These Are the 5 Best Countries for Retiring Abroad

These places don’t require a high budget for a very high quality of life.

Close -up of a palm tree on a beach at sunset

Several Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, made it to the top five list for best places to retire.

Courtesy of Pietro Canali/age fotostock

Oooh, I could live here: It’s a thought that’s crossed many travelers’ minds when abroad. Retirement could be the perfect time to make that passing dream a reality.

Every year, publication International Living releases its Annual Global Retirement Index, ranking the best countries for people in their post-work years. The 2024 report shortlisted 17 countries, which were scored in seven categories (they include housing, cost of living, and healthcare). Those scores were then averaged to determine how each nation ranked.

“The most noteworthy trend we’ve seen of late is a rise of European countries on our Index,” said International Living executive editor Jennifer Stevens in an email to Afar. “Much of Europe offers real bang for your buck—more, I think, than most folks realize. And as European countries have made it easier for expats who can show adequate income to come and settle, we’ve seen greater interest in these nations.”

Stevens noted that the top-ranking countries also share similarities beyond geography: “In all of these places, you’ll find a very high quality of life—higher, expats will assure you, than in the U.S.—yet you’ll typically spend less than you would to stay home,” she said. “In most of these places, a couple can live very comfortably on a budget of $2,500 to $3,000 a month—and in some corners less.”

Whether leaving the working world is close or a few decades away, it’s never too early to put these five countries on your radar.

1. Costa Rica

Pura vida, Costa Rica’s mantra, means more to locals than its literal translation of “pure life”—it describes an optimistic and positive outlook on things, which might just be the secret to the country’s number one ranking on the 2024 Global Retirement Index. International Living cited Costa Rica’s nature-rich environment as a great reason to move, as it offers opportunities to be active and plenty of accessible fresh foods. (The country covers only 0.03 percent of the globe, yet has more than 5 percent of its biodiversity.)

The country also scored the second-highest out of the 17 ranked countries when it came to the “visas/benefits” category. In September 2023, Costa Rica extended its maximum stay period for foreigners with passports on a visa-exempt status (which includes the United States and Canada) from 90 days to 180 days. Which, according to the International Living report, is “almost six months’ worth of hassle-free time in-country, and more than enough time to escape the ravages of the North American winter.” Plus, remote workers can extend their 90-day tourist visa to a full year (with the chance to renew for another year) with its digital nomad visa.

2. Portugal

Portugal’s got more than delectable custard tarts and fairy-tale castles—the Iberian country took the second-place spot in International Living’s rankings, also scoring the highest in the “development and governance” category. International Living contributor Terry Coles called Portugal’s highway system one of the best in Europe, explaining that it is “easy to navigate with ample rest stops along the way for snacks, restrooms, or for charging electric car motors.” (For road-trip lovers wanting to try an electric vehicle, Portugal has more than 5,000 charge points throughout the country.)

Algarve and Lisbon are among Portugal’s most attractive regions for those coming from abroad, as they have the highest proportion of foreign citizens. But this Indiana-size country has other places worth considering: Retirees wanting a slower pace of life may want to consider the vineyard-filled Minho region or the small town of Óbidos.

Cityscape with yellow-domed church

From centuries-old churches to the even older archaeological sites of modern Mexico’s Indigenous predecessors, there are places in Mexico City where the past is palpable.

Courtesy of Lucas Vallecillos/age fotostock

3. Mexico

South of the U.S. border, Mexico ranked third in the Global Retirement Index. The country seems to have it all: fantastic beaches, historical sites, and arguably the best food. (UNESCO even has its traditional Mexican cuisine on its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.) Expats sing the country’s praises: InterNations, a global community with more than 5 million members, found Mexico to be the best country for expats to live abroad based on its Expat Insider survey that crowdsourced information from more than 12,000 people.

Of the top five countries in this list, Mexico ranked first when it came to the “cost of living” and “housing” categories. International Living’s Mexico correspondent Bel Woodhouse reported that even well-known areas like the Riviera Maya offer condos in the range of the low $200,000s. Expat Insider respondents also aligned with the sentiment, reporting that accommodation in Mexico is both easy to find and affordable. Mexico City seems to be the best city for expats based on the InterNation’s 2023 Expat City Ranking, but San Miguel de Allende also has a sizable expat population; International Living reports that expats make up about 10 percent of its population.

People walking on black sand near a body of water and dense forest.

Cambutal is about 230 miles from Panama City.

Photo by Hassen Salum

4. Panama

“Life is good here. People are chill. Even during times of great uncertainty—the global financial crisis, the pandemic, and the driest, hottest year all come to mind. . . . In fact, especially during times of great uncertainty, Panama is where I’d rather be,” Panama-based International Living editor Jessica Ramesch says of the fourth-best country for retirees. Its well-known canal has brought international influences through its waters for more than a century, but the country still has plenty of less-traveled spots to explore like Cambutal, one of Afar’s best places to visit in 2023.

The country, linking Central and South America, also ranked the highest out of the 17 countries in the “visas/benefits”category: Its Panama Pensionado program offers residency for foreigners who have a monthly income or pension of at least $1,000. Thanks to its year-round tropical climate, snowbirds might find this Latin American country a welcome change.

5. Spain

This European country ranked fifth when it came to the best countries for retirees—and maybe that’s because of beloved traditions like the siesta, which contribute to Spain’s laid-back reputation. Sally Pederson, International Living’s Spain correspondent, reported that a comfortable lifestyle can be sustained with as little as $2,000 in this part of the Iberian Peninsula, although major cities Madrid and Barcelona will require higher budgets. Alternatively, expats may have a better time (in terms of both finances and happiness) in Málaga, Alicante, and Valencia; InterNation’s 2023 Expat City Ranking claimed these to be the top three cities for expats in the world.

If the tapas aren’t enough to convince you to move to Spain, maybe the blue skies will—the country is home to some of the sunniest cities on the continent, including Alicante and Murcia. And you don’t even have to wait until retirement to make the big move: Remote workers can apply for up to a year-long stay through the digital nomad visa Spain implemented in 2023.

This story was originally published in 2018; it was most recently updated with new information on May 22, 2024.

Chloe Arrojado is the associate editor of destinations at AFAR. She’s a big fan of cafés, dancing, and asking people on the street for restaurant recommendations.
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