Technically speaking, Latin America encompasses the parts of the North and South American continents south of the United States, where Spanish, Portuguese, and French are officially spoken. Every year, millions of tourists flock to these countries to enjoy beaches, rainforests, mountains, rich biodiversity, history, and culture. A sizeable number of expats land there, too – in search of adventure, a change of scenery, and a lower cost of living during retirement.
If you are considering retiring abroad – anywhere in the world – it’s natural to have concerns about safety. Many Latin American countries received favorable scores on the Global Peace Index 2018 (the most recent data available), a measure of the relative peacefulness of 162 nations worldwide – which represents 99% of the world’s population – compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace. The Index measures peace based on 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators, including ongoing domestic and international conflict, societal safety and security (including crime rates), and militarization.
Here’s a quick peek at the five safest countries to retire to in Latin America, listed in order of their Global Peace Index rankings (from most to least peaceful).
Global Peace Index Rank: 28/162
This coastal country is the most peaceful in Latin American, according to Index rankings. Chile spans 2,653 miles from north to south along South America’s western flank. It is geographically diverse: In the north is the Atacama Desert – the world’s driest non-polar desert. In the southern region, you’ll find lush forests and grazing land, volcanoes, lakes, and a maze of fjords, inlets, and islands. A growing community of expats calls Chile home for its high standard of living, beautiful surroundings, welcoming locals, and reasonable cost of living.
Global Peace Index Rank: 37/162
This small South American country is known for its wide-open beaches, fishing villages, Atlantic coastal wildlife – sea lions, seals, penguins, and offshore whales – plus its gaucho culture, with big skies, cattle ranches, and skilled horsemen. Another of Uruguay’s attractions: natural hot springs, used since ancient times for their many health benefits. For retirees, the country boasts a stable economy, mild climate, affordable healthcare, friendly locals, and a well-developed infrastructure.
3. Costa Rica
Global Peace Index Rank: 40/162
Costa Rica – “the rich coast” – is a popular retirement destination thanks to its numerous beach towns, rainforests, volcanoes, friendly ticos (the locals), and low cost of living. For the active set, there are also lots of adventure activities, including whitewater rafting, canopy tours, and nighttime rainforest hikes, to name a few. The country sits within the tropical zone, so residents enjoy a tropical climate year-round. Parks and protected areas – which cover about 25% of Costa Rica’s land area – help protect the country’s extensive biodiversity.
Global Peace Index Rank: 50/162
Panama has become one of the world’s top retirement havens because of its low cost of living, affordable healthcare, and a retirement visa program that is aimed at welcoming expats: Use your Pensionado Visa to score 25% off flights (domestic and international), 50% off entertainment, 30% off public transportation, 25% off restaurants and 25% off utilities (electricity, telephone and water). It also has an infrastructure that is both modern and in good repair, plus a capital city that rivals many U.S. and European cities in terms of culture, atmosphere, and conveniences.
Global Peace Index Rank: 66/162
The second-largest country in South America, Argentina, has some of the world’s most spectacular scenery: rich plains, steep mountains, lush jungles, enormous glaciers, powerful waterfalls, and coastlines speckled with elephant seals, penguins, and whales. Amidst all this natural beauty is a cultured country that has been compared to Europe in terms of its architecture, art, music, and literature – without the high cost of living.
The Bottom Line
Of course, these five countries aren’t the only “safe” places to visit – or live – in Latin America. Other countries that ranked fairly well on the Global Peace Index include Nicaragua (68/162), Ecuador (75/162), Paraguay (77/162), and Bolivia (94/162), Peru (74/162), and Guyana (82/162). By contrast, the U.S. ranking is 121.
Before making any decisions about retiring abroad, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons – and to have realistic expectations about what it will be like to live in a foreign country over the long-term, rather than simply visiting as a tourist.
If you do make a move, consider enrolling in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which provides security updates to U.S. citizens traveling or residing abroad and makes it easier for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you and/or your family should there be an emergency.