panama, Portugal, Belize and Nicaragua.

But it’s not only that things cost less, although that’s a huge part of it and much of your lifestyle upgrade would be Chuck Bolotin with a dog at Baja de Sueno in Baja California Sur in poolbased on this. Here are some examples from what I’ve personally seen or experienced during our one year road trip in Mexico:

There are radically fewer chores to do.  You can easily afford housekeepers (about $2.50 an hour) and gardeners (about $3 per hour).  At that price, you can leave the chores to others while you enjoy your clean house, freshly laundered clothes, well-manicured garden and doing what you would rather be doing.  (We did the math and determined that not having to do chores was the equivalent of adding 36 years to our lives.)

Healthcare is more accessible, more humane, and won’t wipe you out financially.   When you go to see a doctor, you aren’t shuffled from room to room and then, after a sudden knock at the door followed by the doctor looking down at a chart as he or she talks at you, compelled to hurry it up Jet Metier eating at a restaurant in Mexicofor a six-minute appointment, and afterwards, paying a small fortune for the visit or your health insurance.  Here in Mexico, a typical doctor’s visit may cost around $30 or less out of pocket, and he or she may spend up to an hour with you.  If your health insurance is like mine, you’ll pay about 75% less for better coverage.  Sort of makes you feel better… all by itself.

Stress can be much lower.  Scratch the car?  No problem.  Just pay $25 to have it repaired while you’re getting your brakes done and your car delivered back to you. Have to pay to get Internet set up? Relax; it’s $5.50 for installation and $14.50 per month for cable.  Perhaps a good game of tennis, a hike in the mountains or an exercise class would be nice.  Here in Ajijic, all are free or close to it.  And don’t forget how much less stressful it is not to have to do the dishes the day (or days) the housekeeper comes (see “chores”, above).

Those who have figured it out are leading upper middle-class class lives on lower-middle class incomes.  I know people who live pretty much on Social Security who can afford to occasionally eat out and go to plays; things they never could do in the US.  For them especially, their lives are substantially different.

Are there some lifestyle downers to living in Mexico?  Sure there are.  In most places, the power and the Internet goes out more often and the plumbing is nowhere near as good.  In most places, there is much less shopping variety and not knowing Spanish can be frustrating in some circumstances. Sometimes, people are late or don’t show up at all and certainly not all places look like the hotel I described or dinner at Roberto’s. Could I have written an article about those things?  You bet.  It’s just that, personally, I don’t enjoy writing or thinking about that and I would rather focus on other things.  What would you focus on?  Of course, I don’t know, and your reality will be different than mine.

From my perspective, though, if you’ve got the right attitude, balancing out the positives with the negatives compared with living north of the border, you can live here as if you’ve got much more money and many fewer cares.

Just like those two women at the hotel.

Island Living at its Finest on Mexico’s Isla Mujeres

Ret 3

By Donald Murray | International Living

With temperatures in the mid-80s F, habitually warm Caribbean waters on all sides, and a perpetual sea breeze accompanied by the trills of soaring sea birds, Mexico’s Isla Mujeres maintains a loyal complement of full-time residents and seasonal snowbirds. It’s no longer a hidden gem, but rather has grown into a mature destination where expats can enjoy an affordable island retirement in casual, Caribbean comfort. A couple can live in grand style on Isla for $2,500 to $3,500 a month; this includes rent, utilities, dining out regularly, and a couple of trips to the mainland each month for major shopping.

Access to and from the island is provided by a fleet of modern, high-speed ferries that maintains a frequent schedule between several terminals in the mainland city of Cancún. The cost for a round-trip ticket is about $20 and it’s a comfortable 30-minute ride.

Isla (as the locals call it) is not a sandy, beachy island. Although the island’s north end does have a very nice beach of soft, white sand, Isla is a chunk of stone rising from the seabed, with a powerful surf and mostly rocky coastline. But, no worries—its proximity to Cancún and the Riviera Maya provides 80 miles of postcard-perfect, palm-lined, sugar-sand beaches for those who want to wiggle their toes in the sand.

For expats, Isla’s big appeal is its casual lifestyle, where shorts and beach shoes are the accepted attire for any function. It’s common for weddings to be officiated while bride and groom take their vows in shorts, tee shirts, and sandals.

Life on Isla Mujeres can be very affordable. I recently visited the home of retired expat John Pasnau and his wife, Valerie. The home is about 800 square feet and has two bedrooms, a modern bathroom, sitting area/living room, and a very functional kitchen. It is furnished and air conditioned and has a small fenced yard. They pay $800 a month, including all utilities.

