International Living has published its annual Global Retirement Index, detailing the best countries to retire to in 2022.
The ranking examines countries based on 10 different categories including:
- Benefits and Discounts;
- Visas and Residence;
- Cost of Living;
- Fitting In/Entertainment;
1. Panama was ranked as the best country to retire to in 2022, ranking first in the Opportunity, Visa and Residency, and Benefits and Discounts categories.
“Panama’s cosmopolitan capital, Panama City, is the only true First World city in Central America. There are direct flights to Panama from all over the US, as well as several cities in Canada and Europe. This modern, welcoming country is only three hours from Miami and five hours from New York. And it uses the US dollar as its currency,” International Living said.
However, the key differentiator is Panama’s ‘Pensionado’ program which International Living says is the best of its kind in the world.
The program makes it easy and inexpensive to become a permanent legal resident, and offers a number of discounts to pensioners – including dental care and transportation. Things like entertainment and hotel stays are discounted as well.
An applicant with a pension of at least $1,000 (R15,000) a month can qualify for the Pensionado Program, which makes the bar to entry relatively low. And once you’re approved, you’ll get to enjoy all the discounts—no matter what your age.
“If you’d like to apply with your spouse, you can qualify with less than $1,000 each. You can even include dependents if you need to,” said Jessica Ramesch, International Living Panama editor. “You just need a pension of at least $1,000 plus $250 for each additional person on your application.
“The $1,000 pension requirement reflects the low cost of living here in Panama. While it’s true that most of the North Americans who’ve chosen to retire here spend upwards of $2,000 (R30,000) a month, there are expats living here on far less.”
2. Costa Rica
As part of its post-pandemic recovery, Costa Rica has lowered its entry requirement to attract more foreigners.
“The country is now in a slow economic recovery, with initiatives like the new digital nomad visa and an updated law to attract retirees with perks such as a lower threshold for investors ($150,000 or R2.2 million), and the ability to import a shipping container of home goods tax-free, as well as two vehicles—sans the steep import costs,” said International Living.
A couple can live comfortably, but not necessarily extravagantly in Costa Rica for around $2,000 to $2,500 (R30,000 – R38,000) a month.
“This includes renting a two-bedroom home/condo with North American amenities, air conditioning, plus groceries, entertainment, transportation, and healthcare. If your monthly budget is over $3,000 (R45,000), you will find a relaxed lifestyle with most creature comforts you require.”
The income requirements into Mexico are quite reasonable for the two categories most apply for: monthly income of around $2,100 (R320,00) a month or $36,000 (R550,000) in the bank for temporary residence, or $2,700 (R41,000) a month or $149,000 (R2.23 million) in the bank for permanent residence.
Those amounts are approximates because of fluctuations in exchange rates which can change from year to year.
Temporary residence can last for up to four years at a time. At that point, you can re-apply and stay a temporary resident or convert to permanent. You can also apply for permanent residence from the start if you meet the requirements, said International Living.
On average, a retired couple could live well in Mexico for right around $2,000 (R30,000) a month, according to International Living. That covers housing, transportation, healthcare, utilities, and food.
“Some people get by on much less because they live very much like locals, others spend a whole lot more—if you want luxury and high-end, Mexico certainly has it. The popularity of a place, whether it has a big expat group or is a tourist destination, can also impact prices.”
International Living estimates that a couple can live comfortably, but not lavishly, in Portugal on $2,500 (R3,800) per month but entrance costs could cost you significantly more.
However, it scores highly in other rankings including climate, healthcare and governance, said International Living.
Colombia’s real estate owner´s visa applies to people who purchase real estate in their own name for at least $83,000 (R1.26 million), a very low threshold compared to many other countries. This visa is also issued for up to three years at the discretion of the officer processing your application.
Your dependents, which could include a spouse, partner, minor children, or someone who is economically dependent on you do not need to apply for a visa too. You can add them to your visa as beneficiaries.
Colombia legalized same-sex marriage in 2016, so spouses are covered as beneficiaries, said International Living.
Retirement funds go much further in Colombia. A couple can live in many cities around Colombia for $2,000 (R30,000) per month or less.
Ecuador is one of the cheapest places to live on the list and a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo can cost as little as $500 (R7,600) a month.
There are few places where living is as affordable as in Ecuador. Consider that you can own a home on a Pacific Coast beach or a condo with great views in the Andes for around $150,000, said International Living.
Rentals are plentiful and affordable too, with a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo available in downtown Cuenca for $500.
France is one of the most expensive places on the list to retire – but scores highest for its healthcare and social security benefits.
“Available to anyone after three months of residence, the system has no pre-existing condition limitations, age restrictions, or entry fees. Rated as one of the top healthcare systems in the world, costs are incredibly low, and care is modern and reliable,” International Living said.
“Charges are fixed by the government and cannot be increased by any single provider—you’ll be asked to pay the same fee at the top teaching university in Paris as with the local village doctor.”
Malta offers a couple of paths for permanent residency. The quickest is the Permanent Residence Program. It takes several weeks. But it requires €500,000 (R8.6 million) in assets, financial contributions to the government and a local NGO, as well as certain real estate/rental obligations.
“The less costly option is the “self-sufficiency” visa. Its biggest hurdles are €50,000 (R863,000) per year in income (can partly be Social Security), as well as proof of medical insurance, and a 15% tax payment annually based on the money you remit into the country,” International Living said.
The most viable Spanish visa options for retirees are the non-lucrative visa and the golden visa. For a non-lucrative visa, you must have the equivalent of €30,000 (R518,000) in a bank account or documented income from pensions or investments of €2,130 (R37,000) a month plus €532 (R9,200) a month for your spouse and each dependent child.
Income from rental properties or salaries is not accepted, said International Living. While this is pricy, Spain’s first-world infrastructure means it scores highly on the list, it said.
“You can drink the tap water. The electricity is on 24 hours a day. Trash is picked up every night. Super-fast Wi-Fi is available nearly everywhere. Public transportation is convenient, quick, and cheap. Clean, comfortable, high-speed trains whisk you across the country in a couple of hours. And you don’t need a car, except for in the most remote locations,” International Living said.
Most expat couples in Uruguay live well on a budget of between $2,500 (R43,000) and $3,500 (R60,000) per month including rent.
To become a legal resident of Uruguay, you need to both pass a criminal background check and prove a recurring monthly income source to support yourself in Uruguay – this is often around $1,500 (R2,600) for a single person.
Read: South Africa’s taxpayers are leaving in droves, but should expect changes in 2022, says expert