Best Places to Retire Abroad in 2014

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By Kathleen Peddicord

If you could retire anywhere in the world, where would you go? As we find ourselves at the beginning of a brand new year, that's a question worth asking. The very good news is that we are living in a time when it's not only possible, but easier than ever to launch the retirement adventure of your fondest day dreams almost anywhere on earth that appeals to you. Specifically, here are the best, most comfortable, affordable, convenient and rewarding spots worldwide for retirement in 2014. Which one is calling your name?

1. Coronado, Panama
Monthly budget: $1,800
Monthly rent: $600

Panama caters to foreign retirees like no other country in the world. Day-to-day living is affordable, the approach to taxation is favorable and property prices remain a bargain outside the capital city. The country boasts perhaps the world's most generous incentive program for retirees and uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, meaning no exchange-rate risk for retirees whose retirement income is also denominated in greenbacks.

Panama City is being remade in real time right now thanks to a myriad of public works projects, including the expansion of the Panama Canal. Panama also offers some of the most advanced medical care facilities in the region. Many Panamanian doctors are U.S.-trained, and Panama City's hospitals are first-rate.

My top recommendation for retirement in Panama in 2014 is Coronado, a beach community on the country's Pacific coast about an hour outside the capital. Life here could be comfortable, convenient and turn-key, as this area is home to one of this country's most established communities of foreign retirees.

2. Languedoc, France
Monthly budget: $2,300
Monthly rent: $800

Not everyone is cut out for life in the Tropics or the developing world. If you prefer old world living, consider France. With its food, wine, architecture, history, museums, parks, gardens and cultural and recreational offerings, this country is the world's best example of getting what you pay for.

Specifically, for retirement in 2014, I'd recommend the "other" South of France. Not Provence (which is pricey), but west of there, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, between Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur to the east, the Midi-Pyrenees to the west and the Auvergne to the north. Spain is a few hours' drive to the south. This region is colorful, eclectic, always changing, never follows a formula and is very open to retirees. This is wine country, with a long history and a lot of heart.

3. Ambergris Caye, Belize
Monthly budget: $2,000
Monthly rent: $800

Warm, welcoming, independent and private. These four perhaps seemingly contradictory adjectives best describe both Belizeans and their country. Belize is also one of the safest countries in the world, despite what you may read about it. Belize was a colony of Britain until 1981, meaning the people here speak English. They also value their freedom, as it's relatively new.

In the nearly 30 years that I've been spending time in this country, I've joked that "the good news from Belize is no news from Belize." This is a sleepy Caribbean nation with but 350,000 people and three highways. On the other hand, little Belize offers a whole lot of what many retirees are looking for: A chance to start over on sandy, sunny shores. Prices for a bit of sand on Ambergris, the most developed of Belize's islands, are not cheap, but it is cheaper than elsewhere in the Caribbean. And it is this island, home to the country's biggest expat community, that has the services to cater to retirees. I would recommend Ambergris to any retiree dreaming of retirement on the Caribbean Sea this new year.

Legal residency is easy to obtain in Belize, and foreign residents pay no tax in Belize on non-Belize income. I would not recommend Belize if you have a serious health concern or existing medical condition. Health care facilities and standards are improving but limited.

4. Cuenca, Ecuador
Monthly budget: $1,300
Monthly rent: $500

Lots of overseas retirement destinations tout the fact that they're just like the United States, and that, retired there, you could settle into familiar surroundings. You won't hear that about Ecuador. Each day you spend in this country, you know you're in a different and wonderful part of the planet.
Ecuador is also one the world's best places to retire overseas on a budget and to live better for less. The cost of living is low, and the cost of real estate is near rock bottom for Latin America. The health care is high quality and inexpensive.

Specifically, I would recommend Cuenca, Ecuador, a beautiful colonial city with a fresh, spring-like climate 12 months of the year and a large and growing expat community that is one of Latin America's most diverse and well-blended. Ecuador has other colonial cities, but Cuenca is the cultural heart of the country, with an orchestra and active art, theater and even tango traditions that you can often enjoy free.

