In an age when international billionaires are snapping up Manhattan lofts and building multi-storied mega-garages for their tony London townhouses, being a millionaire just doesn’t hold the same cachet as it once did. Unfortunately, that’s because a million dollars simply no longer buys luxury in Manhattan or London – or in Tokyo, Paris, San Francisco or Sydney.
But it does buy luxury in much of the rest of the world. In fact, you don't need nearly that much. There are plenty of destinations around the world where you can live like a millionaire for just a few thousand dollars a month. Leave the ostentatious mansions to those billionaires and start researching where you can live in relative splendor for far less than a million dollars. (For more, see: What Americans Need to Know About Living Abroad.)
This tiny Central American nation, home to the famous Panama Canal, has regularly garnered a top spot on the International Living Annual Global Retirement Index. Whether you relocate to the Caribbean or Pacific coast, no matter if you prefer a tropical or temperate climate, the affordable quality of life remains a consistent draw.
Even vibrant Panama City, which is fairly expensive as far as the region goes – an average three-bedroom flat in the center city runs about $2,250 per month –is much cheaper than other cosmopolitan capitals such as Paris or New York. What Does It Cost to Retire in Panama? will give you more details.
A good starting point to budget a Thai lifestyle is 65,000THB (Thai baht), or around $2,000 per month. That’s what the Thai government requires of expatriates who seek a retirement visa. While that amount won’t buy all-out luxury in Bangkok, where upmarket condos might require a budget closer to $5,000 per month, it will allow for a very comfortable lifestyle in smaller cities.
Investigate lovely Chiang Mai, renowned for its historic temples, cuisine and the lushly forested hills that surround the city. Considering that most locals get by on less than $1,000 a month, $3,000 may feel like a princely sum. Top 7 Cities for Retiring in Thailand will help you find the best spot for you.
Spain deserves a spot on this list for the simple reason that it’s the sole affordable country that ranks in the top 10 for quality of life, according to Numbeo, the world’s largest database of user-generated country data. While you’ll need to steer clear of Madrid and Barcelona if you’re seeking a posh lifestyle for poquito dinero (not much money), many smaller cities and towns offer plenty of cultural, culinary and recreational delights for a relatively modest price tag.
Home to the Alhambra, a World Heritage Site that was a finalist in the contest to be one of the modern seven wonders of the world, historic Granada offers a surprisingly affordable lifestyle. A city center three-bedroom apartment rents for about $690, while a three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant comes to only around $23. These prices are practically unheard of in the other countries that rank in the top 10 for quality of life. Can You Retire in Spain with $200,000 of Savings? is a good place to start your search.
At 122 square miles, Malta is a tiny bit of island paradise in the Mediterranean. With rents in the small (about 7,000 inhabitants) capital city, Valletta, starting at approximately $450 per month, a $3,000 monthly budget stretches far here. If foreign languages aren’t your forte, you’re in luck:
The official language in Malta is English. Even in the dead of winter, while European capitals such as Berlin and Paris are freezing, temperatures in Malta hover in the balmy 60s.
Don’t discount Mexico as merely a vacation spot. This fascinating country is much more than the Yucatán Peninsula, that string of gorgeous beaches with all the tourist trappings that gorgeous beaches bring. In fact, Mexico has been gaining popularity as a retirement spot due to reasons that transcend its miles of oceanfront: You can live in Mexico in relative luxury (think maid service, a gardener and dinners out) on a budget of less than $2,500 a month.
Certain provinces of Mexico continue to be dangerous, but others are considered much safer. (See also: Retirees! Mexico Is Not as Dangerous as You Think and Find the Top Cities for Retiring in Mexico.)
A country whose diversity makes it somewhat of a cultural enigma, Malaysia offers cosmopolitan city life for a fraction of the cost of comparable cities in European and North America. A three-bedroom apartment in central Kuala Lumpur can be found for less than $1,200, while inexpensive tennis court rentals (about $6) and cinema tickets (about $4) mean that you can afford to enjoy the city’s recreational and cultural opportunities.
For a historic UNESCO heritage city that combines the charms of white sand beaches along with bustling street life and wonderful festivals, consider George Town. As the capital of Penang, where a well-appointed four-bedroom apartment with swimming pool and fitness facilities can be had for $1,000 or less, it’s a serious bang-for-the buck destination. See Finding the Top Retirement Cities in Malaysia for details on these two cities.
There is so much to love about living in Portugal: friendly people, romantic architecture, sunny beaches, port wine and haunting fado music. In Lisbon, Portugal’s most expensive city, a furnished two-bedroom flat in an upscale area can be found for about $1,063 a month. How Much Money Do You Need to Retire in Portugal? will help you budget. Top 4 Retirement Cities in Portugal will give you a tour of the country and a good starting point to make your decision.
With bragging rights for the cheapest cost of living in Central America, Nicaragua gets its fair share of budget and adventure travelers who are drawn to amazing weather, vibrant cities, colonial architecture and idyllic seaside villages. Sure, Nicaragua’s past as an epicenter of drug cartels, violent coups and political corruption is real, but it overshadows the present fact that the country can be a delightful place to live well for not much money.
Perched upon the picturesque north shore of Lake Nicaragua, with a volcano in view to add to the postcard-perfect scene, Granada is home to many North American retirees in search of the good life. Monthly expenses for a comfortable lifestyle average around $1,000. Just imagine what you could do with three times that. Nicaragua is one of The 7 Best Countries for Retiring in Latin America.
The world’s most visited country is reportedly a terrible place to look for a job. Picture a 25% youth unemployment rate, made worse by the fact that 90% of new positions are poorly compensated and made precarious by short-term contracts. However, it can be a great place to live if you have an established source of income or are retired.
France has a nearly unparalleled quality of life: amazing cuisine, rich history and culture, beautiful landscapes and livable cities. Universal healthcare and reasonable prices in non-touristy areas such as the Languedoc-Roussillon region mean that you can live very well in many parts of France for less than $3,000 a month. Just avoid Paris.
Adventure junkies hold Costa Rica – Spanish for “rich coast” – dear to their hearts. That’s because this compact country is bursting at the seams with waterfalls, rivers, lakes and miles of pristine beaches, plus dramatic volcanoes and diverse wildlife. Why not extend a Costa Rican adventure into a year-round lifestyle?
Living in Costa Rica is even more affordable than vacationing there. In resort towns along the central coast, a typical two-bedroom condo near the beach can be rented for approximately $500 a month – or purchased for less than $75,000. See Tips on Buying a Beach Condo in Costa Rica for more. Another draw? The medical care is excellent and inexpensive.
The Bottom Line
If you want to get more from your savings account or stock portfolio in a beautiful or more affordable location, consider relocating to one of these 10 destinations where paradise – or at least a very high quality of life – comes with a decidedly lower price tag.