“A bottle of local beer, Indio, is only about $1. And I can buy a whole chicken for about $3.30. A large bottle of Coke is 65 cents and a big loaf of bread is 75 cents,” says John.

Cost of living on Isla Mujeres varies, depending on your taste. I know of one person who lives entirely on a Social Security check of $1,700 a month. His apartment is small and he pays about $325 a month in rent. He lives a very comfortable life and puts $300 in his bank account each month so he can fly home to see his kids and grandkids a couple of times a year.

“We can go to the beach and relax, or hop on a ferry and go shopping or to the movies in Cancún,” says expat Jim Silver. “We also like traveling in the area: Mérida, Belize, Tulúm, Isla Holbox…there’s so much so close here. It has it all.”

The Benefits of Living Abroad in Retirement

Ret 2

By Financial Sense

With the cost of living set on a course of seemingly perpetual increases within the United States, many retirees are looking abroad.

This time on Financial Sense’ Lifetime Income podcast, we spoke with Jennifer Stevens at International Living on the top 10 countries for retirement, and some of the motivations retirees face when making the decision to live outside the United States.

No. 1 Most Attractive Spot

For those seeking to retire and live outside of the US either full-time, part-time or just as a means to invest, it’s never been easier than it is now, Stevens stated, especially when it comes to finding information and staying connected.

After consulting with contributors from around the world, International Living compiled a list of the best places to retire to.

“Our No. 1 pick for 2017 might surprise people,” Stevens said. “It’s Mexico. I think there are some misperceptions about Mexico out there, but we hope to allay them with our coverage.”

Mexico won this year for a variety of reasons, including its proximity to the United States and the ease of transit between the two countries. However, it’s important to understand that International Living is recommending specific states within Mexico, Steven noted.

“I always tell my editors, ‘If you wouldn’t send my parents there, we’re not going to write about it,’” she said.

Despite perceptions, however, there are places she feels ex-pats are living very safely in Mexico. Another thing to consider is that the values are really extraordinary in Mexico.

Many ex-pats are able to live an extremely comfortable lifestyle for much less than in the United States. With walkable communities and a low cost-of-living, activities such as eating out, enjoying a beautiful home and having money left over for travel are all on the table for those living in Mexico.

The medical care in the communities Stevens recommends is top-notch, she noted, and can be accessed for a small fraction of what you pay in the United States.

“People say all the time that living (in Mexico) reminds them of what the US was like in the 1950s,” Steven said. “People know their neighbors, take the time to chat, and have long, leisurely dinners.”

Staying in Mexico either part time — the Mexican government allows for 6 months of travel privileges for US residents living part time in the country — or full-time is relatively easy, she noted.

Some of the areas she recommends are Cancun, Merida, Lake Chapala and San Miguel de Allende, to name a few. All have large communities of ex-pats, English-speaking doctors and friendly local accommodations.

Other Options

Latin America offers some of the most attractive locations for ex-pat retirees, Stevens noted. International Living includes Panama, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia and Nicaragua in their top 10 list.

“Our readers are … looking for places where they can maximize their retirement and enjoy a better quality of life for less money,” she said. “You can do that all over Latin America.”

The values in Central America are extraordinary, she added, with especially attractive options in Panama and Nicaragua.

“Nicaragua is … kind of like Costa Rica 10 years ago,” she said. “The infrastructure for tourism and ex-pat living is essentially just coming onboard now. In some ways, that makes the values really extraordinary. The kind of beach house you might find in California for $1 million or more might cost you $200,000 in Nicaragua.”

Locations in Europe — such as Malta, Portugal and Spain — are also attractive, where American ex-pats can live for much less than they might think.

In places such as Portugal and Spain, it’s possible to live very well on $2,000 a month, Stevens noted.

“That’s true all over,” she said. “It’s true certainly on the coast in Spain and in Portugal.”

Investment and Savings Overseas

A lot of retirees choosing to live overseas are driven by three factors: cost-of-living, purchasing power, and quality of life.

People retiring today tend to be healthier with longer lifespans, Stevens noted. Many Baby Boomers have traveled and aren’t looking for their parents’ retirement.

The idea that savings have not grown as quickly as they had expected is also an issue that helps encourage retirement overseas. Some investors’ portfolios may not have recovered from the 2008 crash yet, and opportunities for higher returns abroad may draw them in. The recent strength of the dollar also helps to make living abroad more attractive.

