If you’re looking for a perfect retirement haven, your memory reaches back far enough that you may reel in horror at some of the Latin American countries that you are called upon to consider. Colombia? Where heavily-armed revolutionaries cornered the world’s cocaine market? Nicaragua, torn to pieces by decades of guerrilla warfare? And Mexico? Really?
Well, yes. These and other Latin American nations dominate the 2016 top 10 list of the best countries in the world for American retirees, according to International Living. All are now politically stable, economically healthy and welcoming to foreigners, particularly retirees. All have temperate climates, low living costs, spectacular natural beauty, and attractive cities and towns. You’ll be surprised at some of the nations that make the World’s Top 10 Retirement Havens list from International Living. Plus we add a suggestion of our own.
Panama is No.1 on International Living’s list, and that should be no surprise to anyone who has been there lately. The people are charming, the healthcare is excellent and the living is cheap. Panama City has morphed into a modern metropolis with a diverse population, a high-rise downtown and a wide choice of gentrified neighborhoods. Boquete, in the highlands, appeals to expats who prefer small-town life and a cooler climate.
Best of all, Panama really, really wants American retirees to move there. So much so that it has a famously generous Pensionado Program that awards a residency visa to any American with at least $1,000 a month in guaranteed income. The visa comes with a long list of discounts on everything from airfares to restaurant meals.
The upset winner of the second place on the list, Ecuador has popped up on the American expat radar only in recent years. It has all the basics of a retirement paradise: great beaches; lush jungles; fabulous wildlife; and incredible affordability. It also boasts the world’s most perfect weather: 77 degrees in the daytime, 50 degrees at night, every day of the year. Expats are settling in Quito, the capital, and in Cuenca. Both cities have been listed as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites for their distinctive architecture.
Mexico has gotten a bad reputation in recent years for the drug-fueled violence in its border towns. But it is also home to about 849,000 American citizens, and they live in an entirely different Mexico.
That other Mexico is a land of Spanish colonial architecture, quiet fishing villages and fresh food markets, Mayan pyramids and modern amenities. And it remains remarkably affordable, not least of all because of all the bad press. Mexico was in third place in International Living’s 2016 list.
Costa Rica’s slogan is “La pura vida,” and the pure life is just what this lovely little country offers to expats. Many gravitate to San José and its suburbs, the capital and sole city, which has all of the modern amenities and none of the frantic pace of the developed world. Others head to the coast, where beachfront condo communities built for expats cluster at the edge of a tropical jungle.
Costa Rica has come a long way in a few years. But it’s still one of the cleanest, greenest countries on Earth. It came in fourth in International Living’s ratings for 2016. And it still tops the Happy Planet Index, which measures the well-being, life expectancy, and ecological footprint of nations worldwide.
Colombia is now a peaceful nation. That’s the headline, but it’s not the whole story of Colombia, which is No. 6 on International Living’s top 10 list for 2016.
Cartagena, Bogotá, and Medellín, all cities whose names were once notoriously linked with the international drug trade, have re-emerged as vibrant modern cities. The countryside is remarkably diverse, from Caribbean beaches to desert landscapes and the high country of the Andes.
No.8 on International Living’s top 10 list for 2016 is relatively unknown to Americans, beyond unsettling memories of the Nicaraguan revolution that embroiled the nation in civil conflict and war between 1960 and 1990.
The new Nicaragua is a very different country, and International Living says expat Americans there will get “the best bang for their buck” in real estate, along with welcoming locals and a rapidly improving infrastructure. Granada, founded in 1524, is the oldest Spanish-American city in the Americas. And Americans, Canadians, and Europeans are settling in León, on the coast.
Belize didn’t make International Living’s list, but Belize deserves an honorable mention here. A former British colony, it’s the only nation south of the border where English is the official language. The U.S. dollar is accepted, too. The ease of transition comes at a price: Belize is not the cheapest nation in Latin America, and the minimum retirement income for a visa is $2,000, twice that of Panama. Still, expats report that many basics are a relative bargain once you know where to find them. (See What Does It Cost to Retire in Belize?)
The Bottom Line
If you hope to retire abroad, you might consider your many options in Latin America first. You may well find that there’s no need to go to the other side of the world.