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 2015 (the most recent data available), a measure of the relative peacefulness of 162 nations worldwide – which represent 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 peak 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: 29/162
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. (See Top 5 Cities to Retire to in Chile and Retire in Chile with $200,000 of Savings? for more.)
Global Peace Index Rank: 34/162
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. (Read 4 Reasons Why Americans Retire in Costa Rica and Retire in Costa Rica with $200,000 of Savings? for additional insights.)
Global Peace Index Rank: 44/162
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. (To learn more, see Top 4 Cities to Retire to in Uruguay and How Much Money Do You Need to Retire in Uruguay?)
Global Peace Index Rank: 60/162
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. (Check out Retire in Argentina with $200,000 in Savings? and Retire Abroad: Cosmopolitan Cities for a deeper look.)
Global Peace Index Rank: 64/162
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. (Check out 6 Reasons Why Americans Retire in Panama and Retiring in Panama: The Pros & Cons for more.)
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 (74/162), Ecuador (84/162), Paraguay (89/162) and Bolivia (90/162), as well as Peru and Guyana, which tied (92/162). By contrast, the U.S. ranking is 94.
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.
Iff you do make the 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.