The 10 Best Islands to Move to After Retiring

If you dream of spending your retirement as an expat on an island, these are the most beautiful—and affordable—places to move to in the world.

Distant view of part of Valletta on Malta, with ochre-colored historic buildings

With its pleasant weather and low-cost of living, Mallorca is a popular destination for retirees to live abroad.

Photo by Shutterstock.com

Islands are great for vacations. But wouldn’t it be nice to live on one year-round and not have to worry about going back to work ever again? That dream could actually be a reality.

From the Panama to Bali, there are gorgeous islands all around the globe where the oceanfront setting is almost as beautiful as the low cost of living—making them excellent additions to your retirement plan. For example, you could live comfortably off $3,000 per month on the French-influenced island of Las Terrenas in the Dominican Republic or on as little as $1,600 per month on Isla Colón off the Caribbean coast of Panama.

In combination with the 2021 list from International Living and our own reporting, here are the 10 best island destinations you could retire to along with estimates of how much you’d need each month to live there comfortably.

Children swimming in the water along rocky coast

The nation of Malta, located in the Mediterranean Sea, offers postcard-worthy swimming spots.

Photo by Jessie Beck

1. Malta

Estimated cost of living: $2,600 per month

The Mediterranean vibes and white-sand beaches of Malta’s islands offer an easy lifestyle to slide right into. The islands are small, but there are plenty of real estate options despite it being one of the most densely populated countries in Europe. Many of these islands come with views of turquoise waters you’d pay much more for in the United States. You can read about the costs associated with living in Malta here.

A row of three townhouses in Mallorca: orange, pink, and yellow

Mallorca, Spain, is best known for its beach resorts and dramatic limestone mountains.

Photo by Shutterstock

2. Mallorca, Spain

Estimated cost of living: $2,100 per month

You can easily find a mortgage on a multiroom home for under $1,000—and that’s only the beginning. From snorkeling through coral reefs and boating to water sports and world-class sandy beaches, Mallorca is the ultimate retirement destination for those who are seeking a balance of relaxation and outdoor activities. The expat community skews more European than American, but most people speak English, as well.

An aerial view of Penang, Malaysia's UNESCO-designated George Town neighborhood

George Town was an important trading hub and offers a mix of British colonial and traditional Chinese-style houses.

Photo by Christoph Theisinger/Unsplash

3. Penang, Malaysia

Estimated cost of living: $800 per month

A beautiful collection of cultures collide in Penang, particularly in the capital city of George Town (it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site). Formerly a British colony (English is widely spoken), the island serves up a range of attractions, from Michelin-starred dining to a thriving arts scene—don’t miss the many street murals from Ernest Zacharevic, who has been compared to Banksy. There’s plenty to keep retirees busy. When you need a break from city living, you can hike through jungles to waterfalls or soak in the island’s natural beauty from a beach. Such a list of activities and culture is hard to find in a city with such a low cost of living.

Distant view of two people near beach houses and the ocean in Ambergris Caye

Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island, is a popular tourist destination.

Courtesy of Meritt Thomas/Unsplash

4. Ambergris Caye, Belize

Estimated cost of living: $1,400 per month

Head to the Caribbean Sea and the tropical climate of Belize if an English-speaking island with a strong existing community of expats and affordable medical care is high on your checklist. Thanks to the favorable weather, fruit and other locally grown produce are plentiful, bringing dining costs way down. Healthcare is also much more affordable, as residents receive free medical services from state-run facilities.

Shops located by the water in Roatan, Honduras

Roatán is one of the best bases from which to explore the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef.

Courtesy of Alisa Matthews/Unsplash

5. Roatán, Honduras

Estimated cost of living: $1,500 per month

Gaining residency on Roatán is relatively easy. According to International Living, obtaining the retiree residence visa—known as a pensionado—only requires the applicant to prove $1,500 in income per month from a pension, Social Security, or another guaranteed financial source. Plus, the applicant’s spouse is also covered, if approved. It’s less crowded than other Caribbean hot spots, meaning its white-sand beaches, jungles, and vibrant wildlife remain relatively untouched.