Coupled with cost-of-living savings, retirement overseas can mean major lifestyle perks.

“People thought that they would have more to retire on than they do today,” she noted. “Maybe you could get by in the States, but you’ve worked hard all your life and you might not just want to get by.”

Why more than a million expats live in Mexico

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By Gustavo Torres / Re/Max Rosarito Beach, Tijuana Coastal, Ensenada, Baja

With more than a million expats estimated to live there, Mexico is far and away the most popular destination for North Americans looking to move abroad. But—with so many places to choose from—where in Mexico should you move? It’s a very large country, after all.

Much depends, of course, on what you’re looking for. There are places in Mexico where you can live totally off the grid, or immerse yourself in a small village where there’s nary a foreigner around you. Alternatively, there are cities and neighborhoods where you can live a gringo life, never seeing a local and never needing Spanish.

Most expats seek something between these two extremes: places where the transition to Mexico is easy and so is getting there ( Like Baja), amenities abound, and local culture and color are all around.

 One of our clients wrote this statement on why he and his wife decided to move to Mexico:

We retired in Mexico because we love the people, culture and atmosphere here. We live in Rosarito, Baja California, so we have the advantage of the people and culture of Mexico but are close enough to the U.S. to return whenever necessary.

Of course, the cost is very advantageous even this close to the border, but was not a big factor in our decision. We do like that we can live in an ocean front home for for many thousands of dollars less than a comparable home just a short drive away in San Diego.

We do return to the states for much of our medical care since it is so close, but use a dentist in Rosarito. Our dentist here has more modern equipment than our previous dentist in the U.S. and stays abreast of all of the newest advances in the field through attendance at conferences in the U.S. We have a number of friends who regularly see medical doctors in Rosarito and are quite happy with the care they receive and the cost of that care. We would use doctors here without hesitation but, hey, we paid for Medicare for years and choose to use what we’ve already paid for!

I would say the most important thing to do here is get out and meet your community, both expats and native citizens. There are many opportunities to become involved on local customs and events, expat celebrations as well as to serve the community. All of these can provide friendship, happiness and a sense of worth.

My wife and I never plan to leave!

Here’s what health care will cost you in retirement

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By Michelle Singletary | Washington Post

My husband and I were dreaming about what we would do if we won the recent $758 million Powerball jackpot. (We didn’t.)

I told him he should keep working his federal government job so that we could hold on to the insurance into retirement.

“I think with that much money we could afford our own policy,” he said.

I felt my heart tighten.

“Are you kidding? You know how much health care costs? I want to hang on to the insurance just in case,” I said.

The prospect of a major health-care issue is scary even for people with ample means and good coverage. And here’s why.

Fidelity Investments estimates that a 65-year-old couple retiring in the current year will need to have $275,000 to cover their health-care and medical expenses throughout retirement. Last year’s estimate was $260,000.

“With ongoing uncertainty across the health care landscape, it’s more important than ever for individuals to educate themselves on steps they can take to prepare for their health-care needs in retirement,” said Adam Stavisky, senior vice president for Fidelity Benefits Consulting. “These expenses are only expected to increase in the future, so it’s critical that people include health-care as a significant part of their retirement plan.”

What’s in the Fidelity estimate?

The calculation includes “premiums, cost-sharing provisions and out-of-pocket costs associated with Medicare parts A, B and D — but does not include other health expenses such as over-the-counter medications, dental services and long-term care,” reported Kelli B. Grant for CNBC.

As Grant reports, a lot can affect what you actually have to pay.

“Fidelity’s estimate assumes you retire at 65 — coinciding with Medicare eligibility. Many workers expect to stay in the workforce beyond that, and retaining their employer-sponsored coverage could reduce costs,” she writes. “On the other hand, retiring before 65 could boost costs because you’ll need individual coverage in the marketplace to fill that gap.”

Here’s a sobering finding: Fewer Seniors Have Retiree Health Insurance

The Kaiser Family Foundation, which tracks trends in employer-sponsored health coverage, said it’s seen a “significant drop in the share of large employers (200+ workers) offering retiree health coverage, from 66 percent in 1988 to 23 percent in 2015.”

“For retirees, employer-sponsored supplemental coverage limits the costs they would otherwise incur for their medical care,” the foundation said.

Retirement assignment

There’s so much to know and keep watch on when it comes to retirement planning. So every week I’ll have a home assignment for you.