Perhaps the biggest draw to Cuenca is its cost of living, which is low in an absolute sense. The falling dollar has caused prices to go up sharply for overseas Americans in some countries where goods are priced in the local currency. This won't happen in Ecuador as long as the country continues to use the U.S. dollar as its currency. Real estate, too, is an absolute bargain. You can buy a small condo for less than $40,000.

5. Chiang Mai, Thailand
Monthly budget: $1,100
Monthly rent: $400

Thailand is arguably the cheapest place on earth to live well. Expat friends in this part of the world have long tempted me with tales of $1 Pad Thai lunches and $11-a-night hotels (including breakfast and free WiFi).

My top recommendation for retirees considering Thailand in 2014 is Chiang Mai, about 450 miles north of Bangkok, in a fertile river valley surrounded by mountains. Chiang Mai, home to more than 17,000 foreign residents, enjoys a more temperate climate than other parts of Thailand and is an area rich in history with a culture distinctly different from that in central and southern Thailand. Another big plus for Thailand is health care, which is both very good and very cheap. Downsides include the distance from North America.

6. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Monthly budget: $2,000
Monthly rent: $700

Mexico is a big place with a bad reputation. The reputation isn't altogether undeserved, as drug cartels do control parts of this country, but not all of it. And some of the most appealing regions for both living and investing sit outside the war zones. Mexico offers two long coasts, mountain towns and colonial cities, plus Mayan ruins, jungle, rain forest, rivers and lakes. It's also the most accessible "overseas" haven from the United States. You could drive back and forth if you wanted.

For all these reasons, Mexico is home to the biggest established populations of American expats in the world, making it a great choice if you seek adventure with the comforts of home. Mexico is no longer a super-cheap option, but it is my top pick for enjoying a luxury coastal lifestyle on a budget in Puerto Vallarta. Puerto Vallarta is more expensive than other places where you might consider living or retiring overseas, but in Puerto Vallarta that's not the point. This isn't developing-world living. This stretch of Mexico's Pacific coastline has already been developed to a high level.

Life here can be not only comfortable, but easy and fully appointed, with world-class golf courses, marinas, restaurants and shopping. This is a lifestyle that is available only on a limited basis worldwide, and is truly (not metaphorically) comparable to the best you could enjoy in southern California if you could afford it. Here you can afford it even on an average budget.

7. Granada, Nicaragua
Monthly budget: $1,300
Monthly rent: $500

Geographically, Nicaragua is blessed, with two long coastlines and two big lakes, plus volcanoes, highlands, rain forest and rivers. In this regard, it's got everything Costa Rica and Panama have got, all less discovered and developed and available for the adventurer and eco-traveler at bargain rates.

Architecturally, too, Nicaragua is notable. Its two sister colonial cities, Granada and Leon, vie for the title of Oldest City in the Americas. Whichever story you believe (that the Spanish conquistadores settled first on the shores of Lake Nicaragua at Granada or, perhaps, a few months earlier in Old Leon), Nicaragua is the big winner, with impressive colonial-era churches, public buildings and parks to her credit.

Property values have fallen significantly in this country over the past several years, thanks to the re-election of Sandinista President Daniel Ortega and the global recession, which has hit this country hard. As a result, you can buy a house on Nicaragua's Pacific coast for less than $100,000.

8. Medellin, Colombia
Monthly budget: $1,800
Monthly rent: $500

Colombia is the world's top up-and-coming retirement haven. Specifically, Medellin, Colombia's city of flowers and eternal springtime, offers a very appealing and competitive retirement lifestyle option. Medellin is a pretty place with strong Euro-undertones, meaning it's a chance to embrace a sophisticated, cosmopolitan retirement on a modest budget. The world just hasn't figured that out yet.

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 28 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her newest book, "How To Buy Real Estate Overseas", published by Wiley & Sons, is the culmination of decades of personal experience living and investing around the world.

More from U.S. News:
The 10 Best Places to Retire on $75 a Day
6 Tips for Boomers Leaving Big Homes Behind
Best Places to Retire for Longevity


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