A surfboard resting near a pier in Isla Mujeres, with palm tree at right

The southern end of Isla Mujeres is home to a sea turtle sanctuary and an ancient Mayan temple.

Courtesy of Jose Vazquez/Unsplash

6. Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Estimated cost of living: $903 per month

At four miles long and a half-mile wide, this pint-sized island doesn’t take long to get acquainted with. A mere eight miles off the coast of Cancun, Isla Mujeres is known for its Mayan history; it was once a sacred place where the Maya goddess Ixchel (goddess of fertility) was honored. There may not be as many sandy beaches as the other islands on this list, but expats from America and Canada flock to the destination for the easy-going island life—and warm temperatures.

Distant view of houses lining waterfront on Isla Colon, backed by palm trees

Move to Isla Colon in Panama for fresh seafood and living on the water.

Photo by Shutterstock.com

7. Isla Colón, Panama

Estimated cost of living: $1,600 per month

A one-hour flight from Panama City, Isla Colón has a thriving expat community that’s responsible for some of the island’s beloved businesses. Outside of town, there are hundreds of small islands, some uninhabited and others home to Ngäbe-Buglé, one of Panama’s largest Indigenous groups. The entire country is located outside of the hurricane belt, making it even more of an appealing spot for retirees.

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan temple beside water, with clouds in background

The Pura Ulun Danu Bratan temple was constructed in 1633.

Courtesy of Witthaya/Getty Images/iStockphoto

8. Bali

Estimated cost of living: $1,900 per month

It doesn’t take much to fall in love with Bali, thanks to the beyond-friendly locals, low cost of living, and wellness focus. The most popular spots to set as home base are Ubud, Lovina (read: black-sand beaches), Sanur, and Seminyak. You will need to prove several things before obtaining a retiree visa: You must be at least 55 years old, and you must have health and life insurance, a pension with a minimum of about $1,520 per month, a rental agreement with a set cost of more than $380 a month, a letter stating that you’ll employ at least two Indonesian citizens (think: assistant or household worker), and a statement agreeing that you won’t work while living in Bali. Whew.

An aerial view of rooftops near water in Koh Samui

Koh Samui is known for its sandy beaches and tropical rain forests.

Photo by Muzhik/Shutterstock

9. Koh Samui, Thailand

Estimated cost of living: between $2,000 and $2,500 per month

The second-largest island in Thailand, Koh Samui is still easily navigable (you can drive around the 34-mile “Ring Road” in a total of three hours). Daily temperature averages hover around in the 80s year-round, offering more than a good reason to spend most days on the beach—this island is home to some of the world’s best stretches of sand. Since this has become somewhat of a tourist hot spot, the dining scene has answered the call with new openings from globe-trotting chefs. Despite the high-quality ingredients and boom in luxury resorts, you still won’t shell out much for a meal (drinks included). Water sports, cultural sites (Buddhist temples and monuments), and jungle trekking will get you out of town when you need a break from the backpackers and snowbirds passing through.

An aerial view of beach and adjacent golf course at Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

Las Terrenas is known for its white-sand beaches and clear Caribbean waters.

Courtesy of Victor Rosario/Unsplash

10. Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

Estimated cost of living: $2,500 per month

Beachfront real estate is still affordable on this island, which has a long history of expat communities. In the 1970s, it was a popular spot for French and Italian visitors, and you can see this influence in the many bakeries and restaurants. A medical center in the middle of town offers high-quality care, and there’s an international airport three hours away when you need to get a taste of home. When it comes to lifestyle, Las Terrenas runs on island time—drinks are enjoyed with your toes in the sand, nightlife often spills onto the beach, and there’s always a good time waiting to be had.

This article originally appeared online in 2018; it was most recently updated on December 7, 2023, to include current information.

Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at Afar who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.
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