If retirees are willing to leave the states behind, the savings can be substantial.
NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Retirement in the United States is nice and all, until they ask you to actually pay for stuff.
When retirees' nest eggs are a finite and dwindling resource, rising local and federal taxes can put even the staunchest, flag-draped patriotism to the test. If retirees are willing to leave the states behind, the savings can be substantial.
The folks at International Living crunched the numbers and looked at the price of simple staples, assimilation and staying in touch with family left behind. The following countries scored high marks not only for their inexpensive living, but for overall friendliness toward American retirees:
A retiree has it pretty sweet in Panama, where a program commonly known as pensionado help retirees settle in quickly. International Living says retirees can live like kings here for $1,500 to $2,000 a month and score apartments for less than $500 a month or buy waterfront condos for less than $200,000. Pensionado, meanwhile, gives users 15% off fast food, 15% off at hospitals and clinics, 20% off professional services used in Panama, 25% off the price of food eaten in a sit-down restaurant; 25% off domestic flights on Copa Airlines, a 30% discount on public transport and 50% off movies, theater tickets and sporting events. There's no age limit for the service, either, so help yourself.
Considering the tensions over the state of Mexico/U.S. immigration law, it's at the very least amusing to consider American workers streaming south to chase their retirement dreams. But great homes on Mexico's Caribbean coast go for less than $170,000 while places such as Lake Chapala are home to dozens of expat communities. It's not such a bad place for snowbirds, either. It's the only retirement destination on this list withing driving distance, and retirees can rent out their properties in the off months to cover costs.
The country's My Second Home retirement benefits program for all foreigners is a great draw, but so is the quality Internet access, cellphone coverage and roads. It also helps that it's dirt cheap. A sea-view apartment with a pool and gym on Penang Island goes for $1,000 a month, and big-budget movies usually premiere here, are shown in English and go for about $4. Oh, and there's plenty of English being spoken as well.
Medellin has a notorious reputation among Americans who know it mostly for its drug-laden past, but that hasn't prevented a huge expat population from springing up within city limits. Medellin's El Poblado district has Japanese, French, seafood and Italian restaurants within a block of each other. Its health care system ranks atop any other stop on this list, while the cost of everything from housing to entertainment are a great fit for a fixed income.
The English speaking certainly helps, but so do the winters that come during an American summer. That's some pretty costly snowbirding, so maybe the proliferation and low cost of every day amenities as well as more frivolous items should be seen as long-term investments. New Zealand's reputation for healthy living and near-absent pollution should also appeal to those who want to extend retirement as long as possible.
A visit to the doctor is $15. Overall health care can cost as much as 60% less than the U.S., while U.S.-trained doctors speak English and will make house calls. A huge expat population in the colonial city of Granada spends about around $1,200 a month to live there, considering a small house can be $500 to $1,000 a month to rent. The best steak dinner in town runs about $13, while regular meals go for half that and "local meals" are $2 to $3. Local beer, meanwhile, runs between 75 cents and $1.50. This makes Florida's cost of living look like Manhattan's.
Wait, the same Spain that just dodged a bailout and is still dealing with crushing debt? Yep, that's the one, but austerity measures haven't bitten into the best of what Spain has to offer. This is by no means the cheapest option on the list and, in fact, has the most expensive real estate of any country listed. That said, it's really easy to fit in, with near-ubiquitous English, three-course meals for less than $20 and modern infrastructure that places high value on convenient, punctual rail service. Combine that with teeming culture and tons of ways to pass the time and Spain can be a great fit for retirees who've already weathered a shaky economy.
About $500 a month is enough to score a nice new home just about anywhere in Thailand. One of International Living's contributors pays just $222 a month for a beachside bungalow with air conditioning, hot water, Wi-Fi and a refrigerator. Altogether, the cost of living in Thailand sets retirees back only about $1,000 a month while giving them great amenities and vibrant cultural and entertainment options. Bangkok still gets pretty wild, but loads of expats and lots of English speakers help ease the transition.
The benefits offered to retirees beyond the three-hour flights back to see the kids are fairly substantial, especially considering that expats living on beachfront property can do well here on less than $1,500 a month. The scuba diving, fishing, sailing, kayaking, snorkeling and surfing are lovely too. But even Honduras can't top the last entry on our list:
This basically is Florida or Arizona for the expat community. The country's retirement benefits package includes 50% off transportation, utility bills, international round-trip flights originating in Ecuador and tickets for cultural and sporting events. Foreigners can also enroll in Ecuador's Social Security medical program for $57 a month. Those over 65 also pay lower income tax. Penthouse suites and beachfront condos go for $50,000, while beachfront rentals hover around $500 a month. A retiree's entire cost of living rounds out to roughly $800 to $1,500 a month, and the neighbors more often than not are either A) other expats or B) English-speaking locals. We'll warn that this isn't exactly undiscovered country among retirees, but it's several steps up from the costly retirement kennels and golf carts of more costly American hot spots.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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