For over a quarter of a century, International Living has ranked, rated and named the best countries to retire in. They track down expats, pull a wealth of data from each destination and curate a reliable list of retirement havens. Each year, they’ve brought new categories into play and have likewise added new countries — like Malaysia in 2000 and Colombia in 2007.
If you're looking for a retirement community to join, you'll want to take a look at this list. This year boasts the most comprehensive index yet; the top 24 retirement havens, all of which have been ranked by their cost of living, retiree benefits, climate, health care, infrastructure and more. But 24 is still a lot of options — how do you narrow it down? Here are five of the best places to retire that you should consider, all based on what type of tourist you are.
1. The Foodie
Mexico ranked first in this year’s list, highlighting its popularity amongst retirees. It scored a 90.9 overall, rating highly in terms of how well an expat can fit in. It’s an enticing balance of foreign and familiar — it offers a low-cost lifestyle that’s still conveniently close to home. While there is a large expat community, there are friendly locals and over one million Americans who call Mexico home. And who can say know to fresh guacamole everywhere you go? From beach towns like Cancún and Tulum to the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, there’s something (and some dish) for everyone — making it an excellent place to live.
2. The Sightseer
If you're looking for a global retirement lifestyle, Spain offers some of the lowest-cost first-world living in Europe. It ranks seventh on the list, recognized largely for its entertainment and amenities — a category in which it scored a 90. The country covers most of the Iberian Peninsula, from the Pyrenees Mountains down to the Strait of Gibraltar, and looks across the sea to Morocco.
Spain has miles of beaches with well-known stretches like the Costa del Sol and the Costa Blanca on its southern and eastern Mediterranean coasts, respectively. But expats also have a lot of rich history and cultural vitality in which to dive. The largest cities, like the capital Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, boast major museums, cathedrals, concert halls and sporting arenas from the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu — one of Europe’s largest football stadiums. If you're looking for a great place to retire where you won't sacrifice quality of living, a city (or small town) in Spain may be for you.
3. The Beach-Goer
Though many retirees flock to southern neighbors Panama or Costa Rica, you should consider Belize as a premiere retirement destination. Belize’s vibrant mainland is filled with lush jungle canopy, enriched with palm-tangled Mayan ruins and energized with diverse wildlife — all of which places it 15th on the list. But it’s mostly known for its walkability, snorkeling and diving sites along hundreds of caves, atolls and a 185-mile barrier reef.
Go spend your days in the small town of San Pedro or for some intense scuba diving in a longtime world wonder: The Great Blue Hole. It should also be noted that Belize has one of the world’s best retiree programs, regardless of whether or not you’re a beach person. Through the Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) Program, the government actually gives qualified retirees (must be at least 45 years old) an exemption from taxes on all income derived from sources outside Belize, whether such income is earned or passive, and whether or not it is remitted to Belize. To keep QRP status after retiring, you’ve gotta spend just one month of the year in Belize. The country’s many expats will tell you just how easy that is.
4. The Shopping Enthusiast
Though it isn't the cheapest place to retire, France came in 16th on this year’s International Living list, mostly recognized for its amenities and entertainment. And, perhaps because of its amenities, the French exude a “je ne sais quoi” when it comes to fashion — the French capital has reigned supreme for all things style. Shopping alone attracts millions to the city every year. The Louvre and Tuileries District is a major shopping mecca and the crème de la crème of designer fashion; Versace, Hermès and Yves Saint Laurent all call it home. Likewise, the Boulevard Haussmann and the Grands Boulevards offer a gamut of department stores, which are famous for being worlds unto themselves.
While Paris is indeed the most expensive French city in which to live, it’s certainly a shopping sanctuary for those who want to splurge. Despite that, you can also consider a surrounding city or small town in France if you want the same quality of life and a cheaper median home price.
5. The People-Watcher
Urguay scores well as a retirement destination every year, and this year it made 23rd on the list with an overall rating of 76.6. It’s cost of living is most notable, but Uruguay’s capital is what’s exceptionally appealing about this country's quality of life. The capital city, Montevideo, is home to more than a third of the country’s population; it’s a place of serenity by day and cultural vitality by night. Just about 12 miles east to west on the eastern bank of the Río de la Plata, the coastal capital boasts a dynamic façade — it’s both a sandy industrial port and neoclassical concrete jungle jostling for space. In the heart of the city is the Plaza Independencia, which separates downtown from Ciudad Vieja (the old city), with art deco buildings, colonial homes and the towering, Italian-gothic Palacio Salvo. For those looking to chill out on a patio with a mate and people watch — a traditional tea — Uruguay is the spot.
It may be too soon to start looking for real estate, but if anything — this list will help you reconsider the golf course and help you get to the ideal place (and expat community) you've been dreaming of.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.