This week, I want you to start thinking about how you’ll cover your retiree health-care costs. Do that by using AARP’s Health Care Costs Calculator, which can help you estimate your expenses. If you are already retired you can use this tool to figure out upcoming costs.

After you run your numbers, I want to hear how your home assignment went. What did you learn? Did the assignment make you change any of your plans? Did it save you money?

Send your comments to Put “Retirement assignment” in the subject line. I’ll also be open to suggestions on what to assign folks.


Could you live off Social Security alone?

Last week I asked: Are you living on just Social Security? If so, how do you do it?

Here’s how Jane, 72, does it: “I live on my Social Security alone. It is $1,306 per month. I live in subsidized housing. Rent is $280 per month. I am not eligible for food stamps, so I buy all my food. My car is a Toyota and is 20 years old. I live alone. I consider my SSA to be low because I spent a lot of time looking for work or unemployed. This is because I am bipolar. I have to pay car insurance plus rental insurance. I cannot afford a smartphone. I use a flip phone with a mini payment monthly. I have a cat, which I can afford if she doesn’t get sick. My medical is manageable because I have Medicare and low insurance costs. However, I pay $40 a month for psychiatric care, and I have to buy lots of medication. I also buy life insurance because my family will need help when I die. I was lucky to be able to put myself through college, but I never earned what you think I should have been paid. I lost my last job after seven years because I am bipolar. My SSA just pays my bills, but I could use more.”

Judy Keim of Westchester, Ohio, wrote: “I’m living on just Social Security and getting by primarily by having a paid off home. I worry when I hear that advisers are discouraging homeownership for many young people. They may be getting bad advice.”

Maria, 56, is disabled and gets Social Security of $593 a month. “I can’t believe they only give me this amount. If it weren’t for Section 8, I would be living in the streets. I worked hard for so many years to retire and get peanuts. If it wasn’t for food stamps of $106 a month, I couldn’t manage to survive.”

Patricia Webb of Fernandina Beach, Fla., is also living just on Social Security. She retired three years ago after a stroke at 62.

“I live entirely on Social Security of slightly over $900 per month,” she wrote. “During the time I had no health insurance, I turned to a charity clinic that charges $10 to see the doctor and pays for all bloodwork and tests through donations and grants. They also have a food pantry and crisis center. I recently turned 65 so now I have Medicare. I applied through the Florida Department of Family and Children Services for the Medicare Buy In program, and they pay my premiums and give me extra help with prescription drugs. I receive $39 monthly in food stamps. If you live in Florida and fall under a certain income range, it would be well worth the time to apply for these programs. AT&T has a new program called Access that offers internet service for a flat fee of $10 a month if you receive food stamps. For me tithing is essential and I do tithe on my Social Security, and I have seen the Lord move in mighty ways to provide for me. I am very fortunate to have a landlord that works with me on an affordable rent.”

Retirement rants and raves

I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. This week’s comment isn’t a rant or rave but an illustration of someone who saw a need and acted.

“Some time ago, you mentioned that one of the reasons you like saving money is because you can then use your savings for charitable purposes to help others,” Michele B. of Gettysburg, Pa., wrote. “Something happened that triggered that comment of yours. I was at a Dollar Tree store for some inexpensive kid’s party supplies and there was a man in front of me in line. He looked to be in his late 60s-early 70s. A young boy (about 11 or 12) was in line with him. I wondered if the elderly man was the grandfather/caretaker of the boy. The man was only buying two cans of spaghetti sauce, so his total was $2 (Pennsylvania doesn’t tax food purchases). He was trying to use a food stamp card, but it kept getting declined. The clerk said he should put in his 4-digit number, but he said he couldn’t remember it. She suggested holding his transaction, while he tried to remember the number.”

What would you have done?

Here’s what Michele did: “So he stood off to the side, with his head down, and the child by his side. I paid for my purchase and then, noticing the man still not moving, I told the clerk I would cover his purchase and gave her $2. I told her to tell him after I left the store. Now $2 is a very small sum of money. However, anyone who knows me knows I will go to great lengths to cut out a $2 coupon or save a couple of bucks at the grocery store. It surprised even me that it was so easy and felt so good to extend this small courtesy to the elderly man and grandson. I thought to myself, if saving money here and there in my daily life enables me to help a fellow human being with no qualms or reservations, that’s the best part of being frugal with one’s own money.”

The lesson in this story for me is to pay attention and look for opportunities to help.

Your sharing might help others. So send your comments to Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

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